Old memories … 1960’s Rural New Zealand

The Waikato Farm

Note : Comments in green are from our Mother

Our arrival at the farm in Livingstone Road, Tuikaramea, is something that I have no clear memory of. I know that leaving my friends in Auckland was not easy but the actual shift to the Waikato is something that I cannot seem to recall. Its odd what you do and don’t remember.

The farm at Livingstone Road was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life. The subsequent years spent in the Waikato are ones of great enjoyment and a sense of being part of a community. This was something that prior to this point I was either unaware (too young) of or we were in a place for too short a time to fully appreciate this.

The local school was a place I remember well. It was a warm and friendly country school with great teachers and a good place to be for a kid growing up in the rural 1960s. Many good friends were made here and while I have lost track of most of them over the intervening years I have managed to kept track of a few. Those of us who remember the Barrett’s will remember a solid farming family, located up on the top of the hills between our farm and the school at Ngahinapouri. I well remember spending a night or two at their home with my best mate Paul. We used to go to bed at night and listen to different short-wave radio stations from all parts of the world. No satellites in those days apart from Sputnik. This was the start of my fascination for things technological. It is as strong today as ever.

I have since learned that Mr. Barrett senior was given a farm of his own as a measure of thanks, when he retired, from the people who owned the Ngahinapouri farm. Attending the local school as well as the Church on Sundays and Sunday School for those of us old enough gave us all a sense of being part of a large caring community.

Of the people that owned the farm we were share milking, Mrs. MacFarlane was from memory an avid gardener, and I seem to recall many a day exploring all the nooks and crannies of this large rural garden. They were market gardeners (primarily the sons domain) as well as running a dairy farm. This meant that I got to help make the pine wood boxes for the tomato harvest to be packed into. There was always plenty to do on the farm, like grubbing ragwort in the summer, (a noxious weed), milking the cows and generally helping where we could on the farm.

Some of these jobs we were paid for and some we were just expected to do, but generally when we were paid it was a difficult wait for the fortnightly or weekly trip into town to do the shopping and spend our hard earned gains. We liked to buy things like colour pencils, blank drawing pads and of course the comics, such as “Billy Bunter”, “The Phantom” to name but a few. I look back now on this non -technological era of New Zealand history and can’t help but think we have lost a lot socially as a people. There now seems too little time to do the things that matter, like being a family, however I digress.

The farm was also a great place to just kick back and have some fun with plenty of things to do. One of these things was running along the hedge out front of our house. This hedge was aLawsoniana tree hedge, forty feet high and densely packed. We had carved out a walkway the entire length of the hedge some twenty feet up and at least 400 metres long. We had even made up a string walkie talkie to communicate with each other. My brother and I were nothing if not inventive. Also Father had build us a tree house in the big maple tree in the front yard. Which I fell out of on a number of occasions.

Another favourite pastime was eeling in the local creeks and streams. I never caught one but spent endless hours teasing many a large fat eel. It was an enjoyable way to spend a day during endless summer holidays that always seemed long and hot. Not like today where the weather is less certain and less kind that it used to be. This isn’t a whimsical memory but solid scientific fact. Our climate has changed markedly in the last 40 years.

We also had a truly enormous red delicious apple tree in our front yard that every summer would produce the most amazing apples. I don’t know why only I seem to remember this, perhaps because I’m the older of the siblings. Anyhow, if you take the average wooden handled apple corer, like the ones you buy at the supermarket, and tried to core the apples you had to turn the apple around and do the last quarter to a third of the apple from the other side. They were beautiful and crisp and sweet and an afternoon meal on their own. YUM!!

Oh dear me I nearly forgot!

Ginger beer. Ever had some, smelled some? Not the insipid mass-produced stuff, but good old fashioned homemade ginger beer. Father used to make a few dozen bottles for the summer months. After doing the hay or the silage or just some fairly arduous or onerous chores, we would come home and have a few bottles of chilled, to near freezing point, ginger beer. It was so fizzy and cold and gingery that the first two or three mouthfuls would take your breath away. (Yes, good stuff that.) Absolutely magic!

During particularly hot summers it was not uncommon to hear a few bottles of ginger beer explode in the garden shed out back of the house. The old long neck beer bottles he used were not always that strong so we always seem to lose a few bottles, which I think used to upset him a little bit.

Another really strong memory of this period is the fogs we used to get. I would look out my bedroom window on a fine winter morning and across the paddock were large willow and chestnut trees bordering the paddock. The morning fog had a way of hanging in the trees that was truly ethereal, like a special effect in a movie. Accompanying this fog would more often than not be a reasonably severe frost. Which combined with the fog, to make an appallingly cold and damp day, with the fog not lifting till around 3.00 pm, and then reappearing at early evening 5.30 pm-ish.

I hated the winters because of the washing. I would hopefully hang it out, but the fog would not lift and I ended up having to bring it all in again and put it in the tumble dryer. Thank goodness for the dryer. I think I would have gone crazy without it.) (Sometimes I would have to take you kids to school in the car also, and it was a nightmare driving to the school at Ngahinapouri. Talk about pea-soupers!

On the weekends I would go out in the very early winter morning, with Father, to pull Swedes for the cows to eat. Not uncommonly the ground would be frozen and we had to use picks to get them out of the earth. This was then combined with silage to keep the cows in good condition during this period.

When I think about it we, as children seemed to endure the harshness of the farming lifestyle with relative ease. I have become somewhat more prudent about subjecting myself to the vagaries of the weather these days. Age and 20/20 hindsight I suspect.

The farm itself was relatively flat compared to Ngakuru, with a small 12-aside herringbone shed. I won’t tell you how or what a herringbone shed is, you can find that out yourselves if you want, suffice to say it is a milking shed for the cows. Many, many days and nights did I spend in this shed helping to milk the cows. I seem to remember that the breed we were running were  Ayrshire Jersey cross. I do remember that they were bloody cantankerous sods and it was a challenge to get through a milking without being kicked, especially after the cows had calved and their udders were still tender.

Yes, Father was trying to build up a pure Ayrshire herd. Do you remember the pure-bed Jersey bull we purchased? 

Ummm…Oh yes I remember that bull quite well!!. I had to cut across the paddock it was in, with the intention of cutting off a couple of cows that had escaped from the milking shed without making their customary deposit.

I didn’t realise the bull was in the paddock at the time till I was halfway across it. It didn’t like me being there and gave chase. Now it soon became apparent I had company. The snuffle and snort to my rear alerted me to its presence. It was then I found that I was quite an athlete. I crossed the last 100 meters or so of the paddock in record time and leapt the fence into the cattle race , in front of the cows too I might add, with my heart in my mouth and a feeling of accomplishment at having out witted the bull and having headed off the cows, my pulse slowly came back to normal. I had cleared the fence with a good foot to spare! Needless to say the bull wasn’t happy at having had it quarry elude it…..Yes I remember it quite well .Bet you didn’t know about that eh Mother 😛

Somewhere during our time on this farm I managed to split the back of my head open on the concrete nib wall in the cowshed. I seem to recall that we had finished milking and were horsing around while we waited for Father to shut the cows in their paddock for the night. Off to the hospital to be stitched up and back to school to become the brunt of much mirth concerning the bald spot on the back of my bonce.

Meanwhile…

There was my sister Suzanne. An accident looking for a place to happen. And so it was that on her first day at school, she managed quite artfully to break her arm. Outstanding Sis. Why didn’t I think of that one on my first day at school.

And of course…

She went on to top this with a stay at Waikato Hospital to repair a hole in her heart, the one we are all born with, as it was not going to close. This necessitated a stay in hospital and heart surgery. One of the very first cardio patients in the then new (circa 1960s) cardio ward at Waikato Hospital.

Suzanne’s heart murmur was diagnosed at age 18 months or thereabouts while we were living at Otara. She was examined extensively at the Greenlane Hospital in Auckland by many doctors and finally placed on the waiting list for surgery. As we moved to Hamilton, she was transferred to the list at the new heart unit at the Waikato Hospital and underwent her operation at age three.

Apart from these major incidents I seem to recall we all made it through this period relatively unscathed. Not so however for Father. I seem to remember that it was hay making time, and we were milking the cows (Kevin and I) in the afternoon’s, while father was making the hay.

The contractors who were to lift and stack the bales of hay let us down, so I had to drive the tractor and Father help the boss and his son lift the bales onto the trailer. I hurt my back when I hopped off the tractor to help lift bales too. Ralph and Kevin milked the whole herd. It took you ages as you would only have been about 10 or 11 at a guess and Kevin 6 or 7.

And then…

Some time later, I’m not sure when Father wound up with a double hernia from dragging the drains on the farm.

If you have never experienced this, the most common method is to walk alongside the drainage bed with a large 5 or 6 pronged (these are the bigger ones) fork with tines approx 600mm long and bent a 90 degrees. The handle is between 1.8 and 2.1 meters long and you proceed to pull weed and other flotsam from the drains. This can be very heavy work and requires one to be very fit.

This necessitated an operation at Waikato Hospital, followed by a recovery period. At the time I was unsure as to why this lead to the clearing sale that followed, but in what appeared to be far too quick a time we were leaving the farm.

Father gave up farming on the advice of the Doctor who repaired his hernias. Apparently he had a weakness of tissues in that area and the Doctor considered that the heavy work of farming would probably cause a recurrence some time in the future. Hence the clearing sale and our move to Ngahinapouri.

One of the most memorable points of this period was the day of the clearing sale. I was allowed to drive the tractor unsupervised for the first time!!. Now I’m not quite sure of this but I think I was either 12 or so at the time, so this was a big deal. It was on reflection an appallingly sad thing to see happen. As was the realization that your Father wasn’t bullet proof. Up till then any illness that befell father, even having Hepatitis, did not seem to affect the family, and our perception of him, the way that it did at Tuikaramea

The family moved off the farm, but decided to stay in the district, and we moved to a small two bedroom house in Ngahinapouri, with you guessed it!, another bloody long drop for a toilet!!

This house was very small and all the kids were bunked in one room. I don’t remember how long we spent here but it was fun. I don’t recall too much complaint from anyone. It was also here that I discovered a love of astronomy and electronics. Primarily due to a small collapsible telescope and an electronic kit. Both of these were presents either for birthdays or Christmas.

We weren’t in this house for a any great length as I recall, possibly a year, but my memory of this home was of happy times, although I’m sure it must have been difficult for our parents.

I know Father and Mother had been working for a carpet shampooing company during this time, but cannot recall any other form of income endeavor, so can only assume that it was difficult keeping the family coffers full. I have the impression that it wasn’t doing so well and this was one of the reasons for us moving to Tauranga.

Exactly. Father and I were in Tauranga the day Suzanne broke her arm. We were looking for work and a place to live. You and the Headmaster took Suzanne to Waikato Hospital where you reported that she threw them into a tizzy, announcing that she’d been there before for a heart operation! We also wanted to get settled in one place for a reasonable length of time so that you kids could have stability in your schooling. Which goal, I think, was achieved as we were in Tauranga for about ten years.

On the move yet again *sigh*

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