In 1968 we had Miss Burrows (Mrs Rae Eager) as our teacher for Standard 3. I think it must have been around this time that we started doing our very first chemistry experiments, trying to make copper sulphate crystals. Using a “Bunsen burner”, we would boil up some water in a glass beaker and then dissolve some copper sulphate to make a saturated solution. We left it overnight and when we came back the following morning, we would find that there were all these wonderful blue crystals formed at the bottom of the beaker. Some were larger and some were smaller. We would all be gazing at each other’s crystals to see who had managed to grow the biggest.
My Nana (Dora Bailey) sent me a first day cover of a British stamp celebrating the bicentenary of Captain Cook leaving England in HMS Endeavour (1768). This was the start of his circumnavigation of the world and the following year his discovery of New Zealand. This was quite interesting and was an early start to all the celebrations that we were to have.
At playtime there was one game that we all enjoyed and this was called “Bullrush”. This was a version of a UK game known as “Bulldog”. All you needed was an empty space and a large group of kids, anything from 10 to 30. You would then elect someone to be “It”. The person who was “It” would stand in the middle of the field and call out the name of one of the kids waiting on the side-line. This person would then attempt to run across the field while “It” would attempt to catch them and drag them to the ground. If they were successfully grounded, they were considered caught and they would then join “It” but if they managed to keep moving and they made it to the other side, they had escaped. If they knocked “It” right over during the process, then no problem, as this was just part of the game. Once he or she reached the far side, everyone would yell “Bullrush!” in their loudest voices. This was a like a war cry. Instantly, all the other kids would run in a massive stampede across the field, hoping if they were quick, that they would make it to the other side without getting caught.
Sooner or later ‘It’ would catch someone to join him. They would then call another one of the kids but this time it would be more difficult to get across, as there were now two catchers in the field. The game would continue with individuals attempting to run the gauntlet and whenever someone got through, they would be followed by another shout of “Bullrush!” followed by another stampede.
In the early stages, it would be the smaller kids who would be caught and as a result the team of catcher’s would get larger. Eventually, there would only be a few of the larger faster runners left but they would now be trying to run through a very numerous and widely spread group of catchers. Finally, everyone would be caught. The last person to be caught would usually be “It” for the next game.
A slight disadvantage of this game, was that everyone would get fairly dirty, as they got dragged to the ground, especially if it was a bit muddy. Shirts getting ripped happened fairly often. There was also the occasional injury, but I don’t remember anyone actually breaking any bones. Certainly no one was ever killed at our school.
The best thing about this game, was that you could participate whether you were large or small. Size and speed did not matter. Even the girls joined in. If you were small, you ganged up with the other small kids until your group was numerous enough to bring the big kids down. I always loved this game.
As I mentioned, in the UK it is called “Bulldog” but I understand it is not played any more, as it is considered to be too dangerous, or if it is played, it is more of a tag game, rather than a game of rugby tackles. I think it is sad that the young people of today miss out on so many experiences like Bullrush.
We also played sport during class, and for boys this was usually rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. Girls were not allowed to play rugby. Instead they generally played hockey in the winter and netball in the summer. Maybe the fact that they were not allowed to play rugby was one reason why many of the girls liked playing Bullrush.
One sport that we all liked was swimming. We only did this in the warm summer month of February, and this consisted of taking the morning off school and walking down to the public swimming baths. Apparently, these are still in the same location, at the intersection of Page Street and Miranda Street, but the pool is now in a very large covered building. Back in the 1960s it was all open, there was no heating and the water was always very cold, even if all above was blue skies and sunshine. This was because Stratford was actually 1017ft (310m) above sea level and so was much colder than the coastal towns like New Plymouth.
Our individual abilities varied a lot, with people like Murray Reed and Janet Sulzberger being incredibly fast swimmers and of course also Rebecca Western and a lot of the others. You got a special certificate with coloured stickers that you would be awarded every time you completed a longer distance. Murray and Janet soon earned all their coloured stickers. I did get the certificate but gaining the accolade of those very special stickers was something I never achieved.
I remember one of the exercises was to be stationary in the water and just float, with little or preferably no movement of the hands. Murray and Janet could do this easily, they did not move their hands at all, but whenever I tried, I just sank. The teacher told me I had to practise more, but when I thought about what the teacher told me, I came to realise that the teacher had it all wrong. This exercise of floating in the water did not require any skill, you just kept your lungs as full as possible and you floated, except that in my case, I sank.
I got thinking more about this and I remember watching Janet swimming one day. She glided along and appeared to just float over the water. Then I realised what the situation really was. Both Janet and Murray were well built. They were not a flimsy light build like me. I could see that the ratio of their lung capacity to body weight, was going to be much more favourable that mine. Floating was not a skill. Swimming was a skill, but in both cases to be good, you need to have a favourable ratio of lung capacity to body weight. It was really very simple and I realised, for myself, there was very little I could do about it. I could see it, but why were the teachers unable to understand it?
While we enjoyed sports, one thing we did not enjoy was visits to the dental nurse. Within the school grounds was a small building and this was the Dental Clinic (murder house). Every now and then the dental nurse would appear at the door of our classroom. Suddenly there would be a hush as we all just stopped and looked. We all knew who she was, and we knew what was going to happen next. She would speak softly to our teacher and by now we were all looking around the classroom wondering who the next victim was going to be and of course hoping that we wouldn’t be picked. The teacher then called out the person who was on the dental nurse’s list. They were then led away.
Later, in the playground, we would all be keen to find out what terrible pain had been inflicted on the poor victim concerned. Sometimes they would be all smiles as they had managed to get off without needing any fillings. Other times they would be a bit subdued and would talk with a bit of a mumble. The after effects of the anaesthetic injection, causing them to have difficulty moving their mouth to articulate their words. It was a tough time. We all had to be brave. For most of us, we were putting too much sugar on our cereals each morning and as a result, tooth decay was quite common.
In addition to the occasional filling, I also had another problem in that my teeth were developing in a way where they were getting a bit jumbled up. A higher level of dental care would be required. The dental nurse kept telling me to tell my mother to take me to a dentist to get my teeth straightened. Each time I would go home and tell my mother but she would just say that we could not afford it, so no point visiting the dentist. In New Zealand at the time, basic dental care was free but more advanced work like teeth straightening had to be paid for. Every time I met the dental nurse she would talk to me like I was a naughty boy who had not passed the message onto my mother. In the meantime, I grew up with a full set of crooked teeth which from my teenage years onwards was a great sadness to me. Eventually in my 40s I realised that my crooked teeth were just part of me and on the good side at least all my teeth were real. After that I did not worry any further.
In Ngaere I often went across to the Walker’s house and sometimes I would play with Denis Walker’s sons, Trevor, Keith and Gary but a lot of the time they were not there, as I mentioned earlier, they lived with their mother in New Plymouth. In addition to Denis Walker there was also his twin brother Peter who worked for the Electricity Board. They were all a fairly happy family most of the time and around their house was a fantastic garden that old Mr & Mrs Walker had built up over the years. It was a great place to play and explore and they were very happy for us to just wander over there whenever we wished.
In addition to the main house there was a very old building that was used as a shed. This had actually been the original homestead, build by an early settler, probably back in the mid 1800s. We didn’t know who this early settler was but he and his family, a hundred years previously, would have been the people who chopped down the native bush to make grazing land for cows. The little homestead was just a small building with two rooms and presumably they had lived there for quite a few years, while they developed their land and earned money from their dairy cattle. Eventually they had saved enough to build a much larger house for themselves and this was where the Walker family now lived.
Behind this shed was an area in the trees where these early settlers had dumped all their rubbish and over the years this had become very overgrown. In among the undergrowth you could see things sticking out here and there, mainly old glass bottles. Mr Walker was happy for me to take a shovel to this and explore further. I now became an “archaeologist” and it was like digging for treasure. Over a few weeks I dug up much of the area and recovered mainly old bottles but also a few old pairs of spectacles and even a pair of false teeth. Some of these bottles were relics of early soft drink technology with a glass marble in the neck that had been used to seal the contents. There were medicine bottles, ink bottles and all sorts of glass jars. My favourite was a blue glass bottle that would originally have had castor oil in it. Apparently back in those days lots of parents dosed their children with a spoonful of castor oil each day, thinking that it was good for their health. It probably made very little difference to their health; the only certainty was that there was an entrepreneur somewhere who must have made a lot of money out of it. I suppose he put his castor oil in a special blue bottle to make it look even more magical.
I kept a lot of those bottles for quite a few years, but one by one they were lost or given away. As I write this story today, I am pleased to report that I do still have the blue castor oil bottle tucked away safely in my library in amongst my other special family relics.
One pastime for us, throughout the year, was watching television (TV) and this was a window to the outside world. Public TV broadcasts in the UK had begun way back in 1932 but it was not until 1960 that television broadcasts began in New Zealand, initially with a transmitter to cover Auckland and then, one by one, further transmitters were built to cover the rest of the country. I think we probably got our TV in about 1966.
Everyone had to pay for an annual television receiver licence but in Taranaki each licence holder had to also chip in a bit extra to pay for the transmitter that had been built at the ‘Hen & Chickens’ on Mt Taranaki. I always thought ‘Hen & Chickens’ was a lovely name to describe a few large rocks on the side of the mountain. Having a TV transmitter there made it seem even more special.
Back then we had no need for a TV guide, as there was only one channel, and the daily list of programmes was printed in the newspaper. We turned the TV on as soon as we got back from school and we watched whatever was showing.
On Sundays there was the ‘Afternoon Matinee’ which I think started at 2.00pm. It was generally a full-length film, lasting a few hours. These films were either American or English productions, often produced in the 1940s or 1950s, so they were actually quite old, but we didn’t realise that. It was great to just sit down after lunch and absorb one of these stories, especially if it was raining outside. In the early evening, probably at about 6.00pm, there would be ‘Disneyland’ and this was always introduced with a few words from Walt Disney. He was a real gentleman and was usually wearing a dark suit with the top of a white handkerchief just visible sticking out of this top pocket. Walt Disney actually died in 1966 but in New Zealand all our TV programmes were a few years behind, so we didn’t know he had passed away. He was on our screens every Sunday and looked very fit and healthy.
One of our favourite programmes, which showed later in the evening, was called ‘Coronation Street’ and was about some families living in a northern town in England. Our mother was always telling us about how great everything was in England – “much better than NZ”. But we were one step ahead here, as we were watching Coronation Street and we could see how bad it really was. The Ogdens did not even have a bath until Stan Ogden installed one himself. In our house at Ngaere we had the luxury of a bath and a shower. Watching Coronation St made us feel quite well off.
We also liked watching the news, which told us about all sorts of things happening in New Zealand and around the world. In 1968 one of the major events was the sinking of the ‘Wahine’ which was an inter-island ferry that did the regular journey from Wellington to Lyttelton near Christchurch. There was a huge storm with winds gusting up to 171mph (275kph) and the Wahine ended up hitting Barrett Reef in Wellington Harbour. Of the 734 people on board, 53 people died from drowning or from the cold. It was all very sad.
The other thing that was often reported on the news, was the ongoing conflict in the Middle East between the Egyptians and the Israelis. This had also caused the Suez Canal to be blocked and ships had not been able to use it since the 1967 war. Running sort of in parallel with the Middle Eastern conflict, was aircraft being hijacked by terrorists. In fact, over a five-year period (1968–1972) the world was to experience over 300 hijack attempts which was about one every week.
A very special event for us back in 1968, was going to the ‘Bowl of Brooklands’ to see a live performance of the pop group ‘The Seekers’ (Judith Durham on vocals, Athol Guy on double bass, Keith Potger and Bruce Woodley on guitar). They were all the way from Australia! The Bowl of Brooklands was an outdoor theatre located on the southern end of Pukekura Park in New Plymouth. The whole place had a great ambiance as you sat on the side of a grass covered hill (no seats in those days) and you looked down on the stage which was on the other side of a lake. The lake added an extra dimension as the performers and the stage lights were all reflected on the surface of the lake giving a very magical appearance, especially at night time.
Again Mum had brought the sheet music from Maunder’s and she had learnt to play it on her guitar. We all sang the songs; ‘I'll Never Find Another You’, ‘A World of Our Own’, ‘Morningtown Ride’, ‘Georgy Girl’ and ‘The Carnival Is Over’. I can still remember some of the words.
We also went to the Opera House in New Plymouth, to see the ‘Vienna Boys Choir’. I remember the conductor wore a black tails jacket and I thought this looked very funny, as I had never seen one before. The Opera House was an amazing old building and it still exists.
Trips to New Plymouth, as I mentioned, were a special event for us. We liked going to the Farmer’s Cooperative Department Store, which was truly huge, so big in fact that it actually had an escalator that would carry you up to the upper floor. To us an escalator really was an amazing piece of machinery and we certainly didn’t have one in Stratford. In fact, I don’t think we had any shops in Stratford that were 2 stories, except possibly Mandy's.
In the summer we went to Ngamotu Beach which was in the middle of Port Taranaki. Swimming in the sea and sitting on the black iron sand was great but there were also lots of other things to do and see. Sometimes we went out on the wharf and fished which was great fun. Next door they were building the new power station and this required a very tall chimney. During the construction they poured concrete nonstop, day and night, 7 days a week, until they got the chimney up to its full height of 198m. Initially the power station was going to be fired by coal and then by oil but when the gas came online, from the well at Kapuni, the power station was made to take natural gas. We learnt all about it and to us it really was quite incredible.
There was (and still is) a small oil well on Ngamotu Beach and this pumps a few barrels of crude oil up every day and has been doing so since the 1860s. Apparently it is one of the oldest oil wells in the world. We used to marvel at the beam pump that was always nodding slowly up and down.
Next to the power station construction site is Paritutu Rock and the Sugar Loaf Islands which are the remnants of a volcano that was active 2 million years ago but has since very much eroded away, just leaving these extremely solid rocks. We used to enjoy climbing to the top of Paritutu (156m high) from where we could get a fantastic view of the new power station and all the other places that we knew in and around the city. We could also look right out to sea and spot a few boats making their way around the Taranaki coast.
The other very interesting place for us was the New Plymouth Museum, which was full of artifacts in glass cases, mainly relics of the early Maori and the early settlers. I used to love looking at all those things and reading the little notes that described what the relic was and its little part in our country’s history.
Back in Stratford, it was around this time, when I was about 9 years old, that I did a very bad thing. I stole my mother’s diamond engagement ring. It sounds terrible and it was. She had a little box of jewellery in her bedroom. It was full of lovely looking trinkets but she never wore any of these as she never went out. She also never wore the diamond engagement ring but she did continue to wear her wedding ring and she certainly always referred to herself as Mrs Heath-Caldwell.
The really unfortunate thing is that I lost her diamond engagement ring. Around this time there had been a programme on TV about some people who had buried a time capsule full of things that some lucky people would be able to dig up in 100 years time. I thought this was a great concept and so I made up my own little time capsule full of treasure and I buried it under the house. It might be that this was where I put the ring but I just don’t really know what happened to it. I did spend the next few weeks frantically digging around under the house trying to find my time capsule but no matter how much I looked I never found it.
The consequences of this situation were truly terrible. Mum was understandably very upset that I had lost her diamond engagement ring and she told me that it had cost my father £50 which to me was a colossal sum. At this point I was absolutely stunned but it did not stop there. Mum continued to be very upset and continued to grind away at me hoping that the ring would appear. She spent every day telling me that I was a thief and a very horrible person. By this time I think I was probably close to having my own mental breakdown and her mental state was probably also rather strained. I went into total shock and I couldn’t even talk. Again, no matter what I did, I always seem to get things wrong. The world for me was a truly horrible place to be.
It was at this time that Pat Steven realised how bad things really were. It was the summer holidays and so she offered to have me to come and stay with her for a few weeks. It was lovely going to live in her house and looking back this in itself was a great experience for me. She did ask where the ring was but when I told her I didn’t know she just accepted it and did not ask me again. Her husband Upham was a very quiet man. He was a doctor at the hospital and when he arrived home late afternoon we would all have dinner together and then most evenings he would sit in his chair and read.
Pat was not working, as it was the school holidays, so her time was pretty much what she wanted to make of it. We spent lots of time going out walking the dogs and talking about all sorts of things, her younger days as a student at the University of Otago and later, her marriage and her family. She had four children. Her eldest, David and Diana, had also been to university. Since then they had moved away taking up jobs, getting married and setting up their own homes. Dion was currently at Massey University but as it was the holidays, he was away working somewhere. Debbie was more a of free spirit and it was difficult to know what she was up to.
I did also have a few moments when I spoke to Upham. I remember picking raspberries with him. He also had a German Army helmet that had been brought back from World War I so we talked a bit about both wars and his time in the army reserve while he was at university.
They were a very happy family but like all families they had problems from time to time. Debbie had got pregnant while she had been at secondary school. She had gone away, had the baby and then signed it out for adoption which, as I have mentioned previously, was what young unmarried mothers did in those days. Debbie was now trying to get her life back together. I learned a lot about life staying with Pat and I certainly decided that I would like to go to university if I could. After a few weeks it was time to go back home. I would have liked to stay with Pat but of course that was not possible.
For Standard 4 (1969) we had Mr Clarkson (Bruce Clarkson). Mr Clarkson was very young, being only 19. He was a local boy (or man), who had just completed his teaching diploma at Palmerston North and we were his first class (36 pupils). He was an excellent teacher, and this was the year that I started to make some progress with my education. Another change that year was that they stopped giving us a half pint bottle of milk each morning and looking back I am sure this did me a very great favour. As I mentioned earlier, I was not aware that I had a dairy allergy. Consuming milk made me very tired.
Graham Payton, Barry Jordan, David Rogers, Murray Reed, Peter Couchman, Ross Murray, Murray Wharton, Stephen Thomas, Bruce Vickers.
Pam Murphy, Virginia Haimona, Lynette Little, Janet Sulzberger, Verna Shelford, Gayll Buckthought, Pauline Staveley, Sheryl Terry, Raewyn Bates.
Terril Benton, ????, Heidi Drescher, Prudence Walker, Elizabeth Capper, Dianne Rogers, Rebecca Western, Karen Andrew, Karina Thayer.
Joseph Sheehan, William Roa, Jeremy Heath-Caldwell, Nigel Cadman, Eric Hayward, Denis Wheeler, Tony Bradley, Nigel Dey, Steven Crow.
Mr Clarkson was very interested in plant life and he got us to do transections out on the playing field. We used pieces of string to mark off an area of ground, probably about a metre square, and then we carefully examined the area in great detail, noting every plant and any insects that we found. Then the following week he marched us all down to King Edward Park where there was a large area of native bush. We all did transections again, but this time we had a wide range of native plants to identify and record. It was magical and we really enjoyed it.
We didn’t know it at the time, but years later Bruce told me that he got in big trouble over this, with the deputy principle (Mr Neve). Apparently, Geoff Neve felt teaching should be confined to the classroom. Later, Geoff must have got thinking about all this, as when we were in Form 2, he took us out for a full day trip up on the mountain.
Mr Clarkson also told us, his own little stories, of his tramping expeditions over Mt Ruapehu and the Tongariro Crossing. He was very engaging and really did get us all to take a much greater interest in what was around us. To top it off, he played the guitar and so we had some good singsongs.
Mr Clarkson got me doing gymnastics and this gave me a real sense of achievement. Looking back, the reason I was so bad at sport was not only because I was always one of the youngest but I was also a bit of a light weight for my age. Not eating the right food meant that I was not growing like the other boys in the class. With hindsight, I should have been on a non-dairy diet, but allergies were not really recognised by many people back in those days (certainly not recognised by me).
Another thing that we need to keep in mind, is that people don’t all age exactly at the same rate. I aged slowly, which meant that I was small back then but I am now reaping a bonus, in that I am over 60 but still fit and healthy and looking relatively young for my great age. Another way to say this, is that in 1969 I was a late developer but sadly it was sometimes just put across that I was rather immature (as though there was something wrong with me).
Most of the sports like rugby, cricket, tennis, running, … etc, always favoured the older pupils in our class like Murray Reed. He was bigger than most of us but he was also quite a solid build. He pretty much always won any of the sports competitions and he got a lot of enjoyment from it which then spurred him on to practise and do even better. He eventually ended up playing rugby for Taranaki. We all wanted to be like Murray Reed.
Gymnastics was a sport where size did not give you much of an extra advantage. It was a case of learning how to do all the various moves and I loved it. I remember that David Rogers was exceptionally good at this and he could even walk on his hands! One particular event that I remember very well was when Mr Clarkson arranged for a group of us to give a gymnastics display at the Midhirst Village Hall. The room was full of people watching, many of them mums and dads. We started our routine by bending down to touch the floor but unfortunately, just as I bent over, I let out an incredibly loud fart. All the people in the audience thought this was hilarious and immediately the whole hall erupted into laughter. I was of course exceedingly embarrassed, but we kept going and we got through all our gymnastic routines without any further surprises.
Mr Clarkson left at the end of the year and we did not have any more gymnastics after that, which was a pity. He went on to teach at Ohura District High School for a few years and then went back to university and completed an PhD in Biology. He had various jobs and ended up at Waikato University, in Hamilton, where he became a professor and in 2020 is still working at the age of 71.
1969 was also the 200th anniversary of Captain James Cook discovering New Zealand, so we learnt all about his expedition and how he had plotted a map of the new country and in 1770 he named our mountain Mt Egmont after John Perceval, 2nd Earl of Egmont. In fact the good earl (who knew my great x5 grandfather George Marsh) died before Captain Cook got back and so never got to know that a mountain on the coast of a new country on the far side of the globe was named after him. David Rogers said that his Maori ancestors had named the mountain Taranaki a long time before Captain Cook’s visit. However, as our county was called Taranaki, we all thought it was a bit silly to give the same name to the mountain that all of us called Mt Egmont (in 1986 the name of the mountain was officially changed to ‘Mt Egmont or Taranaki’, on Google it is now marked as ‘Mt Taranaki’).
David Rogers was to retain a lot of interest in Maoridom and later on he became very active helping the various land claims through the legal process and also other activities relating to welfare. He is now a Justice of the Peace and still lives in Taranaki.
The Post Office issued a special set of 4 stamps to commemorate the 1768-1771 voyage of Captain Cook and his “discovery of New Zealand” (4c, 6c, 18c, 28c). My Mum went to the Post Office and brought me a full set for my stamp album. These were unused stamps and so we stamp collectors referred to them as “mint”. This got me thinking, the Post Office was onto a good thing here because they were selling us stamps for my stamp album but they were not having to deliver any mail. Mum also ordered me a ‘first day cover’ so the Post Office made even more out of it. For them, this really was a “licence to print money”!
The Maoris in our class, like David Rogers, were all very proud, that their ancestors were cannibals. ‘Puha and Pakeha’ was a humorous song going around in the 1960s. David Rogers used to love saying Puha and Pakeha and he always had a big grin on his face (white men cooked with a bit of lettuce for dinner). Sadly the more recent history books of New Zealand seem to have been cleansed and very little reference is made to cannibalism among the Maori before NZ was colonised by the British. I was quite surprised when talking to my niece one day and she was not aware that there were very strong indications that the Maori had been cannibals. She was quite upset that I should even make such a suggestion.
We had the option for some extra studies. I can’t remember what was on the list to choose from but Rebecca Western (her with the long blonde hair in 2 neat plaits with 2 coloured ribbons) opted to do Maori studies so I also put my name down for it. It was actually very interesting and very enjoyable. Mrs Rogers (David’s mother, Miria) came to school and taught us about the Maori way of life and we all learnt Maori songs and the haka. She was a lovely lady and in addition to helping out with things like this at school, she also did similar stuff for the scouts and guides. I could see that Maori culture was just as much a part of the culture of New Zealand as was the culture of the Pakeha (the white man).
I suppose we also developed an awareness of who we were, in relation to where we lived, and a clear distinction here was between those who lived in the town and those who lived in the country (townies and country folk). We lived in the country and so we definitely saw ourselves as country folk. Looking back, I would think that really there was very little difference. Joe Sheehan pointed out that his house was on the edge of the town, so it had the town on one side and the country on the other side. He could have been either, but I still thought he was a townie.
Avon School was not well known for academic achievement. There was probably more emphasis on sport rather than trying to swim against the tide and get all the pupils scoring high marks in tests. I was to find out much later that some of the teachers in the staff room had a theory that once in every 7 years, completely by chance, there would be a bright class. Not a class where everyone was above average academic ability but a class that would have a reasonably large group of pupils who were above average ability.
It was many years later that Bruce Clarkson told me that our class was considered to be, a “one in seven”. In our special group there was of course Rebecca Western but in addition there was Elizabeth Capper, Lynette Little, Terril Benton, Janet Sulzberger, Joe Sheehan and a few of the others. During lessons, Bruce would often put us in a group so we could all work together and really make progress. I suppose it was a bit like academic streaming. It was probably this stroke of luck, being in an above average class, which helped me to progress on and of course eventually I did make it to university.
In the UK, all primary schools provided lunch for their pupils but in New Zealand there were no kitchens and no lunches provided. You had to bring your own. Most of the other pupils came to school with a little lunch box carefully packed by their dutiful mothers. This was in an age when most mothers did not work and they were often referred to as “house wives”. I think at this time, I was possibly the only person in my class who had a “solo parent”. The others in my class all had a father who worked and earned money and a mother who took care of everything else. Hilary, Michael and I did have lunch boxes, but it was up to us to sort out the contents. We had sliced white bread, butter and as a filling we generally had a choice of vegemite, cheese or jam. I didn’t like the bread or the butter, so generally I didn’t have anything to eat for lunch. With hindsight, all this food had a high dairy content and with my allergy it would not have been very good for me. That is probably why I didn’t like eating it.
We did have bacon and eggs for breakfast for a little while and this was absolutely delicious but this did not last long. My mother told us that we did not have enough money to have bacon and egg every morning. So, we continued with cereals and milk.
There were a few occasions when we ran out of bread. Our mother gave us some money to buy lunch at the shop. On these occasions I usually bought a meat pie and absolutely loved it. Sadly these occasions were not very frequent.
My mother realised that she needed to earn more money, as the salary for an unqualified teacher was not great. She embarked on a correspondence course with Massey University to do a degree in the Russian language. Being a science teacher, learning Russian was an unusual choice but her friend at St Marys, Mrs Chruchley, had got her very interested. Trying to do a correspondence course at home in the evenings made Mum even more tired. However, she always told us that getting a good education was very important.
Another activity which occurred over a number of years, in parallel to my life at school, was the scouts. We were very lucky in Stratford in that our scout group had an extensive scout hut which was in the King Edward Park just next to a bend in the river (known as the Old Ford). It really was an ideal place for a scout hut and the hut itself was quite an extensive building. Initially it had just been a hall with an attached kitchen and toilets but while we were there, they built a second hall, which made the hut into a very large building indeed. The scout group was also well supported with quite a few scout leaders, all of whom were of course volunteers.
My progress through cubs and scouts was very slow and I was very much a misfit. I only earned a few badges in cubs but I did stick with it and I achieved a bit more in scouts. Murray Reed was exceptional and had so many badges that he ran out of space on his sleeve. His mother must have been kept very busy sewing all those badges on.
We went to a jamboree in New Plymouth and a few years later one in the Waikato. In both cases various things went wrong for me. I found it very difficult getting on with everyone and a lot of time I just didn’t understand what was going on around me. I was a fairly weak member of the team and that did not help things either. If the leaders could have had the choice, I think they would have preferred that I had not been a member of the scout movement. I also remember being incredibly sick on the Waikato trip, probably because I had eaten too much food with dairy in it.
It was around this time that Mum brought two hiking tents and in the summer holiday we drove all the way over to the East Coast and camped at Lake Tutira, which was the lake that my mother had visited with my father and his parents about 10 years previously. It was a great trip.
Another holiday was spent at Urenui which was along the coast from Onaero Domain. Again we did some fishing and we all very much enjoyed it. Other holidays I can remember included a trip to Wellington and a trip to Auckland but my memory is a bit confused here and I am not sure which places we went to in which years. The only thing I can say was that they were excellent holidays.
In 1969 the TV people started doing live outside broadcasts and the first one of these that I remember was when we watched, in real time, the lunar landing of Apollo 11. We saw Neil Armstrong step down onto the surface of the moon and we heard him say “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. We all wanted to be astronauts when we grew up.
Another thing covered on the news in this year, was the inaugural flight of the Concorde supersonic airliner which took off and did a circuit at Bristol. This was such a big thing that the UK Post Office produced a set of 3 postage stamps to celebrate what they saw as one of Britain’s greatest engineering achievements (I must point out that it was a joint development with the French, hence it is Concorde rather than Concord). There was still a lot of costly development needed but everything came together and commercial flights began in 1976. It did also fly all the way to New Zealand as a one off in 1986.