Memories from Long ago

When we were kids, and the Winter and Summer school holidays came around. Remember that this was during the depression, so holiday trips were out of the question. We were lucky enough to be farmed out with all our cousins, en mass, to our Grandparents who were living in a small batch out at Murdering Beach. Very comfortable living it was to, but very basic. How they put up with such an ill disciplined bunch of brats numbering some ten or so, I will never know, but they did, and they did it well. It was a lonely spot and the reason for this was it was necessary to walk the final three kilometres from where the road ended. Of course it was necessary as well, to carry all our food clothes and stores in as well. Perishables, such as Butter, Milk, and Eggs, all came from a farm, also sitting in the middle of nowhere. To get there, another long walk across paddocks, stiles, creeks, but we treated it as another outing. We regarded these farmers who would today be called subsistence farmers as our friends, and we used to assist them at harvest time as there was little, or no mechanical help available and it was a case of all hands to the pump.


There were other ways to get to the Beach, but they all meant a long walk. We sometimes Caught the train at the Port Chalmers Upper station, got off at he first stop, Mihiwaka. Then walked to Long Beach, carried on to the end of the beach. Up the Maori Track, around the cliffs, to drop down into Murdering Beach. A feature of the Maori Track was it was formed a huge slip eons ago, it was so steep it was only negotiated on hands and knees. All this helped to guarantee solitude. Or, you could do as the Lewis and Hills families did, that was to walk over the hill from Deborah Bay. On arrival they camped in some old derelict. buildings A taxi ride to the top of the Hill cost one pound, at a time when the weekly wage was five pounds, this wasn’t really an option to taken very often


The crib was well stocked but basic, but they had enough of everything to go around, until once a year they used to get the local farmer to sled in bulk supplies of kerosene and other heavy gear. Sleeping arrangements were tight as you would expect with so many kids. Bunks were top and Tailed. Couches and settees were also pressed into service. There was no electricity, a wood range was the only form of heating and cooking. To drive this, Wood was collected from the surrounding hills as there were many logs from the forests that had been burnt when the country was clear felled to open up the country to provide grazing. Yes, the large logs and wood were there for the taking and once a week excursions were made with a cross cut saw and axes and wedges. This wood came in all grades and varieties. Rimu, Black and White Pine, Totara, Broad Leaf, with many other logs with our limited knowledge we couldn’t identify. Another source of fuel was coal, this arrived to the rocky points after being dredged from around the wharfs in Port Chalmers where it had be dropped while bunkering ships a hundred and fifty or more years ago. After being dredged up with other spoil, it was taken out by the dredge to Blue Skin Bay and dumped. After another fifty years or so, it found it’s way to the point close to where our Batch was situated. It was a very hot coal and tended to burn the bum out of the grate, as did drift wood we collected on the beach, mainly too because of it’s high salt content. We relied on candles and kerosene lamps for lighting.


We supplemented our rations by fishing, rabbiting, and the collection of shell fish which was abundant on the rocks and on the beach at low tide. Anther perk was to rise very early on winter mornings and walk the beach looking for Frost Fish which had cast them selves ashore or were in the process of, especially on full moon frosty nights. I have recently seen them again in the local fish shops where they are sold cheaply as a ‘by catch’ from trawlers. They were a strange fish with a big head and very large eyes and no scales


Our aunts who were still living at home and used to take us out on foraging expeditions to the surrounding bush or over to Kaikai an adjoining beach. Nobody lived there but there were traces of earlier Maori habitation long ago. They had left huge middens and green stone chips which meant they must have worked greenstone there. We gathered potatoes growing wild and looked out for gooseberries. The bush was full of self sown gooseberries being spread by birds. For some reason they seemed to have an affinity to grow the biggest and the best, alongside stinging nettle. So in season we made jam, and had many gooseberry tarts and pies. When our meat supplies ran low there was always the rabbit. It was served up braised, stewed, curried, roasted, and for those hard to please, it was renamed chicken or underground mutton. We didn’t know then about seaweed and that there many varieties that were good to eat.


The family were very resourceful and I can remember them making soap on an outside open fire where some of the cooking was carried out. The soap was made from the fat collected from roasts. The toilet however was a disappointment it was the classic long drop at the bottom of the garden, and there was noway that the girls were going to make a visit to this in the dark alone. They demanded and got someone to stand on the track with a storm lantern


I’m sure all the kids who took part in this holiday experience will still have very fond memories.




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