Murdering Beach

This ‘Post’ is all about our extended families, holiday house. Grandfather Mckenzie had it built while he was the publican of the Provincial Hotel Port Chalmers. It was situated on a remote quarter acre section at ‘Murdering Beach’, close to the shore and the high tide mark, but tucked under a sheltered Hill on the Northern end of the Beach. I am not sure exactly how it got it grizzly name, but the story handed down by word of mouth within our family was, it was the scene of a revenge killing of some Maori residents by a sealing party. The area had certainly been extensively occupied by the Maori. There are today still many visible signs of their occupancy. Many Middens with the remains of fish and shell. As well there are areas where greenstone has been worked extensively, as evidenced by the large number of greenstone chips in sheltered places. The beach is Situated on an latitude of 45 degrees, so the living by the early inhabitants in their caves or shelters that they were able to erect, it must have been in winter, a most bleak existence. In our time only one other crib was on the Beach, so we holidayed in complete privacy.


The Crib itself was not large, about 40 feet x 40 feet and internally dividend into four equal areas, It was constructed about 100 years ago, and even today is still habitable, It had a timber frame and sheathed by a cement board that has stood the test of time. The roof was tiled and required very little attention. The front half was Dining room/lounge with the only interior door leading into a bunk room with four bunks. The dining room had two day beds which also doubled as seating for the large table. This furniture took up most of the space. The other half of the interior area was kitchen and another bunk room but no doors. There was a wood stove at the far end, and a bench and sink against the wall. We gathered our fuel from the surrounding hills. Mainly logs left over from when the forest was cleared and burnt to allow the area to be farmed. We had no title to the land, but remained there at the pleasure of the various land owners and farmers, who in fact even wrote a clause into their bill of sale when they moved on, or sold out. It could be said now, that our legal arrangements and title was ‘slack’. Why bother, where the land was located, it was of no commercial value and very difficult to get to. In other words, remote and worthless. Earlier all the building materials had been sledged onto the site by the local farmer, and by the same method, our heavy supplies and stores were also sledged in once a year.


Water was alway precious and collected from the roof into a 400 gallon tank. This tank had started out as a steel container which had been used for shipping expensive china from England, Naturally they were quickly recycled into water tanks. We also had a smaller tank but this was not piped into the Crib. We did have access to a spring up the hill where in times of drought we could walk up to and then dip out water from a former large limejuice barrel that had come off a ship. This was sunk into the ground. Some said they could still taste the limes, but I never could. All water whether for washing or food preparation was saved and recycled for the garden. In addition to the wood fuel we could also fossick for coal. This came via the dredge that worked in The Otago Harbour where ships had bunkered for many years, while doing so some had dropped overboard. The spoil from the dredge after deepening the harbour was taken out to sea and unloaded off our beach. Coal included in the spoil over the years then found it’s way onto the nearby point, waiting for someone to come by and harvest it over again.


Naturally we didn’t have electricity, so all our light came from candles and Lamps. Every morning there was a ritual which involved the lamps. Then the wicks were trimmed, glasses cleaned, and lamps filled. We also had several ‘Storm Lanterns’ which I still see for sale even today.


Access to the beach was difficult until recently when the sledge track was made into a road. This opened up the area to the general public. This access I suppose was great for most people, but it also gave access to the feral people who don’t respect property or rights of anyone. For ninety years we never had a problem, but once the road was formed, nothing but problems, such as regular breakins, as well, the garden was plundered. We had two ways of getting to the crib. You could take a taxi to the top of the hill and walk the last two kilometres, carrying all your food. The fare for this at one time, was a pound which was exorbitant. The other way was to catch the train, travel to Mihiwaka, then it was a long walk to Long Beach, cross Long Beach to the point, then climb up and over to Murdering Beach. Of course this meant carrying all your food and clothing and any extras you might wish to take along.


There was plenty of shell fish available at low tide, and fishing off the two points. But being a sandy coast with little rocky reefs in the area, fishing was difficult. The was a lagoon that contained eels, and mushrooms were available by the basketful in season, as the local farmers hadn’t yet started to ‘Top Dress’ their paddocks. Rabbits were plentiful and a welcome supplement to our diet. Gooseberries were also plentiful in the patches of bush that were still standing being spread by birds. You could have as much jam as you liked on your bread, providing it was gooseberry. Fresh milk and eggs were available from the Farmers at the top of the hill. Another long walk, traipsing crosscountry through the long grass. We must have liked it, as everyone was involved in these expeditions. In season we fossicked for potatoes that were growing wild every where, small but tasty.


There was no bathroom. Bathing was carried out for the kids in a large bathtub. This was carried out weekly, or whenever it was raining and the Tank was overflowing. I seem to remember there was a protocol to our bathing. The same water did many kids, it went without saying, Girls First, as they were deemed to be the cleanest. The adults obversely couldn’t fit into the tub, they performed what was known as a sponge bath.


I should mention the Toilet, it was situated about 20 metres from the crib and covered completely with a creeper. The girls who were loath to use it at night and demanded an escort who had to remain ten steps away. We also had several pots under the beds which you could use if you didn’t want to make a visit outside in the dark and rain.


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