Memories of long ago

In my youth not many people travelled far from home. For a start, very few owned a motor vehicle. So you either walked, or used a bike for short journeys. For longer trips, Rail was the most popular and in many places the only option, However it gave a very good service, but by today’s standards, slow. As we had nothing else to measure it by, we were happy with it. For obvious reasons busses or any form of motorised traffic was not popular, possibly because our roads were so bad. Seal as we now know it, was reserved for main streets of some towns only, or perhaps some city streets. Tradesmen such as plumbers, carpenters would arrive at your home, to carry out a job, either on foot, or by a push bike with some of their material strapped their machine. If they required more, it would be most likely delivered to them by a local carrier, equipped with a horse and cart, and only latterly, by a van. A trip from Dunedin to say Queenstown was a major under taking, requiring the best part of a day to negotiate bad roads and obstacles unheard of today, such as sand drifts on central roads, which were difficult unless you had carried a shovel with all the other tools.


I remember a story Jessie Neilson (My Mother in Law) told me of her first teaching assignment, that summed up the difficulties of getting around. Teachers back then had to put in a couple of years ‘Country Service’ and hers was at Henley. This was a small settlement about 25 miles South from Dunedin. To get there she took the train to Dunedin from Port Chalmers. Then Transferred to another for Mosgiel. Picked up her bike from the Guards Van, then cycled down the Main South Road the remaining 10 miles or so. The road in those days was not sealed. For her working week, she was boarded out by a parent family until Friday, and then she repeated her trek in reverse.


Motor vehicles, like telephones, were few and far between. In fact the Port Chalmers telephone system was closed down very night by the local manual exchange, about 11-00pm. The local doctors, Police, Fire Station, Harbour Board, and a local Call Box, These were all plugged the into Dunedin Exchange by five lines that were available, so some had a limited service, the rest of the town could wait to 6-00am the next day.


The Fire Station didn’t have any electronic aids just a system of Bells on towers all set at different points around the town, you needed to recognise the tone of each bell the know where the fire was. An alarm or siren at the station came much later. But the bells alone were sufficient to muster the volunteers firemen.



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