Catherine is a journalist who has been hunting and gathering stories for around three decades, mostly in Taranaki. The best part of her job is the interesting and sometimes quirky people she has the privilege to interview and write about.
When my mother was in the Marton maternity home with my baby sister, Granny took us older three out along country roads picking flowers, which we later put into preserving jars to decorate the house and welcome them home.
That afternoon, I walked beside the pushchair with my baby brother and little sister riding in it, me holding on. It seemed like miles to my five-year-old legs.
It was early summer and the verge was lush with foxgloves, wild roses and buttercups golden in the grass.
At bedtimes during that visit and others, Granny told us stories of her wartime exploits when she and her husband were in the Dutch underground. They had five children at that stage and when Grandfather was betrayed he had to go into hiding as he was wanted by the Nazis. He was away much of the time so mostly she was on her own and dicing with danger for she also hid Jews, a German officer who had defected and sometimes British pilots who had been shot down, in her attic in occupied Holland. She would send the children down to a nearby stream to wash their hands and faces before meals to give her time to ferry food upstairs to the ‘guests.’
Finding food for these extras as well as her family took all her resourcefulness.
Once, she saw a soldier toss a stale loaf into a rubbish bin. Quickly retrieved and with the mould cut off, it was a feast.
Other times, she bought a few potatoes from a farmer, smuggling them home in the pram underneath the baby.
My memories of my grandmother begin in the 1970s. By then, she and my grandfather and their nine children had been in New Zealand for about twenty years. What I remember is her greying hair in a soft bun and her lovely singing voice. To me she was always smiling and kind. She relished cream in her coffee, and her bread thickly buttered. Although Granny never drove a car or had a paid job, she was always busy.
In her later years, now widowed, she relished the freedom of having her own money to spend, or not, as she wished - for the first time in her life. She died aged 94.
I often think of her as my sister’s December birthday approaches and the summer growth turns the roadsides green. Her motto was: ‘Do the work your hand finds’ and hers always found plenty.
Marie Lynne was born in Christchurch and after a degree in English at Canterbury University, travelled and worked in London for several years. The following years, while the family was growing were spent in San Francisco, Argentina and Singapore. Eventually the lure of home was too great and the last working stint was nearly twenty fulfilling years at the University of Auckland Business School supporting students and staff with research and learning resources. Marie is now a passionate New Zealander who is drawn to spending more and more time in the Coromandel.
Riverton/Aparima, was one of the early places in New Zealand where Maori and Pakeha first met, forged bonds and where my grandparents made their home. Grandad was a gnarly Foveaux Strait fisherman in summer and a builder by winter. My grandmother was the domestic, lighting the parlour fire every morning, cleaning, baking and playing bowls in crisp whites.
The house has a particular smell that I can recall even now; wheaty, rose talcum powder, tobacco and furniture polish. I remember the quietness, broken by the chiming of the hall clock and the particular ring to our party line —short, long, short — and my Grandmother picking up the receiver with a loud broguey “ Aye There”.
We were fascinated by our grandparent’s treasures and their unknown to us, past lives. My grandfather hung souvenirs of his Pacific voyages in the long polished wooden hallway, a large American bright red coloured hide with a painting of a Red Indian in a canoe in the middle and a fearsome tier of tribal blow pipes cascading down the wall. My grandmother had a softer trove, an embroidered box crammed with beautiful gloves, fine kid, fur, fabric and lace and a chest under the bed full of musical scores from when she toured provincial stages singing and acting. ‘I remember this one’ she would say, “Ae fond kiss” and would hum the tune reminiscing about the weddings and parties she’d sung at.
We stood on the concrete back porch on summer evenings looking down the harbour waiting to see my Grandfather’s boat, the Southern Light come over the bar. I remember my annoyance at not being allowed on the Southern Light. Probably I was too young but I felt it was because I was a girl. My cousin, a boy of a similar age did go out on a fishing expedition!
The house, sheltered from blasting southerlies by the wild Takitimu hills, was surrounded by paddocks leading up to the wild bush. As a band of bolshy cousins, aged from four to nine, little ones trailing, we trudged, in our gumboots, across the cow paddocks and into the thick, dark, bush, where we pushed over pungas to make log huts in dappled light, threw crawlies, (koura) at each other and trekked all the way through to the wild ‘back beach’ facing Stewart Island, where once we got lost. Excitedly running down to the wild surf, we turned around to find we had lost the trail back into the thick bush. The older ones decided the only option was to walk around coastal headland after coastal headland to find our way back to Riverton. We knew it would work, but it was a long hike and nearly dark by the time a bedraggled tired bunch of children saw the lights of their Aunt and Uncle’s car shining for them at a beach reserve on the outskirts of town.
Trevor lives in Auckland. He is a retired Civil Engineer and businessman. During his life he has had a passion for the visual arts. As a mature student he completed two Fine Arts Degrees and is now a practicing artist and photographer. Trevor’s motivation for learning how to write memoir is to be able to leave information about his life for his two daughters and three grandchildren.
I have memories of Amy, my maternal grandmother, dressed in black. My maternal grandfather James died before I was born.
James, I understand was very adaptable and resilient, a saw miller and he worked on building railways. According to the family he was responsible for the narrow gauge of New Zealand rail.
In 1883 gold was discovered on the Waikaka river flats on what was my family land. Of 28 dredges two were owned by my family.
James had fifteen children, six by his first wife Sarah and nine by his second wife Amy. After Sarah died James travelled to Rotorua ‘to take the waters’. There, soaking in the mineral baths, he met Amy. They decided to get married. Amy’s family wrote to the Waikaka parish minister enquiring as to whether James Paterson was of good character. A favourable reply saw James and Amy move to Waikaka. Amy imagined being fully occupied looking after James’s six children, instead she went on to have nine children of her own.
My maternal great-great grandparents Hugh and Marion from Lanarkshire travelled to New Zealand on the Sir William Eyre in 1862. Marion’s brother George was unwell and the family, unaware of the daunting challenges ahead thought a sea voyage would be good for him. They paid fifteen pounds per head. When they learned that further passengers were being added under the NZ Government assisted passage scheme, they sent out a small boat to try and get them off the ship. This was a voyage from hell. Slimy water, insufficient food and cramped conditions. More than thirty people died including Marion’s twenty-month old boy Hugh. Apparently the shock caused her to give birth an hour later. The ship bound for Dunedin went aground at Bluff. Marion told the children to dress in their finest clothes as they had arrived in their new country. They waded ashore and pitched their tent.
76 year-old retired lawyer who tried to enhance safety and protections for women and child victim/survivors of violence (and some men as well). Ruth was born in NYC in 1944, the child of holocaust survivors. Their stories have shaped her life.
My mother was on one of the last sailings of the ‘Queen Mary’ as a passenger ship, in December 1938. Soon thereafter this Cunard line ‘Queen’ became a troop ship. By the time my mother’s journey began, Czechoslovakia, her homeland, had already begun to be carved up. Chamberlain’s ‘Peace in Our Time’ speech legitimised Germany’s occupation of Sudetenland. At the same time the Hungarians had annexed the country’s eastern areas including the Carpathian region where my family lived.
To begin to understand my mother’s actions, you need to know some things about her. She had never been to school but was very smart and canny and high strung… and she didn’t give up, ever. She knew how dangerous things were for the Jews around her, how limited the escape pathways. And she wasn’t travelling alone. She had two sons (ages 3 and 18 months) whom she was solely responsible for. Her goal was clear: She had to get herself and them to Cherbourg, the Queen Mary’s embarkation point for America.
My mother had never been out of her small town, Munkacs. The journey to Cherbourg was 2,220km and there were dangers all along the way involving passports and visas and corrupt guards at borders. And there were the worst fears of what could happen while the train passed through Germany. Ironically, for my mother and my brothers, the worst involved something which began very innocently. They were sharing a compartment with some young German soldiers who began to talk and play with the boys. My brother Seymour didn’t really speak yet, but Harold, the three year old did and his sole language was Yiddish.
My mother became terrified that Harold would blurt out something that would mark them as Jews. So she took Harold out into the corridor of the train and beat him up, repeatedly telling him that under no circumstances should he make a sound.
Sixty years later, at Harold’s funeral, my mother tells this story for the first time and then breaks down and cries, asserting no one should ever hit children. We, her two remaining children, try to comfort her. Anyone would have understood her actions. She was afraid and trying to save all their lives. But she couldn’t forgive herself. She had just buried her oldest son and nothing could assuage her guilt.
Samantha Scott wishes to expand her creativity from quilting to writing and has aspirations of completing a book detailing the life story of her mother in law. She is also at work on a photo book about her grandparents - the story of a parlour maid from Kent and the man from the Merchant Navy whom she fell in love with. In 2020 to celebrate her 55th birthday, Sam climbed or walked all 55 of Auckland’s volcanoes with friends, her husband and two daughters. There may be a book in that story too.
My grandfather would have been 106 years old today. I am his eldest grandchild, and when I was young, he used to say things to me like “Morning mate! How are you going, mate?” and “What shall we do next, mate?”I used to answer with “I’m good, mate.” Or “Can we go to the pet shop, mate?”; or “Yes, please, mate.” My brothers, my daughters and I all call my grandfather, Mate. My cousins call him Grandad.
Alfred George Gifford was born on Thursday November 5, 1914 and lived with his parents Edwin John and Annie Elizabeth (nee Scrivens) in a council house in Broomfield, Kent. He was the middle child in a family of five between Frederick Arthur and Rose Ellen, and Charles Edwin and sister Doris. Fred left school at the age of fourteen to work as an errand boy for the local greengrocer. At fifteen he enrolled in Sea School and in 1930 joined the Merchant Navy at just sixteen. The following year he went on his first overseas deployment, and he traveled with the navy to many countries, including New Zealand which he told my mother was “God’s own country.”
He began as a deck boy and over the course of his fifteen-year naval career he moved through the ranks of Ordinary Seaman, Quartermaster, Carpenter, and finished up as a Petty Officer, with three medals to pin to his dress uniform (if he had claimed them). During the Second World War, he was torpedoed more than once; and spent several long periods based in Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal.
I am fortunate to have his photograph album of his time in the Merchant Navy, and a handful of the precious letters he wrote to my grandmother. They were long letters to his “Dearest, Darling Babsy,” and they somehow managed to be both polite and also full of emotional anguish. From the SS Fort Erie on September 25, 1943, he writes:
Thanks a lot for the unexpected pleasure of having a letter from you so soon. You have no idea how it cheered me up or how many times I have read it, but I understand all that’s in it my love, and like you feel the pain of being parted, can’t say I like the idea very much either however things are cracking up a bit now and I suppose everyone will have to do a share.
Although he returned home on leave, his children, my mother and uncle, were born while he was away from England. In another letter to my grandmother, this one dated September 25, 1943, just before my mother’s second birthday, he writes:
I have been puzzling over something to make for our little girl, dear, but as yet haven’t decided on anything. What would I give to see her now and hold her. I expect she can talk a bit by now dear and I bet she speaks as pretty as she looks. She’s certainly a picture dear, just like her mother.
Debbie, having left full time work as an academic, now has a new day job - to record her parents’ story for their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her biggest regret is not having had the interest, when they were still alive, to talk to her parents and aunties and uncles more about their lives while she still could. Fortunately, she now has the time to research her parents’ story, and her ancestry, and actually get down to capturing her findings on paper. The first project is on her father.
It all started with the discovery, during a decluttering exercise, of my father’s medals that had been casually tossed in a drawer. “Do you know what we have here?” exclaimed my (late) husband Mike, after googling them. “This one is the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM). It’s one down from the Victoria Cross, and awarded to non-officers, for outstanding bravery.”
I knew that Dad, Flight Sergeant Ralph James Hardy, had been a prisoner of war under the Japanese in Hong Kong, that he worked in labour gangs on the extension of the Kai Tak airfield, and had been involved, along with a group of POWS, in smuggling messages in and out of the camp. In July 1943, they were betrayed, tortured and tried. Three of the senior officers were sentenced to death by execution, and my father, along with two others, were sentenced to fifteen years hard labour and sent to a jail in Canton (Guangzhou). I knew there were medals but hadn’t appreciated the real significance behind the DCM. Suddenly things I’d heard growing up, came into focus. There were family stories that ‘young Ralph’ had been a bit of a rascal, a dare-devil with a penchant for taking risks, much to the despair of the local community bobby, who unknowingly, when he said more than once “That boy will either end up in jail or Buckingham Palace” was right on both accounts.
My father, though a scholarship boy, had to leave school at fourteen to keep his brother at university. He joined the RAF in 1937 at the age of twenty, seeking more education and better prospects. He was posted to Hong Kong where he met my mother Hazel Frances O'Sullivan. Their courtship was interrupted by the fall of Hong Kong and they didn’t marry until after the liberation. Had they married earlier my mother, an Irish national, would have been interned as well. Throughout the war and his imprisonment, my mother took risks smuggling messages and food to him and other POWs. Afterwards she was known for her deeds as “The Angel of Hong Kong.”
In my possession are a collection of photographs, and a bundle of letters, written on card, tied up with a pink ribbon, that Dad wrote to Mum, his “Darling Spuds” from the POW camp in Hong Kong. I didn’t know until recently, that somewhere in those love letters, there were also coded messages that I now need to decipher.
It was my husband who set me on the path to reconstruct my father’s life. Now that he is gone I am continuing the project hoping to capture the story of how a bright working class boy from Yorkshire survived unimaginable conditions (torture, beatings, solitary confinement and the constant threat of death) in the prison camp, went on to become a proven linguist as an examiner of Cantonese, Mandarin and Hakka Chinese languages, and to have a highly successful career as the Registrar of Trade Unions in Hong Kong. On retirement he was awarded another medal, The Imperial Service Order, for his “faithful service”, received from the Queen Mother at an investiture ceremony at Buckingham Place. I am writing to honour his life and also the role my mother played in it.
Don was born in Sydney in 1936, grew up in Newcastle, became a teacher, and began teaching in the Australian bush in 1955. Of no previous Christian denomination, he became an Anglican in 1961, an Anglican priest in 1969, and a Roman Catholic priest in 2000. He has worked with Mother Teresa’s Brothers in Calcutta and Saigon. Don also has a degree in Social Sciences from Waikato University and was manager of the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society’s hostel in Hamilton for young men released from borstal at Waikeria. Throughout the 1980s he was Auckland City Missioner. Don is now allegedly retired and extremely busy.
My Auntie Lillian was more my mother than my mother, and vice versa. Lillian’s home was more my home than my home. I had no siblings except Barbara, Lillian’s daughter, who was my first cousin, only three weeks older. We considered one another twins and could never wait to be together again, once I returned to Newcastle, a hundred miles north of Sydney, where I had to leave her.
Lillian used to give us exciting holiday adventures, such as a visit across the harbour to the Sydney Zoo (Taronga Park), with rides on Jessie the elephant followed by lunch featuring Lillian’s great, tasty sandwiches.
She often took us to Bondi Beach where we would swim and have lunch with more of those lovely sandwiches and just as lovely cakes.
She would hug me and kiss me, as she did Barbara, as though I were her son.
Lillian was always angry with Uncle Arthur when he came home late from work tipsy and cheerful, but Barb and I were always pleased to see him.
Lillian took us to see the movie Pinocchio at the State Cinema, and twice to see Bambi in which Barbara and I cried both times and still wanted more. She took us for picnics at intriguing Vaucluse House which had been the home of W.C. Wentworth, an early explorer in Australia.
Lillian believed me when I told her I had seen the Blue Fairy from Pinocchio fly slowly past my bedroom window, and no one else believed me. I was six at the time and had the mumps.
Anna has come to writing after successfully raising five children, along with her late husband. She wants to record some of the stories from the people in the family's past, for those coming after them.
Granny was a proper grandmother, being seventy years old when I was born.
Maggie Rogers was born in Wiltshire in 1872 and arrived in New Zealand in 1912 at the age of forty with her husband and four children. Listening to her stories of her childhood taught us grandchildren history at the same time.
To me she was old fashioned, with her white hair pinned back in a knot and Victorian dress, black jacket and skirt with a white blouse, and a black hat with fearsome hat pins — they were big and long — good for self-defence or attack.
Though Granny missed out on the suffragette protests in England she was excited to learn that in New Zealand she could vote. She told me how she walked the four miles of rough road from their farm to Taihape on polling day, by herself.
My grandfather disdained 'colonial politics' and wouldn't vote.
"Which was just as well, because his vote would have cancelled mine."
Granny was a socialist, even though she came from prosperous farming stock. Her father had a bench made at the farm gate for itinerants to rest on. At midday one of the children would be sent to count the number of waiting men and the corresponding number of plates would be put on the family table. The would file in and sit down to share in the food.
Her father took the biblical commandment to 'feed the stranger at your gate' to mean what it said.
I remember her telling us about the little six-year-old boys she saw in Melksham running up and down in a rope factory for twelve hours a day. This was to earn a penny which would be given to their mother so she could buy a loaf of bread for their supper.
Granny also said that when she was a child, she always avoided the kitchen, but happily looked after the younger siblings — there were nine in the family — or willingly helped with farm chores. Fifty years later in New Zealand, her cooking was still mediocre, except for her delicious pancakes, generously sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar. She had fond childhood memories of the pancake races on Shrove Tuesday, the day before fasting on Ash Wednesday.
After her seventieth birthday, Granny said she was now living on borrowed time because the Bible allotted you three score years and ten.
She had borrowed nineteen more years by the time she died, aged 89.
Doris Riegel was born and raised on Long Island, New York. She completed her MS in Education at Indiana University where she met her husband. They lived and worked in a variety of cities around the United States before moving, with their two daughters, to New Zealand in 2006. After volunteering and working in non-profit music and theatre education for almost twenty years, she is now exploring new activities and challenges.
With a rattle, the gate to the elevator slammed shut. To a ten-year-old in the 1970s the elevator in my grandmother’s Brooklyn, NY apartment building was thrilling. The castle-like foyer with dark stone floors, concrete walls, and dim lighting was in contrast to her apartment with its tall windows and stark white walls. The kitchen was small but adequate and the living room, always tidy, held a sofa, chair, and coffee table displaying knickknacks. The bedroom was dark, but warm with walnut furniture and heavy drapes.
My grandmother’s name was Lillian Mioducki, but we called her Lulu — she refused to be known as ‘grandma’. As the oldest grandchild, I had the privilege of sometimes staying with Lulu. She would take me out in the city where we’d visit stores she called ‘shit shops’-because of the vast array of varied and cheap items they stocked, then enjoy lunch at a soda fountain followed by a stroll down to the water to watch the boats pass under the Verrazano Bridge. Lulu would often send me, on my own, to the corner deli to purchase milk and a pack of ‘True Blue’ cigarettes.
Lulu’s visits were always great fun. She had a wicked sense of humour and loved to play games. When she smoked, she sat outside the back door on an aluminium strap chair, similar to one she had in her living room, which she preferred over the soft upholstered furniture. She was a tall slim woman who wore her grey hair short. My mother would set Lulu’s hair in pink plastic curlers using a sticky green gel called ‘Dippity Do’ which had a sweet chemical odour. In the morning, the curlers were unrolled, and her hair moulded into position for the next week. Sometimes I would sneak a little gel and try to style my own hair.
When Lulu began suffering from dementia, I was stunned to discover that her relationship with my mother had always been strained. To hear the hurtful words, they shouted at each other as the dementia took over, was heart-breaking. I may never fully understand the difficulty of their relationship, but I will always treasure the memories of my funny, spirited, and generous grandmother.
Jim spent over a decade in the 1970s and ‘80s designing lighting and staging for international concerts by major rock groups including ABBA, Queen and the Rolling Stones.
Ah… New York City. It really is the city that never sleeps, although in the 1970s and early ‘80s it was one of the murder capitals of the US, and you definitely didn’t venture out alone after dark. Nonetheless, as a venue for touring rock concerts it’s hard to beat, with Madison Square Garden considered the place to play for rock gods.
New Yorkers normally make enthusiastic concert audiences and the atmosphere in the Garden could be electric. The main auditorium on the fifth level could literally bounce in time to the music. I remember the Stones ripping through “Brown Sugar”; lighting grid, sound system, stage, everything and everyone shaking up and down. Exciting if a little frightening.
Working with American union crews could be a challenge. At Madison Square Garden they had a reputation for being hard-assed. You didn’t fuck with them. But boy, when they were on your side, they were the most professional and skilled operators you could hope for.
September 1980; with the last chords of Queen’s “We Are The Champions” rolling round the Garden, Freddie Mercury beating his microphone on the mirrored stage, huge banks of lights sharp and slick and intense descending hot and menacing over the drumkit, enthralling the audience and stimulating the performers — Brian May once said to me ‘Jimmy when you do the lights I play better’ — and the audience applauding wildly, screaming out for more; the end of a Queen show was always climactic. And as the lighting designer I had an immensely satisfying sense of a job well done. Just as I was reflecting on the extraordinary skill of the crew, one of the eight spotlight operators called out over the intercom: “Hey limey!” he said, “That was a great show!” And another: “Yeah a great show! And you always said please and thank you!” These guys could make or break a performance, and in this case they absolutely nailed it. I thanked them again for their terrific work.
Growing up my mum was always nagging us kids to say please and thank you…I’m thankful for that now, as I realise that treating people with courtesy gets the best out of them.
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