Colin Radford is an Auckland writer based in Point Chevalier. He attended Deborah Shepard's life writing courses and began his memoir spanning eight decades in 2007. He is also a member of a vigorous writers group originating from the inaugural 2006 Life Writing course at Continuing Education, University of Auckland.
I was born in 1930 and grew up on a farm called Mackford, eight miles up-river from the North Taranaki township of Mokau. In the early days our home had no electricity and was only accessible by cream launch. As far back as I can remember I enjoyed being involved in the whitebaiting season on the river. When I was twelve, my parents opened my first Post Office Savings account and I could deposit the earnings from my whitebaiting. My best year was 1944 when my sales totalled over £400 pounds. At fourteen I began to dream of owning my own farm.
I was happy beside the river. I could relax and absorb the peacefulness of the flowing river and the natural beauty all around me. The willows were sprouting green shoots and the plump native wood pigeons dined on the new spring growth softly cooing with satisfaction. Across the river a kingfisher sat on a branch just above the water and sometimes screeched. It’s sharp eyes were always scanning the river and when it dived the whitebait scattered everywhere.
The herrings occasionally caused more problems. Just as a shoal was about to enter the net there would be a flash of silver and the whitebait were gone. When the odd herring got trapped in the net I felt avenged and later our cats were incredibly happy. The most thrilling part of catching whitebait was monitoring the progress of a shoal. I would hold my breath as the shoal approached the net and and then when they streamed through the trap opening I felt elated. When the front of the net was frothing from the frantic efforts of thousands of little fish struggling against the wire gauze and still more were entering through the trap, I knew a bumper catch was assured. That was whitebaiting in the Mokau River in 1944, and I haven’t even mentioned the taste of fresh, fresh whitebait turned into mouthwatering fritters.
Adapted extract from The Boy from Mokau River: A Memoir (2010) by Colin Radford
Jenny Healey is a new writer, who lives in Orere Point. After attending the 2010 First Chapters writing programme, her story “The Nullabor Plain” was published in Translucence: Life Writing from Manukau and Papakura.
The idea of my running away came about after my older brother and sister had told me yet again to go away. “I’ll show them,” was forefront in my mind as I planned my escape. Going to my Nana’s in Auckland wasn't an option. She lived over 100 miles away from my hometown of Dargaville and anyway my piggy bank was empty. What my family needed was a shock. What if I just pretended to run away? Now there’s a thought.
I had contemplated several good hiding places before deciding on the perfect spot. It was in the old oak tree that grew next door by the road, a collection of gnarly planks nailed between the branches, called “The Tree House.” From this hiding place I would have a great view of any unfolding drama. With a jumper, drink and sandwich stowed in my school satchel, I was up that tree as fast as my agile nine-year-old body could climb.
Invisible to the world below, I watched my brother and sister walk up our drive; Mr McQuin, from across the road, returning from work and getting a thorough licking from Dick, his German Shepherd and there was Dad’s brand new 59 Hillman minx turning into our street. It must be 6 o’clock, tea-time. Dad pulled up. He looked up briefly and I ducked down. He didn’t see me, did he? I was pretty sure he hadn’t.
I settled down to wait. In an hour the police would be here; then I would casually climb down looking slightly confused. I’d fallen asleep I’d say. I heard Mum call me in for tea. This was it then. Here comes the drama.
I waited. A second call, louder, insistent pierced my ears; still I waited, listening in the darkened evening for sounds of grief, the general uproar of a family when the youngest is discovered missing. Any moment now I will see the police car pull up. The neighbours wondering what drama could have happened on their quiet uneventful street in their quiet uneventful town.
I waited. The sun had all but gone when I finally clambered down and peered into the kitchen window. There was my family eating and talking. I strained my ears for snippets concerning me. Dad might be saying that any time now the police would have found her…she can’t have got far. But all I heard him say was ‘Pass the salt please John.’ I opened the door, rubbing my eyes and yawning. Mum looked at me and said, ‘It’s about time you came down from that tree Jenny. Your tea has been getting cold.’
Joan Hugo Burley was born in England, but grew up in Uganda. She qualified as a Doctor in London, and worked as a Paedatrician in South Africa for many years. She came to live in New Zealand five years ago.
It wasn’t unusual to have monkeys dropping in when I was a child in Uganda. We often had tea on the lawn under a huge mango tree. The “house boy”, Yowana, dressed in a long flowing white “kanzu” (like a priest’s cassock) and with a red fez complete with tassel on his head, would carry out a large round table and set it up in the shade. He would cover it with a spotless white linen cloth, and bring out the best china cups and saucers and the silver tea service, including a pair of silver tongs to pick up the white sugar lumps. Picking up the sugar with our fingers was strictly frowned upon, but the monkeys didn’t care, and would swing down from the trees, run across the lawn, and seize great handfuls if they got the chance. Often they managed to grab a piece of cake as well, much to the delight of my sister and me. Yowana would come rushing out with a stick and chase the monkeys away, for they were not afraid of us small children, and could have given us a nasty bite.
We employed six household servants when we first went to Uganda, and that was considered quite normal in 1950. We had a chief houseboy, assistant houseboy, cook, ayah (nanny) dhobi (laundry) boy and a gardener or shamba boy. Many of the names had been borrowed from the time of the Raj in India, and my mother was addressed as “Memsahib”. Some Swahili words had crept in, however, and my father was “Bwana”. I was addressed as “Memsahib Kidogo”, little memsahib, a mixture of Indian and Swahili words. No-one thought it strange that grown men were referred to as “boy”, although that would quite understandably be unacceptable nowadays.
One person who was never referred to as “Boy” was the cook. He had served in the Army, and would come and stand to attention before my mother, and salute before he spoke to her. One day he told my little sister that she was naughty to help herself to chocolate biscuits. She retorted that he was the one who was a “naughty little monkey”, which was not meant to be offensive, but was a term used by my mother when we children misbehaved. He was highly incensed, and it took my mother a lot of explanation, an apology, and a promise of increased rations of sugar and maize meal, to calm him down.
Liz Thomas is a twenty-year-old Maori/Pakeha student at the University of Auckland. She grew up in Mangere Bridge, South Auckland and in 2010 received an opportunity, on the First Chapters programme, to explore her passion for life writing and tell her story.
No one had ever talked to me about contraception. My parents and I had never discussed ‘the birds and the bees’ and here I was, fifteen and pregnant. I stopped at the chemist on the way to my friend’s house and bought a pregnancy test. I already knew the result, even before the test, you get a feeling. I stood awkwardly in the tiny toilet at my friend’s and stared at the torn pale wallpaper as I waited for the test to confirm what I already knew. I came out of the toilet and simply said to my mate, “I’m pregnant".
“Well just have an abortion,” she replied matter-of-factly as she squashed the cigarette butt down into the over-crowded ashtray. I lit a cigarette. We sat in silence for a few minutes as she carried on flicking through her magazine. I don’t know what I was quite expecting, hugs, tears maybe, or “Oh my God, what are we gunna do? Are you gunna tell your Mum?”
I couldn’t believe what was happening. Apparently it was simple, you just told the nurse you wanted an abortion and she gave you a time and a date. Then it would be over and you would just get on with your life. Whether I kept this baby or not, I knew my life would change forever and the thought scared me. I lit another cigarette.
“You have two days to decide what you want to do with it,” the Nurse said as she threw me a couple of pamphlets. I felt stupid. She made me feel stupid. “You have four options,” she said harshly as she flicked through the pamphlet, “Either have an abortion, adopt it, keep it, or since you’re Māori you might want to whāngai it.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “So I’ll book you in for an appointment on Thursday and you can give us your decision,” she stated. I never went back.
It was a cold overcast Tuesday. I stepped out of the Family Planning clinic and onto the busy street. For that nurse it was just another day at work, another Tuesday. I walked dazed through the mall, fifteen years old, seven weeks pregnant and alone, with a few pamphlets shoved in my bag, my future written all over them.
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