Dawn is retired with lots more to do. She is a genealogist, a family storyteller, a mother and a grandmother and a knitter...
I can really only remember back to the time when I was five. In 1934 children went to school when they turned five but in 1935, it was after the Depression and the government of the time needed money for other urgent projects, the school entrance age was raised another year to six. I wasn’t quite five yet and can remember being desperately disappointed.
As a probable diversion my mother tried to teach me to knit. She provided me with a pair of clean meat skewers, the kind that used to hold together roast beef. That was a come down. I wanted real knitting needles. Certainly I expected to be able to knit straight away.
With my mother and auntie we were sitting on the front porch in the sunshine. I remember the smell of the breath of heaven bush as we sat there. The two adults were knitting nicely and I was industriously poking the skewers in and out of the piece of the knitting my mother had started for me. It was to be a scarf, first of all for me but as the afternoon wore on, for a doll. We went inside for afternoon tea. Next day we did knitting again. The scarf seemed to have grown a great deal. Suspicious, I asked my mother how that could have happened. ‘The fairies must have done it,’ said my mother.
I didn’t do any more knitting for years. I didn’t make a scarf for many, many more years after that.
Dawn Webster grew up in Christchurch, married at eighteen and spent six months at Mt Cook. She had six children and later trained as a teacher. Now retired, Dawn is busier than ever researching her family genealogy. She enrolled in Life Writing classes in 2007 wanting to find an interesting way to write about her great grandparents. The courses awakened so many memories and yes they worked. Even the grandchildren are asking for more stories.
The scenery was magnificent. The Hermitage, Mt Cook, was a glass fronted, two storied, luxury tourist hotel. Behind the hotel was Sealy Cottage, providing basic back packer type accommodation mainly for school parties. Beyond Sealy Cottage, out of sight of the other buildings, was my first home, a little plywood caravan. It was situated on a sunny sloping meadow with native hebe bushes along one side and tall beech forest on the other.
Inside the caravan there were two bunk beds to the left of the entry. At the far end was the space saving table and two boxes with lift up lids for seats, one on each side of the table. In the boxes we stored blankets and sheets on one side, books on the other. The table folded down to slot between the boxes and the seat squabs unfolded to form a mattress, albeit with an uncomfortable join in the middle.
Along one side from the entrance was a narrow wardrobe while on the opposite wall there was a small square oven with a big hotplate on top. On a shelf underneath sat two pressure cookers, both wedding gifts. These were a boon as they fitted on the stovetop at the same time. Beside the stove was a small bench for preparing meals and directly below a cupboard for crockery and a bowl for washing up.
Personal washing was a bath in Sealy Cottage when nobody was in residence. I washed our clothes and laundry in the same bath and put them to dry on the bushes.
In summer the meadow was the place to sit and read. Just as well there was not much housework. In heavy rain a tent was erected on the caravan roof to keep out and divert the leaks. When the snow came the caravan was cosy with warmth from the electric stove. It was our own little place.
I suppose such a temporary dwelling in a national park would no longer be tolerated but it was an ideal first home for a young beginning housewife. I shall never forget the beauty and majesty of the mountain surroundings.
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