The Whangarei years: 1928 – 1936

Dad was shaving when I asked him. “What pen name could I use if I sent my poem to the Children’s Page?” His face covered in lather he paused, and gravely stropped his razor on the leather strop hanging from the handle of the bathroom door. “How about Miraflora?” he said. I had no idea what it meant, but it had a literary ring about it, and the explanation of ‘many flowers’ seemed poetic, so Miraflora I became for my modest childhood journalistic career.

I now learn that there is no such Latin tag! But nevertheless it seems to me that phrase is a fair summary of my life. The many flowers which have made up my personal ‘bouquet’ have included a happy family upbringing, a good education, a great husband, two lovely children – and spouses and grandchildren thereafter, interesting career and voluntary activities, comfortable homes, great travel opportunities, many wonderful friends, and all this grounded in the Christian faith. The background of the Depression, the second World War and other conflicts, civil unrest and economic hardship have devastated the lives of others around me, but have not blighted my personal sheaf of many flowers. So it is with profound thankfulness that I now write for my children and grandchildren a little of the many flowers along my way.

Our parents, Ian McKenzie and Molly Robertson met at the University of Otago in the early 1920s, and though there was obviously an attraction and they wrote regularly for some years, they did not marry until December, 1926. Dad was born and raised with his two brothers in Victoria, Australia until the family arrived with their (Presbyterian clergyman) father and mother in Wanganui. His grandparents however, had emigrated from Scotland in 1854. Mother’s family had emigrated to New Zealand in 1902 and were similarly of intelligent, hardworking, thrifty Scottish background. Mother had only one year of secondary school education but nevertheless matriculated and went off to Teachers’ College and University in Dunedin, and Dad had had secondary schooling in Wanganui. Now, living at St Margaret’s and Knox Colleges respectively, they both finished degrees and left to go teaching.

My earliest memories are snapshots: isolated incidents rather than sequences. Sometimes family photos reinforce the memories though they are then captured in black and white rather than colour. The house where we were all born and where I spent the first years of my life had been carefully designed by our parents, Molly and Ian McKenzie. Dad was always interested in architecture but as their first home was designed and built there was detailed consultation with his fiancée by letter. School Lane was a short street connecting the Boys’ High School where Dad taught, and the Girls’ High School at the other end. In my memory the large section on which the house was built was already planted with shrubs, trees, flowers, fruit trees, and a large vegetable garden, but our parents must have worked very diligently in establishing that during those early years when Mum was pregnant and gave birth to four children. There was also a fowl run where Dad kept chooks but I was always scared of their pecking, flapping habits. Level with the fowl run there was a tall pine tree on which our swing was hung, and then below a rock wall the section fell away to a stream below. One Summer I remember our parents creating a terrace halfway down, and I have an image of afternoon tea there. In the stream I began learning to swim, and on one or two occasions I must have been taken to the bush on the far side. We also had a small sandpit up near the back door.

The neighbour’s properties were also familiar territory, and I climbed the Puriri tree in the Masseys’ back garden, and we had at least a couple of large outdoor birthday parties for mothers and small children in the orchard at the bottom of the Courtneys’ garden. The homes of Dad’s fellow teachers were familiar places nearby – the Sligos, Glanvilles, Smiths and Dunns, as well as people like the Inksters and the Connells that my parents knew through the church.

I know that these were Depression years and that Dad, like most people had salary cuts so that Mum was in despair when she realised she was expecting Fraser. But I cannot recall any sense of hardship, and I imagine that Dad’s vegetables and eggs and Mum’s thriftiness and her ability to sew and knit everything we wore probably enabled them to cope well. There are photos of Moragh, Fraser and me dressed for a fancy dress party: Fraser was a brown paper parcel, Moragh was a Hawaiian maiden entirely dressed in skeins of wool not yet knitted up, and I had a Bo-peep costume improvised in some way. One magic term I went to dancing lessons and at the end of the time there was a recital! I had two costumes – one in green and white Japanese rayon and we danced to “Lily of Laguna”, and the other Dutch costume with red and white striped skirt and a Dutch cap with wings cunningly wired by my mother. The crowning moment came at the end of the performance when bouquets and gifts were handed up to the stage and I received a posy and small box of homemade sweets. It was only years later that I realised my parents were my admirers.

I remember the first and only film I attended in the Whangarei years. Dad took me to a matinee in the Regent Theatre and there were horses galloping on the screen. More vividly I recall a High School concert in the Town Hall with a spectacular finale and I think the star fainted in the final tableau. Towards the end of our time in Whangarei we got a radio, a Philco, but the only item I really remember was the dramatic announcement that Kingsford Smith or perhaps Jean Batten had flown the Tasman. And Dad producing eerie sounds as he twiddled the shortwave. I remember being taken to see the buildings downtown illuminated for some Jubilee or special occasion, the glow in the sky when Hoskings’ Drapery burnt down, the flood which swept through the grounds of the Plunket Rooms, the storm which left dead birds littering the beach at Waipu Cove (or was it Laings Beach?) when we went there once. I suppose I must have gone in a bus or car in Whangarei though I have no memory of that. But the high yellow baker’s cart and a rather less handsome butcher’s cart calling at 4 School Lane are in my mind so horses were still in use. One day downtown I was taken to see the smith at work in the forge with glowing brazier.

It may have been because of the Depression, but at this time children did not start school until they were 6. I was sent however, to a Kindergarten – a proper kindergarten run by a German woman, Mrs. Hertzel on the back porch of her home. There were slates and markers, and a large blackboard propped up on which I think there were sums or letters. Sometimes we did little dances to the gramophone in another room and “Tiptoe through the tulips” belongs to this era. There was a garden at the back, though once we were offered ripe persimmons from a tree in the front: I was most unimpressed.

In 1934 when I was 6 I started school, but very little remains of my two years there. Essentially I had a year in Primer 4 and a year in Standard 1, but cards from which tables were chanted, early “Beacon” readers, a concert in which I recited “There are fairies at the bottom of our garden”, a pleasant male teacher called Harold Webber, and some problems with button shoes that required a buttonhook to fasten them are about all I recall. I remember more vividly the oak tree we passed on the way home but under which one did not shelter because it might be struck by lightning, the pennies you could let the train run over on the railway line, the flowers from which you sucked honey, and the houses of friends on the route. I also always hoped to reach the pot of gold where the rainbow over Parahaki touched the ground!

They must have been demanding years for our young parents but I think there were few diversions outside the family, school and church and a circle of friends. I don’t know when Joyce came to help, but from then on Mum had some kind of help for many years. Nurse Jakeman delivered all of us at home, and Kitty Thomas who became a family friend was the Plunket Nurse. I have a faint recollection of someone coming once to do some sewing. It is probably Shona’s birth in 1936 that I remember and of course very soon after that the family moved to Wellington. In spite of having babies and toddlers we holidayed for several Summers at a bach at Browns Bay. It had somehow been left to the McKenzie family and I think Dad was the only person interested in using it. We must have gone down to Auckland by train and then – perhaps the first year we went there – we took a taxi all the way from Auckland with a table and four chairs stacked on the roof. Though the bach had a wonderful situation up on the hill looking out over the gulf to Rangitoto and with a large section dropping down the hill to an unkempt tennis court, it was all pretty basic. Mum and Dad scrubbed and painted (eliminating a large brightly coloured Greek key pattern from the floor of the main room), cut a track to the outdoor loo and down the hill through the manuka to the tennis court, and found some basic furniture. Years later Mum acknowledged that she hated it all in the Auckland heat, and I can only recall two primuses for cooking. There were dramas when Don Lochore was helping strain an old brass knobbed bed with wire mattress and something whiplashed. Dad lifted a kettle of boiling water and spilt some on Mum’s neck, and toddler Moragh nearly drowned in a drain on the beach. There was a frightening scrub fire on the hill road over to Torbay/ Deep Creek, and there were ‘gypsies’ we were ‘not to play with’ in a decrepit little cabin next door. But the beach, coffee bun from the store on special occasions, Sunday School with the Salvation Army where most of the children were ‘orphans’, and the Pirate Ship (cabaret) we passed at Milford are all vivid memories.

At some time during these holidays it was realised that I could not see the lighthouse on Rangitoto so when we went into Auckland (by bus? – I cannot remember), I was taken to an optician and then guided with eyes blurred from drops across Albert Park. Two incidents never quite forgiven relate to my Uncle Donald. Having tripped and fallen on the unsealed Browns Bay road I had a small gash in my forehead and he stitched it up and subsequently removed the stitches. But still worse, he took out my tonsils on my grandfather’s kitchen table, and the rare ice cream I was offered afterwards was no consolation. And now what is undoubtedly my earliest memory has also returned. My mother has told me that I was not yet two when Dad had his tonsils out in an Auckland nursing home. The doctor then went off to play golf – and Dad haemorrhaged badly. I can still see the white shell path up to the hospital and then my father, a pale unfamiliar figure in the bed. I am told they feared he would die.

From photographs I know that I had a considerable collection of dolls, a small cane pram, a heavy iron tricycle and a rather disappointing two-roomed dolls’ house for which I valiantly made furniture. One of my favourite books showed a much more handsome dolls’ house! At school we had Beacon readers and at home there were books but not many for children I think. Edith Howes “The Sun Babies” and the Australian books about the gumnut children belong to this period, and fairies featured largely in my imagination.

I suppose I sensed the impending change for I remember Dad dressed up in a suit one day at Browns Bay, and going off for an interview which led to our move to Wellington. I cannot remember the actual move which followed a month after Shona’s birth. Dad went down to look for a suitable house to rent and nearly took one in Hobson St but was concerned that the close proximity of Lambton Station would mean there were smuts on the washing. I have no impression of packers or removal, but we had a brief stay at 13 Gardner Rd when Grandad McKenzie baptised Shona in the sitting room. I know now that it was all a nightmare for Mum with four young children and a breast abscess, and Grandad critical of a crying baby. I think that Marie Lochore* accompanied us to Wellington to ‘help’ at this stage as she was waiting to begin her nursing training. It may have been on this trip that we travelled from Whangarei to Auckland by boat, a magical experience. There were separate cabins for men and women with bunks, green curtains, and brass fittings. Then the overnight train trip to Wellington, and this may be the time when we were put to sleep on the floor between seats placed back to back. Overpowering heat and suffocating smoke etch that on my memory! Mum and Dad had bravely taken us all down to visit the Oamaru maternal grandparents during those Whangarei years and that must have been a marathon. I have hazy memories of staying briefly at Kenilworth in Hill St or the Peoples’ Palace in Cuba St, and breakfast once I think at the Hotel Cecil.

* The close links with the Lochore family go back to Whangarei where Mr. Lochore was the Minister at the Presbyterian Church we attended until he and his wife both died quite close together I think from cancer. They left four able teenage children – Jean (a pharmacist), Don (a reporter on the “NZ Herald”), Marie (a nurse who later worked round the world with WHO) and Shirley (a dental nurse and the only one who married with children). Mum and Dad took a close interest in them all as well as in their aunt and uncle, Mabel and Walter Rushbrook who had become their guardians, and their lives were bound up with ours.


Wellington 1936 – 1949: Primary school

Mum and Dad had been advised to buy in one of the three K suburbs – Kelburn, Karori, Khandallah, but I don’t know how long it took them to find the section they bought at 17 Everest St. Khandallah. It was a fairly exposed paddock with a few scruffy pines at the front, but it was a good choice for the next 30 years. Initially however, we lived at 44 Glen Rd., Kelburn which “lost the sun at 1pm. in Winter” as my mother always reported, and again I think those months were pretty gloomy for her. I went to Kelburn Normal School and was taught by Naida Glover who years later became a parishioner and friend in St Ninian’s. She lent me Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” and in Standard 2 I found it difficult but was proud to be singled out. The Teachers’ College where Frank Lopdell (who became a good family friend) was Principal, the unit for intellectually handicapped children, the house down the road where somebody was gassed by a califont (leaving me with a lifelong horror of gas), members of the Rushbrook family who also lived in Glen Rd with a cute Scotch terrier and were very kind to us, the milk float with a big clopping draught horse which stopped unprompted at each house, and the Botanical Gardens at the bottom of the street are all part of this period. As we had no car, expeditions were made by walking up to the Cable Car, but I don’t think there were many. Dad went out on Saturdays to dig over the heavy clay at Khandallah and ‘get a vegetable garden in.’ and I went out with him once or twice by bus. On Sundays we went up to the charming little Kelburn Church to church and Sunday School. Sometimes our escorts were the Misses McKenzie, daughters of a Minister nearby, and Mary subsequently worked in Dad’s office.

The house at Khandallah was designed by Mum and Dad and built by Sam Eagles. In a letter written to his Whangarei friend, Rex Lane who was a builder it is clear that Dad had already discussed plans with him before leaving Whangarei. The house was built of “tōtara and redwood with interior trim of plaster and heart rimu.” And by December 1937 he reports that they had 90 shrubs planted on the section. They hated the Spring gales and missed the warmth and easy gardening of the North but were proud of the new house. I remember going out and having a thermos afternoon tea there when it was nearing completion, but again I don’t remember the move. The four bedrooms were distributed in different ways over the years, but initially the three girls shared the biggest room. Fraser had the sunporch, and Marie (later Clarrie) had the little room by the sunporch I think. I went off to Khandallah School, but I think we always came home for lunch even when we were small, and no adult ever accompanied us. Khandallah Church was on its old Cockayne Rd site and we went there. And Mum and Dad soon became involved in the wider life of the suburb and the city.

Attending the Centenary of the Khandallah School I realised that many people have much better recall than I have. I can name teachers who were there in the 4+ years I attended, and no doubt I was a dutiful pupil, but not much remains. Miss McCaw did not inspire me, Mr. Rust recited melodramatically “Quinquireme of Nineveh” but always had a little spittle at the corner of his mouth and a bulbous red nose, Mr. Bragg was a stern disciplinarian and probably a good teacher, and Anton Vogt is the only one I remember with warmth as I had a great crush on him. Being Norwegian seemed very different, and he talked about books and was interested in what I read at a stage when I was soaking up everything I could lay my hands on. Then or later I learnt that he wrote himself, and that was even more interesting. Mrs. Maysmore saw my brother and sisters through the primers, we went to Mr. Bringans, the Headmaster’s home to learn pewter work, and there were other teachers on the periphery.

Somehow I learnt a few things on the way, but sanding desks at the end of the term, filling inkwells, covering exercise books, cleaning out the ‘Science’ cupboard which was never used as I recall, doing the staffroom morning tea dishes, and the ghastly ritual of drinking school milk – tepid and clotted from the sun under the cardboard tops – are the activities that stick. In the playground I was an inept basketball player, an embarrassed tennis player with my father’s heavy old racquet, and not even very proficient in skipping, hopscotch and marbles which had regular seasons. Rounders was a shade less daunting, and I enjoyed formal group marching to “Colonel Bogey” played on a gramophone on the bottom playground. I still have “The Chummy Mag” which I edited in Standard 5 or 6 – stories, poems and drawings which are heavily derivative in style. We had a Misogynists’ Club – probably in standard 6 for a short time complete with badge, password and secret meetings in the pine trees in Khandallah Reserve. One afternoon a week we went in to Thorndon School for cooking/ sewing or carpentry respectively. White caps and aprons and some basic cookery instruction made a nice diversion. The third term when we threaded up treadle sewing machines and each made a pair of navy blue bloomers was less inspiring. I had regular crushes at this time, and in addition to a boy in my class I was rapt about a blonde, blue-eyed girl called Heather who went to Thorndon School. There were also frequent trips to the Dental Clinic in “the Annexe” just beside Government Buildings. Despite our mother’s efforts, we all had poor teeth and I spent hours with dental nurses, often as an examination patient as I didn’t squirm too much. The Town Hall Music Festival was a great highlight and I remember belting out “Come to the Fair” with children from all over the city.

Fraser tells me our first car was bought in 1938. In Dad’s thorough fashion, it was a carefully considered decision and we duly acquired a Vauxhall. Dad had some opportunity to drive years earlier, but Sunday afternoons were now dominated by Mum making 3 point turns at the top of Majoribanks St., and I think she failed her licence twice before it was finally achieved. From the time we got a car it was used for camping holidays – again planned with meticulous attention to detail. Dad found that a 20lb fruit box x 4 fitted in neatly, so the personal clothing and belongings of each child had to be fitted in that box. Mum made (kapok?) sleeping bags and two 9’x9’ tents were purchased. The parents had stretchers, but we slept on the ground and sat on our fruit boxes with a slat of wood on top at mealtimes. Mum cooked on a little two burner stove but it was all pretty basic until Motor Camps were developed rather more. Nevertheless, we drove over the winding, metaled roads of all New Zealand, and though I know we were often quite unappreciative, it probably gave us all our taste for travel. There were certainly difficult times, as we all recall the relief of seeing the lights of Te Kuiti after a particularly gruelling trip through the middle of the North Island.

I can remember standing in the playground when the outbreak of War was announced but I don’t think it affected me particularly in the remaining 15months I had at Primary School. Mum and Dad listened gloomily to the news on the radio, particularly after Big Ben chimed at 9.0 pm. Various friends and relations including Uncles Grant Robertson and Donald McKenzie began turning up in uniform and life gradually changed. The Centennial Exhibition in 1940 went ahead according to plan, but I suppose taking a family of four was expensive and we went only once or twice. Nevertheless, it seemed very modern as far as building and displays, and the dodgems, Ghost train and Hall of Mirrors were wonderful I thought. For my parents the War must have brought some personal disappointment – though the signs were there for a while. They had been due to make an overseas trip in 1939 or thereabouts and planning had begun. I still have the laundry bag with my name embroidered on it, part of my trousseau for Waitaki Girls’ where Moragh and I were to board with the Robertson grandparents close by in Oamaru. As an avid reader of boarding school books I thought this would be great, and particularly the black velvet dress with lace collar that was required for formal occasions. Fraser was to go to John McGlashan in Dunedin and I imagine Shona was to go to the Jefferies.

It’s hard to pin down just when things happened but certainly in primary school days the Reserve and the swimming pool were familiar territory. A hard won concession was allowing us to go to the swimming pool after Sunday School (2.30 – 3.30) on Sunday afternoons. Horace Brooker was a great S.S. Superintendent however and Sunday School was quite a lively affair with choruses (“Wide, wide as the ocean”, “I’m h a p p y” and so on) that remain with me today. The SS library provided an interesting harvest of books including the Deerfoot series and books about the lives of missionaries which I lapped up. Another Sunday pursuit was doing “The Outlook” Knots and Puzzles. Sometimes this was tedious, but at least I learnt my way round the Bible, how to use a Concordance, what was an anagram – and there were book prizes to be chosen at the Presbyterian Bookroom at the end of the year. On Sunday evenings after boiled eggs for tea Dad played the piano and we sang our way through the Student songbook, Carey and Bonner, and a variety of other songs.

School Journals and sets of school books were a resource, but my regular beat was to walk or later bike down to the Ngaio Library. I laughed, wept and dreamt with L M Montgomery, Gene Stratton Porter, Mary Grant Bruce, school stories, people of other lands. but by this time I didn’t go much on fantasy or on books personifying animals. Somebody gave me Gloria Rawlinson’s “Perfume Vendor” and quite apart from the tragedy of a young girl being wheelchair bound, I was absorbed by her poetry. For a time, I was going to be a “poetess”. Probably about now I began sending small items to the “Evening Post” Children’s page and was thrilled when a few things were printed and when I won a colouring competition.

The seamy side of life seems to have largely passed me by. I remember ‘the Camp kids’ who came to school without shoes and looking pinched and cold, and I think their fathers were probably unemployed. There were a few whispers as the first girls had periods and developed in the chest, but I think I denied this information until my own turn came. The most searing experience at Primary School was a drama that occurred on Arbor Day when I was supposed to plant a tree but got the message from the girls that they wanted someone else to do it. I literally ran away from school and spent a miserable day at home alone until my mother came home and the story was told. I have no recollection of what happened afterwards! Proficiency Certificates were a formality by the time I finished Primary School, so I finished at Khandallah with no great regret and in 1941 began at Wellington Girls’ College.

Wellington 1936 – 1949: Wellington Girls’ College

The uniform was monstrously ugly with navy gym tunics, black woollen stockings, white blouses, and Summer panama hats or navy felts in Winter. And of course a striped black and gold tie and hatband. It was perhaps in my first year that the wearing of white ‘sockettes’ came in for Summer, but in her usual thrifty fashion mother knitted mine in heavy white cotton – hot and uncomfortable! My blouses were also home-made with Peter Pan collars instead of the ready-mades everyone else wore, and I never felt proud of my uniform in any way. In our Third Form year we were housed in the ‘cow bails’ – prefabs which had been erected many years before and which still remained. On hot Summer afternoons the oppressive smell of hops from the neighbouring Brewery was overwhelming, and the best aspect of those classrooms was that with a window seat you could keep an eye on the activities in the little street outside. My parents did the modern thing and had me put into a class taking Geography and Botany instead of Latin. (That decision proved a mixed blessing much later when I was required to do two language units to accompany English Honours at University and I had no Latin background to assist me with Old French. Moragh following close behind me did do Latin.) However, Wellington Girls’ provided a good education and I think we had some fine teachers at all stages in this school. I made new and interesting friends as well as keeping the Khandallah School friendships with Jean McEwan, Lois Mansfield and Norma McKenzie and others, for we all came in by electric train together each day. I was elected Form Captain that year and most years thereafter, but I think it was more a tribute to my conformity than my popularity. By the end of the year my parents were sufficiently concerned about my round shoulders to refer me to Philip Smithells, later Director of the School of Physical Education at Otago. I still have the careful personality profile he wrote about me, and his prescription included a satchel (instead of the attaché case that everyone else had), and exercises from a bar my father suspended out in the tool shed. I was self-conscious enough, and the frequent admonitions to ‘put your shoulders back M.” were well meant but did not make me any better.

I think it would have been in this year however, that Joan Lamburd (Sherley) came to my parents to ask if I could join Girl Guides. And that soon became an absorbing interest for me. I enjoyed working for an armful of badges – though I did fail the Singer’s badge with a depressing rendition of “Oh who would o’er the downs with me?” I became a Second and later a Patrol Leader, going on day tramps and for at least one Camp out of Wellington. That was at “Rathkeale” near Masterton. In those days the train, hauled by the special Fell engines travelled over the Rimutakas. Under the seats Joan had a baby rabbit she had captured and I had a jar of tadpoles both of which had to escape the eye of the Guard. Guides also gave me some sense of a wider world as I read what Guides did in other countries and listened fascinated to Grace Patterson tell of her Guides in Sikkim and Bhutan. A year or two later I also went with other Guides to entertain at Army Camps or to provide afternoon tea or make camouflage nets and knitted garments.

My 4th Form year was a more stimulating one with a very lively class and one teacher, Billie Gordon who had a significant influence on me. During this year the grounds were filled with air-raid shelters and we were all equipped with emergency rations and instructed to make our way home (on one occasion) by a route that did not rely on public transport. On a lovely Summer day it was very pleasant to take a back route through Wadestown, by the Kaiwharawhara Stream and the track which is now Crofton Downs road. I’ve mentioned the camouflage nets which were attached to our clothesline as we knotted them. But we also scoured the roadsides one Summer for the elusive ergot, gathered dry grass and beat it for grass seed, filled jars with dead white butterfly, and gathered rosehips for Vitamin C. I think there may also have been some hope of making a fortune from these enterprises – but we were also helping the War effort. I knitted socks and mittens for the Navy. Dad was an Emergency Protection Service (EPS) officer and went off to the bowels of the Town Hall on Night Duty some nights. Mum did a course in vehicle maintenance so that she could act as a Driver if necessary. And of course we listened to the endless reports of ships sunk, aircraft missing, cities bombed, battles fought and watched the troop carriers lined up at the wharves and then disappearing overnight. Rumour was rife and I remember once going up the Jubilee Hill as the “Queen Mary” supposedly was due and she had to come in at high tide as she would clear the harbour entrance by only a few feet. At home there were blackout screens and curtains on the windows and at night searchlights traced across the sky. In the study Mum and Dad had large wall maps of Europe and North Africa and followed events there. The 9.0pm News with Big Ben tolling was always a solemn time. Mum’s friend, Box Steele worked in Army HQ and I think gave her advance word of the death of her brother Grant in the Libyan campaign. I had barely met him so it was not emotionally significant for me, but it was part of the apprehension and grief our elders were experiencing. I remember the shock and horror when we got to church one morning and (I think) HMS Hood had been sunk with a huge loss of life. Another weekend there was great excitement as a young friend of Mum’s, Molly Mackintosh was to be married to John Johnstone from our home. Molly’s day sailing from Lyttleton to Wellington was late or cancelled or something, and the upshot was that they were married on Sunday morning. A handsome couple with John in officer’s uniform and Molly with silver fox fur and pearls.

We had a procession of servicemen for meals and visits – some from Trentham, some on final leave, and later some Americans. There was the romantic Romanian emigre, Harry Jacks, dashing young sailors like Dudley Lane, a planter who walked across Sarawak to escape Japanese invaders, and the American naval officer, Nelson Leidner who became a good friend.

Wellington Girls’ College in 1942 was a wartime year, yet most of my energy went into school and Guides and piano, not to mention home duties, church, Bible Class and the rest. Clarrie from Taihape, our last home help had left to go into a factory by this time. So we all had to help with dishes, making lunches, housework, lawn mowing (3d a time Moragh tells me), and all drawers had to be tidied on Saturday morning if we were to earn our ‘pay’. I had a matchbox system and apportioned my pay penny by penny to Guides, Church etc – and there wasn’t much discretionary income as I recall. In school holidays Mum took us on educational outings, which again we didn’t appreciate but indicate she was ahead of her time. Certainly I remember Wellington Woollen Mills, the Ford factory, Griffin’s Biscuit factory, WCC Milk Corporation, and probably others. Mum was interested in diet and tried to ensure we ate properly in spite of wartime rationing. Packed lunches were inflexible with 2 Marmite, 2 cheese, 1 honey and 1 date sandwich + an apple and Shona remembers how awful the bread was on Monday. Cod fat from the butcher was rendered down and lard or dripping used both in cooking and on bread as a substitute for butter. Homemade soap was also made and the weekly wash complete with starched white cloths and serviettes was initially done in the wash house copper and then rinsed in a tub of Reckitts ‘blue’, though we did get a washing machine about now. For years our milk was delivered by Mr. McKay who tipped it into a large billy accessible through the hatch beside the back door. (A small burglar could have crawled through, but the back door was seldom locked anyway.) Dad grew most of our vegetables in the back garden and Mum bought cases of fruit at the market and made huge quantities of jam and preserves for the family. Again I can’t recall just when a refrigerator arrived on the scene but it was possibly after I had left home.

Each day began at 6.30 (Fraser having earlier left on his paper run for some years.) Mum ran a deep cold bath and we were all expected to soap ourselves and take a rapid plunge through it before dressing. We had hot baths once a week. Dad walked down the Bridle Track or Amritsar Rd steps and caught a bus on the Hutt Rd. I walked to the electric train and the others to Khandallah School. Mum’s day must have been full enough as she sewed and knitted for us all, but she was an avid reader and was active in Federation of University Women, church activities, Red Cross, and for a time she and Dad ran WEA study groups at home. Home hospitality and entertaining had always been part of life. In Whangarei and Khandallah Mum gave formal afternoon tea parties with the silver tea service and a tea wagon laden with food. For some years there was a pewter tray in the front hall where visiting cards were left, but the custom was dying. Visitors were also often asked for Sunday tea, but gradually there were carefully orchestrated dinner parties also

Christmas in our childhood was not observed in the way it is now with a Christmas tree. I think we went through some gestures with hanging stockings at one stage, but more clearly I remember very early wakening to find what was at the foot of the bed. Nor can I remember a great deal about the gifts, but tennis racquets, skates, bikes came in due course. There were birthday parties with homemade paper hats and food and party games when we were younger, but Mum disapproved of the custom of children bringing gifts. And on at least one occasion I had to take gifts back to the donors (to my regret and embarrassment.) We certainly had freedom to roam, and walked all round our area and hills without thought of danger. Once I remember walking in to the skating rink – roller skating – in Wakefield St for the afternoon session, and maybe walking home again to save the bus fares. On another day we walked down to the Kaiwharawhara Station and caught the train to Petone Beach for the day. Sunday School picnics were a day excursion by train, usually to Plimmerton and complete with races and lolly scrambles.’ Going to the Pictures’ was not as regular an event for us as it was for some children, but there were films in both Khandallah and Ngaio Town Halls that we went to if “there was something suitable on”. It was the era of the child stars. Shirley Temple, Andy Rooney, Bobby Breen, and then my favourites, Deanna Durbin and Sonja Henie. Somehow (I think for birthday parties with other children) I got to “San Francisco” with Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy and wept my way through the earthquake. Even worse was a film about the Foreign Legion with desert forts, men flogged and dying of thirst in the desert, and that gave me nightmares for some time!

Our parents were keen for us to have musical training and, with the exception of Fraser, we all learnt the piano for years. Mrs. French, Miss Pinfold and Mrs. Murray took me through Theory exams but nervousness took over and I didn’t achieve when it came to Performance and Memory. I remember letting Moragh down when I was supposed to accompany her for some singing contest, and ‘drying up’ with a Beethoven Sonata on another occasion. Nevertheless, the piano gave me great pleasure and an interest in and knowledge of music. We often produced concerts for the entertainment of family and neighbours, and song and dance routines like “In a Persian Garden” gave us ideas of stage or film careers. Having been taken to the Russian Ballet I had a phase of aspiring to be a ballerina also and pirouetted around the dining room on the tips of my slippers.

My interest in drama was certainly stimulated in my 4th Form year with Billie Gordon as our English teacher. She encouraged us to produce one act plays for the rest of the class and the results included some very elaborate productions with costumes and props carted from home and ‘scenery’ drawn in coloured chalk on the blackboard. She introduced us to the Irish dramatists, particularly Synge, and to a wide variety of other writers. I developed the original schoolgirl ‘crush’, hung on her every word, and after attending my lunch hour piano lesson near the school would look hopefully up the street to see if I could walk back with her. (She lived in Hill St.) She herself played the viola, and when she told me I ‘had the hands of a violinist’, I was determined to learn the violin. Mum and Dad said I could if I matriculated in my 3rd year, so in my 6th Form year I duly learnt the violin and played in the school orchestra.

That rewarding 4th Form year was spent in an upstairs corner room of the old building, and from it we could see the grey painted troopships at the wharves and the air raid shelters in the grounds. The old building certainly swayed in the 1942 earthquake but the fastest girl under her desk was Maureen Care who had come through the bombing of Clydeside. Another interesting emigre that year was Betty Eadie who had grown up in Tientsin with a Russian mother and Scottish father and seemed a very glamorous person. During a Science lesson in a lab at the other corner of the building we heard our first American Marines rounding the corner and singing “You are my sunshine”. Going out with a Marine or helping at their Service Club in the old Hotel Cecil became a popular activity for older girls in the school in the next couple of years, but I was never in that lucky category. The nylon stockings and candy produced by the Marines were another attraction. Meantime the 4th Form year ended with a complete surprise which certainly influenced my later development. The class prizes I won each year were quite undistinguished and I did not top the class in English, but probably thanks to Billie Gordon I won the ‘E M Rainforth Bequest for Excellence in English in 4th Forms’ and an ardent reader eventually became an English graduate.

5th and 6th Form years were not particularly happy as I remember them, and I ceremoniously put my uniform at the back of the wardrobe as soon as the term ended. I was plain, gauche, and round shouldered, though social life and an interest in boys was beginning through classes in Ballroom Dancing at Gwenyth Walshe’s Studio and through Bible Class Socials. There were never enough boys at the dancing classes and as I was tall, I frequently took the boy’s part and led – which is ruinous. Perhaps it was in my 6th Form year however, that a quiet, dark Science student called Ken Bruce turned up and partnered and took me out thereafter. Eminently respectable with Scottish parents and a Karori Bible Class background! In addition, Jim Galloway home on leave and in a Captain’s uniform began taking me out, and in both cases I was immensely flattered and smitten. My mother had ensured that I knew the facts of life – in a vague and embarrassed fashion that wasn’t very realistic I think. I had supplemented that somewhat by peeking at the fashionable “You and heredity” by Amran Scheinfeld (?) on our parents’ shelves. But I’m not sure whether it was innocence, prudery or lack of interest that ensured my safety then and in the following years.

I guess life was pretty busy anyway as I was encouraged to try University Entrance at the end of my 5th Form year and to my surprise and thanks only to a good English mark, I actually pulled it off. I was staying with the Jefferies in Dunedin when Dad got the result at his office and sent me a carefully coded telegram. I remember lying awake in a nightmare of anxiety that night that he had pulled strings to get me through. However, that meant that with Alison Nicol I joined an unfamiliar 6th Form class and put in a last year at Wellington Girls’. I was now swimming and diving with modest success though the Diving coach waited vainly for me to get enough nerve to do even a backward dive or somersault. Guides, violin, Student Christian Movement at school, Bible Class and church made up a full programme. I was a Prefect, finalist in the speech contest, had a good part in the school production of “St Joan” and I think in this year was confirmed at Khandallah Church. The Very Rev D Scott talked with Lois Mansfield and me, and I think I was both filled with youthful idealism and missionary zeal, and a bit perplexed altogether.

I don’t think jobs for schoolgirls were readily available, but one year some of us worked for a week or two in a seed factory and found it hard work and illuminating. Others worked on a moving belt, but I filled packets of dried peas (this being Wartime and before refrigeration had really arrived) and they were supposed to be miraculously reconstituted with soaking and cooking. At the end of my school career Alison and I got Summer jobs in the National Library Service then accommodated in two old houses in Sydney St East, and with magazine stacks under Parliament Buildings. That proved to be quite a remarkable experience though the books were crammed down corridors and on stairwells. Geoff Alley was Director and his staff were an interesting group of people who accepted us and gave us responsibility That encouraged me to return, I think for two later vacations. The romance of the Country Library Service and the Lighthouse bag service captured my imagination and I also came to enjoy finding the right books for different people and meeting the Reference requests. Mary Fleming came back from America to set up the Library School a few years later and I resolved quite firmly to become a librarian. My school career ended without regrets after four years and with stilted visits to the homes of the Principal, Miss North, Margaret Johnston (‘Black Johnny’) and Dora Johnston (‘Ginger Johnny’). The school had really been a very regimented place under Miss North, but I think there were some impressive women on the teaching staff and later I realised just how fortunate I had been.

The student years: Part one

Far from deterring me from leaving school Dad encouraged me to go to Victoria to do English under Prof Ian Gordon and to ‘get four subjects under my belt in the first year so that I could ease off later.’ So in 1945 I began catching the train, walking along town and then catching the cable car up to Victoria, and that was the pattern for the next four years. The University was very small with just a few hundred students and a scatter of Returned Servicemen picking up their studies. Looking at our B.A. Capping photo for 1948 I realise there were just 77 graduates, 22 of them women. Many students were part-timers so classes began at 8.0 am. and other major subjects were at 5.0 and 6.0 pm. for their benefit. Facilities were certainly spartan by today’s standards and the lino floors and bare wooden forms in the men’s and women’s common rooms scarcely invited relaxation. The Library however, with its hooded lights, stained glass and book-lined walls was mellow and warm, and the refractory tables in the book-lined bays provided peaceful working places. Otherwise I would go to an unoccupied classroom and came to know where the sun fell through the ivied windows and where there were lovely glimpses of the harbour. The Cafeteria was the place for socialising and though I brought my own lunch, I often ate with others there.


My subjects were a mixed bag and I worked as conscientiously as usual with modest passes. Ian Gordon’s enthusiasm and scholarship combined with wit and a robust Scottish accent made his classes a delight, but both then and in later years some of his colleagues were less stimulating. French was a necessity for two years as I required two other language units. Prof Boyd Wilson terrified me with a spate of French on Day 1 and I never gained either competence or confidence in the language. But again he was an enthusiast and did convey some of the richness of French literature while mocking his innocent, earnest students. Stories about him were legion, but it certainly was his custom to cook up interesting meals in his study and the aromas wafted down the corridor. When my Dictation came back marked 0/10 however, I often despaired of getting through two years of French! In History I don’t think I ever got on the right wavelength, and though Prof J C Beaglehole and Peter Munz were able teachers, my results were very average. Psychology under Prof Ernest Beaglehole was still a comparatively new subject. I found it both interesting and to some extent a statement of the obvious, but lab work and a hypnotist working with fellow students were fun. We all sat an IQ test and could then see the Professor for a personal result and comment. The comment on my IQ was that I should cope with University study as long as I worked – which I already knew!


I attended various clubs, dances and activities, particularly Student Christian Movement. And I can still remember the first meeting when I identified a handsome student with dark waving hair and an oatmeal trench coat – Denzil Brown. He was however, fully involved with a beautiful Junior lecturer, Alleyne Crawford. Through SCM however, I began to make one or two new friends, and at the end of the year went down to Dunedin to the SCM Conference at John McGlashan. I began on the wrong foot by arriving without bedding but Aunty Reta and Uncle Bill helped out with that. I was however, pretty shy throughout the week. The War had ended in that year, but again I cannot recall my own response nor celebrations around me – nor horror at Hiroshima which preceded VJ Day. Writing aerogrammes to Jim Galloway during the Italian campaign and following the news on all fronts on radio and in newspapers is all that I can now remember of the impact of the war that year.


By 1946 ex-servicemen were appearing at Victoria in larger numbers, and I was a more confident student doing English, French, and Greek History, Art and Literature as I had no classical background. French II presupposed a knowledge of Latin, and the only way I got through Linguistics was by a complicated series of mnemonics. I was elected to the SCM Executive (with DJB as President) and agreed to do the catering with one or two friends for May Camp held at a disused Army Camp at Paremata. Both then and later I went off to the Market to buy fruit and vegs in bulk and somehow we produced meals in quantity and on time under primitive (or at least unfamiliar) conditions. I went to Easter Tournament in Christchurch at the old central city University campus having trained till then in the unheated pools at Khandallah or Thorndon, or sometimes in the old salt water Ladies’ Pool at Oriental Bay. I was completely unsuccessful, and still pretty insecure, but I think it must have been at that Easter Tournament that Bernie Knowles struck up a friendship and began to take me out. The relationship continued by letter when he went off with Army Education J Force to Japan, and in due course he returned with a triple string of pearls for me. By then I think I must have been caught up with DJB and the relationship tapered off. Also during this year Martin Sullivan arrived on the scene as SCM Chaplain and immediately we were galvanised by his dynamic approach to life and the Christian faith in the University. He needed a base from which to operate and was grudgingly given permission to install a tiny Army hut at the back of the University labs. There we met for prayers, study groups and gossip, and the nurturing of friendships and ideas.


I look back with some astonishment that at the end of the year and soon after finishing our exams Barbara Corkill and I set off on an ambitious bike trip with Taupō as our Northern objective. Our bikes were very basic ones without gears and we were quite unfit and untrained for such an enterprise. We had a small tent and sleeping bags, and we set off about 3:00 pm to reach Māoribank for the first (sleepless) night. A purse lost and found gave us a late start on the Rimutakas next morning, but with a lift on the back of a truck and then a ride up the Wairarapa plain we reached Masterton next night. Our later husbands, Jim Battersby at Trentham and Denzil and his parents at Masterton gave us help and counsel. But for the second day the sun beat down mercilessly, a dog stole our meat (from a pannier bag) while we lunched with friends at Mt Bruce, and the vandalised Motor Camp at Eketahuna provided a bleak welcome when we staggered in there. Barb was by now quite severely burnt and we spent another sleepless and uncomfortable night after a cold meal and decided next morning that we couldn’t face cycling through the Manawatu Gorge. So it was train, taxi and tears in the Palmerston North Motor Camp before we capitulated and rang friends of the Corkills’ – the Headmaster of Palmerston North Boys’ High. Barb was really quite ill and was put to bed, and I crawled ignominiously home by train next day.


By that Summer however, I had more self-confidence and had a marvellous time at the SCM Conference at Ngatawa School, and numerous invitations out afterwards. I had some job overseeing catering again, the weather and the surroundings were lovely, and there was a great spirit altogether. Unlike Denzil I’m afraid I recall little of the programme. I met Basil Kings for the first time and was very taken with Jim Young for awhile afterwards. In January Barb and I and other friends went down to work as waitresses at Te Mahia in the Sounds, and that was a memorable working holiday. I had written to the English proprietors offering to organise a roster of students so that they had consistent workers through the Summer, and that worked well. The location of the guesthouse was superb, and as waitresses had time off during the day I could swim, sunbathe, read or paint. Staff quarters were pretty spartan but that didn’t matter and we were not kept away from the guests. A waitress usually went out on a launch trip to serve morning or afternoon tea or lunch anyway. I think I went in to Picton only once to visit a dentist as I had toothache. We could finish up leftover desserts or anything else, and though the cuisine was far from elaborate, I was heavier by the end of the holiday than I have ever been since.


Then back to Victoria for English III and Geography I; a running battle with Anglo Saxon and Middle English, but a satisfying year otherwise. I was on the SCM Executive which meant editing the Students’ Handbook, helping on the secondhand bookstall we ran, planning camps and studies, and enjoying an excellent group of friends and the influence of Martin and Doris Sullivan. When Easter Tournament came round there was a national rail strike. So forms were loaded onto the back of covered trucks and we roared off into the darkness for a hideous overnight journey by road. For some reason we went via New Plymouth and I can still remember the swirling dust as we chugged over Mt Messenger on unsealed roads. Someone offered me a cigarette, and deciding to be very sophisticated I accepted it and then held it out in mid-air to be lit! Again I wasn’t particularly comfortable at Tournament and can remember walking back along Dominion Road to my billet having left a hop before the end.


I was dating several guys at this time, but by the end of the year was aware that DJB was the one who really set my pulses racing, and there were deep meaningful conversations about poetry, art, religion, film, life. We went to the Boyd Neel Orchestra, to “Brief Encounter”, for walks along the wharves, for coffee at the “French Maid”, and though neither of us acknowledged it, we were falling in love. Under Martin Sullivan’s influence SCMers had also become more involved in other aspects of University life and I think it was in this year that we both had roles in Drama Society productions. There were hot, noisy hops in the old green Gymnasium building, debates, meetings of all kinds. When the VUC Students’ Association Executive (which included a few Socialists if not Communists at the time) sent a telegram to Gottwald congratulating him on “the triumph of democracy in Czechoslovakia” all hell broke loose. With Martin’s encouragement several SCMers had also been elected to the Students’ Association Executive and four of us voted against sending the telegram. After the whole Exec had been sacked at a rowdy meeting, this quartet – Suzanne Ilott, Jim Battersby, Denzil and I were re-elected, and this time I came in as Women’s Vice President. Only men had been Presidents I think until then, but there was provision for male and female Vice Presidents!


As soon as exams were over at the end of the year the SCM went to Wanganui for a Mission. Martin had liaised with all the churches, arranged for students to speak at services and other meetings, persuaded church members to provide billets, and organised an ‘act of witness’ for students in this way. It was all great experience for us, and it’s interesting that the great majority of students who participated in this Mission and in others at Naenae and Masterton are active in the church (and/ or ‘Sea of Faith’) to this day. The week had a special glow for me too, for during it Den and I first acknowledged something of our feeling for each other and he suggested I might come to Masterton to spend a few days with him and his parents. My mother did not think this was very seemly when I told her, but we duly shared a few special days and his parents were kindly and left us alone. I returned to Wellington and Den shortly afterwards went to the South Island on a hitch hiking trip down the West Coast with Basil. We both wrote letters and poems to each other, but the Summer is a blur. The NZSCM Conference was cancelled due to a Polio epidemic, and I camped with the family and I think worked in Social Security for a time.


So to 1948 which was to be Honours year for us both in addition to our Students’ Assn. and SCM activities and those plans were now really complicated by the intense relationship that had developed between us. It wasn’t a very formal proposal, but about the end of March or early April we were talking in the tiny SCM hut together – and began to speak of marriage. It was all so marvellously exciting and wonderful we couldn’t keep it to ourselves and soon had to share the news with Martin. He was enthusiastic and promptly urged us to make it a formal engagement with the best engagement ring we could afford. So now we were on a roller coaster which nearly ended everything. Denzil formally and awkwardly went to see my father at the University office in Bowen Street, our parents were told, the ring was bought, we planned to make the announcement the night we were both capped BA. We did announce the engagement, and friends and family were delighted. Looking back I realise how immature we were, and the four year engagement which was necessary as Divinity students were not permitted to marry until their training was complete, was probably a useful time of leaving families and becoming independent. Iit was not until I was middle-aged and discovered something called PMT that I realised that my doubts, dramas, and tearful episodes probably occurred at a certain time of the month! It also says something for the mores of the time that though our sexual drives were quite normal there was no thought of going beyond kissing and cuddling in all those years.


Quite apart from our somewhat fraught romance, there were good things in our final year at Victoria. We canvassed energetically to raise the $10,000 for the Building Appeal – an attempt to replace the battered old Gymnasium with a decent Student Union building. I went as one of the Victoria delegates to the NZUSA conference in Dunedin. I lapped up the Victorian novel and some of the other papers in my English Honours programme, and slogged away at Anglo Saxon. Den was immersed in Philosophy and instead of Weir House was spending this year as a resident at St Andrew’s Manse with bachelor, Jack Somerville. That became another significant and lifelong friendship for us both. Martin Sullivan having put up the idea of a boarder to his fellow army chaplain and friend. At the end of the year we both went to SCM national Conference at St Andrew’s College in Christchurch and Den was student Chairman. Afterwards we had arranged jobs in Havelock North so that we could earn some money, spend time together, and see another part of the country. Again it seemed a golden Summer. Den worked in an apple orchard and I helped at the Presbyterian Children’s Orphanage, “Hillsbrook” where we both lived in. Goodness knows what use I was, but it was a happy time and on days off we got to Napier, Hastings by bus, or round Havelock North.


My career opportunities had wavered from time to time. I went off to interview Army Education when Bernie (in Japan with J Force) was the centre of attraction. Then I met the Director of CORSO as Jim Young and I both thought of going to China. During the Wanganui Mission I thought perhaps I should be a Deaconess and was very offended when Helen Hercus told me I was a bit young to make up my mind. But National Library holiday jobs had really convinced me that library work was what I wanted, and the Library School under Mary Fleming was a brand new venture. I know that I got as far as an interview with thought of becoming a Library School student in 1949. But it was then spelled out to me that a 3 year bond for library work was part of the deal. We planned to be married as soon as Denzil finished Knox at the end of 1951, and to go overseas immediately. To remain in NZ for me to serve out the bond was pretty unthinkable, and so, without any great conviction about teaching, I then applied for the Graduate Teacher Training course in Auckland knowing that only a two year bond was required.

Student Years: Part two

So it was that in 1949 we all scattered to the four winds and though I again lived at home in 1951, by this time we were all looking towards our own careers. As adults we have rediscovered each other, appreciated the different paths our lives have taken, but valued our shared upbringing and background. Moragh created waves in the family with a solo exploration down the main street of Whangarei as a pre-schooler, and a few battles so that on one famous occasion I pushed her head through a window! She was a beautiful child, musical with a lovely voice, an excellent sportswoman and voted the most popular girl of her year at college. Not surprisingly she went on to complete a degree in Physical Education at Otago, then to a successful teaching career and with starring roles in musicals in the Wairarapa before she married Neil McPherson and had her family of three. As the only boy in the family Fraser had a special niche, but he also had a few battles to fight. He was desperate to own a motorbike which was vetoed by the parents. Then he wanted to be a dairy farmer, an idea which Dad hoped to quash by sending him for a working holiday but which merely confirmed him in his intention. With a Massey Diploma under his belt he began the long haul of contracting and share milking to get money together, then won a Crown ballot block which became the nucleus of the large property that is now “Braham Farms”. When he married Dorothy she joined him in the busy farm life and their four children duly appeared on the scene. Shona was still a pigtailed teenager when I left home and was often the butt of the family as ‘the spoilt youngest’, She proved her own determination however, by resolving to do her Nursing training in Dunedin, and defying her strongminded mother on a few fashion issues. It wasn’t until she joined us in Taumarunui that we discovered her marvellous sense of humour -though Denzil gave her a rough time over letters from one Jack Thomson whom she later married. She was a fine nurse and with Jack became a most enterprising traveller. The role we each played in the arrival of our first children (two adopted and one homehrown for them), the friendship that later developed between our husbands, and the travel we have shared in later life have been hugely enriching.


In 1949 however, I was in Auckland, Den in Dunedin, Mum and Dad away for some months on a world trip to visit several overseas Universities, Moragh at Phys Ed School in Dunedin, Fraser at Massey in Palmerston North, and Shona a boarder at Wairarapa College in Masterton. Teachers’ College arranged accommodation, though I have no idea what the basis was as some people were in hostels and some in private board. I was assigned to share a small, dreary bedroom with a Home Science graduate, Helen Barnes in the home of Mrs. Benton JP, 73 Boston Rd., Mt Eden. Mrs. Benton was a Dickensian figure, a large, wheezing lady very partial to onion sandwiches and gossip at the kitchen table. She was frequently called out by the authorities to Mt Eden Prison across the road, and waddled over to witness documents opining that the Prison was ‘a real home away from home for her’! The house was an old villa with toilet out the back though fortunately accessed by a covered porch, an overgrown garden, and it had I think been erected on an ant heap! Helen and I had a small bed and chest of drawers each, a rod behind a curtain for our clothes, and worked at the dining room table or sitting on our beds. But the great thing was that though we were of very different temperament, Helen and I clicked immediately and have remained good friends in spite of time and distance. She combined a first class mind with many practical gifts, an outgoing personality and a lively interest in everything. She was pining for a young medic who had gone off to Edinburgh and that relationship precipitated one or two dramatic experiences for us both. (Taking a phone call from Scotland at 3.0 am and then consoling a distraught Helen. And rescuing her when she was cleaning lady in a large building on the waterfront and was locked in one night. )


Anyway, Teachers’ College seemed to be fairly ho-hum in many ways. Section R consisted of a group of about 40 graduates from all over NZ and our curriculum was supervised by a wise, gentle elderly man, Dr Murdoch and a woman assistant. There were assorted TC lectures as well as ‘section’ in various schools when students observed and also did trial lessons. I had sections at Otahuhu, Epsom Grammar, Northcote and Takapuna Grammar travelling by ferry to the last two schools, and professionally this was the most useful part of the year. There were a few peripheral activities like learning Cricket and other sports so that you could (supposedly) coach a team if you were teaching in a District High School. Students who had previous experience in some interesting area were invited to speak to us, and a fellow student from the UK was the first person I ever heard talk about the miracle of television. Somehow I was promptly elected as Graduate representative on the Student Executive. Helen and I participated in all the TC drama productions – “Antigone” and “Merrie England” and “The Wild Duck”, and had a hand in costuming some of them. On Saturday mornings I crept out of bed and went off to a Painting class, and later in the year made a suit at a Tailoring class. And sang in the graduates’ choir. Having explored one or two neighbouring churches I ended up attending St Luke’s Remuera; it meant a bit of a walk, but the beauty of the church and the friendliness of the Minister and his wife, the McDowells, made the decision for me and I ended up teaching a gang of small boys in the Sunday School. So it wasn’t entirely an idle year, and there were frequent letters to be written to my fiancé about all the doings. Just a month after our arrival in Auckland I had my 21st birthday, but I was more swamped by depression than rejoicing. Den gave me a very fine Bible, Mum and Dad an Omega gold watch, and a friend of my parents (Margaret Shove) delivered a beautiful birthday cake. But I think the thing that gave me most surprise and pleasure was a large ugly plywood key tied with a pink ribbon and inscribed with the names of all those in Section R.


Den had applied to be capped at Victoria so that we could be capped together, but the Hall authorities would not grant him two days off lectures! So Helen and I duly made our graduation frocks (mine short sleeved and in pale mauve taffeta so that I froze in Dunedin in May) and then went off to Dunedin by train, boat, train. That at least gave me a chance to see Den’s location and to meet a few Knox men, and at some stage in the proceedings to spend time in Masterton too. In Auckland I had queued and got a ticket for my first opera, “La Boheme”, and in Dunedin Denzil had got tickets for “Aida”. This Italian Opera company was the first to visit NZ after the War and I found “Aida” particularly, a memorable experience. I can’t retrace my journeys that year, but I went to Teachers’ College Easter Tournament in Wellington and must have had quite a few Main Trunk overnight trips. Den visited me in Auckland also, and towards the end of the year Mum and Dad returned laden with gifts from overseas – American tee shirts and junk jewellery and such exciting novelties. With a long and somewhat difficult engagement I was keen to get a Dunedin job, and the only one on offer in my subjects was at Columba College under the redoubtable Miss Louden who had been Principal of Epsom Grammar.


Thus in 1950 I headed for Dunedin and a teaching post at Columba College, a Presbyterian girls’ boarding school with both primary and secondary pupils drawn from mainly well to do Dunedin homes and the farms and orchards of Otago and Southland. Four teachers occupied Iona, an old house used to accommodate house mistresses across the road from Columba College. I became particularly friendly with Paddy Simmers, their Phys Ed mistress who shared a very similar Wellington background, and though the old house was somewhat comfortless, the four of us got on well enough there. Teaching should have been a piece of cake in this all girls’ school, but I made the usual beginner’s mistakes and found English, French and Scripture + housemistress duties + establishing a decent school library + other pursuits made it a very busy year. Denzil was equally busy, and I suppose money was scarce, for our usual activity was walking, and occasionally a film. Aunty Reta and Uncle Bill Jeffery were very good to me, particularly when I had a root resection and needed some TLC. The other big drama of the year was a thunderous crash one night at Iona and the whole plaster ceiling in the hall crashed to the floor.


During the August holidays Den and I, Alison and Trevor Morrison, Mary Kerr and Albert Moore set off for Queenstown and a tiny two roomed cottage on the lakefront. It was perishing cold, and none of us had proper gear or money for trips. But we did go up to Coronet Peak and spent a day in brilliant sunshine which turned the snow to ice so that we slipped and slithered everywhere. So much so that Albert wore out the whole seat of his trousers. We also took the “Ben Lomond” up the lake and I remember open charabancs at Glenorchy. The farms up the lake were remote, and the lakefront at Queenstown had only a scatter of buildings in those far-off days.


At the end of that year and the following one as part of his training for ministry Denzil had the task of surveying the Murupara/ Kaingaroa/ Galatea area for the church. The vast Kaingaroa Forest had been planted during the Depression years, and forestry, farming and the Fire Service were the main occupations of the area with small scattered townships and unsealed pumice roads. There were Māori and pakeha and a few new NZers – Scots, Latvians and others, no church buildings, and no transport for Den apart from an ancient motorbike his second Summer. It was arranged that he would stay with the Hill family, Jean Hill being a devout Presbyterian and the hardworking wife of a farmer struggling to make a dairy farm on pretty marginal land. Den was given a one-man Forestry hut and had meals with the family of two daughters and three sons. It was certainly an introduction to a totally different NZ lifestyle for Den, and I went up for a few days to share the experience, stay with the Hills, and make a trip into the Ureweras with a friendly doctor going to Ruatahuna. The memory is now hazy apart from a brief visit to the Irwins at Te Whaiti, and the doctor’s discussion of the frequency with which the Tohunga had been consulted before he was called in. I also remember going to a ‘horror’ film in the local hall where we were seated on backless benches and the local Māori kids scared each other witless on the way home afterwards.


The next Summer I was supposed to go to Murupara again after Christmas On Boxing Day the Hill family decided to go to Ohope Beach for a picnic and Denzil was invited to go. He opted however, to stay at home and catch up on letters and reading, and Mr. Hill stayed to work on the farm. Late afternoon Jean Hill came home and told Den of a tragedy. The children had been swimming when Ernest, Michael and Pat were caught in a rip, and the two boys had drowned. She asked Den to go out to the milking shed and break the news to Mr. Hill – a man of uncertain temperament anyway having possibly suffered brain damage in a fall from a horse. The support Den gave through that devastating experience however, was valued till the day Jean Hill died. Rightly or wrongly I felt that I would be an intruder as a guest at that time and I cancelled my visit. (Some years later another son, Geoff was killed by a ‘sailer’ in a forestry felling accident, so the family had a tragic history yet Jean Hill’s faith remained strong.). In that Summer of 1951 I did go with the family on a camping trip round the far North. Again my memories are overlaid with later visits to Waitangi and Kerikeri, but I do remember the delight of camping on a farmer’s property at Coopers Beach when we virtually had the place to ourselves, got a billy of milk from the farmer, and enjoyed the beauty of the pohutukawa fringed bay. Undoubtedly many of the roads were unsealed, and Mum and Dad deserved full marks for enterprise.


In order to be registered as a trained teacher I now had to get a job in a State school and so this year I found myself teaching English and some Social Studies at Hutt Valley High School. Once again I fell on my feet in many ways, for I got a ride out each day with another teacher who lived in Khandallah, and I had Kath Langford (whom I knew well through SCM and Varsity) as a special crony. The Principal, Mr. Millard was a Rugby fanatic but also ran quite a good school. After an exhilarating time with 6th Form English while the Deputy Principal was on sick leave I came down to lowlier levels with 3rd and 4th Formers and a year which again taxed my resources. Kath and I also tried to run a school SCM group – with square dancing in the school hall during lunch hours as a drawcard which proved rather over popular. The tempo must also have been fairly brisk as my fiance and I were now exchanging letters debating what degree at what University and later which ship on which date we should sail – not to mention some wedding arrangements. There was a trousseau to be made. I didn’t own a bought frock or other garment apart from top coat, and I duly made both my wedding and going away dresses. In the midst of all this and the end of year exams and reports I had various inoculations on the inside of my upper arm as was fashionable just then and spent a miserable few days with an arm like a balloon.


School finished at last and there were a few free days before Saturday 15 December when we were married at Khandallah Presbyterian Church – the old church which had recently been moved from Cockayne Road. Jack Somerville who had by now become a close friend of us both officiated. Moragh and Shona were bridesmaids in pale turquoise homemades, Basil Kings and Albert Moore supported Den, and family and friends surrounded us. Biggest drama was the night before the wedding when the bulk of our luggage destined for the hold on our overseas trip was consigned to the Limited for despatch to Auckland. Fortunately, Den began asking questions about a particular bag and discovered to his horror that it had been mistakenly taken down to the train though it contained his wedding suit and other essential items. Much pleading with a stony-faced guard, and the bag was retrieved from the guard’s van in the nick of time.


Motels didn’t really exist then, and I can’t recall just how many people were at 17 Everest St. But Joan and Howard Anderson with a young family of their own seem to have had numerous people staying with them including the bridegroom and his parents, Basil Kings and Albert Moore. It was a superb day and Mum and the girls went off to do the church flowers with hydrangeas and probably set up for the Reception, and at least at one stage I was at home alone and everyone else away doing jobs. There were power cuts at the time and there was the question whether the power would be on (for the organ) by 2.30. Dad insisted that my very plain homemade wedding dress needed a proper veil and this had been chosen, but I improvised a rather clumsy headband with artificial lily of the valley. to hold it on. After the years of waiting I just remember it as a very happy occasion, sunshine, friends and family, and my face with a smile glued on it. The Reception was a very modest affair by today’s standards – just a glorified afternoon tea in the church basement with speeches and telegrams, sandwiches and cakes. The guest list was compiled by our parents and mainly composed of family and friends of their generation. There were photos at home in the garden, and then we changed and departed in Den’s father’s little car for a few days at Waikanae. The Milnes had lent us their bach there, and I thought it was wonderful that Joan had made an evening meal for us with cold chicken. Quite a delicacy then! We walked on the beach and unwound, and then returned – to the twin beds!


Apart from an Advent service at Otaki next night I have no recollection of how long we spent there and I think we may have returned to the city fairly rapidly to complete organisation there. Both Den’s parents and mine planned to be in Auckland to see us sail on 28 December, but when his father became ill we went up to Masterton to farewell the Brown parents there and then I think caught the limited to Auckland. Where we spent Christmas I have no idea, but we spent at least a day or two in Auckland where my family were staying in a friend’s house at Mt Albert. And then on 28 December we excitedly boarded the “Monowai” and waved to the little group gathered on the wharf.


As there are exhaustive diaries of the next two years, I am not going to record all that detail here. Suffice it to say that we crammed every day with new experiences, lived very cheaply on what we managed to earn, made friends from around the world who have enriched us in many ways, and returned home in February, 1954 with most of a B.Phil degree completed and our first baby on the way. The Suez route on the “Oronsay” travelling via Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Colombo, Aden, Naples, Marseilles, Gibraltar, Southampton introduced us to overseas travel. We also made friends with other young couples, particularly Americans, Lila and Jim Kuhn and Australians, Helen and Peter Rushton. We arrived in London the week that King George died and so were free to stand in the snow and see the Proclamation read at St James’ Palace, the Lying in State at Westminster and later the funeral procession. I began supply teaching fairly quickly, and after several abortive attempts to get other work, Denzil joined me in the exhausting business of trying to teach in secondary modern schools. We were complete greenhorns of course, and the secondary Modern schools had a fair number of tough, worldly- wise youngsters who had plenty of experience of innocent young supply teachers from overseas. Nor was it easy to meet a strange class, issue textbooks, pencils and paper, find out what they were studying and then try to contribute something useful to their education. The hazards of collecting in the dinner money and getting it to balance was another nightmare. Britain in 1952 still had food rationing, bomb sites and derelict buildings were very evident, and life was austere, but at least we were earning and discovering the city.


Then a chance encounter led to a Religious Education job at Wandsworth Grammar School, Southfields, for Den and that proved much more congenial for him. In the evening (after a 1s9d meal at a Lyons Corner House perhaps) we went to theatre, concert or ballet – another feast of experience though it entailed queuing for seats in the Gods or sometimes standing throughout a performance. At Sadlers Wells, the Old Vic, the Festival Hall and many theatres we heard and saw the great actors, dancers and musicians of the era – Margot Fonteyn, Alexander Grant and Beryl Grey, John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, Lewis Casson, Wendy Hiller, Dirk Bogarde, Margaret Leighton, the pianist Solomon, and many others Our first bed-sit in a charming house in Baron’s Court was a good introduction at 3.5guineas a week including gas and electricity. But because we were uncertain whether I could get work in St Andrews we decided to move to the cheaper but much less salubrious area, at Stile Hall Mansions, Chiswick, and a Fascist landlord who was probably on the run from the Police.


Student Years: Part three

Our six months in London gave us an opportunity to meet Slade/ Burch relatives on Denzil’s side of the family and to make a few other contacts., some through our attendance at St Columba Church of Scotland. The church had been destroyed in the blitz and the congregation worshipped in a large hall with the distinguished minister, Dr R F V Scott whom we came to know, a professional choral octet, and Elders in morning dress for Communion. Other Sundays we took the train down to Gillingham, Kent where Den took the service in a charming little St Margaret’s Church of Scotland there (founded by families of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who had been stationed there and married local girls) and we were befriended by a pleasant Headmistress. The weekends were filled with exploration, travel arrangements, chores and letter writing. At Easter we hitchhiked round Devon and Cornwall staying in Youth Hostels. By Whitsun we had purchased a heavy old tandem and set off in Friday afternoon traffic across London hoping to camp in the New Forest overnight. We hadn’t bargained with our own inexperience and the traffic, and by 9.0 pm. we put the bike in Kings Cross left luggage, caught the tube home to sleep, and resumed the journey next morning. (In spite of a stealthy entry and exit, our unpleasant landlord realised “The Times” had disappeared from the doormat and was very sardonic.) We did manage the circuit of Ely, Bury St Edmunds and Cambridge but resolved to add a Cyclemaster motor -less than 1 horsepower – to help us in our Summer travels.


These plans took shape as tandem to Dover, hitch hike to Paris where we stayed uncomfortably in a sports stadium and visited a French family, return to Calais, and then head North on our tandem with overnight stays in Youth Hostels. In Belgium we arrived in Bruges and discovered the celebration of the ‘Festival of the Holy Blood’, a magnificent openair drama in the ancient city square which later inspired my own outdoor plays. And in Holland we had a memorable encounter with two doctors and their families who had concealed Jewish families and who later gave evidence at the Nuremberg trials. An overnight train to Hamburg as we were running out of time, and then on by bike through Denmark and finally to Lund in the South of Sweden. Here Denzil was to attend a Theological Students’ Conference run in conjunction with the Lund Faith and Order Conference of the World Council of Churches. I had arranged to act as an ‘usher’, a task which introduced me to an interesting international group of students who were fellow ushers and helped our costs. Then with the bike consigned back to Scotland we took the train to Stockholm for a few days (and bought the bronze candlesticks), then crossed to Gothenberg (and bought the red rug in the study), took a Swedish ship to the UK and then a train to St Andrew’s.


Six weeks’ travel on the Continent, but now Denzil had to begin his work for a B.Phil degree under Donald Baillie and I had to try to find work to support us. Accommodation had been arranged for us in a large home, Balnacarron House on the outskirts of St Andrews at two guineas a week. Our aristocratic English landlady did not quite know what to expect of two NZers (‘I expected you to be wearing grass skirts’) but we were duly established in a tiny flat created out of the erstwhile billiard room. Lovely outlook over the garden to the Autumn trees and fields and two other congenial couples in other flats in the house. One of the other occupants, Jim Minto, suggested it might be worth enquiring about a job at his school, Waid Academy, Anstruther, and after a rather snooty interview at the Kirkcaldy Education Board where they informed me they were unlikely to appoint a Colonial graduate, the job was eventually mine. That was of course a great relief, for Beth and Frank Nichol who had preceded us in St Andrews had been able to get only domestic work for Beth. Denzil also got an Assistantship in the linked Parish of Cameron and Largoward, and his supply fee there neatly covered our modest rent. Teaching children from the farms and fishing villages of the East Neuk of Fife was a new experience, and often I could not understand them even though they were not supposed to use dialect words in school. Scottish literature was of course a component of ‘English’ classes and that taxed me, as did the emphasis on formal grammar in which I was not well grounded. The staff were friendly and the children were used to a pretty disciplined curriculum, and I suppose I was adequate. But the days were long with a tandem ride into town to catch the unheated bus which ambled round the beautiful Fife coast with its historic fishing villages and returned late afternoon. Then there was marking and preparation and exams and reports, not to mention our social commitments, weekend and holiday planning, and the domestic round.


Denzil’s fellow postgraduate students were nearly all Americans and we made friends with them as well as the Scottish undergraduates. As the first student doing a B Phil in Theology Den’s supervisor, D M Baillie was most anxious that the standard should be high, and he kept Den’s nose to the grindstone. But there were interesting visiting speakers and lecturers – some related to the Church of Scotland’s involvement in African affairs, plays at the Byre Theatre, a Drama Society which I joined and in which I briefly took part, typing classes we both took at Madras College. On Sunday we took the bus to the country churches where Den preached – high pulpits in little stone churches with a gallery for the farmhands. At night we went to one of the four Churches of Scotland in the town.


Christmas was only the briefest respite, but we had Phil Spencer, Ken Orange and Albert Moore with us and then hitchhiked and bussed from Edinburgh down through the Lake District to Blackpool, Chester and Manchester. But it was all very brief. At Easter,1953, blithely disregarding the wintry conditions we planned an extensive tandem tour. From Deeside we climbed to the snow-capped Cock o’ Mount in order to visit my mother’s birthplace at Wester Lethendry and a surviving relative at Tomintoul. We stayed in Youth Hostels most of the time, visited churches, castles and monuments – and rode furiously to accomplish the circuit to Inverness, Kyle of Localsh, Fort William, Iona, Killin, Perth and home.  Then there were all the other extras like the Kate Kennedy Procession in St Andrews, and the General Assembly in Edinburgh, and a Retreat at Iona for Denzil. We also applied for seats in the NZ stand in Hyde Park feeling that it would undoubtedly be a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience a Coronation.


I think we caught an overnight bus from Edinburgh to London, stayed with Den’s elderly cousin Winnie Harbord for a day or two, and dressed elegantly (me in my new linen duster coat and refurbished straw hat) for the NZ stand where we were to be seated by 7.0 am. The day was actually rather grey and showery and we pitied the lightly clad Ghurkha troops lined up in front of us. Queen Salote in an open landau endeared herself to everyone, and the Royal coaches were fairytale stuff. We found NZ friends in the stand, and when Hillary’s conquest of Everest was announced, the stand went wild. Again I have written elsewhere of this whole experience and London with banners and crowds everywhere was marvellous. But our hosts had hired the brand new novelty of television and we were equally rapt when we returned to the house and could view the closeups and the events in the Abbey.


Denzil’s work with D M Baillie was important, but he was also being enriched in so many other ways. Theological student Retreats at Aberfoyle and Iona (where he got to know George MacLeod again, who had been a visitor to St Andrew’s Manse Wellington in Denzil’s year with Jack Somerville) were part of that, as well as conversations with some very distinguished people. In the early Summer we were thrilled to have a visit from my father who had come for international University conferences at Durham and Cambridge but caught the train first to St Andrews to see us. It all fitted extraordinarily well, for Denzil and Albert went off to hitch-hike to Bossey (near Geneva), and Dad took me with him to his gatherings – with exploration on the side. Somewhere along the way I met Helen Barnes (Nicol) and again we hitch-hiked and spent time in Paris and Switzerland before meeting Den at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey.


None of us can quite remember how it was all organised, but the previous Summer we had met Alasdair MacDonnell, a student at New College, Edinburgh and the owner of a car! He had invited us to make a camping trip with him and somehow we included Margrethe Jorgensen, a charming and highly intelligent Danish theological student. So it was that from Geneva we visited the newly formed community of Taize, drove down through France to the Riviera, as far South as Florence, up to Venice, then North right through Germany, Holland and Belgium, and back to our new term in Scotland in the nick of time. The camping was certainly minimalist, and the food simple, but again we had wonderful experience with two people who became lifelong friends.


So back for the last frenzied term, and as Balnacarron House was being sold we also had to face a change of location. We had two rooms with an elderly impoverished gentlewoman in Golf Place, 25 watt light bulbs and very little heating, and we were both working hard, planning a complex homeward itinerary across the United States, and expecting our first baby. Our American friends assured us that we could cross the country cheaply by Greyhound bus, and they devised an itinerary with stopovers with friends and relations so that we spent one night at a hotel in the whole trip. We had made the remarkable discovery that the Orient Line was experimenting with two trial sailings from San Francisco to NZ and so we booked on the “Oronsay” which had taken us to the UK two years earlier. Leaving Scotland however, was frantic with luggage despatched in different directions, a round of farewell parties and the usual workload, so it’s not too surprising that I had a few early pregnancy alarm bells.


By 13 December we were in Southampton to join the brand new “United States” for a very rough Atlantic crossing which kept me in my bunk most of the time. In New York we were received by Albert and Viola Hoch, a childless couple with comfortable home and income who were extremely kind to us. Albert was a relative of Denzil’s maternal grandmother’s German family. After the austerity of Britain the American lifestyle was affluent and we soaked up another range of new experiences as we spent Christmas with them. The ground was frozen hard and the air icy, but homes were so warm, my Scottish clothes were oppressive. We did the sights of New York, were taken to see the Rockettes, a day trip to Princeton, a slapup turkey dinner on Christmas Day. But that morning we had been shattered to hear on radio the news of the Tangiwai disaster and wondered what friends we had lost in the huge death toll.


We left the Hochs on Christmas Day and began our four week trek across the country via Carlisle, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Johnston City, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas, Flagstaff, Los Angeles and San Francisco staying in ten different homes on the way. As it was midwinter, the more Southern route was preferable but also provided a great range of experience as we stayed in different homes, communities, churches. Greyhound busses and bus stations were not rundown as they are today, but they provided our first experience of segregation with Blacks required to sit at the rear and segregated cafes and toilets. In Washington on New Year’s Day we walked miles but most places were closed. Our hostess had taken us to a church dinner with scores of young adults and where the speakers held different chaplaincies and church vocations in which they sought to interest recruits. In Tennessee we were taken over a HEP plant that was part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, and our host was an FBI agent with interesting stories to tell. We were hugely impressed with Williamsburg which my parents had encouraged us to fit in. In Memphis we stayed in a Bank President’s pillared and porticoed mansion. In Arkansas we got out of the bus at a roadside stop in the darkness and were taken off to a cotton plantation where we slept in a four poster bed and our hosts employed fifty Negro families who lived in shanties without electricity or water laid on. (In 1968 Denzil returned to visit Don Campbell, the friend who had sent us to his parents here on the outskirts of Little Rock. The Civil Rights Movement had by then changed everything so that we had first-hand experience of that huge social change here and in other places. However, the patriarchal Mr. Campbell Snr, had provided a teacher and nurse for their black families, but the new owners of the plantation mechanised it and dismissed the Black families. ) In Dallas, Texas we spoke to teenagers in a huge church and were gratified recipients of a fee! We stayed on the bus for a 23hour stint in the hope spending a day at Grand Canyon. Only to find when we arrived that snow and mist obscured the canyon most of the day and certainly prevented any ventures away from the lookout. Across the Mojave Desert to California to Los Angeles and San Francisco to stay with two families we had got to know two years earlier on shipboard en route to Britain. In San Francisco, where we stayed with the FBI son of our FBI Tennessee host, we did a final desperate shopping spree in Macy’s and collapsed on the “Oronsay”. In fact I was so exhausted we had a row when I refused to drag myself up to experience the wonder of sailing out under the Golden Gate bridge.


But the journey wasn’t quite over for we also had a day in Waikiki and another in Suva- both pretty unknown and unspoilt in those days. And so after just over two years we sailed back into Auckland harbour for a McKenzie family welcoming party. With hindsight I suspect my blood pressure was already up and my pregnancy in jeopardy, but we spent two days driving South with an overnight stay in Taupō and then the unsealed Desert Road.


Then followed a rather tense three months or so largely based at “Lethendry” but with periods spent with Den’s parents also. He had already received various feelers about parishes including the classic cable we received in New York: “Would you accept call to Taumarunui, minimum stipend?” Den went off to look at various Auckland possibilities as well as Taumarunui and in due course the decision was made. The B.Phil thesis hung over him like a cloud and he tried to work on that, too, in early mornings before breakfast and on days ‘off’. We had returned home with meagre funds but had to furnish a Manse, buy a car, and provide for a baby, so (with my parents’ very practical advice) we bought unfinished furniture which we painted, and some new and second hand furniture. Our new dining room suite and lounge chairs were as close as we could get to the Swedish light oak furniture we had so greatly admired overseas, and we were inordinately proud of them.


The Taumarunui years – 1954 – 1960

Less than three months after our return we headed for Taumarunui, for I think Mum particularly, felt we needed to be settled. Our last few days were spent in Masterton, and it was there that I first became alarmed that the baby didn’t seem to be active. My legs and ankles were so terribly swollen when we stepped off the train at Taumarunui at 1:00 am. (with Den’s parents accompanying us) that I could barely get my shoes on. We stayed the rest of the night with Alice and Henry McHattie, Denzil’s aunt and uncle, and next morning went to inspect the Manse and begin settling in.

21 Golf Rd was one of the early homes in Taumarunui and had not been built as a Manse. It was a villa built in the conventional fashion to face the road rather than with consideration of the sun. Two open fires and a coal range (which also heated the water) provided the heating, but all floors were bare. Initially we had no fridge, a secondhand rotary washing machine, a phone (our number 123) where you turned the handle and asked the operator for the number you required, a very cold bathroom, and certainly no shower. But as our first proper home we thought it was marvellous, particularly as we looked out pleasantly in all directions and had a large glebe falling to a gully on one side and a rough tennis court in front. So we installed our furniture, I made (skimpy) curtains. and Denzil was ordained to the ministry and inducted in First Church, Taumarunui on 22 April, 1954.

The pioneer minister, Egerton Ward, rode into the King Country on horseback in 1902 and became a legendary figure, and he had built the simple little wooden church which was of course now packed for the induction of the new minister. Afterwards there were items and speeches in the church hall at the back. We have often joked that the rather gauche interim moderator informed the gathering that “DB was the 13th minister they had approached” – so the parish was not seen as a plum job! It had indeed been in dire straits, but Den’s predecessor had done a good job, church life in the 50’s was buoyant and hopeful, and we actually spent a wonderful six years there.

That night however, the sub matron of the Hospital had taken one look at me and opined that I would be in Hospital before long. The doctor I saw certainly advised a bit of rest, but with my temperament, all the things there were to do, and an abysmal lack of knowledge of my real situation, I took little notice. My first check at the ante-natal clinic at the hospital however, set alarm bells ringing as they thought I was on the verge of eclampsia and only reluctantly let me go home to collect a nightie. I was put onto complete bedrest and a salt free diet, but the damage had already been done and within days the doctor told us that the baby was dead. We did not have long to wait till the baby, a girl, was born spontaneously and six weeks early, and I went home emptyhanded. Never having had any real setback in our lives, or any grief experience, we were devastated by the loss. But Laurie More, a Home Missionary who came to see me was the first person who said that the experience would make us better equipped to help others, and that was certainly true. The sad tasks of packing away the baby clothes I had prepared were not easy however, and of course the loss touched not only us but Den’s elderly parents and mine for whom this was to be the first grandchild.

We were soon caught up however, in the busy round of life in a parish which stretched from Kaitieke and Retaruke to Raurimu through Owhango, Ketetahi, Kakahi and Manunui, and North to Taringamotu and Okahukura. Den had regular or periodic services in all these locations, usually in the all purpose community hall where I struggled with battered pianos to accompany the hymns. Apart from the main road (in places), most roads were unsealed- a sea of sticky mud in Winter and a cloud of grey papa dust in Summer. Once a month we drove North to Presbytery and Presbyterial meetings sometimes setting out in Winter darkness with hot water bags and rugs for the 3 hour journey. We had acquired the first of four Morris Minors we owned – sturdy vehicles but without heaters or radios of course in those days. Going to Hamilton, Te Awamutu, Cambridge and meeting other clergy and spouses was important, and before long I was one of the moving spirits getting the Association of Presbyterian Women off the ground in the Waikato as an alternative and successor to the old PWMU (Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Union.) With youthful enthusiasm I also tried to get the three women’s groups in our parish to join together for quarterly meetings and encouraged women from the outlying parts of the parish to drive in at night over the appalling roads also. On one occasion Mollie Whitelaw came up and back on the train to address such a meeting. In each preaching place there were Sunday School groups, and the month before Christmas became a marathon of end of year parties and Christmas services.

Denzil was not only occupied with three or four services a Sunday but was also struggling in the first couple of years to finish his B.Phil thesis, was asked to give lectures and write articles and attend conferences, and was overseer for the creation of the new Matiere/ King Country Parish to the North. A D Horwell as Director of Home Ministry was in his heyday and with the development of the New Life and Stewardship programmes, new parishes were created and new churches were built all over the country. With the adult confirmation classes he conducted the parish roll swelled, and we began to speak of the necessity for a new church ourselves.

Because of its isolation Taumarunui also had a very robust community life and we joined in all kinds of activities. Rotary and Inner Wheel, National Council of Women, Film Society and Repertory, music lessons and an art class, Arts Council visits, Balls and local concerts, Caledonian Society and Young Farmers – even a Railways Ball and a performance of “The Messiah” occupied us at some stage. The community and the church were composed of different strands – the timber mills were clearing the land and farmers breaking in the steep and often difficult terrain. The Railways employed many men with all the Main Trunk trains and maintenance. The shops of the ribbon development main street served a large rural community as well as the town. The Māori pa in Taumarunui, Matapuna, Piriaka and Ngakonui supported a sizeable Māori community though the Māori Synod of the Presbyterian Church had recently been established and they had their own Māori minister. There were always doctors and nurses, teachers, engineers and Bank staff who came for a few years and perhaps moved on. In this last group there were often immigrants who provided extra interest, and all in all we had a wide and diverse circle of friends.

Denzil also had a rich variety of pastoral experience and we have often said that the Taumarunui years provided more stark and elemental tragedy and more funny stories than any other stage of life. His first Baptism, wedding and funeral were all somewhat fraught and he realised the inadequacies of his pastoral training. The Baptism was conducted in the middle of the night at the hospital where a tiny baby in an incubator was not expected to live. Emotional too, as our own child had recently been stillborn. The wedding was of a 16-year-old Māori Roman Catholic girl and her boyfriend and when Den returned the $10 wedding fee as a gesture to them she wrote that she was framing it as a memento. The funeral proved to have a family feud as background and after the interment had been conducted in one part of the cemetery another sector of the family insisted that the body be re-interred in a family plot. A logging tragedy killed a young mill worker just days before Den was to have married him.  The son of a very fine elder and farmer away down at Kaitieke climbed a kanuka to see if he could see stock, fell, and was impaled on a broken branch. His father who was already handicapped with a war injury had to hobble back over the hills to get help, but the boy was dead when they finally got back.

During our time overseas we had blithely stated that NZ had no racism and Māori had equal opportunity in NZ. In Taumarunui we began to realise this was simply not true. Māori invariably sat in the first few rows at the picture theatre, lived in poorer standard housing on the fringes of the town or in the country, and did the unskilled jobs. Their children tended to be in the lower streams at school and they socialised together. There were exceptions of course, like Louie Matene who nursed me and Peter Orangi who got enough encouragement at school to go further than the street sweeping his family anticipated. Though we attempted to be friendly, particularly with Hemi Potatau who baptised Shona on Christmas Day, 1968, and Warren Foster as Denzil’s counterparts, I remember only two occasions when we were at a Pa. Once we attended a service in the Māori Church Hall when to our delight and the embarrassment of the congregation a goat clopped down the aisle and chomped the flowers. In the absence of the Māori Minister Denzil once conducted a tangi in the traditional fashion with open casket, wailing women in black, green branches, and a feast after the interment. But this was the sum total of our Māori contact and experience in six years. The question of apartheid in South Africa was already an issue our consciousness having been raised by Alan Paton’s “Cry the beloved country” and experience while in St Andrew’s. At an Inner Wheel meeting where the subject came up I remember that I was the only woman who spoke against All Black / Springbok touring but I don’t think we had any understanding of racism or paternalism in NZ or any understanding of the deprivation and depression of the Māori population.

After the loss of our first child the Principal of the District His School (also an elder in the church), Tom Holmes, asked if I would do some teaching. The school was shortly to move to a new site out near the golf links, so initially I went to the old town school and later cycled out to the brand new one and taught mainly 3rd and 4th Form English for about a year I think. When I wanted to leave, Tom asked if I knew anyone else who might come, and I impulsively wrote to my friend and colleague at Waid Academy, Anstruther, and asked her to come out for a year. Her brief cable ‘Coming’ was pretty amazing, for Ina Bott was the daughter of a very close knit and circumspect St Andrews family and coming alone to far off NZ was a big venture. Ina duly arrived in Auckland (by sea of course), lived with us for the year and contrived to see much of the country in her holidays.

We were keen to get our family launched, but the years from 1954-8 saw three miscarriages and the stillbirth of another child in spite of some weeks of hospitalisation – a son this time. After both stillbirths (six weeks early) we put notices in the paper which I think surprised some people. We did not ever see the babies and for a long time did not know where they were buried – in a common grave at the Taumarunui Cemetery. There was certainly no grief counselling or anything of that kind as there would be today. Doctors spoke of placental failure and hypertension but nobody seemed to quite understand the problem, and bedrest and salt free diet were the usual treatments. Our doctor and friend, Ken Hole was most kind and attentive, but we were often very depressed and might have been even more so if we had not been busily occupied.

By the time we got to No 6 however, we had enough, and resolved that if this baby did not survive we would adopt. Adoption at this time was still comparatively rare and not always socially acceptable I think. We wrote to Margaret and Jim Robb who had adopted three children and I still have Margaret’s excellent reply which helped us greatly as there were no books on the subject. We applied initially through the local Child Welfare and later had correspondence with the Matron of Bethany Hospital in Auckland who promised to find us a child as quickly as possible if our hopes were dashed again. We were also helped by a distant relative of Den’s, Marjorie Verry, who wrote to us out of the blue telling of her own somewhat similar obstetric history and her eventual achievement of four children. Her advice was a mixture of sensible diet, and positive thinking using little aphorisms for herself. I was greatly heartened just hearing of somebody else who had a good outcome eventually. Our doctor also sent us up to National Women’s Hospital to see the obstetric guru there, Professor Carey, and it was agreed that as soon as my blood pressure began to rise in the next pregnancy, I should be despatched to National Women’s for the rest of the time.

And so matters were proceeding. But in the meantime my sister Shona Mary had finished her nursing training in Dunedin and together with three other good friends was about to leave for her OE – and also to see again a certain Australian cricketer who had been besieging her with letters. Somehow she came to the conclusion, however, that she would defer her trip, come up to Taumarunui and keep an eye on me, and hopefully come to Auckland if I was transferred there. As we were furthest apart in the family we had not seen a huge amount of each other as she grew up and I moved off to Auckland, Dunedin, overseas and to Taumarunui. So this decision was all the more remarkable, but typical of her lovely personality and caring nature. She duly got a job at the biggest drapery store, FC House Ltd, for a time, and then when the ultimatum for National Women’s came, we both headed to Auckland and she got a job on the staff.

And so the hospital regime – complete bedrest, salt free diet and medication continued for two months. National Women’s at that time was a series of barrack like prefab wards constructed for the US Marine Corps on the edge of Cornwall Park during the war. Under Prof Carey and his team the obstetric unit had developed a high reputation and I was later to experience the first foetal monitor being demonstrated for visiting clinicians, and rooming in as a totally new concept. Meantime Shona kept me sane with daily visits, Auckland friends were also most kind, and Den made the long drive from Taumarunui once a fortnight I think. Hospital was still very regimented, however, and he could visit only during the limited official visiting hours when all patients were sitting up in bed with smooth coverlets! Letters were important too, and I was so paranoid I kept a detailed diary of blood pressure readings, weight and baby’s movements. There was also endless interest in the lives of other patients many of whom had very tragic histories battling with the Rh factor which was not clearly understood, or diabetes, or repeated miscarriage. The first doctors doing a postgraduate Obstetrics and Gynaecology Diploma came round in groups with the professors and it was the first time I ever heard discussion of the possible effects of nuclear radiation on unborn children.

Even though things were going well Prof Carey had decided to induce no later than 37 weeks (our earlier stillbirths having been at 33 and 34 weeks). And with this fairly definite schedule Den was able to come up for the big event and to spend the day with me after the 8.0am induction. He was of course evicted when the birth was imminent, but Shona managed to get herself into the theatre to oversee the birth of her niece and we had already decided that if the baby was a girl we would name her Shona Jane. Shona Mary rushed out to tell Den and then they made excited phone calls to grandparents and there was general rejoicing. I can’t remember seeing Shona at first but later I was trundled off to view her in the nursery and before long she was brought to the new rooming -in wing where I was installed in a single room. Things then became a bit blurred! Den and Shona were around for a day or two for photos and general admiration but Shona then returned to Wellington and almost immediately left for overseas, and Den went back to Taumarunui. I had no idea about breastfeeding and demand feeding was the order of the day for this smallish baby (6lbs2ozs) so that I responded to every whimper and got little sleep. As she was very sleepy they also tube fed her initially – which alarmed me. I was simply deluged with flowers, gifts, visitors, telegrams and letters – 200 in all. – and between euphoria, depression and overtiredness soon felt I wasn’t coping. A woman who was clearly mad also came to visit frequently! I think we stayed for ten days after the birth and then Den arrived by car and we made a triumphal journey home though we took a look at the country village, Howick, on the way as the church was vacant and Den had been asked to go there. We decided against that.

Den’s parents had spent quite some time in Taumarunui looking after him and I think they were still there when we returned home. Mine duly arrived for Christmas when Shona was baptised. I was certainly not a very relaxed young mother and the early months were not easy. We were crazy enough to take her and the Morris Minor in April right down to Tapanui for Albert Moore’s wedding, and then to Queenstown and over the Crown Range. But by the end of a year we had a very healthy little daughter. Having been advised by Prof Carey not to wait too long between children. we were now hoping for a brother or sister but to complicate matters Den had also received a Call to Karori, Wellington. Thus by early February,1960 we were packing up and making a move. We had grown to love the King Country landscape its steep hills still scarred with tree stumps but with little tōtara reappearing, farming developing slowly, and some tracts of bush remaining. The Wanganui River, Lake Taupō and the mountains of National Park had become familiar places to us. And we had savoured the whole life of a community which still retained something of pioneering spirit in its energy and isolation. The far-flung parish had been brought together as much as possible and there were remarkably strong church communities at places like Kaitieke and recognition of the need for a new church in Taumarunui. And so we cleaned up the Manse we had enjoyed (but which was soon replaced by a new one on the tennis court), packed up the Morris Minor with Shona in her car seat, and headed for the city.

Karori Years: 1960 – 1967

Life in Karori was very different, but we were delighted to be back in Wellington and encountering a thriving church with exciting possibilities for the future. Plans for a new church were almost complete and building expected to commence within months. We knew one or two people in Karori already – notably George and Ailsa Barton, and Den knew and liked the Session Clerk, Duncan Morrison. The Manse had been built during the War years with limitations on size and a neat little suburban section not far from the church. It was well placed for sun and outlook and we established ourselves very happily. My only concern was that my well-meaning parents might have rather too much input into our lives, if not interference and criticism, so I wrote a carefully worded letter asking them not to expect us to live up to their standards. Probably they were hurt by the letter, and the reality was that they gave us a huge amount of support in the next 11 years – though not without a few strong suggestions about how we should do things! After the Bible Class had carried our goods off the truck, Mum and Dad unpacked until the small hours so that things were well on the way when we arrived. Subsequently Mum found and made lovely curtains for lounge and study and we were soon settled.


Which was just as well, for I was very soon into raised blood pressure and the need to rest a good deal at home, and by May I was into hospital and on complete bed rest again. Four weeks before the baby was due Simon took the matter into his own hands and appeared on the scene at a somewhat measly 5lb 5ozs but with general rejoicing from parents and others. To my chagrin I discovered again that he was a sleepy baby and promptly regurgitated what he did have, I could not feed him adequately. and he did not thrive. There was a tentative diagnosis of pyloric stenosis but this was never really confirmed. However, a week after his birth it was decided that he should go to Karitane for a period which turned out to be three months. I tried expressing milk and we trailed up to peer at a scrawny baby through glass, but it was a pretty desolate time. To compound matters, I developed a bad cold and some pain which they thought might be pleurisy. Fortunately, our GP decided to investigate further with X-ray and sputum tests, and Mantoux tests for family members We had just brought Simon home at last, begun to adjust to his specially thickened formula and frequent regurgitation and the care of two small people, and arranged for his baptism to take place in the old church. Then one shattering day Den came out to the clothesline to tell me that Dr McKay had just rung, I had early TB and he wanted me in hospital immediately for a six month stay. Somehow we got through that weekend with plans to be made for care of the children, packing for three of us, and the Baptism as a somewhat muted family celebration with grandparents on the Sunday. We asked Moragh and Neil if they could take Shona as Rodney was just a few months older, and we asked Mum and Dad to take Simon and of course everyone agreed. It was a good deal to ask, for Mum and Dad were now into their 60s and led very busy lives, and Simon was a difficult baby. Very soon the McPhersons acknowledged that their No2 was on the way and it was decided that Mum and Dad would have Shona(2) as well.

We asked our next door neighbour, Mrs. Collier if she would give Den a meal midday, and parishioners often asked him out at night and his parents came down at times. When I got to Ewart Hospital I realised that we were hugely fortunate in this family support for some women had no option but to put their children in orphanages and some patients had few visitors or people to support them.

Where did I pick up TB? I have no idea, but possibly in Taumarunui when the repeated pregnancy disappointments of those years may have made me susceptible. As I was growing up our good friends, the Lopdells had the sadness of seeing both their daughters succumb to TB, and Merlyn was in the 5th Form with me when she developed it (and died some years later.) By 1960 however, the drug and injection regime which was curing people was well established in NZ though specialists still differed about the necessity for isolation, hospitalisation and bedrest as part of the treatment. Dr McKay, himself a former TB patient, believed in a minimum six month stay, and patients progressed from complete bedrest to complete mobility and even day leave in the last month or so. We took large (20c coin size) wafer surrounded ‘pills’ of powder and I had to continue this for two years, and we queued up for injections in the buttock perhaps twice a week – I can’t remember. I think initially I must have deteriorated somewhat for after a time I had a procedure with throat anaesthetised so that I could swallow a sizeable tube and they could have a look at the lungs. The details are now mercifully vague!

Anyway I was assigned a bed on a glassed in balcony (which would originally have been open air) and settled in to make the best of things with a range of pursuits which extended from reading and writing through occupational therapy, photo albums, knitting and later dressmaking, and I duly became patient’s representative. Den faithfully came to see me twice a week but even that must have been difficult given all the demands of the new parish, and other friends were attentive. The children could not be brought into the hospital but once I was mobile I was able to see them in the grounds and I got home leave on Christmas Day Though our horizons had been widened in Taumarunui, the intimate contact with other patients from very diverse socio economic backgrounds was a valuable education for me. I shared the balcony with an elderly RC lady who was actually dying of lung cancer, a flighty young woman who mysteriously became pregnant as soon as she had day leave, a tough lady whose husband seldom visited her and who was clearly unfaithful to her. I learned that if liquor was brought in it could be stashed in the toilet cistern where it might escape notice till consumed. Winifred Atwell came to play her honkytonk piano for the patients. and a desperate woman threw herself off a balcony and was killed early one morning. So it was a liberal education! And meantime I was well rested and adequately fed, and emerged at last in March to resume family life again.

Not an easy adjustment either, and the pace in the parish was pretty frenetic for Den. The new church was now well under way but there were frequent meetings of the Building Committee and innumerable minor decisions to be made. With a Session of 26 men, Parish Roll of 420, an estimated 600 families under pastoral care, a Bible Class of 120+ and a big Sunday School there was plenty to do. Baptisms, weddings, Confirmation classes and funerals all took time. In addition, he was on the Assembly Church Union Committee and the Church Worship and Architecture Committee at this time, and was increasingly asked to speak and write for particular reasons. Secretarial assistance was virtually unknown, but before long Beverley Davey began to do some unpaid secretarial work for him, and necessary newsletters and such things were copied on a purple ink Banda and later a Gestetner. Printed Orders of Service were only for very special occasions.

Planning for the dedication and opening of the church was detailed as there was to be a week of celebration with drama, music, youth, ecumenical or other emphasis each night in addition to the special services Not surprisingly Denzil got almost to the end of the week and then went down with agonising renal colic which put him out of action for some days. I am ashamed to say that my recollections of it all are hazy but we were immensely proud of this beautiful modern building and the opening services were impressive and with overflow congregations. Two details. I imagine the children had to be left with grandparents or someone and in the general scramble to get to the Opening Service I dropped the envelope with our Golden Offering! It was actually dropped in the car, but I was in a state of panic throughout the service. And a formidable elder’s wife had instructed me that I should pour the afternoon tea for the distinguished guests using a silver tea service. Though I was not unaccustomed to entertaining, I did get the message that she doubted if I was up to doing it properly.

By 1962 with the children past the baby stage we were both fully occupied. Denzil had 30 confirmands in a group, a Bible Class of around 120 – and invasion by a bodgie gang at a dance so that Police were called. In addition to two Assembly Committees he was involved with NCC and Karori Church Council, Alligators (a luncheon club with good speakers) and a Science and Religion colloquium. Fundraising for a pipe organ involved me in a Wool Board Fashion parade, Christmas card sales (where an elder was fiercely critical of sales in the church porch), and a Fair. Wider trends noted in our annual letter are the growing fear that Britain would become involved in the European Common Market, the feeling that we must develop Asian markets though they seemed uninterested in our products and to have little to offer in return, and a question that perhaps we belonged to the Pacific rather than to a European community. Pope John was inaugurating huge change in the Roman Catholic Church, and all Karori churches co-operated in a suburban survey. In the following year Den started the Men’s Club, the very successful 20 – 30 Club, and a Boys’ Choir in which the boys soon emerged in red cassocks and white ruffs. We entertained 400 people, I became Play Centre Treasurer (though at that time I had never written a cheque!), and at the end of the year I produced a nativity play outdoors for two nights and in the church on the third. The adult cast included men who were already making distinguished careers for themselves, and I wonder at my temerity in asking them to participate and their willingness to do so. It now seems fairly amateurish, but with Newcombe Cres sealed off and seating in the street, the forecourt and steps provided the stage and floodlights shone from a property across the road.

By 1964 the Anglicans had entered the Church Union negotiations and Denzil had 22 CU meetings that year. There were changes on other fronts too. Shona had been at the local Play Centre in a dreary RSA Hall in Campbell St and I had been imbued with the PC philosophy of free choice of activity for children and parental participation on a roster basis. Now she started school and Simon was soon off to Play Centre. After a series of small strokes Den’s father died and later we went to Masterton to help his mother in the huge undertaking of reducing their possessions of a lifetime and moving down the street. Shona and Jack came over to welcome Craig into their family in the August holidays. Having had Shona Mary closely involved with the arrival of our first child it was a special pleasure to us that Joyce Morton, a friend in Child Welfare had been able to help the Thomsons with a very happy adoption instead of waiting two years in Australia. We were fortunate in always managing good holidays so at Castlepoint, Napier, Auckland and Taupō our young family had new experiences in Morris Minor and slightly larger models later. In 1965 we took Denzil’s mother down the West Coast to revisit the scenes of her childhood – ghost towns at Ahaura and the Lyell as well as Greymouth and Westport., and she appeared to enjoy it all though the Morris 1400 must have been very crowded for 5.

In the following year NZ sent a medical team to Vietnam in the light of mounting controversy about our presence there. The Act of Commitment to Seek a Basis of Union was signed and affirmed in a memorable service in the Cathedral by the five denominations. Provocative statements by Lloyd Geering caused great debate in the church and the Westminster Fellowship was formed to uphold more traditional views. Television was becoming a part of life so that we accepted invitations to see “The Avengers” and the children to see “Thunderbirds”, and Denzil did slots on both radio and TV.

The Mazengarb Report had focussed attention on teenagers and there was such concern in the community that the embryonic Marriage Guidance Council decided to train Tutors to work in secondary school and with community groups. Though I was not active in the Federation of University Women I did see a newsletter asking interested women to offer themselves. By this time, I was also leading the Senior Bible Class with 22 young adults (6th and 7th Formers), and greatly daring I did apply for selection as a Tutor. Looking back, I realise that I really had little confidence about my suitability and as I began training with a galaxy of interesting lecturers like HCD Somerset, Helen Brew and others, I was completely bowled by the experience and lay awake for hours after each evening session. The Tutor group itself was a group of able men and women, and before long we were fronting up to our first classes to talk about puberty, human relationships, dating, drugs. Even then I found a huge range in maturity and experience, sometimes within one class, but they were much less sophisticated than today’s teenagers. The other problem was coming in ‘cold’ as a stranger to talk about intimate and significant issues not knowing either the students or much about their likely experience. Perhaps more useful were courses conducted with groups like nurses and engaged couples who were a bit further on in life, but we also worked in schools all over greater Wellington – single sex and mixed.

Karori Years: 1967 – 1971

Life changed dramatically in the middle of 1967 when Den received a letter asking if he might represent the PCNZ at the Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Uppsala in mid 1968! What a chance, and Mum and Dad said that if we could raise the cash so that I could go, they would look after the children. I wonder if they knew what they were doing, for that event turned into a four-month trip round the world which was probably the most significant time in our lives. First the money however, so that meant a term teaching at Wellington Girls’ College (English and Social Studies). Very interesting and demanding as I felt well out of touch, but somehow it was accomplished and the nestegg gathered.

The ferment over Lloyd Geering came to a head that year at Assembly and Den preached a televised sermon on the issues. The Act of Commitment was signed by the five churches. St Ninian’s prepared a home for a refugee family, a Family Life Week was held in the parish, and 80 teenagers attended a camp on Science and Religion. And we made elaborate and detailed travel plans to take in innumerable conferences, people and places overseas. Through the Church Office Den had arranged for the Rev Malcolm Williamson of North Carolina (who wanted to do a stint in NZ) to care for the parish while we were away.

So on March 17 he left for Fiji and USA and I left on April 8 taking a different route and intending to meet him in New York. Denzil visited Pacific Theological College, Church Union negotiators and consultations in USA and Canada, Princeton, and Chicago Theological Seminary where he made an unscheduled visit to a black seminary/ centre in the ghetto. The first I knew of this was when I received a panicky call in San Francisco checking that I was safe. Martin Luther King’s assassination had rocked the nation, Chicago was ablaze with riots and arson, and Den had been trapped in the ghetto until he and his companions could be escorted out from a darkened church basement by the National Guard at dawn. A terrifying but memorable experience. Meantime I had made almost my first flights as you could just about discount a quick hop from Blenheim to Wellington in 1946 and a flight in a topdressing plane over Taumarunui! I had a frantic rush to leave the house in order, deposit the children with the parents – and the cat to my mother’s chagrin, and get 44lbs of luggage packed including matching hats, gloves and handbags for formal Summer and Winter appearances. Rising over Wellington Airport I wondered what on earth I was doing leaving the children for four months and setting out across the world alone – and not even knowing how I would cope with flying. In fact, I was entranced, and with friends to meet me at each stage of the journey, there was only one anxious period when I had missed a connection in Chicago. Sitting on a bus stop in San Francisco I was shocked to see the headline “Zealand harbour: search for survivors.” Having flown out on a flawless April afternoon I could not imagine how such a storm had developed so swiftly, but the two new pupils at Cashmere School still recall the ferocity of the wind, and the sinking of the “Wahine”, and that evening Alison (Nicol) Hooson and I wondered which friends might be among the casualties. Stopovers in Champaign, Illinois where I was taken to see “Iliac”, the world’s biggest computer occupying a big room and used largely for Defence purposes, and Buffalo where I visited the awe inspiring Niagara Falls, and so to New York to meet my husband after a month long separation.

We were staying with our 1952 ‘Oronsay’ American friends, Lila and Jim Kuhn, and Lila drove me in to the headquarters of the PCUSA at 275 Riverside Drive where Den was ensconced on the 9th floor with a room of his own and thriving on the whole experience. He had met many of the luminaries of the church in USA and Canada, found great interest in the NZ Church Union negotiations and was immensely stimulated by all his experiences. We bought and were given records of new church music, new liturgies, TV and radio programmes as I was already involved with the PCNZ Dept. of Communication, ideas galore. America was in the midst of the Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam protests so I had seen unrest on the Berkeley campus, and Columbia University was surrounded by Police due to a sit-in on that campus. Alison had been struggling with the issue of bussing her children to integrated schools, and at church with the Kuhns the study group was grappling with the Report of the Commission on Civil Disorder. It was all a far cry from the segregated busses and restaurants we had seen in 1954. We were invited as guests to attend a pre Uppsala briefing weekend at Buck Hill Falls in Pennsylvania and with Visser t’Hooft and many other distinguished speakers that was a great experience too – in a very beautiful and luxurious setting.

Across the Atlantic to Amsterdam where we had a remarkable street encounter with Anne Frank’s father and stayed with Den’s Karori predecessor, and then by train to Hungary with brief stopovers at Frankfurt, Darmstadt, Munich and Vienna. Darmstadt was a weekend faith the Evangelical sisterhood of Mary as we had seen a TV programme on the work of this group of Lutheran women who had survived the bombing of Darmstadt. And in Munich we were repelled by a beerhall experience followed by the horror of Dachau.

A good deal of tension surrounded our few days in Budapest. Arrangements had begun through parishioners/ refugees (Clara and Julius Baumerth) as Clara’s father was a minister of the Hungarian Reformed Church. We did not quite realise that he could not be seen as being too closely linked with us, and the invitation came formally from the Reformed Church hierarchy – men acceptable to the Communists. Our visas turned up only at the last moment in New York, and though we were received with great kindness and generosity, there was constraint throughout. We had hotel accommodation, an interpreter and car available, and a full program of meetings, trip to Lake Balaton, the opera – and no free time. In New York we had been given the name of a pastor who was persona non gratia with the hierarchy, but we were told to contact him only from a public callbox, not to mention his name to others, not to pursue the matter if he said it was not convenient to meet him, and to meet only in the way that he nominated. We had to shake off our interpreter and it was all very cloak and dagger. We also asked for an opportunity to meet Clara’s family, but only limited time was allowed with the extended family gathered at one home with lavish food, and gifts for us to take back to the Baumerths. (Tokay wine for them and for us which weighed a ton, and we accidentally broke a bottle in Oslo!) Budapest looked drab and grey with shell holes still evident, and we breathed a sigh of relief when the train rattled over the border to Yugoslavia where the mood was much more relaxed.

Brief visits to Zagreb and Venice and on to Geneva where the plans came unstuck. We had arranged to return to Taize, first visited in 1953 and now known world-wide, but France was paralysed with a national strike and no trains could enter. So back up the Rhine to Cologne and a flight to London.

Once again there were friends – Martin and Doris Sullivan hosted us at St Paul’s, Deanery and we saw McKellars, Shearers, Buchanans, services at St Paul’s, Crown Court and City Temple, marvellous productions of “Hadrian VII” and the Royal Ballet in “Romeo and Juliet”, and the usual sightseeing. A coach trip to the Lake District for a memorably relaxed weekend at “The Bay Horse Inn’ and then we picked up a rental car in Glasgow for a quick whirl round Scottish friends, St Andrews, Tarves and Edinburgh. and down to Coventry where Den had now been invited to attend the big “People and Cities” conference there. Then back to London in a heatwave and off next day to Oslo for a day and a night. Crazy really, but we crammed in all the major sights and loved it, and then flew to Stockholm and so to the Assembly of the World Council of Churches at Uppsala. at the beginning of July.

It was a mind-blowing experience set against the background of huge changes in the Western world, and we had already seen something of this with riots and sit-ins in the USA, the general strike in France, and demonstrations at Notting Hill in London. Not only were there church leaders of all backgrounds, but there were world leaders – Kenneth Kaunda, Margaret Mead, Barbara Ward, Bob Dylan – in many fields. Meetings took place in a huge auditorium at the University, major services in the fine Cathedral, and we were accommodated in student dormitories with people from other countries and churches in our small group. Placards and demonstrators appeared on every public occasion, and the media coverage was huge. So it was all immensely stimulating, particularly when you sat beside people from every country under the sun and talked with them over meals. The NZ delegation included friends in Presbyterian, Anglican and Methodist churches but in such a big gathering we saw little of them. As a spouse I had the opportunity to go on a couple of tours, and the whole conference had a day in Stockholm with a big open air service, and dinner in the wonderful Town Hall.

The Assembly took a full fortnight and in the following month we visited an incredible number of countries – and I now wonder how we had the cheek to organise what was essentially tourist travel when our children and the parish awaited our return. But on our round the world ticket we could make as many stopovers as we wished, provided we moved East every time. Those lightning visits however, were utterly memorable, often very relevant to current and later experiences, and a high point of our lives. Two nights each in Rome, Athens, and Istanbul (where riot police arrived to quell an anti-American demonstration) gave us a taste of those very different cultures. A day or two in Delhi and Calcutta gave an impression of what a poor and densely populated Asian country is like, and then with friends up in the foothills of the Himalayas at Kalimpong (Jim Minto-wife Rosemary- from St Andrews had become Principal of Dr Graham’s Homes) we had totally different experiences near the pass into Tibet and the border with China.

Next to Israel for six nights in Jerusalem and Tiberias where yet again our personal contacts gave depth to our observations and we saw something of the Biblical landscape and the current political tensions. We stayed at St George’s Hospice and visited sites in Jerusalem including the Dome of the Rock where we were involved in a minor Muslim/ Jewish confrontation. Then NZers working with UNRRA took us to worship at St Andrew’s Hospice and on to Hebron (with another Arab/ Jewish incident at the mosque), Bethlehem and many other places. We were frequently stopped at Israeli roadblocks and tanks and the military presence was very evident. In Tiberias on the shore of Galilee, we stayed at the Church of Scotland Hospice, at Capernaum we climbed the hill to the place where Jesus gave the Beatitudes, crossed a choppy Lake of Galilee in a launch to a kibbutz restaurant and savoured the unchanged landscape though there was also evidence of this as a popular holiday location now From Jerusalem we had also been out to the Dead Sea and Jericho and to a refugee camp for Arabs and now we bussed straight back to Tel Aviv. And then two nights each in Bangkok and Singapore where again we had good local hosts, to Sydney, Waggawagga (the Thomsons) and finally Melbourne on the last leg home.

It was not surprising that in the following months we gave 50 talks between us and wrote articles also, but we had been incredibly fortunate in accomplishing so much with good health and safe travel and the help of many good friends. The children had coped with grandparents, though Shona wrote an impassioned plea on one occasion- “Please come home! Hurry, hurry, hurry. They are to tidy.’ Mum and Dad had, however, been very caring of them and Mum even went to learn about the new Maths her grandson was exposed to. The Williamsons had given the parish a somewhat different experience of ministry, and had found our Manse a bit small and cold I think. And it was even smaller as we overlapped for a few days till they departed with their 19 pieces of luggage! Then we settled down as a family again.

People say that overseas exchanges/ experiences often loosen the roots, and though we had another two years in Karori and used them fully, Den was receiving other calls. In 1970 he was Moderator of Presbytery which gave him wider opportunities. He took the whole family to Māori Synod at the Ohope Marae where he was talking to them about Church Union. That was our first such experience – sleeping in the meeting house together, and encountering Māori custom and language. Presiding as Moderator at three major Pacific Island services was also the first time we had close dealings with PI peoples and this was to continue in the coming years. When the Queen was in NZ we went to a Reception on “Britannia”, another at Government House for the King of Tonga, and Den went to a State Luncheon for Pierre Trudeau He ran a parish seminar on “The way ahead”, and St Ninian’s looked after another refugee family, this time from Hong Kong. He was also closely involved with the Glensor hostage drama when Bruce, the adopted son of one of our very active St Ninian’s couples took a young woman hostage, and was then himself shot by Police in Garden Road, Northland. So it was a full and varied year

Inspired by a Bristol production I had read about I wrote and produced a modern Passion Play and found appropriate modern hymns/ songs. The cast was 60 St Ninian’s teenagers, Marian Metcalfe was Music Director, and parents made 60 bright cotton shifts and helped with props and makeup. Again it took place in the courtyard, and this time we had radio publicity and a full back page spread in the newspaper and a great experience for all the parishioners involved. Even the men who patiently got a stroppy donkey in and out of a horse float for the three nights. One said laconically that ‘he just hoped she doesn’t get any ideas of doing Daniel in the lion’s den.’

In the early months of the year we hosted the Very Rev Lord and Lady MacLeod of Iona during their Wellington visit – and I now wonder what on earth a distinguished, wealthy and large couple made of our miniscule guestroom (without en suite) and our modest home and young children. We also had Dr Ronald Falconer of Scottish BBC Religious Radio and Television fame, Michael Hills bishop of Madras, and other interesting guests. The Governor General and Lady Ferguson worshipped at St Ninian’s and there was the usual busy round of events in the parish.

First Church and Dunedin: 1971 – 1978

 Den received Calls from St Ninian’s, Christchurch and First Church of Otago, Dunedin in the same week. He felt that the suburban parish would be very similar to Karori but First would offer a new and challenging opportunity – and so it was. A midwinter arrival was pretty cheerless, and we were impressed, flattered and a bit overwhelmed by the huge historic church, the spacious (and cold) new Manse in extensive grounds, and the appraisal of the Dunedin establishment and parishioners. Den’s predecessor, a charismatic Scot had a highly successful six year ministry and the new Cameron Centre built in the grounds as a base for outreach by First Church and Presbyterian Support was in part at his initiative. Den inherited two colleagues, Bob Wilson who would be particularly identified with Cameron Centre, and Lloyd Gammon, an elderly Welshman who had brought the Samoan, Cook Is. and European members of the Moray Place Congregational Church to merge with First Church. The Session included some fine men and a few women – and some strongminded people among them. In addition, Den was still heavily involved with Church Union so that there were eight trips to Wellington and Christchurch before the Plan for Union was received at General Assembly that year.

It’s hard to recall how the rest of the family adjusted. I was over impressed by our new role, and wince at the newspaper photo of the lady of the Manse serving tea from the First Church silver tea service!! More humbly I made curtains and tried to furnish the house in a seemly fashion and slowly got to know people. Before long I went to make myself known at Marriage Guidance and discovered that the Director was Elisabeth Duncan who had been at Varsity with us (and our mothers had been together at Otago in their turn.) Schools work was not nearly as well established in Dunedin but I took a pilot course under the scrutiny of teachers at Otago Girls’. Shona donned a uniform and dutifully went off to Dunedin North Intermediate which was a lonely experience for six months I think. And Simon began at the George St school and developed his model train layout in a small shed outside the house. But I think for them it was the beginning of teenage years which would never be as church and community related as their experience might have been in Karori. There was great debate before long as to where Shona might go to secondary school. Girls’ High School was at a particularly low ebb, entry to Kaikorai Valley High School (co-ed) could have been difficult from our location and she felt she would be lost anyway, and eventually we plumped for Columba College where she started in 1972. Simon moved on to Intermediate, and I began part-time work in a menial capacity (shelving) in the Medical School Library. though I did not remain there very long.

Now we were becoming more involved with the whole life of the city, and the Centenary of the building of First Church in 1873 and 125th anniversary of the establishment of church and community (1848) gave me an opportunity to do something creative myself. I convened the Planning Committee, gathered a good committee, came up with many of the ideas and wrote various scripts. We had been just long enough in Dunedin and in the church to have a fairly good idea of the potential resources, and people were very co-operative. The Bazaar in March and a Ball in June were early events, but the major thrust was a week late in November, and General Assembly was also to meet in First Church that month. I combed through the Archives and read everything I could lay my hands on in order to script a ‘Sound and Light’ production (though my total experience was of Bruges in 1952 and Knox College in 1972.) Burns Hall was badly run down and we tried to rejuvenate it a little – I painted the two big kitchen tables bright orange to cheer things there! We commissioned Gordon Parry to write a new history of the church, Roy Dickson to provide the design for a tile, found musicians and groups for the week of celebration and came up with souvenirs, service sheets and programmes.

Working in other areas Denzil began writing a weekly newspaper column “Between ourselves” in the “:Evening Star” and sustained that for several years with comment on any topic he wished. He also had two TV services which took a huge amount of preparation, attended three conferences, and became more involved with the Pacific Islanders. I was asked to chair the Pastoral Committee for the six or seven hospital chaplains and I enjoyed this role for some years. The chaplains were all men at that time, some working ecumenically and some denominationally. But there were interesting issues like the proposals to close down the mental hospitals and develop community care, and the establishment of hospices in NZ. Funding for chaplaincy was just beginning to be an issue, but their work was still appreciated both by patients and by staff. We set up personal Supervision for each chaplain perhaps before it had been generally accepted, but the whole Clinical Pastoral Education training scheme was by now well established. Shona became involved with creative dance and ice skating, and Simon with Scouts respectively.

And towards the end of the year we had the opportunity of buying a tiny cottage at Warrington which the Ross Clarkes were sadly selling. That was most exciting, and during our Summer holidays there we set about making it our own. In the following years Warrington became a great safety valve for Den and me as a place to escape to away from the phone and the church property on Sunday night or Monday. We even had a built-in barbecue, and a boatshed down by the lagoon with a heavy old boat and a canoe. We thought it was marvellous, though the longdrop toilet and other details were fairly basic and there was a huge amount of lawn to mow. Walks on the beach or along the spit by the lagoon, or just sitting reading and writing by the fire were relaxing for us both, though S. and S. soon outgrew the attractions.

Abortion law reform, the French nuclear tests in the Pacific, and Rugby teams going to South Africa were all hotly debated topics under the Labour Government of the time and Norman Kirk’s death the following year was a sad loss.

By 1974 I had been accepted as a trainee counsellor with Marriage Guidance. This involved a local and a national selection process under the auspices of the Justice Dept. and then a series of training weekends in Wellington before accreditation. Counsellors were unpaid and of course continued with in-service training and supervision throughout their working lives. It was a bold attempt to deal with the increasing breakdown of marriage and family life, and soon to provide a way of helping couples resolve their differences on separation and custody issues if the marriage was over. I found myself reading and learning a great deal and increasingly involved with a marvellous group of intelligent men and women both in Dunedin and on the national scene. We had a weekly group meeting over lunch on Thursday for case management discussion, personal reflection, or any topic people wished to raise, and Elisabeth Duncan was a strong and effective Director. I think Marriage Guidance did provide a remarkable, low cost community service and developed the skills of many counsellors (and tutors). But looking back at my own beginnings I think I was very idealistic about ‘helping couples stay together’ when that was highly unlikely, or when I really hadn’t the skills or experience to help them appropriately. My personal experience of dysfunctional relationships was minimal and I doubt if I handled alcoholism, sexual abuse and incest, domestic violence, depression with huge insight. I was a good listener and reflective counselling was the fashionable approach, but I wonder now how many people I really helped. As time went on (and after innumerable courses) I also began Court counselling which involved providing a report on the outcome of conciliation. Again I think I lacked the cutting edge that dealt with the hard issues. Marriage Guidance was also changing so that when I was a member of a national Assessment panel for tutor applicants and found that one (very suitable) candidate was in a de facto relationship, I felt in duty bound to point out that this was contrary to the national MG Constitution. So the Constitution duly changed after great debate at the next AGM. But all this was a year or two on. For two years about now I was also on a national Assessment panel for potential students for Ministry, and this took place over a weekend at Knox College. I found it very interesting but look back with shame that I handled one applicant badly and was not always very shrewd in my judgment.

The pressures for Den came to a head late in 1974 when he suffered stress symptoms and a query ‘heart attack’. A perceptive specialist sat him down to talk about his workload, correctly diagnosed nervous exhaustion, and advised some time out. By chance there was a vacancy for a locum at St Andrew’s Church in Suva so that (after some time off at home) we decided to go to Fiji for four weeks over Christmas and then on to Western Samoa for another two weeks to learn something of the backgrounds of our Samoan parishioners. Shona (who by now was learning ballroom dancing and driving and had tried factory work and hospital aiding) was also sitting School Certificate. So Denzil left first, and Shona, Simon and I followed as soon as her exams were over, collected some suitable tropical gear from the Opportunity Shop goods in my parents’ Auckland basement, and joined him in the humid heat of Suva.

It was all a good introduction for the children to other cultures and to overseas travel, and given the later history of Fiji I’m sure we have all been grateful for the experience. We were to live on the campus of the University of the South Pacific so that one of the first things we did was to attend a Graduation Ceremony where it was soon evident that the Indian population had the academic drive rather than the more relaxed Fijians. At the Pacific Theological College however, students were drawn from all over the Pacific and again through their Graduation ceremony we glimpsed the similarities and the rich diversity of island cultures. St Andrew’s Church had been built largely for expatriates but now welcomed many of these PI students and others. There were enough Europeans working in banks, commerce and Government departments for us to see a remnant of colonialism too as we talked with these people.

Quite apart from all that, we enjoyed the whole change of climate and vegetation with warm air wafting through louvres, bare floors and fans, frangipani, hibiscus and coleus everywhere. The market was a delight and we experimented with the new fruits and vegetables, and travelled on the windowless busses as well as by rental car. Denzil worked hard with Advent and Christmas services which again had their differences in that climate – and Father Christmas turning up at a party on the USP campus seemed very odd! But we did seize a few days to drive right round the island so that he could take services in Nandi and we could stay in a couple of magical island resorts. including the offshore island of Nananuira and see the cane sugar plantations and rural life of the West.

On 31 December Simon flew back to New Zealand to attend a Scout Jamboree and Shona accompanied us (with brief stopovers in Tonga and Nuie) to Western Samoa. We had been invited to stay with St Ninian’s parishioners, Keith and Marie Mawson in Apia but we had other contacts also and planned to visit a number of villages and to stay the two weekends in Vaelima and Lefaga. Though we had learned a bit about Samoan life, I think we had not fully appreciated ‘fa’a Samoa’ and the strict protocols that governed life and custom. We were treated as honoured guests, gifts were lavished on us, feasts provided, speeches made. But I doubt if we met their expectations of reciprocal gifts (from wealthy NZers), and though Shona and I wore decorous long skirts, we did not conform with the right hats for church-going and were lent white ones that were more appropriate. The weekend experiences were particularly interesting as we tried to sleep on damp kapok mattresses in Vaelima and after a bowl of sago at dawn climbed the hill (wearing lava lavas) to visit Robert Louis Stevenson’s grave and then swam – still in the lavalavas – in a waterfall pool on the way down. Similarly, in Lefaga with its beautiful palm fringed beach and sparkling lagoon we were ceremonially greeted in the open air meeting house sitting uncomfortably with legs tucked behind us as we couldn’t manage to sit cross-legged for hours. And in the evening the pastor asked us to talk to about 200 teenagers all of whom wanted to go to NZ, Australia or USA firmly believing that the streets were paved with gold. Denzil attended a title ceremony and we were all present at a kava ceremony (though women do not drink), and we visited the simple homes our people had left for ‘the good life’ in NZ. Many were still the thatched fales, but as relatives sent money back they were being replaced by the less attractive (and less practical) concrete block and corrugated roof bungalows. The real efforts of villagers were put into building huge and often very elaborate churches of somewhat mixed architectural pedigree, but maintenance in that tropical climate was then a problem. The church was the focus of the peoples’ lives, and the time for family prayer and Bible reading was observed in every village when a bell sounded. We glimpsed the impact of different missionaries and Christian traditions by attending a Congregational and then a Roman Catholic midnight service in Apia on New Year’s Eve just after our arrival. The chief (matai) and the pastor (faifeau) are hugely influential figures in village life, and in all we learned some important lessons for the coming years.

First Church and Dunedin continued to offer us a variety of new challenges and the next few years are a busy kaleidoscope. Denzil’s mother had coped valiantly living alone in Masterton for ten years after his father’s death, but at 90 the local relatives were expressing concern about her, and the deaths of her two surviving brothers in the North helped her to face change. Initially we spoke of her coming to live in care in Dunedin, but in fact we eventually decided that she should have the large guest bedroom and just go to a home when we went on holiday. So at 91 she courageously came South and made the best of her last four years with us. It was not always easy for anyone, but Ella Brown was a remarkably patient, loving and tolerant woman and put up with the rudeness and neglect of us all. She entered into our lives and new places and people as fully as she could, humbly helped with the chores in spite of arthritis, deafness and cataract, and quietly retired to her room when necessary. When I began a part-time job as Receptionist at Marriage Guidance she accepted my absence though she must often have been lonely, and she also accepted our opinion on cataract surgery (very successful) – or what to buy and wear Her personal faith and her love for us all never wavered.

When Denzil went on study leave to Melbourne in 1978 and I went to join him towards the end of his time, she seemed in normal health and indeed went off to see her grandson take part in “Joseph and his technicoloured dreamcoat.” Leaving Melbourne Den and I went to see the Thomsons and then Shona Mary acquiesced in our desire to have a glimpse of the outback by driving us to Narromine for an overnight camping experience on the banks of the Murray River. We were thus out of range when Jack got a message that Granny was far from well and that we should return to NZ early. Miraculously we were able to get back quite quickly and to accept the doctor’s advice that there should be no hospital intervention. Instead she died peacefully at home with the family round her a day or two later.