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.