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.