The Farm

Below are some memories of living on the Stock’s farm written by Stephenie Primrose (Stock).

TettieStockThe farm was just north of Tolaga Bay on the left hand side as you go north. It was off the main road, probably about half a mile up a dirt road. There were a few families in that area. One was the Hale family who had several children including two girls, Nora and Joyce, a bit older than I was. There were also a few Maori families on the road leading to the farm.

At this point the river doubled back on itself forming a sort of U and our land was in the bottom of the U. When the river flooded the top of the U met cutting us off. There was no bridge over the river but there was a sort of flying fox with a crate hanging from it. The ‘driver’ stood up and wound the handle pulling the crate and passengers over. I remember we had to lie on our tummies face down when Mum was doing this and I can still see the bank and the river under us as I looked through the cracks in the floor. It seemed miles down! The ‘cage’, as it was known, used to get washed away from time to time so I don’t think it could have been that high above the river.

After crossing the river in the ‘cage’ the house was straight ahead of you. To the left was the cow shed and on the river bank to the right was a stand of bush. Beyond the house was another paddock – the bull paddock where Ted the big jersey bull lived. There were a few trees around the house and a fence. There were also about 30 jersey cows, two horses – Bess, a black hack, and Doll, a white with a bit of draft in her. Doll was a lovely horse and did all the ploughing etc. The sheep dog was called Roy. There were a few chickens near the house and I think a few pigs near the cow shed. There were also fruit trees in the front garden and a vegetable garden.

There were some hills not too far away with a clump of manuka, shaped a bit like a pig, on top of one of them, which I named the ‘snork’. Along with ‘Mrs Bees kids’ he was a great play mate of mine. Many years later I went up to Ruatoria, past the old farm, and I looked out for the ‘snork’. It was still there but much bigger and no longer looked like a pig.

After the cows were milked, the cream was separated off and put in big metal ‘urns’. Dad used have to transport them over the river in the ‘cage’, then carry them up the dirt road to the main road where the milk tanker would pick them up and leave the empty ‘urns’ behind.

My one big memory of Mum on the farm is her lying on the couch and everyone dashing about looking very anxious. Aunt Frieda was staying with us. I know now that Mum had gone into labour and that the baby was overdue. They had to get her across the paddock, into the ‘cage’ and to a neighbour’s car to take her to Tolaga. The baby, a boy, was born dead. Mum was told he had been dead some time because he was so wrinkled and dehydrated, but she swore that she felt him move the day before. He would have been called Simon.

Occasionally we would go into Tolaga to do some shopping. We would catch the service car (bus) on the main road. It had several doors on each side and the seats went right across the bus. My main memory of those visits is the Maori women, who were all dressed in black with moko tattoos. They always sat in a long row on the edge of the footpath with their feet in the gutter. They were talking in a way I couldn’t understand.

There were only a few shops in Tolaga. People called Thornton ran one. Groceries would have been ordered by phone and delivered to us on the service car, left in the big mail box on the road. Very occasionally things were stolen but not often.

My main memory of the farm is Dad. I was an out going kid, I started talking at an early age and absorbed everything I saw. I followed Dad around all the time and shared lots of things with him. Julian, who was a couple of years younger than me, was much more clingy to Mum and very shy when he did come into contact with outsiders.

Dad was an avid bird watcher. He could look at a bit of egg shell and tell you which bird had laid it and how many eggs there would have been, or see a nest and tell you which bird had made it and whether it would have been built high in a tree or in a hedge or the ground. He told me how to take one egg, never more, never touch any part of the nest and make sure mother bird was coming back. I had a big tin lined with cotton wool with blown eggs in it. I only wish I could remember all he taught me now.

Dad used to get the wood for the stove from the bush and he would harness up Doll to a sledge and take me with him. I would sit on the sledge with the grass popping up through the slats and tickling my legs. He would then load the wood and, if Doll was ‘pulling alright’, I could sit on the top, otherwise I ran beside.

As a child I didn’t like the sound of the Morepork at night – still not too keen on them now. One day Dad came and got me and we went deep into the bush. And there sitting in the dent in a tree was a very sleepy Morepork. He opened an eye and looked at us, then went back to sleep. I can still see him as if it was yesterday. Another day he took me into the bush and made me sit very, very still and silent for what seemed like hours, then along came a mother quail running along followed by five babies behind her. They were like little bumble bees. Dad must have found the nest and known she was around. I would have been 3 or 4 years old at the time.

The House

The farm house was square with chimneys made out of corrugated iron. Inside there were two brick fire places, one in the sitting room with an open fire, and the other in the kitchen for the wood range stove.

If you stood at the back door the kitchen ran the width of the house with one end closed off for the bath room. From the kitchen there was a door that lead into the hall and to the front door where the was a little veranda overlooking the front garden with the fruit trees.

The stove in the kitchen was on the same wall as the back door, and a window which looked onto the bull paddock. The bathroom had a bath. There was only cold water which came from two big tanks situated outside the bathroom. Hot water for baths and other washing came from big kerosene tins which lived on the side of the stove always keeping hot. Mum would have to carry those the tins of hot water across the kitchen to the bathroom each time we had a bath. Bath water was always shared!

My room was on the left as you went up the hall. I don’t think the walls were lined because there was a knot hole in the wall and if I stood up on my bed I could see Mum moving around in the kitchen early in the morning.

On the right of the hall there was a sitting room with a fire place and a table in the middle of the room and a couch to one side. There was no electricity and Dad used to draw on the table in the evenings and Mum would sew, all by the light of the big kerosene lamp. They used to play records on a wind up gramophone and I can remember hearing some of the old well known singers and songs of the period as I lay in bed.

Mum and Dad’s room was next to mine on the left and the other room on the right. Both had windows looking out to the front.

The only communication with what was happening in the outside world came from a magazine they got called ‘The Weekly News’ which came once a week. There was a phone which was a party line with several other families on the one line. If you wanted to ring out you lifted the receiver and said “working”. If there was no one on the line you could then turn the handle and the operated would answer and put you through. If you wanted someone on the same line you could just turn the handle to their code and get them. Our number was 52K, long, short, long.

The ‘walk down the path’ loo, which was a long drop, was out the back near the bull paddock. Ted, the bull, was always very interested in people going to the loo and would pop over to see what was going on. He did sometimes get a bit too interested and would push the loo door open and look in. I will never forget the screams of a Granny, when enthroned – no doubt with sensible knickers at her feet – when Ted’s huge head appeared in the door blocking her escape!

Any washing was done outside, near the water tanks. There was a copper and a wringer built between two trees. When water got short, as it did in summer, Dad dug a hole out of the river bank and set up a grate so Mum could boil up the washing in the kerosene cans and rinse the washing in the river. This also happened for our baths. We were soaped all over and popped in the river. Mum said I could dog paddle quite strongly at a very young age.

The Floods

I can only remember two floods, I think there were several smaller ones but the two I can clearly see were when there was water just everywhere.

Dad had a big stick in the front garden with a mark on it and every now and then he would have a look to see if the water had risen to cover the mark, or was going down. The river was tidal so it was affected by which way the tide was flowing.

On one occasion we woke one morning and the whole farm was covered in water. Mum and Dad had been up most of the night checking just how bad it was getting. Luckily the water wasn’t that high and we were able to walk through it, to higher ground and on to a neighbour, the Purleys, who lived a couple of miles away.

I remember walking through the waste high water, Dad was carrying me and a suitcase of dry clothes and Mum had Julian. We crossed the fast moving part of the river by holding onto the fence that ran across it. Once on the other side we could stand on higher ground. We were all set to walk on when our dog, Roy, decided he wanted to come too, but each time he tried to get across the current was too strong and it washed him down stream. Dad grabbed the fence and walked back to the other side to get him. Each time he started Roy thought he was coming back and ran off towards the house again. In the end Mum crossed the river holding the fence, he waited for her and she held onto the fence with one hand and the dog with the other. A few minutes after she had crossed and was safe with us the fence just washed away. I can see Mum clearly holding the dog with the torrent of water rushing by her.

Mum was very cross with Dad because he had dipped the case into the water and the dry clothes were wet! The Purleys were a nice family, John was about my age and has lived in Melbourne for years, the girls both married quite well and Madge, the mum, used to sometimes come to Wellington and visit. She had a very loud voice like a fog horn, but a real heart of gold. I know Dad went back to the farm later in the day to milk the cows which had found high ground. We lost some stock, the hens were let out so they could roost in the trees but little pigs were not so lucky. I don’t know when or how we got back home but we did.

Flood number two was much worse.

This time when we woke the water was coming up to the door steps. The house was built up off the ground with a few steps into the house itself so the top step was probably about a metre off the ground. As the water was so high we couldn’t go anywhere so we just had to stay put. Dad had put a ladder up at the side of the house in case we had to evacuate onto the roof. The kitchen was full of animals and hens. As they floated past the house Mum or Dad would grab them and bring them in. Before the water got really high we could hear the cat crying. He was stuck under the house sitting on a beam. Mum decided to rescue him by ducking under the house, through the water. She grabbed him ok but had to pull him under the water to get him out. He was not too keen about that. Mum appeared in the kitchen holding a soaking cat, dripping blood from scratches on her arms from where the cat had scratched her. Every now and then the phone would ring and the Maori family on the other side of the river said, ‘You still there Stocks?’ We were but that was the end of farming.

Things were very tough farming during the depression of the 1930s. I know Mum said when they bought the farm butter fat was 9 pence a pound, which was just sustainable, but it dropped to 6 pence and they couldn’t live on that. All round the country people were just walking off the land because they couldn’t make ends meet. The flood was the last straw.

My last memory of the farm was the mud. It was grey silt and covered everything. Not a blade of grass anywhere, just shiny grey mud. Julian and I played in it. I can still see the paddock as we walked off the farm, the whole place was shining, almost silver and bright.

I can’t remember getting to Napier but I know we stayed with Granny for a while then moved to a house at 2 Seapoint Road, just under the water tower. Dad got a labouring job working down on the wharf where they were building the break water to form the harbour. We then moved to 2 Thompson Road in 1940 and that is where Ronwen was born. Dad went into the army then, at first in Napier then to Army Headquarters in Wellington where he spent the rest of the war. He was too old for active service by then being over 40.