(Modern Times are harder to grow up in – quote in STUFF Dec 2021)
In 1941 I was only two years old when we (our small family) moved from Tauranga to settle in Raetihi.
We lived in what was affectionately called the ‘leaky house’ in Mount View Road. My very earliest memory was the frantic search for my older brother who had secreted himself in the back of Tommy Chan’s vegetable delivery van and got himself a free ride into town. What a to do!
No matter how they tried to stop us, my brother and I always found a way through the fence and off into the world. My older brother, aged about 4, made it to the bowling green. He just couldn’t resist the white Kitty, so ran onto the Green and swiped it and took off through the hedge with several irate bowlers in hot pursuit.
Dad and Mum purchased a house in Seddon Street on the Ameku Road end. It is a Canadian bungalow built by a Mr Ogden and sold to us for no deposit and a pound ($2) a week mortgage.
What a great neighbourhood we moved into. Lots and lots of other children, and a great big paddock next door.
The paddock was a fantastic area for all the kids; there is a hill in it sloping up to Hukaroa Road which was good for tank (water) rolling with us inside, and for a big bonfire on Guy Fawkes night.
Fireworks were expensive so Dad thought he would make his own. He made ‘bombs’ using blasting powder. They were very impressive to look at; about the size of a baseball with a fuse sticking out.
To get the best effect we would light the fuse and quickly place an empty upturned 44-gallon drum over the hissing ‘bomb’ and RUN! Of course, the resulting boom and the drum going up in the air was most exciting and could be heard for miles.
The local Policeman came around and said very sternly “someone” had reported that “someone” was using gelignite somewhere, and was it us? By then we had run out of Dad’s bombs so that was the excitement over for another Guy Fawkes night.
We lived near Ameku Road and down there was the Abattoir, or as we kids called it, the slaughter- house.
It provided the meat for Anderson’s Butchery and was run by one man who lived in a house on the property. We had hours of fun there, almost bordering ghoulish.
The Slaughterman was quite happy for us to watch so long as we did not get in his way. He said he had a knife that was so sharp it could cut through concrete and if any of us got in his way he would cut our nuts off. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant, so best to stay well out of his way!
One boy did get cheeky and sort of in the way. The Slaughterman grabbed him by the lapels and lifted him up and into the carcass of a just gutted bullock. We thought it was the funniest thing we ever saw. The lad took off to home bawling his eyes out, and not too clean!
The most important ‘thing’ in our lives then was the bicycle. It gave us great freedom and we biked everywhere. I had to buy one because I landed the job of delivering the ‘Wanganui Chronicle’ each morning. I had half the town to cover and for delivering the news 6 days per week I earned 17/6 (one dollar & 75 cents). I paid off my bike by paying 10/- (or $1) per week.
My older brother delivered the ‘Auckland Star’. It was always one day late as it came from Auckland to Ohakune by train during the night, then to Raetihi in the morning the next day.
We did our best to upgrade our bikes by adding bits and pieces like mudflaps and carriers, but they were still only one gear and we had to walk up most hills.
We had wonderful neighbours and one of the older boys next door gave my brother a special bell to fit on his bike.
This worked off the front wheel and when the bell was ‘pulled on’ it made huge noise, like a fire bell.
We would delight in riding up behind someone (hopefully elderly) and turn it on ‘full bore’ and watch them leap to one side. The language they used at us was very colourful: such fun! We would regularly ride to Ohakune, and once we got to Pipiriki.
We were able to send away for ‘ex-Army equipment’ going cheap and so we bought such things as bayonets and gas masks. The gas masks came with a nice canvas bag which was very useful, and the tubing was okay for putting over the bicycle hand bars for a better grip.
The best thing was the face mask of black rubber and big glass eyes. We had hours of fun going downtown wearing these masks, with a coat covering our head and scaring the daylights out of any little child in the street. One very irate Mother took to us with her umbrella. Looking back, I can’t say I blame her, with a hysterical child to deal with.
I recall many events during those years. Events like the Annual Show (Mum said it never rains on Show Day).
Also, the annual Rodeo. Wonderful with all the side shows which we ‘saved up’ for many weeks ahead to get Hot Dogs, Candyfloss, and ride on the Chairoplane, and to watch the “Wall of Death” motorcycles.
The Christmas Parade was always wonderful even though we all knew who Father Christmas was in his sleigh.
The Queen Carnival to raise money for a new swimming pool (sorely needed); and to replace the old Dennis Fire Engine. People joked that the Fire Brigade would say “please keep the fire going until we get there”, but the new Fire Engine put paid to that joke.
The spectacular eruption of Mt Ruapehu was another event. We would drive to National Park in Dad’s old car and get a great view of the action.
Our school had a special place in the community and was well run. I enjoyed going to school and received a basic but well-rounded education.
These few stories are a ‘mere drop in the ocean’ of the marvellous life and times we had as children in Raetihi.
Going downtown on a Friday night was wonderful. Crowds of people and all the lights. If I was lucky, I could have an ice-cream and also a Lucky Dip at Boyd’s Bookshop, then maybe to the pictures to see “Ma & Pa Kettle Down on the Farm”.
I want to finish by making a list of the business’s I recall existing as we take a stroll down the shopping area of Seddon Street, starting from the West: there was the TAB, Anderson’s Butchery, County Council Offices, Sandford’s Building Workshop, Freeman R Jackson, Fagg’s Groceries, Bowater’s Saddlery, Mosen’s Boot Shop, The Bakery, Wrightson’s, Marshall’s Keen Cut Cash Store, Maher’s Clothing, Werry’s Furniture, Another Store (?), Miss Goldfinch Accountant, Hairdresser, Gordon Wham’s Barber Shop, Chan’s Groceries & Vegetables, Miss Legge’s Haberdashery, Keuck’s Vege’s, Chemist, Bread Shop, Boyd’s Bookshop, Post Office, Ritz Tearooms, Wally Watson’s Billiard Saloon, Mr Baird Solicitor, Wamarino Hotel, Thistle Tearooms & Dairy, Willoughby’s Garage, Police Station & Courthouse.
On the other side, starting at Plunket Rooms, Borough Council Office & Library, Fire Station, BNZ, Printing Co. (behind the Bank), then various buildings. One was a Dry-cleaning Shop, then Dalghety’s, Mr Garmonsway’s Second Hand Shop, Carrying Co., Webb Motors, Theatre Royal, Dentist, Urwin & Drury, Blacksmith, Webb Motors, Dairy Store, Mr Lee Accountant, and the Butter Factory.
Also, at the time there was a Mr Gillett’s K16 Factory.
The Hospital and Nurses Home, A Dr Jordan, The Acclimatisation Society, Sale Yards. And I think there were seven Churches! Also, the Milk Factory, and a big Timber Mill at Pakahi, and not forgetting the busy Railway Station.
Also, there was the Cosmopolitan Club, RSA AND Gentlemen’s Club and Women’s Institute, Motor Camp and Showgrounds. The local Marae and Ratana Church were on the hill on the Ohakune Road.
A popular Bowling Club, Croquet Club and a Tennis Club were well attended by local ‘kids’ of all ages.
Yes, I may have missed some, but I am thinking back 75 years! It certainly illustrates just how thriving Raetihi was in the past.
I know I speak for a lot of men and women of my generation that were lucky to have had a lovely childhood without all the ‘trimmings’ of today; not only in Raetihi, but I suspect in hundreds of small towns throughout New Zealand during those years of the early 20th century.
By Roger Munn