by Grace's daughter, Marjorie Meredith, August 2011
Grace Shaw was born in Otorohanga on 11 August, 1909 and now at the age of 102 years she still has a clear memory of her early childhood days of living in the district of Te-Rau-a-moa. Te-Rau-a-moa was at the time a small settlement high up on the side of Pirongia Mountain between Te Awamutu and Kawhia. On a fine day one had a splendid view of the three snow covered mountains Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Looking westward one had a glimpse of the sea. It was twenty six miles to the townships of Otorohanga and Te Awamutu – on rough metalled roads with very steep hills to climb. At one spot, which was named Windy Point (now by-passed) the wind was so strong on occasions that vehicles were almost blown off the road.
The family moved to Te-Rau-a-moa as Grace's father Oscar Dassler loved the bush and wanted to get back to an area that had bush. His main income was from making strainers, posts and battens by splitting them from fallen totara and rimu trees. A Mr Potts who bought the farm at Ngutunui bought many of the posts etc from him. On one occasion my father had stacked many strainers, posts and battens ready for Mr Potts to collect, but the family had to go away one day and on returning found the pile gone, so presumed Mr Potts had picked them up. That was until Mr Potts arrived a few days later to pick up his supplies and they realised they had been stolen. It was always presumed the perpetrators were neighbours.
The soil was poor, no one had any fruit trees, so fruit was something we seldom had. Our plum tree flowered profusely, but then only produced flat bladder-like fruit that just dropped off. There was just one plum tree in a deep fertile valley, about 6 miles down the mountainside (The Okoko), which we all visited every summer. This valley also had the most marvellous blackberries – large and juicy. The district made a picnic day of picking the berries and we all went with lunch baskets, cream cans, and billy's and had a royal time. We could stand in one spot and fill a seven-pound treacle tin. How we enjoyed it, but it was a busy time for our mothers', making jam, jelly and blackberry drinks. This valley now has no blackberries because of progress. There was coal in the valley and all the berry fruit has been cleared away to make way for an active coal mine. Grace remembers the time when settlers thought we should have the coal tested to see if it would be worthwhile to mine it. So two trusty men (one of them Kai Randall) were despatched to town with half a sack of coal to be analysed. On reaching town they met up with two old convivial mates and had quite a party. Alas, when they went to send the coal off it was missing! Not to be daunted they slipped into a handy back yard, collected some nice lumps of coal and sent it off. The reply came back soon afterwards – PURE HUNTLY COAL and a fine for trying to defraud His Majesty's Government. Years later the coal was found to be good quality and a mine was opened which is still active in 2000. Interestingly as the coal is mined the ground is levelled out and pine trees planted.
Te-Rau-A-Moa was quite an active little settlement. There was a cream factory, where farmers took their fresh milk in huge milk cans, they waited until the milk was separated and took the skimmed milk home for calves and pigs. Butter was also made there and dispatched to Auckland. The district was not really populated enough to support the factory and around 1912 it closed, this caused a rift in the district as there were various guarantors and they had to repay the loans – they all paid except one who refused to pay his share. The factory stayed idle for a while, until one settler called a meeting and it was decided to turn the building into a public hall. This was an enthusiastic idea and soon settlers were raising money for the conversion. A beautiful floor was laid down, one of the best for many miles around and there was to be a grand opening. At the time there was a young woman who was a housekeeper in the district and she was to be married to one of the bachelors, so it was arranged to have a celebration in the hall to befit the occasion. All the ladies were busy cooking for the big event when ALAS, the husband of the lady arrived and took her away. The would-be groom took it well – said she was a nice little girl, and the rest of the community thought they couldn't let all that food go to waste, so they still had their celebration dance in the hall.
The old hall saw many dances, several weddings, including Grace's, and 21st parties, but sadly it has now fallen into disrepair.
There was a post office and a boarding house where the mail coach stopped and passengers had lunch and a comfort stop. Horses were changed in the large stables. There was a slaughter house on a hill and a butcher shop. The shop was often without an attendant (who was a farmer) so people just went in, helped themselves to sausages and roasts etc, then entered it in a book. Such honesty!
There was a little school perched on a hill, where it caught all the wind, and the pupils were as many as thirty, but often less. The teacher, Mr Honere, was a dedicated man who, without all the teaching aids of today, put the children through the three R's very thoroughly. One very bright boy he tutored in Standard 7 (Form 3) for some time and this lad – Cyril John Adcock went on to further studies, passed various exams and became a professor some years later. Around 1990 he was awarded a Queen's Medal but sadly, although he knew of the award, died suddenly before actually receiving the medal.
No-one could afford secondary education and he willingly taught other children, all in his own time to further their education. Two girls he tutored for and hour after normal school hours, and one night a week he gave them lessons in his own home where they stayed the night. Both these girls passed Public Service Entrance (School C) at the end of a year and went on to be a Pupil Teacher, then to training college and thus became fully-fledged teachers.
I doubt if the modern child getting to school by bus, bicycle or car knows anything about stone-bruises, but we children suffered quite often with them, as we usually went barefooted. If a stone rolled under a foot as we ran along a bruise would form about a week later. They were absolute agony, throbbing continually and was a long time coming to a head. Quite often a father would lance it open and the relief was instant as the pressure was released with the pus escaping.
One man Kai Randall was a real character in the district and did a lot for it. He was the brain behind converting the factory into a hall. He had a peculiarity of speech – whether international or not, we never knew, but he added an "H" to all words beginning with a vowel. He started the meeting saying "Now H-our H-idea H-is ……. As a chairman of the school committee he said "This prize H-is H-awarded to H-Edwin H-E Le Prou for H-excellent conduct, and when it was mooted to have electricity in the district and various areas were discussed he said "H-Are we speaking of the H-inner H-area, or the H-outer H-area?" The visiting officials asked why couldn't we get a man to speak the King's English, but we all enjoyed it and accepted it as part of our life there. Once he asked a newcomer, "Have you ever handled a H-oar" much to the great amusement of everyone present, as he had quite a reputation with women!!
Kai was very kind hearted and an example of this was when he visited a local homestead and found two young boys, of about 6 and 8, on their own (the mother was in the nursing home), munching on onions. He checked the cupboards and found there was no food, and since the father was not around, he took the boys to my mother and gave her some money to look after them.
At one time Kai was in trouble with his wife. She objected to the great number of beer bottles that had accumulated around the property and she told him he would have to do something about them. He announced that he was going into town on business in a week's time and if she collected and washed the bottles he would take them with him and she would get a nice little cheque.
There followed a week of intense activity and bottles were collected in the house, under the house, in the shed, under the shed, in the cowshed, under hedges, piled against old stumps and hidden in long grass. The great day arrived and Kai set off with sacks of clean shining bottles. On the way he picked up a weary old tramp – a nice chatty fellow, and the lively conversation lightened the long trip into town. On arriving there he went to the depot and left the bottles to be counted and assessed. He invited the tramp to a cup of tea and biscuits to cheer him on his way. At the end of the day he called at the depot for his cheque, only to be told "Oh, your mate called awhile ago and collected it'. 'What mate' asked the bewildered Kai, and was told it was the man he had with him that morning. "He's no mate of mine" he expostulated "He's just a chap I picked up on the road and gave a lift into town, I've never seen him before today!" Well, he collected the cheque he was told, and that was that according to the man at the depot. So a very deflated Kai set off for home, pondering on the sad strange ways of man, and wondering how he would break the news to his wife. I understand that she took it very quietly, but rumour has it that she no-longer collects and washes beer bottles to earn a nice little cheque.
A local man Mr Phillips drove a big wagon with large draught horses and used to come to collect the posts etc for Mr Potts, and often brought his daughters, Mary, Marjorie, and Elaine, along with him. Mr Phillips drank a little and one time when he was on a spree, he left the Pirongia pub after dark and went to sleep on the way home. The faithful horses knew the way home, but there had been road works and the horses got off the road and the wagon tipped over. The next morning the horses were found patiently waiting by the wagon, but sadly Mr Phillips was dead underneath it.
Grace remembers seeing her first car. All the children were all at school and could hear this rattle, rattle coming along the road. Charles, Grace's brother, stood up on a desk to see what the noise was and got the strap for it. The car was a little black Model T Ford. Henry Ford apparently said he'd paint a car any colour anyone wanted as long as it was black!!!
People rarely went to town and many had never travelled by train. One young lady was to be bridesmaid at her brothers wedding in Hamilton. She was quite bewildered never having travelled before, so when she got to Frankton, she saw a sign "Ladies Waiting Room" Ahhh a haven, she went into the waiting room and waited and waited and waited. The groom went looking for her not thinking of looking in the ladies (which was rather daft) and returned to the church to be married, minus the bridesmaid. The young lady sadly missed out on the big event, but she went on to find her way in the world and became a matron at a hospital.
Grace always had a talent for poetry and at the age of 15 wrote the following poem:
Oh vast mysterious cow at thy rotund side I stand,
Up on your ear I see our mark and on your side our brand,
With plodding step thy massive form plods through the dark mud deep,
As to the shed upon the hill reluctantly you creep
I love the little Jersey cow, the Holstein black as night
The Hereford, the Shorthorn, the Ayrshire dappled bright
I love your understanding and your subtle common sense
The rushing streamlet you defy, the gate, the broken fence
I love your homely bellow, 'neath the golden sun aglow
The imprint of your cloven hoof in mud, or sand, or snow
But best of all I love to hear your wild triumphant roar,
As hating man's o'er ruling hand you break the cow bail door
This is a parody on:-
Oh vast mysterious ocean on thy rock strewn shores I stand
And watch the curling combers break high on the yellow sand . . . etc