Saturday, February 12, 2011

Waitangi Day Blog Challenge
- Your earliest known New Zealand ancestor

I set this challenge, after seeing the huge success of the similar Australian blog challenge set by Shelley of Twigs of Yore, I thought I'd better contribute myself. I'm terribly embarrassed that this is so late, but had a very sick husband to contend with.

The challenge was to write a blog about your earliest NZ ancestor:
  • How different is our life from that of your early NZ ancestors? (settler or Maori)
  • What stories can you tell us about their lives? 
or 
  • If you are first generation New Zealander or maybe a new Kiwi, perhaps you might like to tell us of your first impressions of New Zealand, and your experiences of settling in here; and how Kiwi traditions and culture differs from your own.
I wasn't born here, but definitely consider myself a Kiwi. I was born in Plymouth in England, and we emigrated to New Zealand when I was about four years old.

Dad was in the Royal Navy, and had had various postings around the UK and world. We had a spell in Bahrain when I was about two. Returning to England, I was plagued with chronic chest infections, tonsilitis etc.  The advice was to emigrate to a warmer climate.

Dad wanted Canada, as we had relatives there. Mum fancied New Zealand. She knew of people that had been there. So New Zealand it was. Dad transferred to the New Zealand Navy. More sensible idea probably - New Zealand's climate is more temperate, especially the North Island.

It was the late (19)60s, so we were hardly early settlers, but nevertheless moving to the other side of the world away from your family and starting again, in those days was still pretty admirable.

I don't really remember life much prior to arriving in New Zealand. Vague snatches of memory, that might not be true memories - could be implanted memories through hearing so many stories.

We lived in Devonport, Auckland. My early memories in New Zealand, are of beaches, and hot sunny summers. Freedom climbing trees.

We went back to the UK when I was eight. My sister had been born by then (a true Kiwi), and my mother was in the early stages of pregnancy. We were returning as "married accompanied".

Dad was one of the crew taking the HMNZS Blackpool back to the UK to be decommissioned; and would be returning later with the newly commissioned HMNZS Canterbury.

My memories of the UK then, are of being cold and damp. Snow, rain and greyness.

I also have memories of family. This trip enabled me to meet family again but this time, I would be able to remember them as I was older.

We spent time with my paternal grandfather Hedley, and my godfather who was also my great-uncle Jim. My Aunty Eve, and my Great-Aunty Maggie; and a variety of cousins.

Dad was again stationed at various places around the UK:- Portsmouth and Gosport are the two I remember the best in England; and Edinburgh in Scotland.

In Scotland, I got to spend time with my mother's parents. I lived with my maternal grandparents for a while, when my parents wanted to ensure I had settled schooling for a period. My grandparents lived in Corstorphine, and I was very proud of my school uniform which was a grey pinafore with white blouse and a tie. I got to meet my Scots Uncle and Aunty, and my cousins too.

My brother and sister were born in Edinburgh - my mother unexpectedly had twins! These were pre-scan days, and so they were a real surprise. The twins were the first babies born to a crew member that were christened on board HMNZS Canterbury. Not the first babies sadly, a non-crew member bet us to it. All their names are engraved on the ships bell, which is now in the naval museum.

Returning to New Zealand, I remember being very ill. I had a tummy upset, which I blamed at the time on the fact that I was made to eat pease pudding, which I hated. Turned out to be a bug though.

Dad sailed back with the Canterbury of course; so my poor mother had a (sick) eight year old, a two year old, and twins who were only a few months old, to cope with on the very long flights home!

Arriving back in New Zealand was confusing. We drove to the "Navy Pool House" that we would be living in, and found some kind soul had unpacked it for us and put everything away. I remember seeing my sister's Elephant Ride-On and saying "I thought Dumbo was in New Zealand".

Being back in New Zealand again evokes memories of sunshine, beaches and freedom. Again, we were in Auckland.

However, we soon moved to Wellington, when Dad arrived back, and lived there for a number of years. Wellington was cooler and damper, but still had glorious summers.

I remember Mum telling stories of little faux pas, that were made in the early days. In England, you would buy corned beef. When Mum bought the equivalent here, she found it very tough and salty. In the UK, she'd have slow roasted it in the oven. Course here, its corned silverside, and its slowly pot roasted (preferably in a crockpot).

Then there is the confusing "bring a plate" instruction, when coming to someone's house. Even more confusing is the "bring a bottle". Fortunately, with more frequent international travel and the influence of TV, these instructions are not so confusing these days.

I went back to the UK again, when I was 26. Felt my roots calling me, wanted to visit family, and wanted to travel.

First sensation, getting off a tube in Victoria Station, was the panicked feeling of claustrophobia. Too many people, feeling crushed. People seemed shorter. The streets were dirty, dusty. But I also felt awestruck - gorgeous heritage buildings, so much history.

I was in the UK for 11 years. During that time, I met my husband, and brought him back to New Zealand for a few visits. I saw New Zealand through the eyes of a tourist. Beautiful country, clean, green, gorgeous scenery. Friendly people.

When our girls were born, we realised what NZ had to offer for families. Its a family-friendly country. Parks are clean and free of litter and dog pooh (no syringes, cigarette butts or condoms either). We could let our girls down to play. The malls and shops all had decent parent and baby rooms. (I remember trying to breastfeed the girls in Debenhams in Kingston upon Thames, in a mother and baby room which was little more than a window-less cupboard with a chair in it).

That trip was the decider for us. I was coming home, and bringing my family with me. 

– My "One large and two small souvenirs of my big OE"!

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