As we agreed, I am going to have a go at jotting down some of my early memories while I have time. The result will probably not be at all well organised, but might give you a few ideas of what life was like in the different world of the earlier half of the century before you were born. You, Brenda, already know some of the background of our family history in New Zealand. You know how the Gattons, my grandparents, came out in a sailing ship and after a number of years, settled in the back country of Taranaki.
Near the end of the 19th century, the future of farming in this country seemed to be facing a wonderful future as refrigeration was invented and frozen produce could be sent to the far side of the world and arrive fresh. Settlers dreamed of great riches from the land and it seemed that any land would do. So, with little experience or skill, but wild hopes, people set out to develop rough land into rich farms - they hoped.
My grandfather (my mother's father) Charles Gatton, was the organiser of a group who were granted the right to a large block of land in the hills to the East of Stratford. You already have, in your home page, a vivid account of how the Gatton family went out to the 'bush' and how they settled there.
The land they were granted was divided into sections, each 200 acres in area. The members of the group held a ballot to allot the sections. Taking up land there was not a smart thing to do, as it turned out. The land was nearly all steep hillside and covered with heavy timber, lush smaller trees and bushes, laced with vines which made an impenetrable tangle. All that had to be felled and burnt before it could be sown in pasture. Tracks and later roads had to be constructed. Temporary shelter and later houses had to be built for the families. Also farm buildings. Then, no sooner was the land cleared and sown in pasture than it became clear that the land was not at all rich. It needed applications of artificial fertilisers at regular intervals to keep the pasture growing. Then, with the heavy rainfall it became clear that the hills were subject to slips and erosion. Unwanted vegetation thrived and choked out the pasture. Farming that land was a constant struggle for little profit.
In order to give the children some education schools had to be built. To process the milk produced by the farms dairy factories had to be built.
The first access to the district was on foot tracks cut through the 'bush'. Supplies had to be carried mostly on peoples backs. Then the tracks were widened to 'pack tracks' and supplies could be carried on 'pack horses'. The tracks were widened to 'five foot tracks' which I think made it easier for the horses to be used. Then roads, just wide enough for wheeled horse drawn vehicles. Bullock teams were also used to draw vehicles.
The first roads, of course, were closed for much of the year because having only a 'clay' surface they became soft with the rain and were impassable even to horse drawn vehicles. So quarries had to be opened and 'shell rock' from the deposits of long ago was quarried and spread on the roads. The fossilised seashells in that rock was nasty sharp stuff and very hard. The rock was delivered in huge lumps that had to be broken down with sledge hammers before being spread on the roads. It still, when spread, was big enough lumps that the road was very rough. However, the 'metalled' roads were passable in all weathers.
My father was not one of the original settlers, though his father was. As you know, my MANNING grandfather took up his section at Makahu only shortly after the Gatton grandfather settled with his family at Puniwhakau. It was all part of the same land grant. As you also know, my grandfather Manning was killed while clearing the original track through the bush to his farm and the farm was taken over by Uncle Bill, who had, I think, accompanied him to Makahu. It might have been when Grandfather was killed that Dad first went to Makahu. I don't know about that. Anyhow, it was in the very early days that Dad bought a section from a settler who chose to leave. Dad's first choice was an especially poor one. Very steep high hills with a razorback ridge. The only small flat area was right near the top of the highest hill at the back of the farm and was of no use at all. Dad had that farm before he and Mum were married and I think Fred must have been born before they bought the better farm on which I was born. At least, I know that Joe was old enough to be running around while they were still on the 'old place'. I have often heard them tell of how Joe kept running away so that they feared he would be lost in the 'bush'. How they took it by turns to spank him, one taking over when the other got tired, then having another go after a rest. But that when they gave up he would just say, cheerfully, "well, tata, I'm off now" and away he would go. So they had to chain him to the foundation posts of the house like a dog.
On the 'old place' they had a small house constructed of sawn timber. Just two small rooms with a small 'lean to' kitchen. On the new farm there was only a slab hut or 'whare'. That was a common type of first house there, built of timber that had been split into 'slabs'. It had a corrugated iron roof and the walls, inside, were papered with pages from weekly newspapers. Before I was born, a new house of sawn timber was constructed. It had three small bedrooms and a small dining/living room in the main part of the house, and a kitchen and pantry attached to the end of the house. There was a wood or coal stove in the kitchen and an open fire place in the 'dining room'. We ate our meals in the kitchen unless we had a large number of visitors.
There was no plumbing, no sink or drainage. Water was from a rainwater tank outside. When I was about seven or eight water was piped from a spring on the hillside across the road from the cowshed, first to the cowshed and then to the house; to a tap outside near the tank. There was no bathroom or laundry. We washed in a basin in the porch. To have a bath we had to heat water in a four gallon kerosene tin and carry in a small bath tub to bathe in the kitchen.
Mum used to do the washing by boiling it in a kerosene tin on the stove. I think laundry and other waste water was emptied in the garden.
The 'loo' was a shed at the back of the garden, out of sight behind the trees and there was a tin which had to be emptied in a hole in the garden and covered.
Our farm, there, was adjacent to Uncle Bill's farm, but the houses were about a mile apart by road. We could see their house from ours. They were our closest neighbours in that direction. In the other direction Fords were closer.
All those farms were on land that had been 'confiscated' from the Maoris after the 'land wars'. Our farm, and Uncle Bill's were in the corner of the 'confiscated' block. The farms further out in two directions were bought from the Maoris and were in much bigger blocks. Sam Brewer's, next to Uncle Bill's, for instance, was 5,000 acres in extent.
I do not know how we got groceries and other supplies in the earliest days. By the time I can remember, there was a truck used to come in once a month with the supplies that had been ordered. So for things that had to be bought, Mum had to plan a month ahead. We did, of course, grow all our own vegetables. We had our own milk supply. Some of the time we churned our own butter, some of the time bought butter from a neighbour who made it. Same with meat. Some of the time killed our own; some of the time bought it from a neighbour. We grew a lot of fruit, which Mum preserved and also made into jam, to last through the year. Mum baked our own bread until the Rural Delivery mail service was started about 1928 or perhaps a year or so later. The mailman bought and delivered parcels including bread - I think it included bread.
Before the Rural Delivery started up, Fords ran the local post office and telephone exchange. Mary Ford drove out in their gig, to Te Wera I think, to pick up the mail about twice a week. Everyone had to go to Ford's place to get their mail. Until we all got party line phones, anyone wanting to make a phone call had to go to Ford's to do it. The only private phone was one line to Sam Brewer's place, at the end of the side road past Uncle Bill's. Their phone line ran across our place. It was well into the twenties (1920's) when the two party lines of phones were installed to the rest of the houses.
The first road to Makahu climbed right over a high hill on the way, but before I was born a tunnel was made to shorten the climb. Dad always protested that the tunnel was so near the top of the hill that it was not worth while, but really it did save a lot.
When I can first remember, the tunnel was supported by an interesting construction of wood. Unfortunately, the tunnel was very wet and the timber rotted in only a few years; then the roof of the tunnel collapsed. I am not sure when that was. I was still very small; the Makahu School history gives the date as about 1919. My memory of the tunnel is very clear so I think it might have been a little later than that.
Ours was always an open house. There was always room for another place at the table;
always room for another to sleep, whether a friend, family or stranger passing by.