At first, our camping trips to Tongaporutu were really basic. My brother and I slept on the front and back bench seats of our 1938 V8, and Mum and Dad slept on canvas camp-stretchers under a tarpaulin that was draped over (and somehow secured to) the side of the car. Cooking was done on a single primus stove and water was boiled in a Ben Ghazi, and our only light at night was a kerosene lamp that had the little cloth bag in it. We washed the dishes in the stream that ran down from the farm on the hillside to the river, and scoured the pots using the sand, we cleaned our teeth in the stream too. No showering or baths - swimming took care of cleanliness. Dad and Don Riding used to dig a longdrop toilet that was walled, if I remember correctly, by sacking.
In about 1955/56 we graduated to a red and white candy-striped canvas tent and 4 camp-stretchers but with the same cooking, lighting and toilet facilities; but as we had moved to camping on the other side of the main highway on what was then still Hill's farm but about to be sold in sections, we had water from the Corrick's bach - we were very up-market then! At about that time, Dad brought up from his work an old fridge that someone had traded in on a new model. Dad had fixed it so it would work for the three weeks we were on holiday** (see below), and it was placed in Corrick's outside shed, and each family (Corricks, Ridings, Booths) had a shelf in the fridge - see what I mean by being very up-market?
In 1957 (the year my sister Denise [Dee] was born) Mum and Dad bought a section from the Hills. They paid £150, £75 deposit (saved from wages of £10 a week, not bad going when paying a mortgage and feeding and clothing a family of 5...) with £75 to be paid in a few months. Saving another £75 was going to be too difficult, so Dad spent the winter nights and weekends building a boat for someone for wages of £75. Clever man, my dad.
Then we built the bach - well, the downstairs of it. It was a single room with an enclosed toilet in the far corner with a handbasin outside it. A sleeping area, dining table, lounge area (well, a divan couch) and kitchen complete with the still functioning fridge. It was sheer luxury in comparison with the tent - electricity, a zip for hot water instead of the Ben Ghazi, running water (rationed because there was only one pretty small corrugated iron tank that was fed from rainwater from the roof - if it ran out we had to go home till it rained again!) Dad built two sets of bunks for my brother and me and for him and Mum, but Mum ended up preferring the divan, and when Dee was out of a cot she had a bunk. The bunks were true dad style: built of 4x2s, sturdy, and painted with apricot-coloured paint - don't know why, but it was probably free ... But the crowning achievement was that dad used wire netting as the base of the bunks, attached with fencing staples. Looked cool, very comfortable with two and a half inch foam mattresses. But god, were they noisy! Every turn or movement made a wire on wire screech. Very easy to be persuaded to get up and make tea in the morning if everyone else set up a wriggling competition!
When I was 10 and Dee was three, the upstairs of the bach was built. The framing was done by Dad, Don Riding and Harold Rowles (another bach owner) in a week off work, they got the roof on and the windows in, in that week. After that Mum, Dad and my brother, along with Don and Harold when they were there at weekends, did the walls and the interior fit out. It was all paid for either by cash or barter or returning of favours done. Most weeknights after work, Dad would be out in the shed doing something for someone, that would result in being provided with timber, or glass or pipes or roofing material.
My part was to make dinners. Nothing adventurous - I was 10 after all, and probably my job was more to prepare potatoes and other vegetables and put them on to cook along with warming up stuff mum had already made. There was a strict timetable: carrots on to boil first, when they came to the boil, turn on the potatoes and then the cabbage (which of course, as was the custom, had to be very very soggy ...)
Much as people who drove through Tongaporutu wondered what there was to do up there, we were constantly busy. If we weren't water-skiing, we were walking around to the front beach and exploring the rockpools around the Three Sisters and Elephant Rock, or swimming in the river or having mudfights or going musselling at Mohokatina or rowing up the river in the dinghy dad made for us and using the shufti box he also made so we could see below the water or catching small fish in Agee jars with bread in them or going for bush walks or climbing the hills behind the baches and sliding down them on cardboard or going out mushrooming in the early morning, or riding my bike at 6.30 in the morning a kilometre or so along State Highway 3 to buy and bring back a billy of fresh milk straight from the cow-shed (milking parlour to UK readers). So we didn't have much to do really ...
We had that bach until Dad was in his 60s and decided he'd lost his nerve about being two storeys up doing painting or gutter-clearing (still on tank supply). He and Mum decided to sell up, but when an agent brought some people around to look at it Dad burst into tears and said he couldn't let it go. So, he approached Rob Brown who had a smaller single storey bach across the road, and asked if he wanted to swap our bach for his with some additional cash. Rob told me years later that he had to stop himself from biting Dad's hand off in his eagerness to accept.
So the swap was made and Dad then set about extending the new smaller bach - of course ... He made the lounge bigger, installed ranchsliders in the lounge and the bedroom, put on a deck, took the bath out of the bathroom and installed a shower, installed a new hotwater cylinder and a new secondhand stove - we all LOVED that stove, it was big, fast, and fabulous for cooking meals for the 14 extended family members.
After Mum died, Dad decided he didn't want the bach anymore - he thought the grandkids had grown out of wanting to be at Tongaporutu (WRONG!) and he didn't want the cost of the upkeep. So in 1999 my niece Nicola and I bought it, then 9 years later in 2008, I gifted my 2/3 share to Tim and Kirsty. After a few years, it was decided to sell - much sadness, but it was time really, especially for the McDonalds: Kirsty lives in Australia, comes over to NZ at least once each year, but doesn't drive so couldn't easily get there, Tim had moved back to the UK. They were both contributing to the running of the bach, but not able to use it, and Nicola made good use of her share of the sale proceeds to buy a home in New Plymouth.
It was the end of an era that lasted from 1954 to 2013 - lots of family memories there. After the bach was sold, I avoided the place - too much emotion to be able be there with any sense of ease. Even though I didn't own it when it was sold, I still, like everyone in the extended family, had a sense of emotional ownership of the bach. All of the grandkids had been going there since before they were born; my brother, sister and I had spent most weekends of our childhoods and all summer holidays there and after Mum and Dad were both dead, we invoked their memories whenever we were there. You know the kind of thing:
"What would Grandad Ted say about that?"
"Mum would want us to be checking in the bottom of the freezer to make sure we are using the food before buying more ..."
So deciding to go there, on the spur of the moment really, as I noted at the end of my last post, was a bit of a leap for me. And I won't be avoiding it again. In fact I am keen to go back - very soon! The photos below may explain why.
N.B. I have only put a few in this post, as there are lots more I want to include but it would stretch your patience. So I am going to do another post after this which will be essentially my photo album for that two day piece of our holiday. If you want to see why you should visit Tongaporutu, then best you check out the next post, but it is Taranaki's best kept secret and we like it uncrowded, so don't all rush here, OK?
|This is about where we used to camp, and the stream for dishwashing and teeth cleaning is directly in front of the grass bank. The river mouth is to the left of the cliffs that mark the northern end.|
|A much more salubrious dwelling than the V8 and the tarp ... Parked about where we used to camp though, about 64 years ago.|
|And looking out to Clifton Road that goes up on to the farms above and along towards the White Cliffs.|
|One of the new additions - it is already paper thin.|
OK, that's it for this post. More tomorrow, if you are interested.
PS ** David and I inherited that fridge in 1974 and didn't get rid of it until about 1990 - it was still working but Dad had run out of spare parts for it. The only thing it ever needed was a new switch or something that he posted to us when we were living in Maxwell in 1977 and again during the late 80s in Johnsonville. So the fridge he fixed so it would work for 3 weeks kept going for about 35 years ...