Posts Tagged ‘Christchurch’

My parents and me on the lawn at 400 Manchester Street, c. 1953

The large house at 400 Manchester St in which I spent my first ten years had originally been rented by my grandmother Ethel who let out rooms.  At the time of her death in 1945 Phyllis, George and Bruce were also living there.  They took over the lease and then sublet when they moved to the North Island for several years.  When they returned with me as a very young baby their sub-tenants refused to yield possession (possibly quite within their rights if they had a fixed term lease), and for some months our family lived in the small sleep-out that was later to become Bruce’s bedroom.  Presumably they shared the bathroom and kitchen facilities.  I can only hope that my mother Phyllis found these arrangements an improvement on conditions in Pukekohe.

Bruce enrolled at Christchurch Boys’ High School, but the family remained poor.  Bruce told me he never accepted invitations to social functions because the only pair of shoes he possessed were his school ones.

Looking back, the house seems more like an institution than a home.  During my infancy it was run as an accommodation house, and advertised as

For comfortable accommodation
Private Home : Handy to city
–Children welcome—
Dinner, Bed, & Breakfast 13/6
Bed & Breakfast 10/6

I wonder who provided the meals as my mother was a notoriously bad cook.  By the time I was three or four the house had become a “Convalescent Home for Male Patients” and there were always a dozen old or infirm men living there.

The house was a wooden bungalow, built around 1920, owned by someone in England and administered by the Public Trust.  A large unlined attic filled the roof space, and the ground floor rooms all opened onto a wide L-shaped hall.  All the rooms (except the kitchen and bathroom) were numbered.  The sitting room, formal and hardly ever used, was Room One. This room faced west, but always seemed dark – perhaps the blinds were left partly pulled, or bushes outside obscured the sun.  I remember little china models of Japanese buildings on an occasional table.  There was a desk where stationery was kept – all custom printed (my father always ordered good stationery for any of his business enterprises).  One time when I’d been naughty, Mother shut me in this room.  Seeking revenge I took scissors and cut a tiny corner off every one of the elegantly printed envelopes, then climbed out the window.  She never mentioned the mutilated envelopes, but must have noticed.

We also had a piano and a radiogram with lots of old 78’s.  I loved to play and dance to the one of Doris Day singing “The Black Hills of Dakota”

There may have been armchairs in this room but I don’t remember them.  In fact I don’t remember seeing anyone actually sitting there, except perhaps Mother at her desk.  Looking back I guess in fact my mother never had time to just sit.  Any sitting was done at the kitchen table, or in chairs beside the patients’ beds, or on the verandah.

Room Two was enormous.  There was a bay window, which also faced west, but this time the light streamed in.  Six patients lived in this room, each with a hospital-style iron bed and a wooden locker.  The furniture throughout the house was painted in a pale shade known as lettuce green.  I had the impression that this was the correct colour for hospital furniture.  There were easy chairs and a window seat in this room which also served as a patients’ lounge.  I spent many hours sitting with the old men, chatting or playing simple games such as snap or draughts.

The long north-facing verandah opened off Room Two and had a couple of couches as well as easy chairs.  When one of these couches finally deteriorated beyond use, we broke it up and burned it on a bonfire in the back yard.  As we pulled it apart we found many coins and other objects which over the years had slid out of patients’ pockets and down between the back and seat.

Room Three held another two or three patients, but Room Four was tiny and held only one.  At some stage during my pre-school years I was allotted this room for myself, the only time until I was thirteen that I didn’t share a bedroom with my mother.  However, my occupancy was short-lived and certainly from the time my father died my mother and I always slept in the same room.

Room Five which was a generous size despite being under the stairs was for some time occupied by my father’s mother who was confined to a wheelchair.  The only time I remember my father chastising me was when as a three or four-year-old I poked out my tongue at my grandmother.  Later the room belonged to whichever live-in housekeeper we had at the time.  Room six, at the north-east corner was the one mother and I shared, with plenty of room for two large iron beds, wardrobe, chests of drawers and space to play.  The iron bedsteads were high – as a small girl it was an effort for me to clamber up, but the iron railings at the end doubled usefully as monkey bars and I frequently hung upside down by my knees.

On the south side of the house were the wash-house, bathroom, kitchen, and the old dining room which had now become Room Seven and held two or three patients.  All the rooms had a high stud, but for some reason the back door was not as high as the others and my father, who was six foot six, had to stoop as he went through.

The wash-house, which was actually outside the back door held the usual old-fashioned tubs and copper, but in the mid-fifties finances were sufficiently good for us to acquire a Bendix washing machine.  This was a front-loading device with spin drier which was concreted into the wash-house floor.  What a difference it must have made to my mother when she no longer had to put everything through the wringer before pegging it out on the washing lines which straddled the backyard, supported by old-fashioned clothes props.  The wash-house was also home to many families of kittens over the years.

The bathroom was primitive, with one bath and a hand basin serving a household of at least sixteen.  There was a zip hot water heater, and in those days a weekly bath was considered ample.  My mother and the current housekeeper somehow managed to lift each patient (and some were stoutly built) in and out of the deep old bath.  The single lavatory, off the bathroom, also had a door to the outside, very necessary when nature called while the bathroom was occupied.  For the less mobile patients there were commodes, and barely adequate screens to provide a modicum of privacy.

It was just simply home to me
this house where dwelt my family


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I hadn’t previously noticed the sign labelling this small lane off Gloucester Street as Nurseryman Lane, and wondered whether it might be a reference to Cabbage Patch Wilson.  The Otakaro site says it refers to the nursery that once stood on the site of the Innovation Precinct, and a couple of other sites give this lane as being between Lichfield and Tuam Streets in the South Frame (rather than the East), so I’m confused.

The other end appears to be called Huanui Lane (meaning trail or highway) and the lane, under whichever name, leads towards a 16 metre tall sculpture in Worcester Street.

Vaka A Hina

Vaka A Hina combines Pacific Island culture with a striking geometry to embody the uniqueness of all the different people who make up our community.  The name translates to Vessel of Hina.  She is a Tongan Goddess who lives on the moon and frequently travels back and forth to earth.  The artist is Semisi Fetokai Potauaine.

This sculpture honours a goddess
which pleases me as you may guess

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This garden shop is a wonderful place to visit and meet new plants.  Luckily we don’t have much space in our garden, so it was easy to withstand temptation, plus I’m wary of new plants that will need constant watering.  Most of our garden is trained to survive with little water (except the vegetables, of course).

We bought a punnet of petunias to replenish the hanging basket, and also tarragon and coriander which we will nurture on the kitchen window sill.  I’ve tried growing coriander outside, but never had any success.   We saw a woman buy a small lemon tree with one enormous lemon hanging on it.  I wouldn’t have minded a new geranium, but the prices seemed high and I can thriftily beg cuttings from friends.

Luckily we’d managed to park in a shady spot, and after stowing our plants in the boot we went to the Terra Viva Cafe for refreshments.  This is a popular spot, with a delightful conservatory area.  On a hot day this shaded airy place was just perfect.  I enjoyed an apricot and ginger scone with a berry smoothie – dietary regimes don’t apply when one is eating out!

Terra Viva Cafe

It is a lovely place to stop
the Terra Viva garden shop

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The new COFFEE shop on the corner of New Regent and Armagh Streets has an attractive facade.  The large curved windows give customers a great view of everyone passing by, including trams.

The cafe is part of the Black and White Coffee Cartel and serves a delicious Berry Smoothie with a hint of cinnamon.  The place was a little noisy this morning.  Another time I might sit outside.  A bonus is the chance to view black-billed gull chicks on your way to the cafe.

Another cafe for the list
ideally suited to a tryst

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The black-billed gull, found only in Aotearoa, is the most critically endangered gull on the planet.  They usually breed on inland riverbeds, but a colony of 300 has become established in central city’s Armagh Street, on the old PWC site, and they are building nests there.  It’s wonderful to be able to peer through the fence and see them.

This site has recently been bought by the Catholic Church who plan to build a new cathedral there.  I hope their planning process includes consideration of these rare gulls.  The Council wants to attract more residents to the inner city, but I don’t think they were expecting avian residents.  I look forward to seeing the babies.

This site’s appearance once was dull
until discovered by the gull



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We went on a Heritage Festival tour of McLean’s Mansion this morning.  Having organised a Festival event myself I have some appreciation of what’s involved.  This one was many times more complex.  Our booking was for 10.20am.  We were asked to arrive half an hour beforehand, which we duly did, and registered.  We were given a copy of the Site Emergency Evacuation Plan, then obliged to wait for half an hour.  Luckily there were chairs to sit on.  We were able to wander around part of the gardens and to realise what a tremendous amount of work will be needed to restore and maintain them.

McLean’s Mansion

At this stage my trusty camera (only ten years old) refused to work.  Luckily I had my cellphone, but hadn’t used its camera for six months and it took me a while to remember just how to do it.  Unfortunately the couple of shots I took inside the house were too hurried and came out blurry.

At the beginning of our tour we were given hard hats and hi-vis vests – the third time I’ve worn these in recent weeks.  The guide then told a woman with a larger camera that she would need to leave that with a staff member outside the house.  When I queried whether any photos were allowed he replied that there was no problem with photos, but in an emergency someone might be inclined to focus on saving the camera around their neck rather than exiting quickly.  This seemed absurd to me but I refrained from pointing out that I was carrying a handbag at least as large as her camera (and I’d want to save it).

Our group of 16 was split in two with different guides for the ground and first floor.  It was amazing to see the earthquake and vandal damage, and how much has already been done to make the house safe to enter.

Graffiti inside the building

I have memories of the building from the 1950s and late 1980s.  In the earthquake thick brick internal walls collapsed completely, but because parts were reinforced with iron, much of the building’s integrity was maintained.  Built in 1900 it is New Zealand’s largest heritage wooden residential building and listed as Heritage Category 1.  It’s wonderful to know that it should eventually be restored as a centre for art, music, and community events, especially when Christchurch has lost so much heritage.  With 20 half-hour tours today and more tomorrow and Monday, the volunteers will be busy!  Of course the cost of restoration is tremendous, donations are required, and they are selling merchandise to raise funds.  Stephen assisted by buying a T-shirt.

Souvenir T-shirt

It’s great the Mansion will be saved
providing heritage that’s craved

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Weather this morning was perfect for our Avon Loop Heritage Walk which I had the privilege of leading.  Whenever I plan an outdoor public event the weather is good, and I sometimes wonder when/if the weather goddess will desert me.  21 people gathered at The Bricks at 10am.  Last week I had been disturbed to find the cairn had been boxed over, so I asked Otakaro if they would please put a sign to indicate what it was, and they obligingly did so.

Ruth at The (boxed) Bricks

When I first planned the walk my intention was to follow the south side of the river round Oxford Terrace, but a few weeks ago Otakaro announced they were going to start work on the riverbank enhancement and they closed off Oxford Terrace with metal fences.  To accommodate our walk the project manager arranged for us to have access to the Red Zone area and he accompanied us along that part.

The Project Manager met us at the fence

Approaching from a different angle made it harder to be sure just where certain homes had been, but we managed.  After walking along Bangor Street and Kilmore Street as far as Fitzgerald Avenue we finished at the Community Cottage where we offered people a cup of tea.  The walkers included several former residents of the Loop, and everyone seemed pleased to hear stories of the area.

Inside the Community Cottage

I devised a similar walk in 1992 to celebrate the Avon Loop Planning Association’s 20th anniversary.  That one concentrated on buildings, but most of them have gone now so today’s walk was more about history and stories.  My thanks to Sandra and Glenn who helped, and to Simone for the photos.  I hope we can repeat the walk when the new river path is opened early in 2020.

The past is always good to share
so people know just what went where

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Aspiring Artists is part of this year’s SCAPE season, and five works by young people are displayed at the corner of High Street and Cashel Mall.

This piece is called Strength in Sisterhood and is by Rosetta Brown, Hazel White, and Georgina Jolly, all 17 year old students at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School.  It consists of metal silhouettes depicting friendship between young women.  I love that they chose this theme to depict.

Together they’ve built something strong
may they be friends their whole life long

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I like to take part in an annual Suffrage commemoration on 19 September, but this year I’d seen no hint of any celebration.  I checked with an organisation I’m a member of, and they forwarded me an invitation to an event this morning.  I sent an RSVP and duly turned up outside the Art Gallery at 9.30am.  I’d guessed the promised short bus ride meant we’d be going to the house at 83 Clyde Road where Kate Sheppard once lived, and the news this morning confirmed that likelihood.  It’s wonderful that the Government has bought the house to be a public educational space focussing on New Zealand women and social change.  We arrived at the house on a perfect spring day.

Kate Sheppard’s house

My photo shows the front of the villa which is almost as it was in Kate Sheppard’s day.  She would have entered through a central front door, but the owners after her disliked the cold wind that blew along the hall, and moved the door to the side.  We sat in two front rooms where a cello duo played before and after the speeches.

Minister Megan Woods spoke of the house being a celebration of women’s achievements in a domestic space.  The pages of the suffrage petitions were pasted together in Kate Sheppard’s kitchen, and her circle of women activists might be considered New Zealand’s original kitchen cabinet.

Kate Sheppard’s kitchen (which later owners used as a bedroom)

Here they worked for the social change which would eventually spread internationally.  This house would have been where Kate Sheppard celebrated the success of the suffrage petition which led to women in Aotearoa New Zealand being the first to vote in national elections.  My great-aunts Emily and Ida Gardner were both signatories.  Kate entertained many leading feminists in this house, especially those involved in setting up the National Council of Women.  Although there have been alterations to the building there are still parts that would be recognisable to those of Kate’s time.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel spoke of the house being an essential element in our nation’s history and Christchurch city’s story.  She talked about the tenacity of the suffragists who organised a third petition after the first two had failed, and the courage of the women who signed the petition.  The message for women of today is to never give up.

Sue McCormack, Chancellor of the University of Canterbury said that Christchurch has always been a place filled with agitators for change.  She quoted Kate Sheppard: Change doesn’t come for free.  You’ve got to give to get it.   The University will work with Christchurch City Council and Heritage New Zealand to develop the potential of the house, and Sue noted that Kate had studied art at the University in 1882.

Hon. Marian Hobbs, recently elected Chair of Heritage New Zealand, stated that more communists went to Christ’s College than any other school in New Zealand.  The suffragists struggled for woman’s voice to be heard in many areas and feminists are still doing that work.  Today we see many examples of women who can do it and who are an example for society.

We were served morning tea in elegant vintage cups, then had time to explore the house and grounds.  Many walls featured posters of notable New Zealand women, as well as banners that were created last year for the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage.

Suffrage 125 banners

Another banner

Hollyhocks and daisies push through the paving – as they do at my home

We chatted and admired the house before taking the bus back to the Art Gallery.  This was an inspiring and moving occasion to be part of, and I look forward to future events at Kate Sheppard’s house.

Kate Sheppard’s house was launched today
a special time in every way

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Flora and Otto have found a new home on the daffodil lawn beside the Botanic Gardens in Hagley Park.

Flora and Otto

I first saw these pieces in Colombo Street five years ago.  The mosaics are made from china which was cracked during the Christchurch earthquakes.  They make a quirky and comely earthquake memorial.

Now any daffodil explorer
may chance to meet Otto and Flora


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