An ominous sign on our fence
“Flat To Let (Number three)”.
“Oh no !” said number four.
“Who are our new neighbours ?”
She had heard stories of previous
tenants’ upheavals on our quiet
little block on our private driveway.
Tales of cigarette butts all over
a flat’s garden strip, a large circle
of young males smoking who
knew what on the driveway
contemptuous of us around them.
Tales of smoke pouring out from
a plastic plate sizzling on a stove
element. I called the fire service
then the property manager who
ordered steam cleaned carpet and
curtains which meant moving
possessions out to the carport,
then back inside again.
These occurrences ceased after
visits from the police. We heard
the laddish tenant was detained
inside walls at Her Majesty’s will.
My calls to the property manager
made me most unpopular. Let’s
hope my reputation preserves
us from such further neighbours.
In our middle flat the young
couple were so excited to get
their own house on the nearby
military base still close to town
for her good job as he started
his military job after his training.
So exciting to pay a low rent,
to save for their own home,
a wedding, a honeymoon even.
They rejoiced over their new future.
Before they move they face a
large hurdle. Their carport
storage locker is jam packed
with car parts, mechanics’ tools,
oils, sprays, cleaners all flowing
out into the cabinet in the carport
and boxes beside it, topped by
two huge piles of spare tyres….
….all to be packed up aw well as
the usual household contents.
A century ago when deteriorating
eye sight stopped a worker earning
no one could help. A pittance had
to be earned in a job elsewhere.
Grandpa standing over the huge
printing presses had his face in
their fumes all day, went blind
with a pregnant wife and four
young children at home to feed,
clothe and house on no pay.
They moved to a tiny cottage where
Grandma took in tailoring work
when able, supported the family
till two years later when Grandpa’s
sight cleared a little. He took an
outdoor job as recommended
reading gas meters on a low
income until he retired.
Grandma kept supporting them
with tailoring work but Aunty
Frances’ tailoring skills ceased to
serve her as her sight failed. She
supported herself and her mother
growing violets for the city markets.
A cold hard world for the disabled.
Houses shops close clustered
around the little colonial port near
the bridge crossing the muddy
river flowing into the harbour.
Across the bridge sat the village
of the indigenous Maori who
crossed the bridge daily to
transact business at the port.
Grandfather was manager and
teller in the tiny bank, he lived
with Grandmother and their two
year old in the flat upstairs.
Grandmother went shopping
for the family’s food each day
causing Grandfather to set
a rigid household rule:
“Always wash your hands
after handling money !”
In that time of the cash carrying
society with money in pockets
and bags Maori also carried money
in their mouths even during the
smallpox outbreak in their village.
Manager teller Grandfather
rigorously frequently washed,
dried his hands every day.
The little colonial town’s quay
ran along the harbour shoreline
where small boats tied up to
mooring posts while sailing
ships anchored out in the channel.
Down the hill the main street
ran alongside the little stream
to the busy quayside where
goods and people were loaded,
unloaded, over dinghies, barges,
flat bottomed scows and
small coastal sailing ships.
On the nearby beach were canoes
drawn up after paddling down
from the harbour’s upper reaches.
Laden with indigenous Maori
and vegetables grown in their
market gardens. From their
stalls at the foot of the main
street they sold the vegetables to
the white strangers settled in this
mushrooming town’s new streets.
Trade is trade and must be done
whoever the races doing it.
Two young white sisters Lizzie
and Edith walked home along the
country road at dusk in their strange
new land at the end of the world
carrying eggs from Mrs Green back
to Mum for the hens at home had
been laying poorly lately.
The old indigenous Maori man
coming towards them muttered
disapprovingly at these white
strangers sending their children
out at dusk, a dangerous time for
Taipo the bad spirit came out after
dark to commit his evil deeds.
“You go home fast or Taipo will
get you !” he ordered the very
surprised young girls.
Lizzie and Edith walked home
as fast as they could with
the precious delicate eggs.
New off their sailing ship from
half a world away they started
anew buying a farm in this strange
distant land. At fifty one his
father’s death released him from
their shop to sell up, sail away to
a new life far away. He needed a
wife, married a twenty one year
old cousin desperate to escape her
unfortunate older sister’s discipline.
They settled on their land learning
how to farm it, the first baby arrived.
Then the earlier migrant settlers lost
patience with the new white strangers.
Being warned of a rapidly nearing
war party she saddled up, grabbed
baby and family silver, rode to warn
her horrified husband who sent her
to the local church which bears
bullet holes in its walls to this day.
Loudly chanting warriors chased
her galloping horse but she
reached the church in time.
They came home to groceries in
a mixed up heap on the pantry floor.
six weeks later the regular supply
barge arrived, all was well again.
They stayed for nearly thirty years.
Shortly before they left they found
the hand wheel operated sewing
machine with its “spirits” in a
hollow tree trunk in the forest.