A New Beginning

by Ann Hennebry

And so, according to a note in the Family Photo Album, the "handsome young lad" and the "pretty lass" got married on 10th November, 1956. The only way Dan has been able to remember our anniversary is by its being five days after Guy Fawkes and the day before Armistice Day.

We lived in a caravan for the first six months (borrowed from Gorge End) while Dan and his mates built our house. Dan was working with Pop at the Forest Nursery and also felling trees from the forestry block planted by Pop in the late 1920s. We bought a section on the property at Huxley Street to build our own home near to Pop’s & Mum’s house and the nursery, and next door to the Pahiatua District High School, which later became Hillcrest School. This was very handy in ten years time when our children began their education.

To the children — our first delight was a little chubby girl called Ruth Ann, and second a dear wee lass we named Catherine Mary, our third a bouncing boy, John James Gregorie, and last but not least, a dumpling called Megan Jane.

The nursery grew rapidly as farmers and forestry companies became aware of the benefits of trees — especially radiata pine, douglas fir and various eucalypts. Pop had been a man ahead of of his time when he established the Forest Nursery in 1927 and his optimism was at last vindicated by the expansion of the 1960s. Dan took over the reins of the business as Pop’s health declined and then we were bereft when Mum died at the age of 64 — Megan was only six months old.

David was teaching at Hillcrest School at the time, so the family was all together. David taught both Ruth and Cathie in Standards 3 & 4, while John was in the primers. David recalls with amusement one morning when he went into John’s classroom to speak to the teacher. He said, "Good morning boys and girls," to the children and the whole class chorused, "Good morning, Uncle David."

With the nursery business expanding so rapidly and with millions of tree seedlings being sent to Hawkes Bay and further north, Dan decided that we should move to Taupo in the centre of the North Island and start a second nursery there.

So, in 1970 we moved to Forest Farm on the main road from Taupo to Rotorua — 400 acres (160ha) of near-derelict land. The house was equally decrepit. We altered it to suit our needs and Pop built a cottage for himself in the garden. Not that there was a garden initially, only a row of brightly painted stones running from the clothes line to the back door and four small struggling poplar trees.

In addition to the area devoted to the nursery, we carried about a thousand sheep and a hundred cattle, including two Hereford bulls called Bert and Fred. Uncle Eric was our stock overseer for two or three years and enjoyed his involvement with the farm. During the winter season, when all the trees were processed and sent out to the forests for planting, we employed up to nine workers. It was heavy work — lifting, grading, root clipping and counting trees, sometimes handling up to 30 000 seedlings per day in what was often a wet, cold and seemingly endless job. The nursery in Pahiatua continued to operate for five years, with Bob Gibson as our manager, until the property as sold.

The spring, of course, meant lambing and calving and everything that goes along with stock husbandry. It was always a real family time, with the children helping with the lambing, docking and feeding out along with the beloved horses and our dogs.

When Cathy was seven she asked in a letter to Father Christmas for "maybe a thin pony ’cos it mightn’t cost so much." On Christmas day there was a card on the Christmas tree telling her to look behind the hedge at the end of the path. Some time later, when we went to look for her, we found her with her arms round a real pony’s neck, crying with joy. She could hardly believe that Darkie was hers.

From that letter, back in our Pahiatua days, began the ponies and horses that Cathie and Megan loved to ride. A long list of family pets followed. Hundreds (or so it seemed) of guinea pigs, the terrapin Yertle (who ended up in the Napier aquarium when he grew too large for our container), and kittens Marmite and Marmalade, Alice the goat, Huge Harold the rabbit and Jason the dog.

Not long before we left Pahiatua, a pedigree border collie pup we named Jill (and whom we suspect spent most nights in Ruth’s bedroom) joined us. She became a wonderful eye dog and was invaluable on the farm. Her progeny have proliferated throughout the Taupo farming community. Her friend Wag and later her daughter Jess lived in the kennels with her.

We bought an old wooden cabin boat called Mary and, as there was room on her for us to sleep, we spent wonderful weekends exploring Lake Taupo, often in the company of Michael Drake who shared with us the lake’s secrets.

With much back-breaking slog we dug a swimming pool in the garden and this gave us great pleasure in the summer time and also acted as a fire security.

All this time Pop was planting an amazing arboretum with a huge variety of trees and shrubs, a rockery and a vegetable patch, and after only a few years we had a beautiful garden. He bought a ride-on mower and spent many happy hours aboard, mowing nearly half an acre of lawn.

However, all good things must come to an end. Pop died in 1979 and in 1984 (by which time the forestry boom was declining) we sold the farm and moved to 36 Kaihua Road in Taupo. The move was probably hastened by the fact that we had had two disastrous years, losing nearly half of each season’s radiata crop. The first season this happened, Dan and I were away during the critical two-week period of the seed germination and later when no seedlings appeared we blamed infertile seed as being the cause. However, the following year we realised that bird predation was the problem. The birds, mainly finches, would pick off the tender new shoots just as they broke through the soil. We had all the Forest Research Institute (FRI) scientists investigating and the conclusion they came to was that there had been a temporary imbalance in the ecology due to a shortage of the birds’ usual food resources.

In September, 1984, Dan went to Chile as a forestry consultant for Fundacion Chile, establishing radiata and eucalypt nurseries there — twelve nurseries in total. I was working full-time at the local veterinary clinic, but I did take time off to visit Chile for a month or so. After Dan’s return, he was employed by the Taupo Launchmen’s Association as co-ordinator at the harbour, where he worked for many happy years.

By then we had sold Mary and bought Bonita, a ten metre launch which we currently own, and in which Dan, who has a launch master’s certificate, takes charter fishing trips on the lake.

By this time, of course, many grandchildren have arrived. First, Ruth’s twins Daniel and Alex, who were born while we were still on the farm and who enjoyed many happy childhood days out there. They were followed by Kate’s Jimmy, Megan’s Ani, Ruth’s Ben, John’s Connor, Ruth’s Dion, Megan’s Mowai and Kate’s Lilian. All are frequent visitors to our present home at 28 Greenwich Street, and all are greatly loved.

Last, but not least, we are blessed to have an "Uncle David" who has cared sufficiently and has the skills necessary to write and collate our family history.