My Home at Gorge End

by Jane Beresford (née Gregorie)

My father left Nelson College at the end of 1917 to come home and help on the farm during the First World War. At some stage he went to work on a farm in Hawkes Bay to learn more about farming. He was a keen cricketer and still played regularly in Pahiatua when I was young. He also read a lot to add to his education and was interested in philosophy and history. He also knew his stars and would often point out constellations to us. Mum always said that he had really wanted to go into the army as a career but he denied that. He met Barbara French through ship-board friends of hers in Pahiatua.

They were married in 1941 but must have spent most of the next few years apart as Dad had volunteered for the Signal Corps in the New Zealand Army and was sent to Fiji and the Solomon Islands for part of the war. Sadly none of his wartime watercolours have survived his retirement. Service didn’t seem to be very active where he was. My impressions of his war experiences were of having a lone Japanese plane dropping a few bombs regularly at sunset for a few weeks without hitting anyone and of eating sugar cane on troop trains. His paintings showed them camped under trees near ponds with time to pursue other interests, such as painting.

I’m not sure when my mother stopped teaching at Marsden. I know she did Red Cross work during the war. I don’t think she was at Gorge End while Eric was away at the war — I think there was a manager, so she may have stayed on teaching. They certainly decided not to start a family until after the war. Mum always said that she did not want to be left a widow with small children.

My brother Martin was born in Palmerston North on 5 February, 1946, and I was born in Palmerston North on 7 June, 1949. My mother’s hair, which was already quite white, went white.

I remember the house at Gorge End as it was before Dad modernised it in 1956. There was the traditional long passage 6 or 7 feet wide which ran the length of the house. Part had been closed off to form a bathroom with doors on both ends and last time we were there in 1990 this was still unaltered. Then there was a dog-leg in the passage which had double tubs and a rub-a-dub washing machine and on to the loo which was the last six feet of the passage.

The longest part of the passage, between the front door and the bathroom, was great for trikes on wet days. The sitting room was very dark and formal and I don’t remember going in there very often. The front verandah was enclosed on three sides with a window into the sitting room. The side verandah was enclosed on the ends and part of the side and had railings and a gate to stop small children escaping. It too was a great place for playing (and for a clothes line) on wet days. It opened into the bedroom which I shared with Martin — a huge room with a big toy chest under the window and red felt carpet and a walk-in cupboard where there once had been a fireplace.

The kitchen had a window in front of the sink looking out onto the back yard. It had a walk-in larder with a netted off area for storing food and large shelves for kitchen equipment on the other side. There was a double-doored fridge at the end.

We milked cows for the house — Jerseys — the milk was brought to the kitchen window in milking pails and tipped into huge enamel bowls for the cream to rise and set. Mum used to make butter and the cream used to crack as it was skimmed off because it was so thick.

We also had hens which had a large hen-house with a run attached. They were always let out to roam around the stable when we were there and some time was spent looking for their latest laying places in the hedges and the stables and in chasing them out of the garden. They always managed to lay coloured eggs on Easter Sunday!

Dad ran the farm with the help of a single man. When I was small, my cousin Michael Dinwiddie was working for Dad to gain experience. He was my godfather. Michael decided to buy a car and Dad was a bit cross that he went off and bought one without his vetting it. One day when he was on his way into Pahiatua, the steering went in the gorge between Morrison’s and Priest’s and the car rolled down the bank towards the river. Luckily someone saw it happen and pulled him out before the car caught fire.

The front garden was surrounded by a macrocarpa hedge, planted by my grandfather. There was another hedge at the end of the back-yard which made the kitchen very dark and gloomy. The path went through an arch in the hedge and past various outbuildings up the stable yard and the cow bail. There was also an old whare where tramps sometimes stayed and there was a tool-shed we called "the convict shed" which had old newspapers stuck on the walls — there must have been an article about a convict there. There was also quite a number of old Encyclopaedia Britannicas there — not a full set. They dated from around the turn of the century.

The only transport on the farm until I was in my teens was by horse. There was a pack horse called Whitey whom I adored and was allowed to sit on her sometimes. Dad had an excellent but tricky cattle pony called Rusty. He bit me between the shoulder blades once — an enduring memory! Martin and I learned to ride on Darkie, Mum’s old horse. My cousins Ruth and Katie Hennebry also had their first rides on him. He was difficult to catch and turned his back on you, but by the time I was old enough to catch him myself it was just a game. Martin had a very fat pony called Flicka.

When I was three, Dad put a manager on the farm and we went to live in Masterton, up on Lansdowne Hill and next to the golf course. It was a new house with a very large garden and I remember Dad rotary-hoeing it to lay down lawn. He also made a grass tennis court which was still there in 1990.

I presume the reason for going to Masterton was to give Granny a home as Aunt Mary went to Australia to Terrigal while we were there. Both Aunt Mary and Granny lived with us for a while in Masterton and Granny died in Masterton hospital. Martin attended Lansdowne Primary School and I started my schooling there. I must have been there for just over 18 months.

In those days I walked to school and home alone — about a mile each way and up quite a steep hill for the last bit.

Nineteen fifty-six was a year of change. Martin went to Hereworth Preparatory School in Havelock North, Dad’s old school. It was called Heretaunga in those days. Mum and I went to England in March for six months. Dad went back to Gorge End and set about modernising the house and putting in a swimming pool. The macrocarpas near the back yard were taken out and that end of the garden opened up. The main changes inside were taking down the side walls on the two verandahs and putting French windows out onto the front verandah. It made a good-sized light room but lost the colonial character of the verandahs.