Memories From Southland

Merville’s Memories

I can already see selecting how to commence my posts is going to be an issue for me. I guess the easiest way is just to copy what Mum has written herself and hope it makes sense and is of interest. These memories are from around 1919.

Robertson kids off to school with Snowie

Robertson kids off to school with Snowie

“We had an old white horse called Snowy and she was driven three and a half miles to school each day. The only memory I have of my eldest brother Allan was being taken up in front of him when he was riding her. Allan died in 1919 with hydatid on the liver. Mother had made new trousers for him and had him standing on the table so she could take up the hems when she noticed a big lump on his side. Although he had the operation he haemorrhaged and died at 15 years old.”

It’s interesting that Mum started two different notebooks some years apart but this period of her early life is recorded almost word for word in both books.

daffs“There had been a homestead to the west of our place (in Dacre) but it burned down and was never rebuilt. Each spring we would walk for miles through the tussocks and would suddenly come out near a few trees and the ground was just covered with daffodils. It was a wonderful sight in the wilds and we would take bunches home with us.”

“At Christmas we never had a Christmas tree or decorations. But we did have a special Christmas dinner and it always included plum duff. We never had plum duff at any other time of the year. We would get an orange and perhaps a handkerchief one year, and a banana and handkerchief the next. We never saw an orange or banana at any other time. We never got any toys. We played outside most of the time and used to make farms in the dust under the trees. We used stones and broken crockery for animals.”

I remember watching a movie years ago set in an orphanage of the late 19th century. I was so reminded of Mum telling us about her Christmases when the movie showed the excitement of the children when they each found their single orange Christmas present. It brought home to me that my grandparents had very little of material value to share with their children.

“Although we lived in the whop whops we had quite a few visitors. The teacher used to come for the weekend and our mother’s relations often visited. Auntie Mary and Uncle Bill Knowles and the Sinclair girls (Bess’ cousins) from Dunedin. Of course we often didn’t see them as we would take off into the tussocks and wouldn’t come home until they left. Our father’s relations never seemed to visit.

We didn’t go out much except to the Dacre Picnic. It was always a big day for the locals. On a farm near the school a paddock would be used for the picnic. Everyone from the whole district would gather for a basket lunch. There would be races and some lollies. It was always a very exciting day.”

“Our mother did visit her relations in Dunedin and Christchurch. Her parents, Thomas and Jemima Moffatt, lived in Christchurch and once when Jim was a baby and I was four we went by train to see them. We had to go to the beach and of course I fell over in the waves and got wet. They hadn’t brought extra clothes for me but had extra for the baby and I remember the fuss of them trying to put something dry on me. I think I had to wear a napkin. I suppose we travelled by tram. I don’t remember that part. Then we stayed in Dunedin at Sinclairs (mother’s cousins) and I thought the street lights on the hills were stars.” Mum recalled how one of the Sinclair cousins, Robina, who was physically disabled, made a real fuss of Mum and told others about Mum’s idea of the stars all around.

This tale about the stars around Dunedin (the city is nestled among numerous hills) always captured my imagination. I could easily visualise a little girl leaning against the window pane enthralled by the beauty of so many stars – when in reality, she had yet to experience and was still too young to understand the advent of electricity.

“One day we came out of school to find Snowy lying dead in the middle of the paddock. We had driven her to school in the morning and she seemed all right. We were all crying and had to walk home. We continued to walk to school until Dad bought another horse. Of course he couldn’t afford to pay much so he got a crazy sort of horse. Eric (brother) used to hold its head while we got into the cart and then he had to leap into the cart as the horse would take off up the road flat out. Nessie was the driver by the time I went to school. Ina, Eric and I would be with her.”

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