Settled At Colac Bay
We soon settled at Colac Bay and became a part of the small community. Those early years seemed idyllic, I never understood how much Mum must have worried about us all, and how we would survive financially. But in her stoic way, she never showed any sign of concern. Not that as a child I could appreciate, anyway.
“We joined in everything at Colac as everyone else did and used to have great Christmas parties for the children. Most families played cards so had card evenings at the school to make a little money. The hall was run down and while we were there the locals decided to do it up. Everyone helped even with the painting and any way they could and ended up with a hall everyone could be proud of. I was a member of the Hall Committee, the Progress League, School committee and Women’s Institute. I also filled the role of Brown Owl at Brownies in Riverton for ten years. Anne and other Colac children travelled to Riverton every week with me.
“At that time my pension was 24 pound a fortnight so when the Pavilion on the water front was busy in the summer months I used to help in the shop and with afternoon teas. Sheep farmers at that time were getting a big price for wool and they would come into the shop and spend 5 pound on ice creams and sweets so business was good.
“Every fortnight when the really low tides came round I would take a bucket and walk along the beach to the rocks. In a very short time I would have my bucket full of paua. Then a group of Maoris used to come and would fill 2 sacks at a time and take them away. After that you had to go into the water to find paua. There were always plenty of mussels and pipis so they helped to keep the food bill down.
“When the money changed to dollars I could take $2 and do my Friday shopping for the weekend, always bread and butter perhaps tea and pudding cereals, never biscuits as I did my own baking.”
It’s strange how you look back as an adult and analyse your memories. It never occurred to me that we gathered shell fish to augment our food. Mum always made clambering over the rocks, fun. We’d try and outdo each other with the biggest, or the most, fish. It was just a fun exercise we did every couple of weeks. The same with our vegetable garden. I thought Mum had such a large garden because she loved to garden – which she did – but now I realise she worked her garden to keep us fed, for example, on yummy vegetable soup which cost nothing. I hear of families struggling to make ends meet today, and wonder why they aren’t turning half their backyards into vegetable gardens to help feed their kids.
An older cousin mentioned something in my hearing the day after Mum passed away. “Nobody understood just how terribly poor Merville was during those early years at Colac Bay.” It’s awful just thinking about this. Did we make it harder for her by wanting things she couldn’t afford to give us? I hope not. My childhood was brilliant, filled with fantastic memories of a mother who always turned chores into fun times and kept us laughing with her stories. How blessed we were. I never once guessed we might be poor.