Tag Archives: Onewhero

My Neck of the Woods: Chapter 11

228 Allen & Eyre Road, Onewhero, New Zealand

January 2012 – February 2014

Despite vowing never to move our own belongings ever again we had not learnt our lesson. We made 13 trips with a loaded down ute (pickup), 16 trips in the car, and 6 trips with a large borrowed trailer. Thank goodness for kind friends to help out, especially with the piano.

This house was an old farm house and had been the childhood home of the current owner who was moving to run a farm several hours drive away. The husband and wife owners wished us good luck and set out for their farm job. The property we had moved to was a few acres of hilly land, and had an implement shed, a fowl-house, and a large barn and pigsty. It also had a lawn tennis court and an overgrown large bank garden designed as a rockery. It had wonderful pear and orange trees. The owner kept his four cows on the land. The neighbouring farm was a cattle farm, and Molly the cow enjoyed cavorting with the bull when it jumped the fence. There is no stopping a determined bull. The first time resulted in the birth of Prince – which the owners said we were welcome to rear and keep. We did that. Prince was short for “Prince of the Freezer”. The second fence jump resulted in a little girl called Lexie.

Prince and Delia

It was a typical farmhouse set up. The house sort of meandered with no particular plan. This room had been added over time, and that room had been altered over time. It had an excellent log burner.

Eric cleared the rockery and grew wonderful vegetables. The watermelons were the tastiest ever!

I kept a new-for-me breed of chicken called Coronation Sussex. They were very pretty chickens; white with a silver neck and tail. But after several months I learnt that they were violent. I couldn’t go near the hen house without walking backwards to keep an eye out for the attacking rooster and, believe me, he could peck and draw blood like a vampire. Anyway, they were lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat. I replaced them with ducks; a creature I had never kept before.

These were called Magpie Ducks – black and white. They were enchanting. At school a parent was one of the few breeders of these ducks in the country. She was delighted when I asked if I could breed them as well.

The property had sections where wild blackberries grew rampant. Blackberry in New Zealand is classed as a noxious weed. When I was offered a goat at school, left over from the Calf Club Day by the headmaster’s son, I said I would take it. It would eat the blackberry, and after it had done its job we would put it in a stew. Billy arrived. Have you ever kept a goat? They are totally loveable and utterly affectionate. Who would possibly ever want to put him in a stew? That was years ago, and to keep this narrative brief, he now eats the blackberries on the property of one of my brothers.

Billy learnt to escape the fenced field. He learnt to ring the doorbell. He learnt to open the door. He learnt to go into the bathroom and eat the toilet paper. Not knowing how he escaped his field, Eric watched him for an hour to determine the method of escape. All with no luck. Eric gave up and returned to the house only to discover Billy sitting on the sofa. The goat, the dog and the cat were inseparable. Billy taught the dog how to climb things. “I never knew I could do that!” said the dog. Eventually we got Billy a long chain for his own safety.

I was given a greenhouse for my birthday – made in China. The assembly instructions were atrocious. It took us three days to put it together. It was wonderful for about a month. And then a wind came and blew it into a crumbled heap. It wasn’t our fault; it was simply poor quality.

I played the organ at the local Anglican Church for weddings and the like and for their choir and sometimes on Sundays when the Anglican bishop visited.

Eric was able to cut up and stack in the barn a huge amount of firewood.

Disaster often lurks in many guises. We were about to run out of good luck.

The headmaster at school (I shall call him Arnold to give the bastard anonymity) thought he was thoroughly modern and considered the future with the internet meant libraries and books were obsolete. He was keen to do away with the librarian and save money. He frequently came to the library on the pretext of doing something else but really it was to check to see if I was hopefully doing nothing so I could get fired.

Our next door neighbour, a horse-loving housewife, decided to hang herself from a tree. She had a son at the school. I was asked to play the piano during and after the funeral. I asked the headmaster for permission to attend and that was fine. A good number of the teachers were present as well. The next day I was having a cup of coffee in the staff room and I said to another teacher that I was a bit surprised that Arnold hadn’t attended the funeral of the parent but went to a rowing regatta. She said he was usually great when something like that happened, and I said yes, that’s why I was surprised he wasn’t there. Another staff member had overheard the conversation apparently.

A short time later I was called to the headmaster’s office. Had I criticized the headmaster behind his back?  Had I undermined his authority? He ranted and raved and foamed at the mouth. I left his office without a job. I began looking for another job. Fortunately I had several pipe organ and piano students that I continued to teach privately.

Now some goats don’t like rain. They can’t get wet. They have no fat. They get cold and die. Occasionally Billy’s chain could get caught in blackberry and if it rained he wouldn’t be able to get into his little house. The weather began to spit. I went to check on Billy who was on a steep hill. My footwear slipped and I went arse over kite down the bank. I had broken my ankle. They kept me in hospital for a week waiting for the swelling to subside before they operated with three screws in the ankle. It was a slow recovery, which included stays in hospital for pneumonia, and hernias, and clots on the lungs. It was almost a year before I could walk again without crutches. It’s when I started this blog with “A Story a Day”.

The next thing the house owners turned up. The man had been sacked from his job on the farm. Would we mind ever so much if they stayed in the house for two weeks while things were sorted? We asked if they wanted us to move out but they said they wanted us to stay. Two weeks was all they needed. We cleared out the main bedroom for them. They set up their gigantic television in our living room. Seven months later we were still paying their food, their internet, their phone, their electricity, and their heating, as well still paying the weekly rent. Picture me trying to vacuum the house with crutches while they sat on the sofa with the television turned up high and massaging each other’s feet.

Eric asked if their daughter, who worked on a farm and came to stay regularly, could stop saying the F-word ten times in every sentence – especially when we had visitors. Neither of us have much against swearing but this was over the top. The mother explained that the daughter worked on a farm and such things were normal. My father was a farmer and I never once heard him swear.

Eric and I began to occasionally go away for the weekend. Secretly we were looking for another house. We would return to hear from neighbours that rowdy parties had been held in the house, one even with a huge marquee erected on the tennis court.

And then they went, with daughter, on a three week vacation to tropical Rarotonga in the Cook Islands! How wonderful is the unemployment benefit! They came back for Christmas. We had put up the Christmas tree. They erected their own Christmas tree in front of ours. Enough is enough! We said we were going in a week or so. They packed up everything of theirs in a huff and ostentatiously moved into the barn. We packed up our things except for the firewood and calf which they would not let us collect. In fact they covered our firewood with a tarpaulin and tied the tarpaulin down.

We left for Palmerston North where one of my sisters lived. We arrived, Eric and I, with a cat, a dog, a goat, and the remaining ducks that the mad landlord hadn’t killed.


There are some lovely people living in the Onewhero area. But after all this, and the gossip promoted by the “lovely couple”, our name was dirt.

My Neck of the Woods: Chapter 9

331B Allen & Eyre Road, Onewhero, New Zealand

October 2006 – April 2010

Having survived a winter in Tuakau that felt more freezing than the minus 40 Celsius in Quebec, we were determined not to repeat the experience. There was a farmhouse advertised in the paper: a small two-bedroomed house in a rural setting. To get to it we had to drive across the farm, opening and shutting gates to prevent herds of snorting bulls from escaping.

The house was near a shearing shed, and clearly it once was what in New Zealand we call “The Shearers’ Quarters”. Twice a year a gang of shearers would descend on a farm for a week or so to shear and crotch the sheep. Every farm had its Shearers’ Quarters. These days shearers whizz to the farms in their expensive pickups from motels in town!

The district was called Onewhero (pronounced On-ee-fair-row). The “town” (two or three houses) had a garage for farm machinery, and a school that went from Kindergarten to the final high school year. Every country in the world shrouds the naming and numbering of school years in mystery. In New Zealand this was an “Area School” and went from ages 3 to 18.

Despite being described as “small” the house had a large kitchen-dining room and a reasonably-sized lounge with an open fire. In New Zealand the sitting room is always called a “lounge”. Barb was the liaison person with the rental agency and Neil was the farmer-landlord. Were they generous or what?

Neil was an Exclusive Brethren and would never enter a home that did not hold members of his same church. He would drop off meat for the freezer when a bull had to be put down. For example during a storm two bulls were struck and killed by lightning. Seeing that we were avid gardeners he arrived with fencing equipment and doubled the size of the property. Barb saw to it that a log burner was installed in the dining room, and that Christmas was “rent free”!

One of the house drawbacks was the shower. It was one of those rose head showers that drop water from a great height into a cold concrete cubicle with wooden slats. You used to come across such showers at camping grounds – at least in the old days. And it was right at the door entrance! I dare say a gang of shearers weren’t too bothered after a day of shearing sheep to be showering at the door. Water was another problem as all we had was rainwater, and in summer it didn’t rain much. Landlord Neil solved the water-the-garden-problem by hitching the garden hoses up to the farm’s creek water supply. It was great for the garden but not human friendly. We had to twice buy a tanker load of water.

Eric was working at nights and I had a full-time day job as librarian and general dog’s body at the Area School. For example, seven of my forty hours were spent teaching Music and Drama even though my teaching certificate had long expired. Of course, because of that, I only got paid librarian’s wages.

Eric and I bought lawn-mowing equipment and began working on weekends mowing people’s lawns and tidying their gardens. We had quite a number of clients, including a school property with large playing fields. And then disasters began to strike!

The textile plant where Eric worked was cutting out its night shift. Eric was jobless. Earlier my heart disease had so deteriorated that I could no longer help with the lawn mowing. We had sold the mowing equipment. The hospital phoned to say a vacancy for a heart operation had become available and I had an hour to get into hospital! There was no money coming in and things had happened so fast that we were unprepared to live off the $2.60 that remained in the bank account! That was when Eric found a job online to translate a Chemistry document into French. And then he found another, and another. Of course, at the start, money from overseas doesn’t happen instantly. For my part, five days after a triple bypass I was back at work with a catheter bag strapped to my thigh! I didn’t qualify for the sickness benefit said the government agency, and in fact I had been paid for the week I had away from work and that would be deducted from the next pay. Suddenly $2.60 seemed like a windfall!

There was a story behind my heart operation. The heart operation co-ordinator had phoned that morning and said you are way down the waiting list but sometimes things could be speeded up if you are prepared to go on another list. That other list is where you are operated on without much warning if someone dies or pulls out. I said that would be fine. At six o’clock that evening the phone went. It was the heart operation co-ordinator. The heart surgeon had phoned her and said a gap in tomorrow’s operations had occurred. Who is next on the list? She said she was at a restaurant and didn’t have access to her list. But wait! I have a phone number here in my purse of someone I contacted this morning. And that is how I jumped the queue – by months!

Eric got a job for about six months with a gardening company that maintained the gardens of mansions owned by rich Americas Cup yacht owners and cosmetic surgeons and the like.

The boss at Eric’s textile plant phoned to plead with Eric to come back and join the day shift. Eric thought about it and in the end said no. His translation business was growing and he did it all from home! Well actually he worked from the tiny laundry room no bigger than a cupboard, and had now bought a British-founded translation company that had a group of translating chemists around the world in 82 possible languages!

I kept chickens, specializing in the Faverolles breed; a variety of French chicken where the hens have earmuffs and the roosters have beards. (Now you know in the Twelves Days of Christmas Carol what a “French hen” is!) Eric built a fowl house of which Neil said: “When you asked to build a fowl house I had no idea you intended to build the most luxurious hen house in the country.”

Most years I was the chicken judge at the school’s annual “Calf Club Day”. Children would bring to school their lamb, calf, kid goat, or chicken they had hand-reared themselves to be judged by us professional breeders! There were very strict rules such as date of birth of the creature and the breed. Mum and Dad could help of course, but the care for the animal had to be the child’s own doing.

Flocks of wild turkeys by the dozen roamed the area and mingled with wild peacocks. In springtime the turkeys would nest around the property. I got half a dozen turkey eggs and a bantam hen hatched them out. When they grew their loud gobbling was constant and their turkey poo was gargantuan. Fairly quickly they became inhabitants of the freezer.

We got a middle-sized dog which we called Delia. Delia would parade the property with the rooster to make sure no hen flew over the fence into the garden. One day the rooster’s authority was challenged by a young upstart rooster and the old rooster lost the fight. Delia bit off the old rooster’s head. He was no longer in charge or of use. Now and again Delia would bring home a wild turkey she had killed and we would have a feast. She would circle a turkey, around and around in ever diminishing circles. The turkey would turn and turn following the dog’s movements.  The turkey would become giddy and fall over and that was it. I make it sound like she was a violent dog, but in fact she was the loveliest of the loveliest.

We became well known in the area and farmers unable, sometimes in years, to take a break from caring for their farm would call on us to look after their farm for a week or so while they went away on vacation. We would swap dahlia tubers and raspberry plants and plums and pears and such gardening things. At community parties Eric was always asked to cook the turkey. Not only could he cook a turkey to perfection, but they knew we had a convenient source. The cat thought so too.

We would harvest firewood together with others from the community. I attended a year of once-a-week night classes in cooking Indian recipes. Often on a Wednesday evening upon returning home there would be a neighbour or two waiting to taste my latest Indian creation. A neighbour kept ducks so my broody chickens were employed to hatched out and rear ducklings for them.

One of the loveliest things about the property was the peach trees. Self-seeded peach trees produced hundreds (and hundreds) of the most succulent peaches imaginable.

Thus we lived for four years. Eric’s translation business had so grown that there was no space – even for a filing cabinet. Barb came to our rescue. I think I have just the place, she said. Indeed she did!