My six uncles had a neat system in the 30s and 40s. As boys, anything they wanted done, they made my mother (the youngest, their only sister) do first. Often they put her inside a tyre and rolled it down the hill, and she had to hold on tight and take pot luck as to where it landed. Or they put her on each horse that needed breaking.
That might be why she’s survived and lives in her own home at age 92.
Born and raised in Waiuku, a rural town south of Auckland, New Zealand, remarkably she survived that treatment — until her parents, appalled by how much of a tomboy she was becoming, packed her off to a posh Auckland boarding-school.
Their family had a Model T Ford which often took them to Kariotahi Beach to fetch toheroas and have a picnic. They drove as far as the access road went, then scrambled the rest of the way over the sandhills.
One generation later, we were always able to drive our own children right onto the beach. Many times we wandered the beach, reminding our children that this is where one of my uncles, then a young father of three, lost his life.
Some years later my sedate middle-aged brother succumbed to a fit of childhood-renewed, and did wheelies on the sand in his car.
According to my mother, sandhills were progressively broken in by growing mungi mungi bushes, then lupin and then grass. Mungi mungi was handy: if you wound it around a stick you had a good tool for cleaning chimneys.
Pasture grass was of course converted to hay in summer. Mum’s early childhood involved the days before hay bales were invented. The cart would be full of loose hay and it was fun to slide down its slippery shape. My mother had the job of sitting on the horse’s back and guiding it during winter feeding-out.
In those days, haystacks had to be watched. If the hay heated too much it would burn. Dad’s father used a long knife with a wide blade and a handle at ninety degrees to make a cut in the hay and let out the excess heat. This knife was also used to cut away a portion for feeding-out.
One generation later it was often me at a tender age steering the tractor while Dad stood on the tray behind and undid bales, separating them into segments dropped at intervals along our route. I’d remember when, the previous summer, in spite of instructions not to flatten the still-growing hay, we kids had created a series of passages through it, periodically thrusting our heads up above the tickly grass-heads to see where the others were.
Once the hay-baler had done its circuits in the paddock, we had the strenuous task of rolling the bales into straight lines so they could be easily picked up by the machine.
As the following winter progressed and the hayshed became a little less packed, we shifted bales and created steps and corridors, and hidden nooks galore. We discovered nests of mice.
It’s amazing what you did in those days, unsupervised, yet survived.