In the following, Shelley Venimore (nee O’Brien) reminisces about the people, events, and stories linked with a wonderful collection of homemade dresses and dress-ups from the 1950s and 60s.
Our farm of a little over 900 acres was called Eastwood and is situated on the Annadale Road, Tinui. It ran breeding cattle and sheep. Dad prided himself on having good stock but he had a tendency to worry. The war had taken its toll on him and he had difficulty tolerating the noise of howling farm dogs and children playing. He was a private man who was prone to violent, aggressive outbursts. Most of the farm work was done on horseback by Dad, but Mum had a lambing beat of her own.
When the sheep were mustered for shearing, drenching, dagging (crutching) or weaning, the children were expected to help. We had to be the ‘good dogs’ which meant knowing which way the sheep might make a break for it and get there first. We helped in the yards and in the shearing shed. I still remember the smell of the foot-rot trough which made the eyes sting.
Off to school
We went to Tinui School by bus, eight miles with lots of stops to pick up children. The bus route is still littered with self-sown apple trees that are a legacy from past drovers and school pupils as they rode their horses and discarded apple cores on the way. In the autumn, if the bus driver was in a good mood we stopped at an apple tree on the roadside on the way home and delighted in the small, sour, codling moth-punctured apples. Mostly we sang our way to and from school, choosing tunes from the 1950s hit parade. Songs like, My Bonnie lies over the ocean and You are my sunshine, were popular.
Life without electricity
We had no electric power during my earliest memories. Every night Dad would go out into a shed and start a motor which ran the lights. Mum cooked on a wood and coal range, which also warmed the house. Water was heated in a ‘copper’, with a fire under it, and was used for washing clothes. The clothes were washed in order from whites to coloureds. They were hung out on a long line that was held in place by long manuka poles.
Food was kept in a large walk-in pantry or in a safe that was a cupboard half open to the air and covered with fine netting to keep the animals and flies away. One of the small rooms in the house consisted of ceiling-to-floor shelves where the preserves were kept. We finally got power in 1955 and I remember the excitement of getting a refrigerator and electric stove. It took Mum quite a while to get used to the stove so she kept using the coal range for ages.
Every year, Dad chose a large paddock beside the river to plough up for potatoes and corn. Dad also had a vegetable garden that was close to the house. The harvest was a family affair, as was the regular mutton kill. We got the job of ferrying the warm edible offal to the house while Dad took the rest of the guts to the river for the eels. Later, because of a hydatids epidemic, the sheep guts had to be cooked or discarded into a large hole so the dogs couldn’t eat them. Dad had a special collection of sheep that were casually referred to as ‘the killers’.
We had a Jersey cow which Dad and Mum both milked. First thing every morning, after a cup of tea and a piece of bread and butter, one of them would trudge down the paddock with a stool and milk ‘Dina’, who would calmly stand in the paddock giving her milk without being tied up.