Archive for category 1954-1959
My earliest memory of swimming is at a school outing to a nearby river (there were no swimming pools in Maungaturoto in the 1950s). The picture on the right was taken at a family picnic around that time and shows my sister Lynne, Mum, Dad, brother Max (lying on Dad’s lap), and Grandad Dale.
For some strange reason, I was never taught to swim properly. But I loved being in the water and eventually taught myself how to dog paddle and breaststroke. As a teenager, I became a lifesaver at Waipu Cove (the beach we went to each summer) and at Whangarei Boys High School qualified as a junior instructor in the Royal Lifesaving Society.
Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wasn’t widely used in New Zealand until the 1960s. In the 1950s we used the Holger-Nielsen method. The picture on the right shows Grandad Dale demonstrating the method at age 16 (in 1958). The idea was to get the drowned person’s chest to expand and contract by pulling their arms up and down. The method needed quite a bit of training and wasn’t nearly as effective as mouth-to-mouth.
The demonstration was at the Whau Valley School in Whangarei and I think it was part of an effort to raise funds for lifesaving organisations.
By the way, did you notice Grandad Dale’s very cool “flat top” haircut. It was all the rage at the time. Flat on the top, swished back at the sides, and a DA crease at the back (see Ducks ass).
Some aspects of surf lifesaving were very different in those days. The basics were the same; we put out flags marking safe areas to swim in, we watched out for people in trouble in the water, and we rescued them when they got in trouble. But our “tools” were very rudimentary; no motorised inflatables, no jet boats, not even wetsuits.
The main weapon we had was the old fashioned belt-and-reel (see the picture). One member of the rescue team (the strongest swimmer) put the belt on and swam out to the drowning person. A rope connected the belt to the reel. Another member of the team controlled the reel, letting the rope unwind without getting tangled. When the belt man reached the victim, the other members of the team helped pull on the rope to get them back into shore.
It was really hard work, for all members of the team, mainly because the weight of the wet rope added to the “drag”.
I actually swam during a rescue only once and it was quite funny really.
Me and a younger mate were watching the swimmers at Waipu Cove, but the rest of our team weren’t close by (they were at a nearby meeting). Anyway, we noticed these drongos swimming in a really dangerous area “outside the flags”. There was a really bad rip and, sure enough, next moment they all started getting dragged out to sea. This was really dangerous and we could have half a dozen deaths very shortly!!!
Well, my mate and I had a bit of a problem, because you can’t operate a belt-and-reel with only two people. So we set the alarm going to attract the attention of the rest of the team and headed down to the beach.
Now, even a super strong swimmer wouldn’t have been able to swim against that rip, and I’m hopeless at overarm. But I was strong and fit and could keep above water “forever”, so I decided to go in and hold someone afloat until the team arrived.
When I got in, the rip whooshed me straight out to the struggling swimmers and I picked the weakest looking one and kept her afloat. Meanwhile, the rest of the team arrived, set up the reel, and the belt man joined me in the water. He rescued the swimmer I was holding and then came back for me (the other idiots were all very frightened, but were keeping afloat by themselves).
Back on the beach, I joined the others on the rope and eventually everyone was rescued. The rip was so strong that day that we had six or seven people pulling the rope instead of the usual three of four. It was amazing that no one drowned.
But the funniest thing was that, the only time I went into the water during a rescue, I had to be rescued myself!!!
Surfing was very different in the 1950s, mainly because our boards weren’t buoyant enough to carry your weight when you stood on them. They were made of a very light wood and were long and narrow (see the pictures on the right). They floated, but only just enough to support your body a tiny bit.
So, in those days, when a good wave came in, you paddled like mad (with the upper half of your body lying on the surfboard) and, if you managed to catch the wave, you surfed in to the beach lying face down on the board.
Apparently it’s called “belly board surfing” nowadays. Here’s a lighthearted video from the World Bellyboard Championships in England: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hChI5TzKSrU
Probably the worst thing that could happen was catching a “dumper”. A dumper is a wave that has such vertical force that you can be thrown deep enough to hit the bottom, which is really dangerous, of course (you could be knocked out and drown).
But a dumper is even more dangerous with an old fashioned wooden surfboard, because the board can dive down, too. If the tip of the board hit the sand, you could just about be cut in half.
We also did “body surfing” (which is still done today). With body surfing, you don’t have a board at all. You swim like mad and, if you can get far enough forward in the wave and “nose down”, it can carry you all the way into shore. Here’s a video with instructions on how to body surf: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcipN_n4cJY, and here’s another one showing real experts doing it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EblpNV_13Jc.
By the way, no wetsuits in those days, and we didn’t use flippers (although they were starting to become available at that time).
Every summer, our family spent a month holidaying at nearby Waipu Cove.
The Cove was a terrific place for us children. It’s a great swimming beach (if you like surf) with beautiful golden sand. In one direction, it sweeps away in a great curve towards the majestic Whangarei Heads (which you can see in the photo on the right).
In the other direction, there are rocks to fish from and farmland to walk over and, on the beach itself, there’s surfing and sunbathing and digging for pipis at low tide.
Out to sea are the “Hen and Chicken” islands, consisting of one large island (the “hen”) with several small islands to the left (the “chickens”), and there’s also Sail Island (which looks exactly like a yacht’s sail)
The beach was so popular that mostly the same families would return each year, so each holiday we’d meet up again with lots of really good “once a year” friends.
It was magic.
At one end of the beach, a little river comes down to meet the sea (see the picture on the right). It’s very shallow and gentle and really good for little kids to paddle in.
In the other direction, a kilometre or two along the beach, there’s “the Gap”, where in some ancient time the sea broke through the sand dunes and where we’d have great fun jumping down the huge sand-cliffs (well, they seemed huge when we were young)!
And, near the Gap, there’s a large lagoon where you could gather cockles (often called clams nowadays) and where we sometimes fished for flatfish (using a stick with a short piece of fencing wire stapled on to make a “spear”).
Most people camped in tents or caravans, but there was a row of six concrete units near Mr Wrigley’s shop (now the Cove Café) and we rented the one on the end each year. The units have been long since demolished, and it’s a small carpark now.
The bach was very small. The larger of the two rooms was just big enough to hold two bunks (for Mum and Dad), plus a table and chairs, and the second room was tiny. It contained two small bunks (for me and my sister Lynne), a basin, and a tiny little electric cooker with two hotplates. When my older brother Max was there he had to sleep in a tent in the camping ground.
The photo on the right was taken in 1959 and shows my girlfriend Carol Griffin (in front), my sister Lynne, and a young friend Bryce Beeston, on the steps of the bach.
One of my memories of the bach involves Pat McMinn, a famous New Zealand pop singer of the time. She was visiting the Cove and Mum and Dad held a party for her in our tiny bach.
My sister Lynne and I were meant to be asleep in the back room, but Pat saw us poke our heads around the corner and asked if we’d like her to sing something. We were thrilled, of course, and she sang “Opo the friendly dolphin” for us.
“Opo” was a very friendly dolphin who had captured the public’s imagination up in Opononi, in the far north. He even allowed children to ride on his back!!!
Read about Opo here and listen to Pat McMinn sing the song here. By the way, at the start of the music clip you may notice that there’s a poster saying “Opo the gay dolphin”. In those days the word “gay” meant “happy”, so (in today’s language) the sign actually means “Opo the happy dolphin”.
Another of my memories of the bach involves eggs. During the 1950s, at least in rural areas, you usually bought eggs directly from someone who kept chickens (a farmer or a friend). Because the chickens weren’t kept in cages on a very controlled diet, there was much greater variety in the eggs, and sometimes you’d get a “double yoker” (an egg with two yokes).
One day Dad was cooking bacon-and-eggs in the bach and he said he was sure he’d find a double-yoker because the eggs were so large. His theory was that the bigger the egg was the more likely it would be a double-yoker.
So, he picked out the largest one and broke it into the frying pan, only to be disappointed to find that it had a single yoke. But, undeterred, he picked out the next largest one and this time it was indeed a double-yoker. Finally he picked out the third biggest egg and, lo-and-behold, this one was a triple yoker!!!
Of such trifles are memories made.
The memory of World War Two was still very fresh in everyone’s minds during the 1950s and there was concern that there might be further wars. As a result, there was compulsory military training for all eighteen year old males, which involved three months of full-time training at a military camp.
Now, this didn’t apply to Grandad Dale (because I was too young at the time), but our school (like many others) also provided military training for its boys, which was compulsory unless you were medically unfit or had ethical objections (conscientious objectors).
“Barracks Week” (as it was called) was held in February each year and involved the whole school being trained as if we were soldiers. We were organised into military Companies and marched about practising parade-ground drills (“Attention!”, “Present arms!”, “Left wheel!”, “Halt!”, etc). We even had real rifles (303s) and spent time firing live ammunition at targets.
I thoroughly enjoyed Barracks Week each year, it really was much more fun than schoolwork!!! My first experience of it was in 1954, when I was twelve. By 1959 (my last year at school), I’d been promoted to Company Sergeant Major, which meant I was the senior boy in a Company of maybe a hundred or more boys.
It was all pretend, of course, but I can still remember marching my Company onto the parade ground and (in a shrill seventeen year old voice) calling out, “Company B, on the right, form close column of platoon!”. I’m still not sure what that command means!!!