Archive for category 1954

Hostel life

I was twelve during 1954, my first full year at Carruth House (the hostel attached to Whangarei Boys High School).  Most boarding schools in those days had an “initiation ceremony”, where the new boys were put through a (usually humiliating) ritual, and I remember that part of ours was a boxing match.  I was quite tall for a twelve year old, and very skinny, and I was matched with a very short boy who was really tough.  He was far better at it than me, but I survived, and he and I later became very good friends.


We slept in dormitories, each with about 10-20 boys of the same age, and had meals in the hostel dining room in a separate building.  After breakfast, we had to walk only about 100 metres to get to the classrooms.

Most days, when classes were finished, it was sport sport sport!  Cricket, softball, rugby, hockey, basketball, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, diving, and lifesaving;  everything I needed was right there “in my back yard”.  The playing fields were a couple of hundred metres away, the swimming pool and tennis courts were right next to the hostel and the gymnasium was actually in one of the hostel buildings.

For sporting competitions, the school was divided into three “houses” of about 200 each (“Bledisloe”, “Grey”, and “Hobson”), plus the fourth house being the 100 boarders of “Carruth”.  We Carruth House boys (mostly country boys and Pasifika) were extremely competitive and very proud of our sporting success against odds of two-to-one.


On Saturdays we spent most of our time playing for sports teams.  Saturday nights we usually had a movie in the gymnasium (I was one of the boys who learnt to run the film projector).  On Sundays we had to go to church (even if we weren’t religious), but most of the rest of the day was free, which usually meant more sport!


Dale's most famous letter home from boarding school, 1954-ishAlthough Maungaturoto was only about an hour’s drive away, I was still required to write home once a week.  Phone calls were very expensive in those days, so people often wrote letters (emails and mobile phones hadn’t been invented yet).  I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at this weekly chore, as you can see from the rather short letter on the right


Not everything was idyllic, but I really did enjoy hostel life.  Even the alarums were exciting, like the wet weekend when a large group of us chased something (I haven’t the faintest idea what) through the bushes that edged the school grounds.  We were discovered by the French teacher “Black Jack” Granville, who proceeded to give all thirty or forty of us “the strap”, giving each of us “three of the best” on the hand.  It hurt like hell, but we grudgingly admired this “old man” for his stamina.  (He was probably only in his early fifties, but that seemed very old to our young eyes.)


Some boys hated boarding school, although I wasn’t really aware of it at the time.  Looking back, though, I realise that every now and then a boy would just disappear, never to be seen by us again.  I presume they were bullied (by teachers, or other boys) and managed to convince their parents they should leave.  The teachers didn’t announce anything;  the boy just wasn’t there anymore.  Sad, eh.

But I was one of the lucky ones.  I loved it.


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Rotorua and the new queen

I was nearly twelve years old in the summer of 1953/54 and we holidayed as usual at Waipu Cove.  But, this year, there was great excitement, because the new queen (Elizabeth II) and her husband (Prince Philip) were visiting New Zealand.  This is the same queen who turned ninety years old in 2017, but at this time she was just a young woman who had become the queen only the year before.

In those days, the royal family and film stars were really the only celebrities.  There was no professional sport, so our sports heroes were just ordinary blokes you might meet down the pub or at a friend’s house.  There certainly weren’t any people like the Kardashians, whose only claim to fame is that they’re “famous for being famous”.


Queen's motorcadeA few days before the end of 1953, Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to drive from Waitangi down to Auckland, which meant they would be driving through nearby Waipu (the township, not the beach).  The picture on the right shows the sort of “open back” limousine the queen travelled in.

We drove to Waipu and waited excitedly.  Unfortunately, the queen’s motorcade was running late and the big limousines drove past so fast that we children didn’t really get a chance the see anyone.

We returned to the beach, very disappointed indeed.


That night, all of our parents got together and had a marvellous party.  We children had grizzled so much about not seeing the queen that they decided that Something Had To Be Done About It.  They found the queen’s itinerary in the newspaper (no internet in those days) and discovered that she was going to spend nearly a week way down south in Rotorua.

A decision was made.  All five families would trek down to Rotorua and, this time, their children would see the queen!!!

So, next morning they used the phone at the local shop to try and find somewhere to stay in Rotorua (no mobile phones in those days).  Rotorua was just about booked out because of the queen’s visit, but they eventually found a campsite with space for the five families (the Holdens Bay Holiday Park, which had just opened that year).

Nash RamblerWe all drove to Rotorua in a convoy of six cars.  Mum and dad and Lynne and I went in our main car and older brother Max and his friend Mike Hull (the policeman’s son) drove our seriously cool second car, a Nash Rambler, which looked something like the one in the picture.  Notice the “white-walled” tyres, which were very fashionable at that time, and the “enclosed” wheels, which were a feature of the Rambler.


Dale at Rotorua during Queen's visitOh, what a wonderful holiday we had.  We swam in Lake Rotorua and had great fun exploring the nearby bush and creeks.

And we saw the queen nearly every day!!!  Our camping ground was about ten kilometres out from Rotorua and the queen was staying further out at Moose Lodge, on Lake Rotoiti, which meant she drove past us whenever she was going into Rotorua.  We would build little sandcastles on the road for her to see, each with a little Union Jack flag stuck on the top.  It was like having our very own Royal procession.

The picture of me on the right was taken in the camping ground.  Skinny, eh!


One day, just for fun, we decided to get to the lake by walking down the middle of the small creek that ran besides the camping ground.  On the way, we came across a dozen beer bottles hidden in the creek (under the water).  In those days, very few holiday homes had a fridge, so the owner had stored his beer in the water to keep it cold.  Very cunning.  But we stole one of his bottles and drank it.  In those days, beer bottles were about the size of a wine bottle (they hadn’t invented small beer bottles or aluminium drink cans yet), so there was quite a lot for we children to drink!!!

It was a wonderful holiday and, more than sixty years later, all of us children still remember it fondly.


POSTSCRIPT:  When I was researching this blog item, I came across an old song about the Nash Rambler car, and that reminded me of other “novelty songs” that were popular in the 1950s and 60s.  Hope you enjoy them.

The little Nash Rambler
The one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater
Itsy bitsy teeny weeny polka-dot bikini
Does your chewing gum lose its flavour on the bedpost overnight
Tie me kangaroo down, sport
My boomerang won’t come back
The laughing policeman
Yakety yak

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