Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

14 December 2009

N.Z. House & Cottage 22. No.44 Old Slip Road, Hakataramea

I wrote and illustrated ‘New Zealand House and Cottage’. It was published in 1997. It’s a snapshot of some historic New Zealand homes - both grand and modest - as they were preserved at the end of the 20th century. I have decided to share some of the entries from the book from time to time on this blog.

There’s a certain ‘Kiwiana’ house that exhibits all the art, craft and ingenuity of the home handyman, you see its exemplars at beaches and river sides from one end of the country to the other.

Typically, it has grown ad hoc, following the demands of changing lifestyles or new owners: a shower box here, an extra bedroom there; a proper hot water cylinder; a laundry. Essentially once a crib or bach it’s become a permanent home, warm, dry and reassuring.

No. 44 Old Slip Road is one of a neat row of cottages just past the Hakataramea pub. It was bought as a weekender by Ernie and Rosemary Gilchrist in 1986; now it’s their retirement home.

It started as a two-roomed hut built by two brothers in the late 1800s. I’ve not been able to discover how long they lived there but it was bought in 1943 by two hardy rabbiters, Mr and Mrs Currie. They were a tough couple, having previously lived in tents, hunting a rabbit population every bit as bad as it is in the Mackenzie Country today. Violet Currie boasted that she could skin one hundred rabbits in a hour! Her husband was a water diviner, consequently most of his neighbours, following his indications, drilled wells in their back gardens. (I like that story: virtually surrounded by the Waitaki and Hakataramea Rivers it would be difficult not to find water here!).

The Curries lived at No. 44 for forty-two years during which time they added (clearly without help from a master builder for none of the walls, ceilings or floors is square) a kitchen, bathroom, laundry and another bedroom. Despite the Curries’ ‘improvements’, when the Gilchrists bought the house there was only a dribbling cold water supply from ground level tanks, the hot water coming from a 5.6-litre Zip over the kitchen sink.

But now it’s a comfortable home with every convenience, greatly cherished and surrounded by the neatest garden. It retains its essential simplicity, though, that’s what I found so endearing.

Over coffee and scones the Gilchrists told me that after the big Hakataramea flood of 1986 the floors of the house, having been inundated, took longer than expected to dry out. The floorboards were lifted to reveal that, at some time past, rabbits had blocked the air space under the house with their diggings.
Which only goes to prove that you can’t skin ‘em all.


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By Don Donovan