Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 February 2010

Open 7 Days 14. Mauriceville General Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Opaki-Kaipororo Highway, Mauriceville, Wairarapa.
Proprietors: Patrick and Denise Whyte

Mauriceville was founded by Scandinavian settlers in 1873, and only seven years later the general store began life. It’s had a chequered history, having been closed down twice because of hard times and suffering a devastating fire in the 1920s, scorch marks from which can still be seen on the outside of the building. Fortunately somebody rescued the unusual carved wooden window frames, they are built in to the modern shop.

Patrick and Denise took the store on in 1988 after it had been closed for a year. In the time they’ve been there they have put together a collection of old artefacts and memorabilia, which are on display in the store and which they hope to build into a major attraction.

With that in mind, they bought the old Mauriceville railway station with the intention of moving it closer to the store and developing it into a tearooms and museum. But the project is on hold while New Zealand’s economy suffers recession. Sadly, they are not sure whether they can even carry on trading the store, an uncertainty that only serves to emphasize the marginal state of Mauriceville in modern times.

In days past, when smaller farm lots were sustainable, the town flourished and was capable of not only supporting the store but also a dairy factory, large hotel, saddlery, library, churches, a timber mill, two smithies and a freight company. The lime works is still in existence.
Mauriceville General Store has a rare, possibly unique, Masterton Licensing Trust licence to sell all forms of alcohol, including some interesting local wines. I hope the store will be able to continue to supply the town with liquor, groceries, petrol, oil and perishables, and that when better times come it will not be too late for Patrick and Denise Whyte to realize their dream of a museum in the old railway station.

Railway station window


27 February 2010

Open 7 Days 13. Mangamairie Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Tutaekara Road, Mangamaire, Wairarapa.
Proprietors: Jan and Eric Bird

Reversing the customary drift to the cities, Jan and Eric Bird forsook the mirrors of Wellington in 1986 for the pastoral tranquility of northern Wairarapa. What Jan describes as ‘life before Mangamaire’ was spent in Linden, where she and Eric both grew up, married, built their own home and raised three children. As soon as the family left home, Eric and Jan upped stakes and bought the Mangamaire Store. They love it there so much that they’ve bought additional land, on which they run sheep and beef cattle - that’s what the Wairarapa is all about.

The store’s white-painted plaster is reminiscent of the fresh, neat houses of Devon villages and is in stark contrast to the gloomy angles of the derelict cheese factory opposite, on whose roof the lettering ‘Rexdale Dairy Coy. Ltd’ may still be seen.

Jan believes the store goes back to 1906 and is on land previously owned by the dairy company, which closed in 1956. There was a post office next door from 1898, which was moved and run together with the store when it was established. The post office became a Postal Delivery Centre (PDC) in 1988. The Birds still handle counter mail and run the rural mail delivery, combined with bread, milk, newspapers and groceries.
Recently Mangamaire, which lies slightly west of State Highway 2 between Pahiatua and Eketahuna, has experienced an improvement in trade because its road has been upgraded to provide an alternative route between Masterton and Palmerston North, diverging from the main ‘Pahiatua Track’. This bonus, coupled with the amalgamation of five local schools into the one in the village, has increased sales of food, petrol and oil.


25 February 2010

Beauty Close to Home

Lugging cameras, tripods and various bits of impedimenta I’ve spent small fortunes upon travel and accommodation looking for pictures to take in exotic parts of the world. I’ve often been like that angler who thinks all the best fish are just out of reach; but every now and then one discovers that close to home is far enough.

Consider these two pictures:

The upper one is of a lotus blossom. I photographed it where it was growing out of a pool in Kakadu National Park in Australia’s Northern Territory - a long way from my home in New Zealand.

The lower is of Birds of Paradise flowers. They are blossoming in springtime outside my living room window.

Hunting for beauty doesn’t have to be expensive!



24 February 2010

Open 7 Days 12. Pukehou Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

State Highway 2, Pukehou, Central Hawke’s Bay.
Proprietors: Anne Miller and Noel Brinson

Between the Raukawa Range and the Tukituki River, Pukehou sits in a gentle valley running north-west from Waipawa to connect with Hastings. It’s a bountiful valley of sheep farmlands, roadside fruit and vegetable stalls and birdlife; particularly the pukekos who inhabit the remnants of once extensive swamplands.

The district is famous for the Anglican Maori boys’ Te Aute College, a short step up the road from the Pukehou store. The store shares with the college a connexion to Archdeacon Samuel Williams, who founded the school in 1850, and the land upon which Pukehou village and the store stand was his gift.
An older store, at Te Aute, closed down in 1982 with the reputation of being the oldest business in New Zealand with a continuous trade from a wooden building.

The Pukehou General Store was built in the early 1920s for Andrew and Christina Priest, immigrants from the Shetland Isles, by their son, Harry, a carpenter. The store flourished in the decade after the late 1940s in the ownership of Neil Forsyth and his wife, who supplied the farming district as comprehensively as any stock and station agent and grocery supermarket combined. They also had a bread and grocery delivery round, ran two school buses, and a taxi service with cars available any hour of the day or night.
A Napier woman by birth, Anne Miller, who was a nurse for some years, bought the store in 1980 and she and her son, Noel, are now partners in its ownership.

‘Mrs Anne’, as the local children call her, still does a six-day paper run as well as the daily postal service.

Adaptation to modern times is the key to survival, and Anne intends, while maintaining the base of grocery, petrol and postal services, to add to her tearooms by providing fast foods and light meals for the passing motorists on this busy tourist route.


23 February 2010

Open 7 Days 11. Te Puia Springs Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Main Road, Te Puia Springs, East Cape.
Proprietors: Sid and Diane Hanson
‘In such a remote locality it’s not unusual for customers to arrive at the store on horseback. Following Cyclone Bola, bread was flown in by helicopter and handed out free to those in need. Fresh milk is still only delivered two days a week…’ It’s easy to appreciate from Sid Hanson’s comments that East Cape is a world apart.

The store drifted into existence. Around 1940, when sugar was in short supply, Molly Colbert sold lollies to the local children from the front door of her house. In 1976 the local store burnt down and was not replaced, so the Colberts, having tasted sweet success, built the first of many expansions on to the side of their house and the Te Puia Springs Store officially came into existence.

The store has always sold ‘everything’ and at times has included the post office (now a postal service) and a Westpac Bank agency. It serves not only the town and outlying farmers but also nearby Waipiro Bay, where, incidentally, may be seen two deserted general stores, one of which was owned by the Rasmussens, who now have the big store at Ruatoria.

The Hansons bought the store late in 1990. It had been owned by Sid’s brother Eric and his wife, Jill, who turned it into a self-service store with a difference - there’s no checkout. Local customers like to pick out their needs and bring them to the counter, sometimes making half a dozen trips before they’ve completed their purchase. That way they get to catch up on local news and gossip. And when all is said and done, isn’t that what the country general store is all about?


22 February 2010

Open 7 Days 10. Hicks Bay General Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Wharf Road, Hicks Bay, East Cape.
Proprietors: Tama and Lena Hiini

It dates from about 1910. The Hiinis have had it since 1980. Tama thinks it has two or three roof layers, has been extended at least twice and has had about ten owners since new.

Hicks Bay General Store has always been a meeting place for the three hundred residents and up to a thousand holidaymakers who come to the bay in summertime. Mail comes in six days a week, fresh bread daily, milk twice a week. They sell groceries, petrol, oil, clothing, toys, hardware, haberdashery, small goods, gifts, jewellery, fishing equipment and pharmaceuticals. They hire videos, have had a postal agency since 1988 and were expecting a liquor licence when I called. As Tama says, ‘The peculiar thing is that it’s a peculiar thing to find a true general store in this day and age.’

Lena comes from Horoera, a hamlet on the way to East Cape lighthouse. Tama was born in Manaia on the Coromandel. He and Lena married when he was in the army, and they bought the store when he was discharged. Their children are grown up and ‘do their own thing’ now, but Lena says that quite a number of the old Hicks Bay families are returning to this friendly place from the cities, re-examining their whakapapa and, through children’s education and adult courses at the nearby Wharekahika Kokiri Centre, are regaining their origins.


21 February 2010

Open 7 Days 9. Parawera Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Arapuni Road, Parawera, Waikato.
Proprietor: Margaret Glass

The Waikato, well watered and lush-pastured, has some of New Zealand’s most productive dairying land, and Parawera sits in the middle of it. Margaret Glass was born of a farming family, and she and her husband, Ken, had a dairy farm before taking over the Parawera Store in 1977. At the back of the store Ken and their son, Steven, opened up a workshop, which she says, ‘keeps them busy’.

It came as a pleasant surprise to find that, although a little chipped and faded, the name of the store has been particularly well sign-written. (Talking of sign-writing, I liked the AA finger posts across the road - a lexicon of Maori place-names!)
Madiv Chunilal, the first owner, had established a previous store in 1937, built on land leased from Umu McLean snr., by Joe Moses. Madiv, nicknamed ‘Chuni’, then returned to India for a spell, but when he came back he bought land from the Kenemata family and in 1954 built today’s Parawera Store.

‘Chuni’ also ran the school bus and taxi service. He had a frustrating habit of leaving a note on the shop door when he had a taxi fare - ‘Back in 1/2 hour’. The trouble was, nobody knew when the half-hour had started, so residents would either sit and wait or go home and telephone until ‘Chuni’ answered. Sadly, he was killed in his taxi south of Otorohanga in 1962.

The Glasses serve the Parawera community with general groceries, newspapers, dairy products, petrol and - busy round the back - workshop facilities.


17 February 2010

Open 7 Days 8. T-Jays Superette, Waihi

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

30 Barry Road, Waihi.
Proprietors: Trevor and Doreen Powell

The Powells took over the store in 1987, the latest in a series of owners going back to 1909, when it was built to service what was then a separate little settlement to the north of the main town of Waihi. In those days there were other stores and a hotel, which was subsequently removed to Rotorua and became the Princes Gate.

Coincidentally, Waihi was at the peak of good fortune in 1909, and it’s only a short step away from T-Jays to the gaunt ruins of the Martha Mine pump house building, relic of one of the world’s most productive goldfields. Today a mining renaissance exploits the gold and other minerals that still enrich the strata of Martha Hill.

Trevor Powell is a professional storekeeper of the old school. He learned his trade with Farmers’ and Super Value in Matamata, and with Farmers’ Co-op in Kaponga and Ohura (where he witnessed the closing of the state coal mines). His experience and an opportunistic move to Auckland later fitted him to help set up New World, Pak ‘n Save and Four Square stores all over the North Island, from Northland to King Country to Poverty Bay, before he and Doreen took over the superette.

One solid, no-nonsense structure, T-Jays and the adjoining house reflect the steadfast earnestness of a goldmining town. The customers comprise local residents and travellers heading for the beaches and resorts of the eastern Coromandel.
And, no doubt, once the kids at No. 21 have sold their pups they’ll be in to T-Jays to spend some of the proceeds on ice lollies or Coke.


16 February 2010

Open 7 Days 7. Colville General Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century.
Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Main Road, Colville, Coromandel Peninsula.
Proprietors: Colville Co-operative Society

In 1978 a group of local people formed a co-operative and bought the Colville Store. After some years of love and little reward they have rebuilt it into the industrious and thriving business it is today.

It is the northernmost store on the Coromandel; as such it looks after the needs of residents as far out as Port Jackson and Port Charles, and suddenly, when the holiday season comes, a customer base of anything up to five thousand. There was a strong ‘green’ feel about the store long before the popular move started, and although it sells ‘everything’, the co-operative members most enjoy selling healthy foods, in bulk, trying to avoid plastic packaging as far as it’s possible in modern times. They also encourage locals to sell their cottage-industry products through the store - home-made candles, jewellery and craft works - and they’re noted for their honey from friendly neighbourhood bees.

The store is not so old by rural general store standards. It was built in 1946 by Dick Goudie out of materials acquired from the old naval base at Port Jackson. In those days Colville was an important timber-milling district. In the 1990s farming is the mainstay, but the population is drawn from all walks of life: timber millers, settler-generation farmers, doctors, lecturers, potters, weavers, inventors, tax consultants, moteliers, beekeepers, plumbers, painters and Department of Conservation staff.

‘Being a co-operative makes it interesting,’ says Meryl Johnson, one of the co-ordinators, ‘especially when people say, “Oh, you’re a co-operative - do you all live out the back?” '
Old hand-cranked fuel pumps just north of the Colville Store.


15 February 2010

Open 7 Days 6. Clevedon Dairy

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Main Road, Clevedon, Auckland.
Proprietors: Ben and Julie Pohatu

While the crumbling paintwork and undulating boards of the Clevedon Dairy might excite the artist and titillate the historian, they don’t do much for the Pohatus, who plan to pull the building down and create a new complex.
Julie Pohatu reports that the store was built on this site around 1900 by G. McKenzie, who combined it with a billiards room. The game must have been popular with the local lads, for a later owner, T Murray, added a second billiards room and living quarters. The range of services has waxed and waned over the years; at one time the premises included a barber’s salon and at another, apparently, BNZ banking services. The click of billiards balls ceased in June 1936, since when, presumably, youth has not been misspent!

The Clevedon area was already an important supplier of dairy products for the Auckland market by the late 1850s, but it was more formally settled ten years later, after the Waikato land wars, mainly by immigrant Scots who were allocated parcels of land confiscated from local tribes who had fought against the British.

Nowadays it retains a feeling of rural peacefulness that contrasts pleasantly with the bustle of Manukau and Auckland cities. Clevedon is neatly placed as a watering hole for traffic going out from Papakura to nearby beaches. To the north lie Duders Beach and Maraetai, while the right fork leads east, past the historic McNichol homestead, to the pretty resorts of Kawakawa Bay and Orere Point.
For years the Clevedon Dairy has served as an oasis for travellers, providing meals and refreshments as well as general groceries. Now, recognising the needs of people on the move, Ben and Julie have extended their repertoire to include takeaways.


13 February 2010

Open 7 Days 5. Racecourse Superette, Auckland

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

81 Greenlane Road, Auckland.
Proprietors: Chandrakant (Ken) and Indira Patel

No book about neighbourhood stores would be complete without an Indian family named Patel. In the tradition of ‘Chuni’ of Parawera and ‘Boxer’ Patel of Waverley, Ken and Indira bring that special skill to retailing that explains why so many Indians have New Zealand dairies.

It’s the bazaar effect. A store packed from floor to ceiling with merchandise to satisfy the needs of an inner suburb of Auckland that is not only densely packed, residentially, but also has a number of tourist motels.

And outside, a colourful display of cut flowers; just the sort of peace offering a tired Remuera stockbroker needs on his way home after another late night at the office!

Ken and Indira have had the store since 1988. He came to New Zealand when he was fifteen, they married in 1970, and have a family of three. The superette, opposite the gates of Ellerslie Racecourse, is on one of the busiest streets in Auckland. It has operated as a grocery store since the 1920s, went to seven-day trading around 1970 and is now open every day from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. That’s a long day, every day, but you still get service with a smile.


11 February 2010

Open 7 Days 4. Supa Rupa, Freemans Bay, Auckland

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

103 Wellington Street, Freemans Bay, Auckland.
Proprietors: Dilip and Sarda Rupa

I’ll lay a pound to a pinch of Mrs Rupa senior’s special curry powder that this is the most photographed store in New Zealand. It’s on calendars, in books, films and television commercials. It’s a joy to an artist’s eye, a delightful dilapidation, but Dilip Rupa is ambivalent about it.

On the one hand, he has a deep attachment to the place where his parents made their home in 1953 after moving from Wellington. On the other, he and his sister Sarda regret that, although conscious of its historic charm and despite insisting that designs for a new store retained the frontage of both buildings, they were prevented from redeveloping on the site in 1987.

The wooden portion was erected around 1890, and the cement-rendered brick structure followed about twenty years later. It seems odd that in an area of fashionable rediscovery and renewal this old store should survive, but by doing so it adds enormous character to Freemans Bay, a neighbourhood of extreme contrasts, from low-income council tenants to wealthy townhouse residents. They all patronise Supa Rupa, and in return Supa Rupa, abundantly stocked, makes sure their needs are satisfied.
I asked Dilip how the store got its name, and he told me that when his sister, Pam, was a nurse she had a young patient who called her Super Rupa. Super store, Supa Rupa!


10 February 2010

Another Wedding? We Already Gave.

I have a small piece of cut glass, an attractive vase about 8cm high in the shape of a Scots thistle. It was given to my father and mother as a gift on their wedding day on 4 April 1930. Their marriage lasted until my father died in 1983. Whoever it was - a friend or relation perhaps – that gave them the present it lasted in their memories over many years and probably became increasingly valuable as a memento of a momentous day.

A young woman of our acquaintance got married and before the event a ‘shower’ was held at her home. This was a knees-up to which all those invited were expected to take a gift for the bride-to-be. 

For those not lured into that web a list was distributed of things the happy couple would like to be given; the list was also deposited at a local ‘up-market’ department store. The idea was that if you decided to give them, say, the 36 piece Sevres dinner service you approached the department store to check whether it was still unallocated to a donor. If it had already gone you were invited to scrutinize the list so that you might, say, opt for the unallocated signed Picasso print.

Showers and lists: detestable practices at the best of times. Blackmail in disguise. But what makes it all so much worse is that the marriage went from bliss to divorce so quickly that there was probably never a chance either to hang the print or dirty the Sevres!

Were the gifts returned to the givers? No way. They were probably part of the divorce settlement; the party of the first part keeps the Sevres, the party of the second the Picasso.
What’s really galling is that the ex-wife is about to become married again. Another wedding invitation? Shall we be expected to come down generously in the next shower? Or, if we aren’t invited, to choose off the new list?

It’s a real dilemma. I think we might decline any invitations either to shower or wedding. In fact I think I might deliberately break a leg or arm to avoid any of them. Or perhaps I could write and say: ‘Please continue to keep the present we already gave but apply it to your new wedding.’ Or maybe we’ll give them a promissory voucher cashable for something from The Warehouse in two years’ time if the marriage lasts that long.

Or – and it’s just possible the secondly-weds have a conscience – there might be a quiet register office ceremony with nobody outside the families invited. We can but hope but we shan’t hold our breath.


Open 7 Days 3. Parakao Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.


Corner of Mangakahia and Hunter Roads, Parakao, Northland.
Proprietors: Charlie and Myra Moates
The cluster of neat buildings that comprises Parakao lies in rolling hill country north of the main road connecting Dargaville to Whangarei. The store services a large dairy, sheep and forestry area, and ‘dabbles in just about everything that can be used in the house or on the farm’.

Hours are flexible most days 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ‘or thereabouts depending on what’s on’. Judging from the Moates’s warm welcome, they’d always put their customers first when deciding whether or not to close the front door.

Harry Muir built the original part of the store back in 1930 but soon sold it to Burns Philp, who installed a manager, Happy Smith, until it was taken over in 1941 by Colin ‘Doc’ Campbell and his wife, Amy (who later became deputy mayor of Kaikohe). Three more owners, the Nelleys, Attwoods and Parkers, followed before Charlie and Myra Moates bought the store on New Year’s Day 1973.

Myra was born in Invercargill. Her career as a state registered nurse has taken her all over New Zealand, and also into service in the army and navy. Charlie was born in Devonport, worked for a stock and station agency and was also in the New Zealand Army, in Malaya. They have two children, Callum and Donalda, whose names reflect a touch of Scots ancestry.
I asked Myra if she had any interesting stories to tell about local identities. It seems there are plenty, but she refused to divulge any secrets - she says she wouldn’t want to embarrass anybody; there’s loyalty for you!


09 February 2010

Open 7 Days 2. Broadwood Store

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.

Main Road, Broadwood, Northland
Proprietors: John and Maureen Baine

The town’s original name, Mangonui-o-Wae, conflicted with Mangonui on the northern coast. So in 1894, six years after the district was first settled, the postal authorities renamed it after the first sawn-timber dwelling in the neighbourhood, the home of Arthur Glass: ‘Broadwood’.

In those days household supplies were bought in, by cart or dray, from Kohukohu on the Hokianga Harbour, durables having been ordered months in advance by mail from Auckland’s big-city trading companies like Farmers’.

Ces Wallace, with Jim Dodds as manager, opened the first store in 1909, then Dodds took over until 1918, when he sold to Percy Edwards, who in 1922 built the present Broadwood Store. It’s a large and handsome building, foursquare (in more ways than its affiliation), and can truly be described as a country general store, combining grocery, hardware and farm supplies with postal services and dissemination of neighbourhood information by way of a magnificent noticeboard.

John and Maureen Baine bought the store in 1974 because they felt their children would benefit from a country environment. The children are grown and gone now, but the Baines are so much part of Broadwood that there’s no reason for them to leave. Their attachment to the district shows up in such things as their involvement with the North Hokianga A and P Association, whose programme for the 77th Broadwood Annual Show lists John Baine as president and Maureen as assistant show secretary.


06 February 2010

The European Dis-Union

The current inability of some member states such as Portugal, Greece and Spain to meet their financial obligations is corrosive but the underlying reason why the European Union is in strife is simply that so many of its members can’t stand each other.

Looking objectively at a distance of 20000 km from the land of my birth I have found it hard to believe that the EU will survive; that it will be more than an anomaly in a long history of warring tribes. And now that that distance is compounded both by 50 years of exile and the seamless adoption of a New Zealand identity it becomes increasing apparent that my scepticism about the EU was well founded.
When I was an Englishman the very idea of chummy unity with other states of Europe was distasteful. I had, after all, spent many days and nights in air raid shelters as a boy while Hitler’s Luftwaffe dropped its hardware upon me, my family and our neighbours. It was impossible to erase the image of my father, red-eyed and face creased with fatigue returning to our suburban home after nights fighting fires in London’s docklands. A British-German brotherhood was unthinkable.
And didn’t an antipathy towards the French reside in the genes of all English (very distinctly English, this; the Scots were always ready to march in step with the French!). Why was that? Was it because the French loathed the English for winning at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt? Perversely the English have invariably liked everything about the French - the wines, the spirits, the cheeses - except the French themselves.
In those days also, to an Englishman, Italians were, perhaps, lovable but irrelevant; the Spanish were onion-eaters of little account since their Armada failed; the Dutch ate tulip bulbs and wore clogs; Luxembourg was a radio station and none of the other European states had any image whatsoever.
In light of those dyed-in-the-wool attitudes - which I have largely sloughed off but which, I know, remain in some of my English contemporaries - it has been, to me, perfectly understandable that Britain has played an arm’s length game with Brussels and has lacked commitment, being especially resistant to joining the common currency. Perhaps, at the heart of British reluctance is the same suspicion that I harbour, that the EU will not hold up.
Personal experiences support my view: dining out in Florence with friends one evening I noticed how contemptuous and dismissive of us was our waiter. The service was surly; his gaze distant; he would not engage us. I was puzzled until, having finally taken our order he said ‘Danke!’ with the heaviest irony. I chased after him and said, in my frightful Italian, ‘Non Tedesci; siamo da la Nuova Zelanda.’ (‘We are not German, we’re from New Zealand’) At which his attitude changed diametrically. He admitted he had thought us German and happily added that he loathed Germans.
At a money changer’s near the Ponte Vecchio we were appalled at the ill-mannered imperiousness with which young German tourists barked at the Italian teller. Considering that the Nazis had, within living memory, destroyed every bridge over the Arno River except the Ponte Vecchio they were hardly conciliatory!
At Echternach where a tranquil river separates Luxembourg from Germany a Luxembourgoise hotelier spoke to me with undisguised hate for her neighbours: ‘Their tanks invaded us in the war’ she spat, ‘and now they invade us for our cheap cigarettes at the weekends!’
The European Union comprises takers and givers. It is, surely, only a matter of time before those who believe themselves to be more givers than takers will seethe with resentment and seek to reduce their favours. In the small town of Barga in northern Tuscany a school, a municipal office building and the ancient cathedral all bear notices to the effect that their reconstruction and earthquake-proofing has been paid for by the European Union. How long will it be before visitors from other EU states will say, ‘Hey: we’re paying for this. What do we get out of it?’ For there’s no doubt in my mind that the Union will only survive as long as its members believe there’s a benefit to them in staying.
In this climate of restlessness the British if Gordon Brown or his nearing successor ever allow them to have their referendum, will vote ‘No’ to the bulk of the European administration’s strictures.
And now, when Greece, Portugal and, soon, Spain can’t play their economic parts, deep in the cosy shires of perfidious Albion, and in the financial courts of Wall Street, (and in Albany, New Zealand) Euro-sceptics nod sagely, nudge one another and say ‘It won’t last. Told you so.’


05 February 2010

Open 7 Days 1. Cover & Introduction

I wrote and illustrated ‘Open 7 Days’. It was published in 1991. It’s a series of freeze-frames of some historic New Zealand general and convenience stores as they were preserved in the last decade of the 20th century. Bit by bit, on this blog, I re-publish some of the entries from that book.
I was very nearly too late with this book. I wanted to preserve, as at late 1990, a selection of typical New Zealand general stores, freeze-framed like insects in amber. I had it in mind that there would still be left enough of those grand emporia, remnants of lusty colonial beginnings, to comprise an informally historical monograph.

I found instead the last stages of the devastation of rural and provincial society that was brought about by the free market policies of recent government, the ‘Crash of 87′ and three years of consequent tremors.

To be fair, these recent events were only the final blows. The real decline had begun many years before when the long comfort of an assured British market for our primary production gradually disintegrated.
With my wife, I visited practically all of the stores in this book during October and November 1990. I wanted to gather them all up in as short a space of time as possible; almost as if I had taken a snapshot on one given day. This is important because they are in a constant state of change and may not now be as they were when I called. Some were in the middle of repainting, some had relatively new owners and some were up for sale.

The criteria for selection were varied and unscientific. I wanted to have a fair geographical spread, and for a store to be chosen it had to have all or some of these attributes:
• ‘Character’ and attractiveness to my eye as a watercolour illustrator.
• Some historical significance.
• A wide range of goods.
• If possible, to be open seven days (some were not).
• To play a part in the affairs of its community.

It was, I thought, more likely that I would find my stores in rural towns than in cities. Historically, cities were large enough to allow the development of retailers such as drapers, clothiers, milliners, grocers, footwear stores, hardware merchants and other specialists; country towns, with smaller populations, fostered generalists, selling everything from hatpins to cooking ranges, loose biscuits to sheep pellets. But I found that there is little difference now between town and country. Everywhere in New Zealand, from the suburbs of Auckland to the marginal townships of Westland, there are the ubiquitous seven-day dairies and ’superettes’; all, to a greater or lesser degree, serving their neighbours with the same will and doggedness as the large general stores of yesterday.
Their customers probably have less loyalty. Widespread ownership of reliable transport, coupled with excellent roads, has encouraged rural families to make weekly, or even monthly, bulk-buying trips to urban and suburban supermarkets and shopping malls, where choice is wider and the prices cheaper. The remains of derelict Te Pohue Store, which lies to one side of State Highway 5 between Taupo and Hawke’s Bay, prove the point. I asked the local publican where the residents of the township now buy their groceries, and he told me they drive to the supermarket in Napier – forty-seven kilometres away.

Individualism, one of the most endearing of New Zealanders’ qualities, was once outstanding in the local storekeeper. Today they are still ready with an opinion about everything from social welfare to perestroika, but most, despite retaining proprietorship, have given in to the benefits of the collective power of central buying, financial aid and advertising provided by groups such as Four Square and A1. Total capitulation results in a repaint of the store’s exterior to comply with the lettering styles and colours of the corporate design manual; thus, with a sense of having been there many times before, I found, so often on my search, old stones and plankings resplendent in Four Square yellow, green and orange. Neat, bright, but conformist and lacking variety.

Less ashamedly and greatly more aggressively, the Coca-Cola people have seduced a number of retailers into going red and white from doorstep to ventilator, cunningly camouflaging numerous little histories and, no doubt, sending many a long-dead, striped-aproned storekeeper spinning six feet deep in the local cemetery!

Colour is an enlivening feature of almost all general stores, and it’s largely provided by merchandising signs and posters. Indeed, a store without posters is as dull as a magazine without advertisements. In late 1990 the advertising signs most widespread were Tip Top’s ‘Realicecreamier’ and Coca-Cola. The cigarette companies’ sales reps were indulging in a flurry of activity pending the government’s ‘lion-tamer’s whip’ bannng of tobacco advertising. The last few brands of cigarettes to be displayed will be Rothmans King Size, Benson and Hedges, Pall Mall, Winfield, John Brandon, Peter Jackson and Pacific 30s; and while I’m sure other products’ posters (like those grotesque Teenage Ninj’a Turtles) will maintain the kaleidoscopic gaiety of retail shop windows, they’ll never quite be the same again.
We covered the country in detail, and there were many wild goose chases. The longest was when a storekeeper in Taranaki told me of an old store at Tokaanu and we made a long, gruelling cross-country trip on Route 40 through Taumarunui only to find nothing remotely resembling a general store. It had died, as so many have, in the four or five years since that New Plymouth storekeeper had last visited. In the course of that trip we passed through Ohura and drove reflectively along a wide, dual main street where more buildings were closed down than were open. You could almost hear the chuckle of the woodworms as they chewed their way through two old stores, a butcher’s shop and a deserted bank, whose imposing fa├žade would once have assured the townsfolk that they and their money would be safe for a thousand years.
There were other disappointments, such as two magnificent deserted stores at Waipiro Bay, on East Cape, one of which was so recently closed that its paintwork was fresh; Donovan’s Store at Okarito, where, although the shop was closed down, we had the honour of passing the time of day with Booker Award winner Keri Hulme; and the old Matakanui Store in Central Otago, squarely built of mud bricks, now in course of restoration, but only a memory as a general store.

The most original of all the operational stores was Langfords at Bainham. I heaved a sigh of relief when, sixteen kilometres south of Collingwood, along a cul-de-sac that ends at the Heaphy Track, I found that this diversion was certainly no wild-goose chase! Langfords is the important pivot upon which ‘Open 7 Days’ turns from present to past.

All in all, I doubt if I missed too much, but I like to think that somewhere in some remote town there still flourishes an old general store staffed by earnest professionals with old fashioned values, treading ancient, creaking boards that whisper memories of miners and graziers. There in the cool, deep shadows the boxed shelves will offer patent medicines, preserves, shaving mugs and badger brushes. The match-lined walls will carry baked enamel advertisements for Bensdorp Cocoa, Radium polishes, Bycroft’s biscuits, Reckitt’s ‘blue’ and ‘Creamota Cream o’ the Oat - The National Breakfast’; and behind a wide counter, solid as a cathedral altar, fringed by bags of seed potatoes and biscuit tins, the storekeeper win smile, push up his sleeves and relish the idea of giving a little personal service.

Fifty-six stores were considered for Open 7 Days. I am indebted to all of their proprietors and managers, particularly those of the thirty-seven included in the book. The text descriptions about each store have been compiled from information they each sent to me. It was all of high quality, and I was pleased to hear that many of them thoroughly enjoyed researching the histories of their stores and localities.

In addition, I thank my wife, Pat, for her considerable help; and Random Century, mainly David Ling, for publishing such an unusual subject.

Don Donovan Albany, 1991

© DON DONOVAN (2012)

04 February 2010

Education Standards

Any hint of vulnerability on the part of a politician attracts the media, the opposition and parties with vested interests in a feeding frenzy. In the case of Anne Tolley and her programme for educational standards it seems the vocal feeders want to tear her apart; so much so that the prime minister, John Key, has been drawn in to support her.

I hope she and he stick to their guns. It is absolutely vital that children's progress be measured against ranges of norms. How else is it possible to give them guidance and extra tuition in the areas where they might fall short?

One small thing bothers me, though. It is possible that blame for shortfall might be laid at the feet of teachers. We should never forget that no matter how much the state intervenes in children's welfare - educational or otherwise - it is parents who are the first teachers.

I know a young woman who is head of the senior classes of a primary school. Her aim is to teach her charges to the very best of her ability and to ready them for secondary education. But despite her best efforts, she tells me, up to 20% of her pupils will fall short principally because they receive no proper support from home. I imagine that those children are the ones who are sent off to school without any breakfast.

By all means let us have standards but let us remember that the state can never, neither should it, ever supersede parental authority; and let it be clear to all parents that they are ultimately responsible for their children.



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By Don Donovan