Eileen's Story

Reproduced with permission from New Zealand Memories Issue 72 June/July 2008
- Subject to copyright in its entirety.

“I can’t remember much before I started school. They had just built the new school at Catherine Bay, it was in about 1934. The land was given to the Education Board by Grandfather, on the understanding that if the school ever closed down, the land would come back to the shareholders. I walked to school – at the time I was living with my grandparents – who had fourteen children, seven boys and seven girls. Later, we got a boat and rowed part of the way. Mr Dobbs was our teacher, in fact the only teacher, and he took students from primary level right through to the second form. I left after Form II and did correspondence for a few years.”

Eileen Ngawaka’s family can trace the family history on the Island back to the mid 1800s. Her great grandfather Alfred Edlington of Lincolnshire, England arrived with brother William ‘Matuaka’ in 1859 and worked for the Great Barrier Mining Company. The earliest industry on the Barrier, the copper mines were located at Catherine Bay. “Grandfather came for the copper mines”, says Eileen. “Otherwise it was mostly logging on the Island in those days.”

“Typhoid caused a lot of deaths in the 1930s. I can just remember these times. I spent five years on the mainland because of the fever. When Mum died – I was only ten – I was twelve when I came back to the Island with Dad. With a household of men it was up to me to do most of the cooking on the wood range. There was no running water; buckets of water were brought from the well – a dug hole with beautiful clean water. The washing was a big job in the large tubs and the sheets were boiled in the copper. Being the only female in the house I found it a bit hard. Sometimes the copper was used to bath in but we usually jumped in the creek. Didn’t seem to feel the cold in those days”.

Eileen married a local boy who went on to work in forestry on Great Barrier for 29 years. Two of their boys have remained in forestry, of a different nature - working for Department of Conservation on the Island.

Eileen raised her family and worked at the Post Office at Port Fitzroy for a few years. “The mail came in once a week then, but when planes started arriving we got it daily”.

Orders for supplies went out once a week and came back the next week. “We had to order in bulk. Flour and sugar came from the Mainland and items such as candles and kerosene lamps. Ponsonby for groceries – Franklins sent them over on the boat. We mostly lived off the land; plenty of fishing and cows enough for milking and meat. I tried to do the sewing otherwise we could order clothes from the Farmers Catalogue.”

Expectant mothers went to Auckland two weeks before their confinement and then remained two weeks after. The doctor only visited Great Barrier once a month but the resident District Nurse was a superwoman from all accounts. Eileen comments, “When Mrs McLean was District Nurse at Port Fitzroy there were no roads to Katherine Bay, just a track over the Bay and over the hill. She never missed the fortnightly home visit … and all by horseback. Once when the nurse was needed because of a case of poisoning (from eating green fruit) the nurse even came out at night on the horse.”

To Eileen, who now has thirteen great grandchildren - “and one Christmas they all came home”, she says - Great Barrier will always be called home.


More 'People of the Barrier'; Pat's Story; Les and Beverley's Story.

Plus Jennifer Beck’s account of her memorable visit to Great Barrier Island written in 2004

Reproduced with permission from New Zealand Memories Issue 72 June/July 2008 - Subject to copyright in its entirety.
Neither the photos nor the text may be reproduced in any form of advertising, marketing, newspaper,
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