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Pat's Story

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

Pat Cooper was Postmistress and Telephonist at Okiwi from 1975 until the 1990s; the telephone switchboard became redundant in 1992 and the mail delivery service ceased its delivery from the Cooper homestead in 1997 (it is now distributed from Claris). Pat has since moved to Auckland, a far cry from her island upbringing. I was pleased to catch up with both Pat, and her brother Owen, to discuss their memories of Great Barrier.

Pat had followed in the footsteps of Grandfather Samuel Cooper. Samuel became Postmaster on 1 December 1900 when the Post Office first opened, based at in the Okiwi homestead. Later his daughters, Misses Xina and Annie Cooper (Pat’s aunts), were appointed to the position. It was certainly not a case of a cushy desk job; job applicants in the 1930s had to supply their own horse and carry mail between Port Fitzroy and Okiwi, rising at 5.30am. Having driven the route by car during my visit to the island, this was no mean feat.

The role of the telephonist was key, connecting the isolated community with each other and the outside world. “There was a bank of bells in the Okiwi house so that no calls coming through the switchboard were missed”, Owen remembers. “They would ring at all hours of the day … and night.”

Pat moved across to the Barrier from Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges in June 1926 when her father Ivar Eskine Cooper took a job as a hauler driver moving the large kauri logs that were very much in demand by an eager Auckland market. “During the war years, because of strict security, we were not allowed to leave the island without a permit.” Owen was born at Great Barrier but left for his secondary schooling on the mainland in his teenage years.

The family, cared for by the capable hands of Mrs Freda Adelaide Cooper, lived in the Okiwi house built of timber from the old Whangaparapara Mill in 1926. It stood on ex-Copper Mine land. “This land had been given in lieu of pay to members of the Paddison family when the company went belly up, later the Cooper family purchased this property”, Owen adds. The first Cooper to reside on the island was Mrs Elizabeth (Samuel’s mother) who settled at Warren’s, Port Fitzroy (now known as the DOC headquarters) in 1884.

“We had no electricity when I was growing up. No electric lighting, and the first time I ever cooked on an electric stove was after my recent move to Auckland”, says Pat. “The refrigerator was the culvert with the cold creek running through! Once a week the boat came with supplies, although our family usually only placed a monthly order.

Everyone needed to be self-sufficient – from vegetable growing to butter churning.” All hard work and no play? Not according to Pat and Owen - they both agree, it would take a lot to beat a Great Barrier childhood.

More photographs from Pat's Album plus Eileen'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,
brochure, leaflet, magazine, other websites or on television without permission from Memories Magazine.f