This is 1963 and a long march back to 1886, the year of the Tarawera Eruption and the year my mother and father decide to bring their family of five sons and two daughters to New Zealand. May, our youngest member and a real Kiwi, was born in Napier in 1888. My earliest memories of my sister May were when she had to go to the doctor for an inoculation. I was so much upset about it that Mother arranged with her doctor for me to be inoculated too (a dummy of course) and I remember driving down with Mother and baby in a two horse cab and then the journey home again, with me quite happy that our baby had not been hurt, or come to any harm. We had to use two horse cabs because of the hilly terrain.
We embarked on the steam ship "Aorangi" at London docks on my 4th birthday, 21st of May 1886. My father, George Willan Grainger was a Civil Engineer and Surveyor and had an appointment with the Napier Harbour Board. There was no communication with ships at sea in those days but we learned of the Tarawera disaster when our ship put into Cape Town. It was at first thought that the North Island had turned over but later cables told us that only a small area was affected.
I have very hazy recollections of England but I do remember Yuletide bread dollies being thrown over the wall to me.
I vividly remember Father carrying me on his shoulders down into the engine room of the "Aorangi", everything shining like a new shilling and the huge engines thudding up and down and later being taken by the officers to their quarters and treated to sweets, fruit, dates and nuts after regaling them with "Little Boy Blue". I was a young man of four with golden curls and an English sailor suit.
We disembarked at Auckland and went down on a coastal boat and as we made Napier Harbour there were two quite recent wrecks lying on the beach. One, I remember, was called the "Boojum", an all iron ship. The sea wall along the Marine Parade was being built by prison labour and it was a common sight to see two mounted and armed warders every morning marching a gang of prisoners down from the jail to the sea front for this work. The large stones for the walls were quarried by other prisoners and these too were under armed guards. I was thrilled as a small boy and spent many an hour watching from a vantage point.
Both Mother and Father were devout Church and Missionary supporters and our home at the Willows was open house for church workers, resting or in transit. My memory fixes on one, a Mr. Mountain, a missionary from India. He occupied a partly enclosed room on the veranda, and I wondered why he was not given a proper bedroom. He used to take me to the baths to swim every morning and carry me on his back when swimming and I loved him. One morning when I went to his room he was not there and they had to tell me that he had become ill in the night and been taken to hospital. Later he died of consumption. He had often read to me and told me stories and I had learned to love him. His death was my first great grief.
It was about this time that my eldest brother Bert met with a terrible accident whilst bush felling and was taken to Waipukarau Hospital. This was done in several stages. First of all he was carried out on a bush stretcher, then on a sledge, and then by dray. He was finally taken by train from Oringi to Waipukarau.
Very soon after settling in New Zealand my father had bought land in the 70 mile bush, some of the most heavily bushed country in New Zealand and the two eldest boys, Bert and Arthur, with the assistance of skilled bushmen, Germans, Scandinavians and Poles, were felling some of the heaviest timber in the country. Father was in bed ill when the news of Bert's accident reached us at the Willows in Napier. There were no telephone services then as we know them today and I remember being awakened and taken into Father's room and asked if I could be a very brave little boy and take a message to the Telegraph Office. There was an all night service but the message for dispatch had to be taken upstairs and handed to the officer on duty. I made it, but will never forget that moonlight trip. Bert was a long time in hospital but eventually recovered.
The sun and sea were very glaring in Napier and I had been having some trouble with my eyes. Mr. Agapardi, the eye specialist, told Mother I must be taken away from the glare and in due course Father made the necessary arrangements. A cab came one morning early and took Father, my bag and me to the station. I loved our old house "The Willows". It was a huge and rambling house but just right for our large family and had about three acres of orchard, garden, lawns and shrubbery. I never saw it again. Years later when I was visiting Napier I found "The Willows" had completely disappeared and the whole area had been built on.
Father had arranged with a Mr. Heaven, the guard on the train, to take charge of me and having kissed me goodbye handed me over. It is many, many years ago but I will never forget that day. It was a milestone in my life and I enjoyed every minute of it. To me it brought an entirely new phase of life. I travelled in the guard's van on a huge, slow, freight train because I had to get off at a small flag station. We left Napier at 8 a.m. and arrived at Oringi at dusk. My brother Arthur was waiting for me and I was lifted up behind him on his black horse Prince. I had never been near a horse before, much less on one.
The only fence in the Oringi flats in those days were those running each side of the railway line so we rode straight across the flats to what was then called Maharahara East and is now Kiritaki. It was about five miles from Oringi Station to the farm. It was on this ride that I saw my first dead animals, three huge dead bullocks, and Arthur told me they had been poisoned eating tutu.
Bert and Arthur were, at this time, living in a mill whare on Cranwell's old mill site and as we rode up the old tram line in the dark we saw a glimmer of light ahead through the long bush avenue of the tram line. Arthur gave a cooee which was answered in kind by Bert and we were home! To this day I remember that first night, with my brothers surrounding me with love and kindness. They had a Maori eel basket in the river and we had fried eel and potatoes for tea. I went to bed tired but happy. Mother fretted that I would be lonely and unhappy with just the men but these were some of the happiest months of my life. I really had a grand time in the bush and the men, five in all, with my brothers, were wonderful to me. They would plant me down in a safe place with the tucker-bags and billies and I would be left there with all the things that delight a small boy's heart. There were very many birds, lizards and walking stick insects, huge crawlers in the little creeks and the pigeons were everywhere these were great company. I was never lonely and enjoyed every minute of it. If a big drive was being let down one of the men, generally a Mr. Cavanus, would come and carry me to a point of vantage and it was a great thrill to see several dozen huge trees crashing down simultaneously. It was all good timber but at that time valueless and the one aim in life of the early bush settlers was to destroy the bush, burn it off and get the land into grass. Mr. Cananus lived on Sturdy's Road in a two-roomed hut and I had many a cup of Billie tea with him. He was known as a Russian Finn and used to make a huge pan of oatmeal porridge every Sunday morning. He would just cut a slab out every morning and eat it with bush honey (golden syrup) and I used to think it pretty good too!
Kiritaki is just about as far from the sea and inland as it is possible to get and in the early days was completely isolated. The only means of contact with anywhere or anyone was on foot or on horseback and our horses were far more prized than a Jaguar is today. The clearing and stumping in preparation for ploughing was very laborious work and large quantities of explosives were used. The first I remember was called Rack a Rock and comprised a black powder and a liquid which when mixed was terrifically explosive and dangerous to handle. After several accidents it was withdrawn and we used several other explosives but finally gelignite superseded them all. We also used a stump puller and two seven-ton Trewellers and two Price's jacks. Of course fires were kept going day and night. There was no Social Security, no child allowance, no forty-hour week, no dirt money and no strikes. The cows had to be milked night and morning irrespective. For many years after the bush was felled and burned the country was swept by terrible log fires, sometimes twice in one season and in some localities houses and sheds were lost, and miles of fencing. There was an abundance of timber and many miles of slab fences were built and just burned like a train of powder. There was no insurance against this.
About this time Father bought another 110 acre section fronting onto Sturdy's Road on which there was a three roomed house with a very tall chimney and colonial roof. After the house had been improved my eldest sister Rosa came up to the bush to keep house for Bert, Arthur and me. When Rosa came they brought in two cows and a horse and trap so that she would be able to get about and in to Dannevirke, nine miles away. Of course there were no motorcars, only horses. Rosa was a clever elocutionist and much in demand at the many church functions at Dannevirke and I was her constant companion. She dubbed me Carlo her knight and it was she who first taught me to read and write, do sums etc.. My first reading book was "The Fair Maid of Perth" how well I remember. Our two cows were killed soon after we bought them. A huge buckateer tree blew down in a violent storm and crushed them to death in their bails where they were sheltering. My brother had to get a local bullock team in to drag the tree away to enable us to bury the cows.