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The Ghosts of Remembrance Hill Farm (Kerikeri) by John McTavish
But when I stand on Cobham Drive, the main road, at the intersection with the new subdivision where the gate used to be and look up the slope I see grass paddocks with the bumpy track leading up to the house and farm buildings nestled in the trees at the high point of the farm. I gaze at the concrete and glass, but all I see is the lovely old wide plank weatherboard and iron roofed house set, and intended to be forever, to afford its occupants their commanding view over the paddocks to the road gate where I stand now.
I look at the street sign and through a mist of sadness for the dear departed see my grandparents, Sam and Maria after whom the street is named, and whose land and home this once was. Sam sitting in his old chair observing who might be passing on the distant main road and speculating on their identity should they turn in at the gate. Maria pausing a moment to wipe her hands on her apron and smile indulgently at her grandchildren’s antics ‘helping’ Aunty Molly pen some sheep.
Year after year for our Christmas holiday, our only holiday, we returned to that magical place and people. Fifty years ago the journey from Taumaranui to Kerikeri took all day starting at six in the morning. We emerged from the frontier-like atmosphere of the King Country to a semblance of civilisation as we passed through the Waikato. After the frightening but fascinating bustle of Auckland and the drama of the Devonport ferry, to our mind, Northland in general and Kerikeri in particular was our civilised spiritual home and place where exciting things happened all the time.
Up bright and early like cubs emerging from hibernation we three grandchildren were off to explore the place to make sure things were just the same as last year. The swimming hole in the creek that ran through the back paddock sheltered by willows might need clearing. Huts and hideaways built in the bamboo needed rebuilding. Summer fruits, peaches, plums and nectarines, oranges and grapefruit needed picking in the always overgrown house orchard where the long grass presented a challenge to the littlest grandchild, my sister Gill.
Aunty Molly would need help moving the sheep from one paddock to another. It never occurred to us that our help probably made the job take three times as long. The house cow needed milking and the cream separated in the hand separator, always a sought-after job. Often a chicken needed its head cut off. Chicken was a treat we only had at Christmas. Dad always did that gruesome task and we all gathered in trepidation yet knowing full well what was about to happen. Sure enough, every time, the headless chicken seemed to make a beeline for us kids as we scattered shrieking for safety behind Grandma’s skirt.
The modern day clamour of commercial enterprise hardly registers as all I hear is the silence emphasized by birdsong and the bleating of a lamb looking for its mother and, on Christmas morning, the faint comforting peal of the church bells carried softly on the breeze from the village that was Kerikeri. All I see, as though it were yesterday, are our grandparents and Aunty Molly on the verandah waving and waving, growing ever smaller as Dad drove the car slowly down the track to the road gate. A pause on the main road to shut the gate and with one last wave to the tiny figures in the distance we were gone until Christmas next year.
Eventually the Christmas came around when our grandparents had passed away and, although Aunty Molly stayed on at Hill Farm, that was the end of our annual Christmas pilgrimages as a family. Aunty Molly never married and lived with Maria and Sam all their lives. Like them, she tolerated our youthful exuberance and later that of our friends just as she had all our lives. She made sure no one got hurt, took too many risks or broke the law and made everyone feel Hill Farm was their home as well as hers.
Towards the end of the sixties we, this time with our friends, started again the tradition of visiting Hill Farm during the summer. By this time Aunty Molly was contemplating what was unthinkable to us, moving into town. Admittedly we had drifted away as young people do on the way to becoming adults and our visits had become spasmodic as other attractions beckoned.
But we had one more glorious Christmas there just after I finished National Service. We had jobs and cars and had amassed a circle of like-minded friends with whom we made the trek north one last time. The old farm must have looked like a motor camp with tents dotted on the lawns around the house.
The verandah provided the grandstand to protracted games on the front paddock that bore some semblance to rugby and cricket with participants dropping in and out to seek refreshment as required. Often fuelled by strong drink other tomfoolery was celebrated in style by the onlookers, such as a grass gymkhana to see whose Zephyr, Vauxhall or Valiant could get round the obstacles in the front paddock the quickest. Then in the evening, in recognition of my recent military experience, the gang consented to being formed up into a platoon under my command and with great good humour we all marched up to the Kerikeri Hotel to take on the locals who seemed pleased to see us.
But that was it. Aunty Molly couldn’t manage the farm by herself any longer. She was getting on in years by the early seventies so she decided to move into Kerikeri township. It was time for us all to grow up, some to settle down, others to seek fame and fortune abroad. With a restlessness triggered by military service, overseas beckoned me and it was during this time that Aunty Molly sold Hill Farm. Perhaps for the best she didn’t live long enough to see it turned into a commercial estate.
Now as I stand at the roadside gazing up the slope with eyes that see only the spirits born of remembrance I cannot help but wonder how it can be that such a magical place and the loving and wonderful people that once lived there can vanish so completely. Then I realise that neither the place nor the people will ever vanish. They live on in our memories; memories which we have already passed on to the next generation and to which they will add their own, which in turn will shape their lives.
I realise now Hill Farm and the old house with its long view influenced my life because Franmac Orchard, my home with Mary for the last twenty-two years, has got different but just as long views out over the land sloping gently to the north. A verandah runs the length of our house and has served as grandstand for many rounds of lawn games contested by family and friends, although none perhaps as irresponsible as those perpetrated at Hill Farm in an easier time. A long bumpy track leads from the house to the road entrance and we too stand and wave until cars turn and disappear onto the main road.
We wave and wave as history repeats itself with the melancholy that departing friends and family always brings, even though we may see them again soon, as those ghosts of remembrance drift above the landscape.
Grandma on the veranda, Christmas 1965 - busy as usual with her apron on. She was 87 then and passed away the following year.
A picture of Hill Farm taken probably in the mid-1950s and located about where the Placemakers shop now is.
Behind Grandma, in this photograph taken in the late 1950s, Hill Farm slopes away to the road gate near the white house in the background.’
Behind Grandma, in this photograph taken in the late 1950s, Hill Farm slopes away to the road gate near the white house in the background
A picture of Hill Farm taken probably in the mid-1950s and located about where the Placemakers shop now is