From the Moment You Set Foot in New Zealand by Maxine Viggers
May 6th 1962 dawned bright and clear in Wellington Harbour. Our boat had berthed overnight and for us immigrants on board this was our first view of our new country.
The view was not as green and open as the brochures from New Zealand House had depicted. In fact, there was nothing green and open about the harbour, with goods sheds, the railway station and wool storage sheds our foremost view.
It was a disappointment to my parents that after six weeks in transit we would have to sleep another night on the boat while Immigration processed everyone’s paperwork before sending us to our final destination. The officials did, however, let folk off the boat to send telegrams and make phone calls. My parents decided it would be appropriate to go to the railway station and send a telegram to my mother’s aunt, who had sponsored us, to let her know we had arrived.
Although the weather was fine and sunny the wind was like nothing we had ever experienced. Dad and I went to the railway station with another migrant and his son. His boy was about three and I was nine years old. The fathers decided that the little boy would have to hold both their hands to stop him blowing away.
I was delighted that my sister had decided to stay behind with Mum. I was determined to be the first of us to set foot on New Zealand soil. As I ran down the gangplank on to New Zealand I realized it was not soil, but concrete - and not much different from English concrete at that.
To all intents and purposes we actually stayed longer than the one night on the boat as we were on the overnight express train that left Wellington late in the afternoon on the following day.
To be on a train after so long on the boat was great. We were leaving the city and for the first time seeing more of the country that was to become our home. It was still light enough that we could see the commercial area then suburbia and then the countryside. The man collecting tickets called it ‘the bush,’ even though there was not just one bush but many trees and bushes.
Our train passed through several stations as we left the greater Wellington area. The station names coming over the announcements sounded odd to us. First Paekākāriki, followed by Paraparaumu, Waikanae and then Ōtaki.
For some reason the train stopped a little longer at Ōtaki and after a short conversation with a railway worker my dad decided he would make a quick trip over the road to the fruit shop. I had asked to go with Dad, but my mother was insistent that I stayed on the train. I was intending to be the first of our family to step on to New Zealand soil and now Dad was getting the advantage. As I watched through the window I realized that yet again it was concrete and tarseal all the way to the shop. I comforted myself with the knowledge that he was not actually stepping on to New Zealand soil, just New Zealand concrete.
Soon Dad returned with a big bag of fruit of varying sorts. On offer were large gooseberries covered in a brown skin and something else about the same size that the greengrocer told dad tasted like fruit salad. Dad wasn’t sure of the name but said it sounded like free juices. Although keen to taste the new and exotic fruit Dad was also aware we might not like it so for good measure he grabbed a generous bag of Victoria plums as well.
Our train carriage was full of other immigrants, either English like us, or Scottish, Welsh or Irish. My father had bought far more than we could cope with so we shared the fruit among the other children.
Soon we started to wonder what we had been fed. Mothers were concerned as children started to ask, “Ee, Mr. Baker, what’s tha feeding us? This fruit’s off!”
Just at that moment the train guard came along. He started laughing.
“They’re not plums,” he said, “they’re tree tomatoes.”
He explained that the plums were an exotic fruit we had never seen before called tree tomatoes; that the fruits Dad had referred to as ‘free juices’ were feijoas and the large gooseberries were more correctly named Chinese gooseberries. Suddenly everyone wanted to sample one or all of the new and interesting fruits.
As the guard proceeded out of the carriage his co-worker asked what the kerfuffle was all about.
“Just some dozey Poms,” he replied, “never seen proper food before.”
With the excitement over we settled down for the overnight journey. Our final destination was Rotorua so we were told to leave the train at 5am at Frankton goods yards and to wait for the Herald Bus, which would collect us at about 6am on its way through to Rotorua.
Yet again I rushed to the front of the carriage determined to be the first member of my family to put foot on New Zealand soil. Again it was concrete I had to stand on. By this stage I was beginning to think that the brochure from New Zealand House which declared, “From the minute you step on to New Zealand soil you will experience the beginning of a bold new adventure” was out of date. Since then concrete had been invented.
The Waikato fog was as thick as any Yorkshire fog had been and convinced that Dad would not find his way back to us, my mother issued a stern warning that he was not to disappear in search of anything. Just before 6am a bus rolled into the station and pulled up at a landing bay. The driver jumped out and started loading his goods. Not all the papers went in the goods storage lockers as he took a large box of individually rolled papers into his drivers cab with him.
Before departing he turned and asked, “Do you fellas want a paper to read?”
Not till the sun rose could Mum and Dad start to read the paper. As we left the city and travelled out into the countryside the driver would occasionally wind down his window and throw out a paper. It took my parents some time to realize that he was not discarding his load but actually delivering the morning paper. My cousin back in England had a paper round and I couldn’t wait to tell him that papers were delivered from a bus in New Zealand and not on a rickety old bike.
During the journey our parents talked to the driver and although the Yorkshire dialect was a problem he seemed to be able to understand most things. His responses were none the less a mystery to us. When he asked my parents if they were ten pound Poms, we were a little confused. Mum replied, “No, we’re English.”
The fog had lifted by the time we reached the Mamaku Ranges and the views were enthralling. As we gazed down into the gullies we could not see the bottom for the residual fog in the valleys. I later found my mother had been unable to look down and had spent a large part of the journey with her eyes closed.
We eventually arrived in Rotorua about 8.30am where it was pouring with rain. Yet again I began to doubt the brochures, which had talked about ‘an idyllic South Pacific paradise.’
This time I was definitely going to be the first to set foot on New Zealand soil. Once again I rushed to the front of the bus ready to jump down on to New Zealand soil. By now I was not surprised to find the bus depot in Rotorua was built on concrete.
We were met in Rotorua by Aunt Kate and quickly, dodging the rain, were taken to her house. Once we got there things became more relaxed. The pressure was off; we had arrived. Not to be deterred I wanted to go out into the back garden and walk on New Zealand soil.
My mother said no.
“It’s too wet and you’ll ruin your shoes.”
Aunt Kate said it would be fine if I went barefoot. Amid my mother’s protests about catching my death of cold, walking on glass, getting a bee sting and so on I whipped off my socks and shoes and went out into the rain.
I achieved my goal. I was indeed the first member of our family to do as the brochure said. From the minute I stepped on to New Zealand soil I was experiencing the beginning of a bold new adventure.
Douglas and Dora Baker along with their twin daughters came to New Zealand in 1962. Settling in presented challenges, but nonetheless they made Rotorua their home until their deaths. (Doug in 1979 and Dora in 2003.)