Friday, September 7, 2007

2007. Christchurch NZ Settler, 1995

1995. Luke Esslemont at Waitangi, NZ

After a jetlag reducing Singapore stopover, we flew southeast over Australia, crossing the Tasman Sea, and on 16/05/1995 we arrived in Auckland, built on old volcanoes. Durban friends, who'd emigrated, met us at the airport. Their North Shore home was smaller, cramped and flimsier than SA houses. Its construction was concrete-slab base, wood-frame, weather-board walls, low iron roof: earthquake proof. We found older-house bathrooms were cold, with few towel-rails and soap dishes. Auckland firewood houses were overpriced, to filch funds from immigrants.

We stayed at Vincent Street YMCA, and while Leah took our boys to the aquarium and stuffed elephant at the War Memorial Museum, I arranged finances and bought a secondhand, 1600cc Toyota Corolla, which would be the most enduring car I ever had. Secondhand cars were roadworthy due to six-monthly Warrant of Fitness (WOF) tests. When I told the salesman we'd settle south-east in Christchurch, as houses were cheaper, he said, "Souf Island is cold."

Some Jap exporters improved profits by turning back odometers before exporting cars to NZ. Metal panels in NZ cars were better rust -proofed than SA cars. There were more old cars and vintage cars on NZ roads than in SA. With the bad Rand / NZ dollar exchange-rate, we threw away 60% of our money. Before we left Auckland, Aucklanders lined Queen Street, watching a parade celebrating Black Magic yacht winning the American Cup.

We over-nighted at Ruawai with an old Edgewood friend, then visited Waitangi where protesting Maori had spat on the anachronistic Governor-General at a Waitangi Day bash. As most Pakeha were of British working-class origin, links with Britain remained, like Commonwealth membership and Privy Council appeals. (WH Oliver, BR Williams, Editors, The Oxford History of New Zealand, Oxford University Press, Wellington, 1981). From 1870 to 1975, thousands of Brits had immigrated in NZ government assisted schemes, and we would meet many "ten pound Poms." (Megan Hutching, Long Journey for Sevenpence, Victoria University, Wellington, 1999).
Only in 2003 did NZ Labour government pass the Supreme Court Bill which stopped Privy Council appeals.

Trekking south past Bombay Hills, past living and dead volcanoes, our boys liked Rotorua's rotten-eggs smell, Huka Falls, and hissing fumeroles and boiling mud at Craters of the Moon.

InterIslander ferry, Cook Strait crossing: choppy seas and grey sky. Kumara-faced men wandered about as skinheads, or cannabis-goofed patriarchs, with ponytails, earrings and goatee beards. Fat women with small boobs, big hips, tatoos, feijoa-faces waddled about: from Tokoloshe to Taniwha. Sailing calmer Marlborough Sounds we saw jade Mainland, Waka of the Gods. (Barry Brailsford, The Tatooed Land, AH & AW Reed, Auckland, 1997).

We passed drizzly Kaikoura, passed misty Hurunui Hills, to foggy Christchurch: junk-mail city on the Avon River, of small plots, small houses, small plastic baths, small toilet-seats, small sinks, small car-trailers, small working-class minds, below a dead volcano. I didn't see Port Hills for a week, as fog was thick and CBD one-way roads disorientated me.

We'd trekked south-east from wild animals, wild people, tame mountains, to tame animals, tame people, wild mountains. Local trampers and climbers sometimes got lost or killed in the Southern Alps, with media reports about lost people not being safety-conscious enough. Jake and Luke would grow up in flat Christchurch, and Leah would do professional work few Kiwis knew or did.

For a start, we used Cathedral Square Post Office as our post-restante address. We visited Leahs' cousin Rob, who was born Kiwi. Rob's wife Brenda, British immigrant, and their two adult sons welcomed us, and another immigrant family, which had left East London with us.

1995. Esslemont Brothers with Esslemonts' Toyota Corolla on Lindis Pass, NZ.

Trekking, we slept a night at a SA immigrant's Oamaru home, and our boys enjoyed jumping on their trampoline. Leah had written to him before we'd left SA. Dunedin's weather was worse than Christchurch's, so I drove to Lake Hawea, where we visited our East London neighbour's cousin, retired farmer, who was polite but unwelcoming, although we'd written to him from SA. We left during a snowy night, and slithered to Wanaka campsite. We didn't see Aoraki Mount Cook, Maori God, as a snowstorm obscured our view.

In Christchurch, we rented a two-bedroom house at Denman Street, Sumner, seaside suburb in a warm, north-facing Port Hills valley. A Pom immigrant described Sumner to me as, "the place where beautiful people live, scooping dog poo in plastic bags."

We enrolled Jake in what we felt was the best of Sumner primary schools. Jake had missed two months schooling, and as Kiwi kids started school a year younger than SA kids, Jake jumped from year four to year five, being placed in a combined year 5-6 class. The first school letter we received was addressed to, "Dear Caregiver..." Parents weren't mentioned.

1995. Esslemonts at the Albatross Colony near Dunedin, NZ

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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