11. 1974 I lived in a class society – and it didn’t matter

By 1974 I had come to realise that I lived in a class society.  There were the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.   There were sub classes within this including the ‘have a lots’ and the ‘have the basics’….the ‘have a bits’ and the ‘have it alls’.   I also realised that it was not black and white classifications – so at times you may be seen as a ‘have’ yet at other times, or by other people you are seen as a ‘have not’.

While class society is generally based on breeding or socio-economic measurements, as a child, it was more about opportunity and involvement rather than wealth which, to me, was evidenced by what extra curricular activities you were involved in and the type of holidays your family had.   It was also evidenced by where you lived.   Napier has a large hill – Scinde Island to be precise – but known locally as “The Hill” – Hospital Hill at one end and Bluff Hill at the other – the end you lived at mattered.  The distance you lived up the hill also mattered.  We lived at the Hospital hill end – not on the top ridges where the business owners dwelt and looked out towards the Airport and beyond, nor down in Onepoto  gully where the State Houses and Woollen mills were located, we lived in the middle and were surrounded by empty land and trees.   An idyllic, yet isolated, place set in an oasis halfway between.  While we associated with the people aloft and those below I never really felt we belonged to either.

The Bluff Hill end housed Accountants, Lawyers, Doctors and professionals of the like with panoramic views of Hawkes Bay and their big houses.  I had some friends that lived on Bluff Hill, they attended the Anglican Cathedral in town, were Girl Guides and and they even had had maids.

Ahuriri Foreshore from Bluff Hill
Ahuriri Foreshore from Bluff Hill

Both ends of the hill, on the Port side, had gullies leading down to Battery Road, where my grandfather Dee had lived,  which led to many streets and alleys that straggled across the flat of Ahuriri to the foreshore.  It was on these flats that Port Ahuriri School was located and by the beach where Knox Presbyterian Church  was a landmark.   Not a big auspicious landmark like the Cathedral but a humble, unassuming place of worship.  The children who lived in the flats and cottages of Ahuriri  attended school and Sunday School with us and came from families that were trades people, worked at the wharves or in the wool stores, at the Tobacco factory or who  on the fishing boats.  Rough hard-working people I guess – I don’t recall going to play at any of these houses or flats.   There were also some older people who lived in Ahuriri who were parishioners of the church and some who had been friends of my grandparents.  We did visit these homes from time to time and either played outside while the adults had refreshments or quietly inside with such treasures as the long carved wooden chain  made from a single piece of wood and the stuffed “Scottie”dog.

The classes were also about sharing or ‘hand me downs’ where clothing and toys were passed on to others directly – rather than via ‘op shops’ or ‘ charity bins’.  If you took the time to look I am sure  the same outfits could be found on several children in different school photos over the years.   The migration of clothing (and later on school uniforms) generally flowed down the hill and across the flat – although occasionally a good bit might flow back up to the younger sibling of a previous owner.   Thus ‘hand me down‘ and ‘lower class’ had geographic relevance in my childhood.

Looking 'down' Onepoto gully
Looking ‘down’ Onepoto gully

Some of the kids from the hill attended Central School mid way along the hill- rather than attending Port Ahuriri School so the were many kids in our neighbourhood that we only saw at weekends.    I loved going for play dates or sleep-overs with Pippa or Kirsty on Bluff Hill, with Juliet who lived up the hill or with Missy who lived down the hill because each friend and their family lived in a unique space on the hill with siblings of various ages and offered me the opportunity to experience snippets of a ‘different’ life.  There were bits of all their lives that I envied but really what mattered most to me was that they were my friends no matter where we lived or which school we attended.   I have lots of memories of time with each of these young ladies but here are a couple I recall best…

  • Sleeping in a real tent at Kirsty’s with our food with us for breakfast
  • Helping Pippa polish the Silverware for her Mum
  • Learning to tie shoe laces on Missy’s Dads boots while he was asleep and still wearing them
  • Exploring down the bank with Juliet
  • Making Cockeyed Cake with Kirsty
  • Family dinner parties with Juliets family when all the kids dressed up and put on ‘shows’
  • Sharing “secrets” under the tree at Pippas
  • Dancing with Missy – cos thats what we did best

You see – societal class is no barrier to true friendship.  “Girls just wanna have fun”

Our days at Primary school passed all to soon and we moved on moved to bigger schools and got spread out.  Sadly life events change friendships, we we moved towns, we grew up.  I don’t think I have seen Kirsty of Pippa since we were at Napier Intermediate and Juliet I last saw at her Dads funeral.  Thankfully the power of technology has enabled us to reconnect.  I have seen Missy  in the last decade or so at her Nans house in the Gully and hope to soon have electronic contact with her too.

Oh…and for those of you who can think of someone from Port Ahuriri School who had a lasting impact on my life and the lives of my children….

…. watch this space……..

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