The Mountain, the War, Our Forebears

This montage by Judith Bryers Holloway illustrates the unique history of a  Maori-French-Irish-American family in the King Country.

She says: ‘Born in 1935,I look back on our early days with huge affection for the two sides of our family who dominated our lives when we were young.

My father’s family were Maori-French/Irish-American.

Hotelier, trader, miller and sailor

Dad’s grandfather, John Bryers, had migrated to the King Country from the Far North in the early 1920s. They had run a hotel and a trading post, a sailing ship and a mill around the Hokianga since the mid-1800s.

Recently widowed and illegally deprived of what was rightfully family land inherited through his Maori whakapapa, John brought with him his three unmarried sisters (my great-aunts Fanny, Nellie and Adelaide – pictured here in Edwardian gear) plus his son Robert and Robert’s wife Olive (pictured on the left).

They were all accustomed to living and working together in various businesses and they settled in happily to run the Waimarino Hotel in Raetihi. This was more or less our turangawaewae, an unofficial marae, to five generations of us.

We came and went from it as we pleased. Occasionally, some of us bunked down there semi-permanently. We cousins spent great school holidays there (my father and his two brothers were teachers; our other cousins lived in the district). We were as free as the birds and always had a number of laps to sit on.

The ‘private’ hotel

Tawhiao

It was what was known as a ‘private’ hotel, not licensed to sell alcohol (the King Country had been declared ‘dry’ by the Maori King Tawhiao).

 But it provided food and accommodation for ‘commercial travellers’ who gathered orders for various products and services in a designated area.

It also catered for people who worked in the area – single teachers, bank clerks, or men employed in industries like farming, roading and saw-milling.

Upstairs there were about thirty-two bedrooms, a couple of sitting-rooms, one measly bathroom and one toilet. Strangely, I don’t remember any queues!

The Taringamotu sawmill

Not far away, at Taringamotu sawmill, near Taumarunui, lived our mother’s parents, Rick and May McCarthy.

They were descendants of early migrants from Ireland and Norway. May (a great cook) ran the cookhouse for the single workers at the mill, and Rick was a sawyer, the mill’s nightwatchman, a strong unionist and an early Labour Party member.

We loved staying there as well – with a heap of cousins on Mum’s side.

‘Where Britain goes, we go’

I remember the radio broadcast from the old mantle radio in the kitchen at the Waimarino when our Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage said those fateful words ‘Where Britain goes, we go.’ I would have been four.

Michael Joseph Savage — ‘where Britain goes, we go’

All the adults had stood up respectfully to acknowledge the sombre strains of ‘God Save the King’ which had preceded the BBC News.  

At Savage’s announcement, all the adults, even the men, wept. I couldn’t believe my eyes and had to be carted off to bed by Mum. She chose not to explain what was going on.

When I was about seven, our father and several uncles disappeared out of our lives and signed up for military service. They joined the Air Force and donned uniforms, looking like actors. (The centre-left photograph is of us all with Dad on his Final Leave.)

Then the men went off to the actual War and we didn’t see them again for four years. Strange how we took it all in our stride at the time.

At school we had air raid drill. Corks in our mouths, strange masks, things in the ears to muffle sound, lining up in groups to be counted and marked off the register. This was vaguely understood by us kids to be in case Raetihi was bombed by the Japanese.

The collage printed here of a poem and old photographs of the family hotel, Mount Ruapehu, and our lovely ancestors is something I cooked up with a techno friend for my brother’s 80th birthday.’

Get your montage done for you!

It’s given me the idea of offering to do this as a small business for other families. I believe I can help people write a poem that encapsulates the essence of their whanau’s childhood atmosphere, which could be combined with selected photographs of the important forebears who played a role in those precious memories.

People can contact me if they would like help in doing this.

My techno friend and I will try to make the service as reasonable as possible. I live in Levin. Ring, text or email to discuss it if you are interested: judithholloway@slingshot.co.nz or 022-670-4389

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