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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 12 - A Place In My Heart

In this chapter of her story of growing up in New Zealand Gayle Woodward writes alluringly of the excitement and fun of family holidays at Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island.

Beaches and summertime always bring to mind the beach of my golden summers – Onetangi Beach on Waiheke Island. I don’t know how we first came to stay at the baches of Onetangi, those of lumpy bunk beds, strange wooden mismatched furniture, long drop toilets up the back, safes for the cool food and a clothesline for the wet togs and towels that was always held up by moss-covered sticks.

But the excitement of getting there was always part of the fun. For days before, at home piles of clean clothes appeared on the lounge floor, along with a thorough spring-clean of a house that would not be lived in for the next two weeks, which seemed very much a waste of time to me. Buckets and spades and lilos and books and toys were collected and added to the piles on the floor.

Then, at an important hour, they were all packed and pressed down very firmly (some down the sides) of Dad’s old canvas army kitbag. It was very spacious and bulged satisfactorily. At the time of leaving, it was pulled shut by the cords around the top and a neatly hand-printed card tag was attached – Barton Family, Prendergasts Bach, Onetangi Beach, Waiheke Island.

Sometimes we were collected by car and taken to Ferry Buildings in the city. I don’t think we ever taxied, but memories of getting from home to the ferry have long been superseded by the trips on my beloved ferryboat, the Baroona. How I loved walking importantly up that wooden gangplank with little ridges of wood so your foot would not slip back. Dad would look so strong and tall as he hitched that kitbag up and onto his shoulder. The gangplank wobbled as you walked.

The Baroona was wooden, painted and it felt as safe to me as my own bed did. Inside there were slatted seats on top and lower levels and steep, narrow metal staircases to get you between the two. I however, loved to be out on the top deck bow, leaning into the wind, watching the wash spreading out behind us. In the middle of the harbour it would get on a leisurely roll and then it felt good to brace your legs wide apart on the deck and move with it, wind whipping your hair back. It was exhilarating. I would imagine very easily that I was flying or sailing. I loved the feeling.

Then as we reached the wharf at Matiatia and the sun-bleached hills grew closer and larger, I always felt a homecoming. I have come to realise that this view is one I am constantly trying to find in my modern day favourite places. We would disembark onto a long wooden wharf. It was interesting to see bags of mail, boxes of vegetables and other recognisable things being offloaded onto trolleys beside us.

Hats firmly held on by elastic under the chin and carrying a little bag of treasures (I remember my younger sister with her Cindy doll clutched in her little hand) we walked so importantly down the wharf trying not to let our small feet get trapped in the gaps of the slats that made the wharf. Soon we would be standing on the dusty Waiheke road. At the road our luggage, which had to be carried by Dad, was hoisted onto the back of a truck belonging to Paterson, the Carrier.

We would board a bus, and the truck would rumble off up the hill, leaving one feeling vaguely anxious about ever seeing that kitbag and suitcase again. Always though, he beat us and the luggage was always thrown onto the lawn of the bach where we were to live. The bus trip took us past fondly remembered landmarks – a tree on the skyline or the drapers shop at the top of the road down the beach.

In the very early days we shared a very rickety bach with my grandmother, maternal aunt, uncle and the cousins. Whoever owned this bach is lost to me but I remember it as a box-like building, up a very steep path, near the zigzag track, with a hill behind it.

We slept in a canvas tent on a flat part of the section for a few years, on camp stretchers, wood and canvas slings really. I must have been so tired from “three swims a day”, walks along the beach, sandcastle building and shell gathering that I slept well here, uneventfully, listening to the even crash of the breakers, loud if the tide was in, distant and quiet if the tide was low. I loved being able to tell what tide it was just by listening, while lying in my bed and not being able to see.

In this bach, some of the most fascinating and memorable things were tucked away in my child-like mind. One was of a resident of Onetangi Beach, a weather-beaten fisherman named Farley Scott. That name had such a mythical quality to it whenever I heard it.

Farley Scott had a boat, plywood dingy actually, which he would lend if it wasn’t being used. The cousins, my sister and I would walk with the men to his house to collect the oars then walk back down to the beach to watch the boat being turned over on the sand. My father and Uncle Ken would load various paraphernalia aboard – long fishing rods, a canvas army rucksack in my father’s case with handmade lead sinkers and hooks and things. I remember Dad always wore a faded cotton cap.

It was exciting to watch as one of the men rowed the boat out through the breakers, and the one sitting in the stern would rise high in the air above the wave as the dingy moved over the swell. I thought they might overturn and fall out but it never happened. Soon, as we watched, they looked like a speck out in the bay and we would return to our games. More often than not it meant fish for dinner that night.

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