A transcript is an exact copy of the things said during an interview. These interviews are with people who lived in our area during the 1930s.
What was the Birkdale area like in the 1930s?
Interview with Peter Beer
Birkdale was full of wattle trees wasn’t it? Eskdale Road was a cart track when I was a boy where the wattle trees met overhead. It was a complete tunnel and it was an old clay road with a bit of metal thrown on it and it had big wheel marks in it and it was only one vehicle wide and there was no passing especially on the steep part up where the chicane is now. If you met a car coming the other way someone had to backup or move off the road.
I was born in Vermont Road which is now called Verbena Road which runs from Verrans Corner down to meet Eskdale Road at the lowest point just down by the bridge so I was born up the top there. Here is where I was born, the house at the top of Vermont Road, now Verbena Road.
This big old kauri villa with a veranda with all fret work all cut around it and that’s my father’s car, an old Oakland Tourer with wooden spokes and he used to take me to, he took half a day to drive to Orewa because the roads were so rough and gravel and I used to get car sick in the back of the car and have to get out in the lupins and be sick and I had a little fox terrier dog and this is my step-grandfather Harry Frogley’s very flashy sporty car in those days and in those days this kind of car would have a Dickey seat, the boot would open, from the front back and as it opened a seat opened up and you could sit people in the back and you see it had side wheels, split rims. It didn’t have radial tyres or anything like that and you used to get a puncture about once every two days because the tyres wouldn’t stand up to the rough roads.
There’s my father, my mother, myself and two of my brothers on the horse. That horse collar was as much as I could lift to get onto the horse when I got bigger and what we are doing is haymaking and my father made a big hay rake out some 4 x 2 and stuff and sharpened the points and we towed it around and got hay.
They had all their own supplies. They had been taught to be so by the Great Depression of 1929 – 1931 in which I had been born. I can remember seeing relief workers in about 1932 standing by the roadside near here all down the road in the rain with a bran sack over their heads and leaning on a shovel and that relief workers who had no job but were guaranteed a benefit from the government only if they worked and the benefit was they got a living £2.12.6 per week to keep their families which in those days would buy all the food you wanted. It wouldn’t pay the mortgage but it would buy all the food you wanted and they were standing in the rain and they were guaranteed this $5.25 per week in today’s terms, but it bought a lot of stuff so I need to go here.
I was born in Birkdale and so were my three brothers. Both Paul and I were born in Verbena Road, near Verrans Corner and that was named after the Verran family who had a cartage business, a trucking business, originally horses and who had the house right up the top by where the bus garage is now. That was Verrans. My two younger brothers Mark and Michael were born here on the farm (where Birkdale Intermediate is now) and my father brought us to live here when I was four in 1932 and of course in those days you weren’t born in a hospital or a home, you were born at home. The mid-wife came and stayed in your house. You gave her the spare bedroom and she looked after your family and cooked for your father and the kids, while your mother went to bed and had the baby. The doctor who delivered all the kids in the 30s around Birkdale and Birkenhead and Northcote was Dr Reginald Dudding. Dr Dudding’s name is remembered on a restaurant (at Hauraki Corner, Takapuna – now called Lone Star) and his house was on the corner of Queen Street and Onewa Road, a big home. I can remember it well because I had to go there once to get my first injection I ever had and I had this injection because I got some boils and this was during the war in about 1943 and a new invention had come with the war. It was penicillin, the first antibiotic and this was the miracle cure for all things that went wrong so he sent me on the ferry boat from Northcote to Auckland. I caught the tram and went up to Auckland Hospital and they gave me a parcel with a vial with this new penicillin in it in a cold wrap and it had to be used within an hour and a half or two hours or something so I rushed down, back to the boat, came over, got off, caught the bus up to his house in Northcote and he said, “Bend over and loosen your belt” and he jabbed this great big needle in my bottom. I will never forget it. I was scared stiff but it cured my boils.
My father inherited the land from his grandfather, actually he inherited half of it and his brother Fred who was killed in the First World War, he was shot in the head with a German bullet and fell in the mud and his grave is in France still. He was left the other half. He left the farm, half each to the two brothers. Well my Uncle Fred never came back so his son, my cousin Charlie Beer inherited it and my father thought, well Charlie’s not going to live on the land, he’s going to go away and do other things, so I might try and buy the other half from him and so he did buy it from Charlie so he owned the whole block of land, the whole 20 acres that the school was built on and to get it he traded a piece of land where the Mills family lived, a triangular piece of land which he had bought in 1913 about seven acres of land and he traded that to Charlie. Charlie took that and some money to give the other nine acres of this and so my father set about, he was working in the city in a town job and in his spare time he ran this small farm, planted an orchard. It had already been planted by my grandfather in grapes, but the grapes had all got eaten by the cows and I will have to tell you that it had been leased for grazing after my father had inherited it and the whole place when I came to it at nearly four years old was overgrown. The grass was higher than me, you couldn’t see anything. The old cottage was run down and the old cottage had no electricity when we arrived and when power came down Birkdale Road my father had to pay for power poles to bring the wire to the house. I could never understand in my mind I could never understand why the farmer who grazed the cows was named Mr Lamb which is a funny thing in my memory. Why did Mr Lamb have cows and not sheep?
Then there was Mr Taylor across the road who had all the land from opposite Tiri Tiri Road right down to the bottom to Eskdale Road all that side of the road over there and he had a beautiful peach orchard with peaches that grew big. White peaches. And to send them to the market you had to have a tray and you couldn’t nail a top on it and you had shavings of wood and you sent about a dozen or ten if you were lucky they were so big and you sent them to market that way.
The cottage had a wood range to cook and heat water and kerosene lamps, outside toilet and milk and butter was kept cool in a crock standing in water. Meat was kept in a flyproof safe which hung from the shed ceiling and nothing would keep for long, hence bubble and squeak was very popular. If you had left overs from your dinner your mother kept it as cool as possible but it had to be cooked again because you would get sick. There was no refrigeration and it deteriorated so to cook it again they put it in a pan with some fat and it was called bubble and squeak and it was chopped up bits of vegetables and meat and stuff and that’s why it was popular. It was a way of keeping food when there was no refrigeration. You could use it again.
Because it was unsafe to keep food for long. There was no refrigeration. You would get sick so going back to what I was saying, when I was old enough I hand milked four to six jersey cows. Jerseys were chosen here because they gave a greater proportion of cream. Nowadays the milk supply comes from Friesian, black and white cows mostly who give mostly milk, not much cream. They don’t need the cream and we took the milk up and the spare milk was separated in a separator, handturned separator which was centrifuged which puts the cream out down one slot and the milk down the other, the skim milk down another and that’s how you got the cream, concentrated the cream by centrifugal force and then I churned the cream until it turned into butter and threw some salt into it and you patted the water out of it and made pounds of butter and you know I never liked that butter and I always wanted bought butter because it was hard and it was white. Yeah the butter was creamy. Our butter was soft and and yellow so that was the difference. We never liked what our parents did as much as we could get from somewhere else. Kids are all like that. OK? And separated the cream, churned the butter, dug around the fruit trees, sprayed the trees, picked and packed the fruit in boxes and sent them off to market which were picked up by carrier.
My father had a large Clydesdale mare called Dina, well we called her Bloss and she had a collar that I could only just lift when I got to about eight or ten, about your age and I would catch the horse on these paddocks, this paddock the horse was on and would have to run and the horse didn’t want to be caught. It used to take a bit of running to catch the horse because they knew when they were caught they got the collar on and they would have to pull the plough so they knew there was work and I ploughed around the orchard and everywhere with a single furrow plough behind a big old draught horse, she knew what to do and so as boys, what a wonderful place this was to live, to grow up in.
The roads were gravel and rolled by a steamroller and Mr Waller was the steamroller driver who worked for the Council and I used to look at the steamroller and think, “That’s what I’m going to be when I grow. I’m going to be a steamroller driver. What a good job you know. Nice and warm in the winter and you just sit down and turn the handle and what a good job.”
It was a real steamroller. It didn’t have a motor on it. It had a steam engine.
Steam engine and a fly wheel, big old cogs that drove the wheels and a big roller that you turned with a chain. What a great old thing that was and the roads were so primitive. Tiri Tiri Road was a clay road with sugar works ash, Sugar Refinery ash spread on it to make it a bit better, big ditches down the side to take the water away and keep it dry and a line a pine trees to shelter it and nearly all the roads around, that’s why the pine trees were grown was to shelter the roads and keep them dry in the winter so you could use them otherwise they were muddy.
The sugar works ash. Salisbury Road was all sugar works ash when I went to school and we were always barefooted. There were no footpaths. Barefooted, going to school and you would kick up a lump of clinker, that’s a big lump of ash you know and it would fold your big toe right back you know. Bump a big lump of skin and ohh. There was no first aid at school. You were just at school with your toe bleeding.
We made all our own entertainment because you have got to realise there was no TV was there? We made ladders out of wattle trees, we made forts and bows and arrows and spears and we sat under the plum tree and ate them all until we burst we also ate grapes and gooseberries here and mum made whipped cream and cakes and entertained visitors for afternoon tea while we were in the kitchen licking the bowl and pinching the cakes and that was what our childhood was about. There were no fridges, there were no heaters apart from kerosene heaters, no electricity, no electric heaters, no airconditioners. The fridges came in 1940 during the Second World War. There was no TV until the 1950s.