The second in a series, looking back over the lives of some of our longest living residents. This issue we feature Barbara Murray (80), who lived in Trinidad & Tobago with her young family in the 1960s.
INTERVIEW ANNA KILLICK PHOTOS TEZ MERCER
WHEN AND WHERE WERE YOU RAISED?
I came to Tauranga in 1936 at just a few weeks old. My parents, the Wards, took me to live with them at four months old and I was formally adopted when I was 15. My earliest memory is being told my favourite story about how I became part of the family.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE GROWING UP IN THE BAY OF PLENTY?
The war began just before I was four. Each household got two ounces of butter per person per week. My mother would also have to do any baking or cooking out of that ration. At one stage we had a boarder who, before each bite of toast would spread a generous amount of butter on the bite mark where she was about to eat. My mother got very annoyed. Her other trick was to say, “Does anyone want this last potato?” Everyone was too polite to take it so she got more than the rest of us until we eventually started saying yes.
We were fortunate to have a cow. Every morning I’d help Mum with the milking by stroking the cow’s forehead. One of our cats always came too so she could drink milk, squirted directly from the cow’s teat into her mouth. Our cow also allowed us extra butter and cream which would be used for sponges and baking at war-effort fundraisers.
We didn’t have a fridge until I was ten so we stored the fresh meat, milk and bread that we got every day in a safe built into the corner of the kitchen which had mesh on the top and bottom to allow airflow. Staples were delivered every Thursday and the grocer would put a small bag of sweets in the box. My mother let me choose one. I always chose a green and white striped jube.
Every Sunday morning we would gather around the wireless to listen to the war casualties announcement. I had two sisters and two brothers in the armed forces and we had a long and anxious wait until they got to the ‘W’s. Often during the reading of the names, my mother would take her handkerchief out of her apron pocket to dab at her eyes. Sometimes she went to the telephone to ring someone in town to give her condolences.
There was a genuine concern that the Japanese would invade New Zealand and land along the Bay of Plenty coast so tank traps were built and and stayed there for years. Dad built an air raid shelter underneath the grapefruit tree and we knew the sound of every different plane that flew overhead, so we were aware that we were at war.
WHERE DID YOU SETTLE AFTER CHILDHOOD?
I lived at home until I married Ian in 1955. We had two children, a boy and a girl. Ian was an accountant and we did an OE in the tiny country of Trinidad and Tobago in the Lesser Antilles. We loved it!
About half the island were Catholic and half were Muslim. Each year there was a carnival. On Trinidad this was a non-stop festival of singing and dancing for the 36 hours immediately before Lent. No one slept during that time – the whole island was partying; steel-band music and Calypso singers were heard everywhere. But at midnight on Shrove Tuesday, the clamour stopped. The pans, which are like flat steel drums, were silenced and not played again until Easter Sunday. A whole nation abstained from pleasure for the 40 day period.
As ex-pats we were expected to provide employment for the local people. We had a maid, a gardener and an ironer. All waste water from the kitchen and showers flowed through drains across the garden and into an outside, open road drain. I would ask the gardener to put disinfectant into the drains flowing through our garden, much to the amusement of the locals.
I joined a committee to raise funds for an orphanage and ran the canteen for the clinic for people who had TB or an STD. We used to get a big tin of what was labelled ‘broken biscuits’ and serve those along with coffee and condensed milk.
We returned to the Bay of Plenty after five years, coming home once on long leave. I love watching ‘Death in Paradise’ because it reminds me so much of our own experiences.
In that time, I have been a children’s magazine publisher, a journalist, a celebrant, chaplain and lay preacher. I have headed up several local committees and am still busy with church things.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR LIFE CONTINUING IN THE BAY?
I like ‘doing’ but I am getting a little bit more sensible. I realise now that older bodies need regular meals and regular sleep but I still belong to several organisations. I recently watched a programme about Joan River’s death. They said that if she hadn’t died as she did, she would never have stopped. Maybe I’m a bit like that?