Alvin Smith

This is a set of notes taken on a laptop while Alvin was talking. ``I'' generally refers to the transcriber, Nathan Torkington. Similarly, ``Grandpa'' is Ted Torkington and other relatives are from the perspective of the transcriber. Relatives in quotations, of course, are from the perspective of Alvin. Sorry for the confusion. These notes were taken in February or March, 1998.

The stakes in the bay were put in by Ernie and Ted [Alvin conjecture]. Out from them lies a deep channel, called ``the moorings'' in those days. All you had to do was to take a dinghy out to the moorings and throw a line over and catch three or four snapper in 15 minutes. When Dad was a kid, you would fish from the moorings.

Alvin can remember Uncle Harold describing going out fishing (location unknown, somewhere between here and Takatu) and throwing out the lines, and before the sinkers had hit the bottom, the line would go live with snapper and they'd pull it up again. ``It was just as though Davey Jones was down there with a basket, hooking them fish on as fast as you could lower a line down.'' 50-100 snapper, just like that!

Alvin can remember Ernie on the Foam off the Sandspit, catching crayfish. One lark with the dead crayfish (could only sell live ones) was to put it in a box, smash up the shells ending up with a slurry of putrescent crayfish and broken shells. What Ernie did was empty this at dead low water by the Beacon when the current was stationary and put a net around the slurry. Alvin was there! The net was just as though you were pulling in a hundred ton boat in the net. It was almost impossible to land this net. And then, when we got it on the beach! Every meter of the net had 40 or 50 snapper. And all the beach for about 50 meters was alive with all the snapper, the kids jumping up and down and screaming because suddenly they had a thousand snapper about a foot in length for dinner. It doesn't happen like that this days. ``Of course, I only saw it once,'' Alvin says. That would have been around 1940 or 1950.

Thompsons own the bit of land leading down to the bay just past the oyster rocks. Joe was forced to sell it when Arthur got into financial trouble, unable to continue the payments on a garage he'd rented in Auckland. It must have broke his heart to sell it. Arthur, being the eldest son, would have been attempting to make his way. It was around the Depression, so it was a bad time to be starting anything. No money was coming from the farm (Sandy had to abandon his farm at Goat Island for the same reason, possibly as a mortgage reclaimation). At an earlier Depression in the 1880s, the Smiths had to leave Ti Point (what is now Ansell's. They had 40 acres then, including Bullock's. Neeleys had it after the Smiths, who built Bullock's house). That house was one reason for Ian Neil-Smith from Sydney to come across.

Grandpa can remember dragging his feet, walking up what I remember as Voyce's paddock, going as slow to school as he could. His father (Joe) came up behind him. Grandpa pretended not to see him, which as he said ``was a mistake.'' He got clouted. As Grandma says, ``got clouted if you didn't go to school, and clouted if you did.''

Out back of #1 ? (the bottom, close to ``Ti Cottage'' which was built by Joe for visitors) Laika Ave, is the ``bottom well.'' This was in a shady area, away from cattle and humans, beautifully maintained with a wooden platform and lid (to stop insects and leaves from trees above from falling in) so people's feet didn't get the ground muddy and a wooden cover to keep the insects out. The best cold crystal clear water used to come from there. It was about 40 meters from the house, and you can still see the site in a declivity formed by monstrous Ti Point rocks. It was never used until it went without raining and then kids (including Smiths and Mathesons) would be sent to lift it up.

The tanks in those days would only hold a couple of hundred gallons, and so it was only a matter of days without rain before it would be empty and the kids would have to go and fetch water up the hill from the bottom well. Grandpa and Alvin can remember processions of little kids with buckets.

Joe's house and land was sold to a bloke called Dunlop after Minnie died suddenly of a heart attack (Alvin might have been working in Napier at the time, because he didn't hear of it until after the funeral). The estate, books and furniture ``cleaned out'' (burnt, no doubt) by Auntie Kath, was sold and money divided between remaining children. So Dunlop had it, installed electricity in it by some dubious local electrician, and one night the lights flickered and by the next morning it had burnt down.

Alvin is unsure how long went between Minnie's death and the sale of the house, Ernie might have been living there. Ernie and Pearl and Ted and Dorothy were both living there at the same time as Minnie. But in the end, Ted and Dorothy moved out in disgust. An impossible situation with kids and cats and chooks in a house built for three or four people. It may be that Ernie and Pearl stayed on for a month or two or twelve. [Ask Ted]

Alvin's mother, Alma, selected the bach's site because of its view. This was while Minnie was still alive. The kids (Ted through Alma) were hassling Minnie for places to build houses on the farm of which there was roughly 100 acres left. There were numerous proposals, one of which was to divide the farm into seven. Then everyone started bickering about who had the best or worst seventh. Then, in desperation, the wit of man and women came up with a scheme of having a place where you could build a bach. They decided to do the road frontage from Ted's place down to the bottom well and divide it into sections for the family. Then someone said ``why divide it into seven? Why not divide it into 14 half-acre sections'' the unspoken plan being to dispose of the remaining seven half-acre sections. The reserve was compulsory.

And then was the question ``who gets what?'' And so, of course, someone said ``well I'll have this one'' and the others said ``you have the best one!'' Being Torkingtons, they drew lots. The longest straw had pick of two sections. Alma drew the longest straw so she picked those two sections (the other was the one where Dave Fisher's house now is). So when Alma and Vic died, Westmere and the bach were under two titles. There was a long discussion between Kevin, Alvin and Vernon on how the estate was to be divided. Alvin was quite unemployed, having looked after his parents for thirty years, and ``if I'd lost the Westend Road house, I'd have been in the shit''. Kevin and Vernon already had a house each. The house being the most valuable (by far) of the three titles. Alvin got Westend Road, Kevin got the bach, and Vern got the empty section which he almost immediately sold.

There's a picture showing how grand the view was, from Takatu to Johnny's Point?. The photo has Alvin's father's car in it. Alvin helped Vic build the bach. Alvin put the tin roof on (it had tarred paper). The tin was never painted and is rusting away now. Alvin built the sleepout (``much to my shame''). Alma said ``build a tool shed'', so he did. Then ten years later she said ``make it so people can sleep in it'' which was an act. It's made of untreated pine, so has a very short finite life.

Ted says that Bill, before he left England, had 17 houses (with tenants). He was quite a well-respected builder, we think. Then his kids died and finally his wife, so he threw up his hands and left. He would have been quiet an asset in NZ, knowing not just building but also how to manage other builders. He'd been around quite a bit (the US, for instance), but for some reason he chose NZ. His brothers and sisters left too, some going to the US. The person he left to mind them, however, took the money and let it all go. Another Torkington brother apparently bought land up at Dome Valley. Arthur and Lizzie, who left for South Africa, still retained the farm on Ti Point, a block of land that was one of three Bill bought for his sons.

John Smith was Alvin's grandfather. He had Ben, Gorry (short for Gordon), Vic, Mattie, Norman, Neil, Roy, Gertie and Clyde. John Smith's father, Benjamin Ben, was ``a character''. He had a pub in Papakura and fought in the Maori Wars. There are books on the Smiths, and Alvin has one in manuscript written by a cousin of his. John was just a nipper at the time of it. Benjamin came over from England in 1841, had land in the bottom of Albert Street, and stayed in New Zealand. Went to California during the Gold Rush, returned and started a pub. Got embroiled in the Maori Wars. Was always doing things and changing things, like changing jobs and getting hairbrained schemes, spending fortunes and sometimes collecting payoffs.

Christina Matheson was sent down to Papakura to help with the Finnisons (``those Fucking Finnisons'') where she met John and they married. [could have been McKenzies. Part of the clan anyway.] They came back and settled on Ansell's. It was probably John who took the photograph of the Matheson homestead in Matheson's Bay.

Alvin remembers John's kids, who had a particular way of speaking. There was a family resonance to the voice which quite surprised him. One of Alvin's Smith cousins, called Roderick (son of Roy), was at varsity when Alvin arrived as a student (Alvin 20, Roderick about 23?). One of his mistresses was a great flamboyant tall (6ft) woman who had a hat with a brim about 4 feet in diameter who made no effort to disguise the fact that she was a Queen Bee. Alvin approached his cousin and got no great encouragement to continue. Alvin went to a debate which Roddy was involved in. Alvin can remember Roddy getting on the stage and giving his spiel and as he stood and avoided looking at any one of the audience, he was exactly like Victor even down to the timbre in the voice. We don't know where they got the voice from, possibly the Matheson mother, but it was absolutely recognisable and when they spoke everyone in the room heard them.

Mathesons were shy people, but quite cruel in conversation. It was part of the entertainment to see how you can tear strips off the other people. For instance, Alvin can remember brother Kevin doing something proudly (jumping over a bucket, reciting his 6 times table). The family were all applauding saying ``well done''. Alvin turned and said sarcastically ``yes, Smith's the name''. No achievement was too small to escape presenting an opportunity for ridicule.

Last modified by Nat