Three balloons, presents delivered by the threes, and three cakes.

New Zealand's first ever recognised identical triplets have just turned 80.

Eldest triplet Mary Hortop says the her mother went into labour on the due date.

"First one arrived, and the second one, only three minutes, so she wasn't mucking around and hang on a minute [the doctor] says, I think there's another one, and of course Rose came."


Mrs Hortop says in those days there were no scans - so it was even a surprise for the doctor.

"They had no idea that she was even there, she must have been tucked away or something."

Overnight, the Anderson family, which lived on a farm in Kahuranaki out the back of Havelock North, went from six to nine.

"And it became a huge shock to the family," Mrs Hortop says.

The triplets' birth coincided with the coronation of King George the sixth, so they're known as the Coronation Triplets, the occasion also influencing their Christian names - Mary, Elizabeth and Rose.

And they were something of a spectacle.

"Mum in the end didn't take us to town because she just got mobbed she couldn't walk down the street without somebody stopping her."

Even the Queen has paid them a visit.

There was no family benefit in those days, but because identical triplets were unheard of they did receive a King's Bounty of three pounds.

However the real support came from the Hawke's Bay community.

"They had card afternoons to raise money, and knitted for us and supplied quite a lot of our clothing. We owe a lot to the kindness of Hawke's Bay people."

They were even donated a specially designed pram which carried the three of them at once.

Now the sisters are easy to tell apart - but their friend of 72 years admits she struggled when they were first introduced.

"Probably I couldn't tell them apart to begin with," Judy Bark says, "and I got used to who they were and they really were quite different and I could tell them a apart but a lot of people couldn't."

Mrs Hortop says people still don't know which sister is which.

"After all these years I got bailed up the other day and they said which are you and I just said, oh you take your pick."

The sisters have all married, Mary still lives in Havelock North, Elizabeth in Taradale and Rose on the Sunshine Coast.

They now live their individual lives, but at their party they couldn't have been closer.

A special visit from surprise guest, a bag piper, highlighted their shared Scottish heritage.

Another reminder of their rare and special family bond.

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