Photo Recall: North's 'worst cook' brings home bacon

By Jane Phare

Money was always tight in Te Hapua, but Ira Norman set up shop there with great success. Photo / Michael Tubberty. Photo Researcher / Emma Walter
Money was always tight in Te Hapua, but Ira Norman set up shop there with great success. Photo / Michael Tubberty. Photo Researcher / Emma Walter

Ira Norman has a confession. She reckons she's the worst cook north of Auckland. But that didn't stop the mother of six opening a little bakehouse, and fish and chip shop, on the beach at Te Hapua in the Far North 23 years ago.

Her friend, Miria Neho, helped out and, fortunately, was a great cook.

Widowed 30 years ago, Ira used to run the tiny post office at Te Hapua but, when that closed, she decided to open the Fish and Loaves Bakehouse from the same building.

After battling through the local council process, the shop finally opened in 1988. With money tight in the tiny seaside community, many thought Ira's business would struggle to break even.

But when Herald photographer Michael Tubberty and reporter Graham Scott called in a year later, in October 1989, the Fish and Loaves Bakehouse was thriving. Tubberty took a photo of Ira holding a pan of chips, surrounded by five local kids.

Back then the 40-odd women of Te Hapua would do a 200km round trip to Kaitaia to stock up on provisions. Locals reckoned the bus visibly rose on its springs once the women had offloaded up to 120 rubbish bags of supplies. But by the end of the fortnight, the cupboards were often bare.

Ira figured that a bakehouse offering fresh bread daily would do well, and summer visitors and boaties would bring in extra business. And indeed they did.

"So I made a whole pile of money and I enjoyed every bit of it. And I'm the only person who can't cook in the whole wide world."

But most of the money went back in the till. Ira took what she needed to live on and gave the rest back to the community, often hosting fundraisers for the local school.

As fast as Miria could bake bread, cream buns, pies, cakes and biscuits - not to mention the fish and chips - the food went out the door. They made Christmas cakes and sold them for $45 - an impressive amount in those days. "She was the one who was the fantastic cook," Ira says. "She was the one who dived for the paua."

Her paua burgers were legendary. Visitors would order a burger, go down to the wharf to eat it and come straight back to order another one. Ira, realising her limitations in the culinary department, organised provisions, served at the counter and washed up.

Miria, now 68, still lives in Te Hapua. She said she learned to cook by watching her mother-in-law but doesn't bake much nowadays.

Ira, whose great grandfather was Te Aho Te Rangi Wharepu, the Maori warrior pictured wearing a bowler hat in the famous painting by Charles Goldie, now lives in Poroti, near Whangarei. The 79-year-old has 28 great grandchildren and 32 grandchildren from her six children. She still goes back to Te Hapua to visit her husband's grave.

- Herald on Sunday

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