Photo recall: Hard yakka and togetherness gathering spuds

By Poppy Wortman

Picker fondly recalls the back-bending days with her family harvesting Pukekohe

Photo: NZ Herald. Photo research: Emma Land.
Photo: NZ Herald. Photo research: Emma Land.

Uprooting spuds from the Pukekohe market gardens was a family affair for Teresa Kerr, bagging potatoes alongside her parents, eight sisters and three brothers for extra pocket change.

Kerr, pictured left, joined the ranks of the potato pickers with her twin sister at the age of 13, where she continued to work for most of her life.

"Back in those days our mum and dad didn't give us any pocket money," she says.

"It was the only way to get that extra bit of money, and a lot of the Maori families in Pukekohe did it."

Starting work in the early hours of the morning, the pickers worked until about 2pm, when men would come in to sew up the bags for selling.

"We probably picked about 100, 120 bags of spuds a day," Kerr says.

"You really worked for your money. You were bending your back down picking up potatoes all day.

"I tell you, those sacks of spuds are about 20kg, it was a workout. We were all skinny back then."

Eating lunch each day in the gardens, Kerr says the workers' hands would be dirty but the food would still taste good, along with flasks of tea and a roaring fire in the colder months.

The photo shows Kerr at the age of 22 with her 18-month-old son Brian, whom she took to work each day.

She is uprooting spuds with her sister, Mary Anne.

About a year ago, Kerr was telling Brian about their days spent in the fields.

"The contact between the workers and the bosses was like teamwork," she recalls, fondly.

"That was the best thing about it, the communication and the contact with the people you knew.

"I was the only one to take my son there. Those were the days, I tell you."

Brian now lives in Mt Wellington with his partner and two children, 11-month-old Garniay and 2-year-old Suede, who he says looks "exactly the same" as his young self in the photo.

- Herald on Sunday

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