Our People: Ynys Fraser

By Jill Nicholas

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99: Ynys Fraser has a love for life. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER
99: Ynys Fraser has a love for life. PHOTO/STEPHEN PARKER

Milestone birthday evokes memories of our leading lady's home for 97 "glorious" years

It's true, good things do come to those who wait.

When Our People began Ynys Fraser was the obvious choice to launch it; she declined.

In the more than seven years that have followed she's resolutely stuck to that stance, despite it being Ynys readers have most consistently pressed us to profile.

However her 99th birthday on Wednesday brought a mellowing.

The tipping point was our argument that she'd be doing the people and place she loves a disservice if her milestone went unrecorded.

Disservice is not a word in this gracious lady's vocabulary, to the contrary she holds a Queen's Service Medal for services to her community. When she turned 90 the list of organisation she's belonged to tallied 28.

Ynys was 2 when her Rotorua roots were planted; that's when her father, Dr Wilfred Stanley Wallis, was appointed medical superintendent of the newly-established King George V Military Hospital (today's Rotorua Hospital).

Growing up on 'Hospital Hill' the Rotorua of Ynys' youth was tiny, its summers dusty with pumice.

With a mere handful of shops on its northern side Arawa St was the CBD, houses didn't exist south of the railway station (now Rotorua Central), the Bath House was barely out of its infancy.

Treating battle-bruised soldiers was Dr Wallis' field of expertise honed at New Zealand's Convalescent Hospital in Hornchurch near London. A Kiwi married to a Kiwi, his daughter's a Londoner by birth.

"I arrived in a Zeppelin air raid, my first outing was being wheeled through Hyde Park."
She was 9 months old when the family sailed for home. "Apparently I entertained the troops." Her ability to entertain's never left her.

A sickly child, Ynys had private tuition until she was 7, the swampy lakefront with its swings, see-saw and push roundabout was her playground.

Once well enough to go to Rotorua Primary, she already had a well-established group of friends. "The Maori girls from Ohinemutu who walked over Hospital Hill to get to class became my playmates, the hospital grounds were a wonderful place for us."

Ynys only spent a week in the 'primers'. "I could read extremely well but had no idea about arithmetic, it was just squiggles on the board, I still struggle with it."

From the hospital her father moved into private practice in Hinemoa St. "We always had beautiful cars, Dad had one of the first low-slung cars in the country, a Standard Swallow, but it was useless for getting to Mamaku, he gave it to his nurse when she got married."

Ynys' secondary years began at Rotorua High School then boarding at Havelock North's Woodford House. "It was just starting again after the [Napier] earthquake, getting there took all day in a service car."

One trip proved too much for Ynys. "I wasn't feeling too good but managed to hold on until we got to Taupo, the minute we stopped I was sick all over this lovely man, it was Bishop [Fred] Bennett; he was wonderful to me, cleaned us both up, after that we always had a special closeness."

Elocution was an integral part of Ynys' upbringing. "I wanted to train more but there wasn't any training in New Zealand, Dad said if I could get into London's RADA [Royal Academy of Dramatic Art] he'd support me pound for pound of what I earned."

Chaperoned by her mother, she made the exacting grade but her entry coincided with the news her father was gravely ill. Ynys faced a crucial decision - should she remain or accompany her mother home?

It was no contest. "My parents needed me, we returned the quickest way possible, it took a month, boat to New York, train across the Rockies to Vancouver, another ship to New Zealand."

During her father's recovery in Mater Hospital Ynys worked in Auckland's reference library. "I loved that . . . went to garden parties at Government House, they were very pleasant."

When he returned to his practice Ynys became his assistant.

"We lived in Pukaki St, had two sections so it was spacious, Cecil Clinkard, the [United Party] MP, lived next door in a garage."

The Second World War brought a new crop of ill or wounded men, the Services' Convalescent Hospital was established with Dr Wallis its superintendent. The Frasers moved into its on-site flat.

"It was where the [QE Health] physio department is now, a lovely place with a lounge big enough for our grand piano."

Music and the stage continued to captivate Ynys. Playing the lead in a local production of The Second Mrs Tanquery she impressed a visiting English woman. "She came to congratulate my mother, came back with her brother."

That brother was Kenneth Fraser who'd established a farm, later to include a fishing lodge, at Hamurana Springs. They married.

Her association with the area continues; a walkway there carries her name. "I was very moved, it was such an honour."

Her Hamurana years are for another instalment of this remarkable woman's epic saga, what better reason for it to be continued?

Did 'our Ynys' ever think she'd reach such a wonderful age? "No, no, especially as I was such a frail child . . mine's been a glorious life, I just relish living."

■150 guests are toasting Ynys today at a QE Health party organised by its Friends Association of which she's patron.
*
YNYS FRASER (NEE WALLIS) QSM
Born: London, August 3, 1917.
Education: Rotorua Primary and High Schools, Woodford House.
Family: Two sons, two daughters, "many" grandchildren, "even more" great grandchildren.
Current interests: "Everything and everybody." Welsh (her name's Welsh), Historical and Music societies, theatre, spinning and weaving, patron Friends of QE Health, U3A armchair readers and poetry groups. Since turning 90 has edited and collated three books of fellow Rotorua residents' memories.
Her prescription for others to match her years: "I've no idea, but I do like taking deep breaths of pure, beautiful fresh air."
On Rotorua: "The integration of Maori and Pakeha is very special."
Personal philosophy: "Live life to its fullest."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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