Auckland 50 years ago - those were the days, writes David Hill.
1970 – half a century ago. I drove home along Auckland's North Shore to the Glenfield flat where my wife Beth and I were living until our first house was built.
Every day for the past month, we'd gone over our emergency plan, in case Beth needed to contact me suddenly. No cellphones then, of course, and the flat didn't have a landline. (I nearly put "of course" again.)
I wasn't thinking of phones as I got home. A southerly storm was flailing across Auckland and our old VW wasn't keen on starting in the rain. No, the flat didn't have a garage – of course.
I headed inside, saw Beth's face, heard, "Pains ... every 20 minutes now." We grabbed a bag and a book and sped towards North Shore Hospital. After six hours, which felt like six weeks, our son Pete slipped into the world. A few months after that, we shifted into our new house.
Let's take the house first. It was on a ridge in Browns Bay, a three-bedroomed brick and weatherboard cube that cost – ready? – $12,000 with section. You can decide how many zeros to add in 2020.
In 1970, it gave us a glimpse of the Hauraki Gulf and a genuine vista over a tree-filled valley with horses. Beth loved the horses. Me, too, until they swaggered through my makeshift fence into the vegetable garden and scoffed every cauliflower.
Across the road was another undeveloped valley. I picked blackberries, brought home pine cones. The footpath started 100m further up the hill. When it rained, the berms of North Shore clay became gluey mud. We wheeled Pete down to the Browns Bay shops on the road. It wasn't a problem; traffic ranged from light to almost non-existent.
On one side of us lived Ennis the radiologist in his new brick-and-tile. On the other lived fish factory-worker Cliff in his fibrolite bach. There were still a lot of baches along the road, and several had gaudy metal butterflies on their front porches. This apparently caused a few problems with visitors from Southeast Asia, for whom such objects denoted a house of ill-fame.
In 1970, Auckland's population was just over half a million. The city was small enough for the Takapuna Grammar School rugby team I coached to play against just about every other school, from furthest west (Massey) to furthest east (Tamaki).
Bristly-moustached little mayor Dove-Myer Robinson had great plans, however, including a light rail link between CBD and airport. Yes, you're allowed to shake your heads. The place was starting to boom - and the North Shore boomed loudest of all.
Traffic poured across the harbour bridge. The four extra lanes of the "Nippon Clip-Ons", added in 1968, acknowledged the dormitory town growing on the northern side. Traffic flows were already three times what had been forecast and the 20c per car toll didn't seem to deter anyone.
A house on Milford Beach sold for $1 million, the first in Auckland to fetch that breath-clutching sum. Every weekend for a month, the sand was thronged with people come to stare at such opulence.
Yet just a couple of kilometres away, paddocks with sheep or more cauliflower-pillaging horses began where the Northern Motorway stopped at Tristram Avenue. When the clutch packed up on our VW, I managed a push start and drove via shingle roads and orchards to a specialist mechanic in a little rural settlement called ... hang on ... Albany.
But stretches of scraped clay and black patterns of tar-seal were spreading as subdivisions sprouted. In Pete's first months, I could push his pram in almost any direction from our Glenfield flat and be sure of new concrete footpaths where he wouldn't be jolted awake.
Queen St still had shops, as opposed to souvenir outlets and designer boutiques. The arcade and escalators at 246 were the coolest place in town, though letters to The NZ Herald and evening daily The Auckland Star doubted that such new-fangled ideas would catch on.
Women wore hats to town. Men appeared in mid-thigh-length walk shorts, often worn with knee-length socks, collar-and-tie plus sports jacket. Nobody laughed – loudly. Flared jeans flared briefly. Miniskirts arrived, to gasps of appreciation, plus warnings of imminent hellfire for wearers.
We went to the Civic Theatre, where the Wurlitzer organ swung out at half-time, made the theatre shake, swung back again. We watched a seditious movie called M*A*S*H, and some jingoistic junk called Patton.
On TV, we had a choice between Channel 1 and Channel 1. A second channel, state-run like the first, black-and-white like the first, wouldn't arrive for another half-decade. We paid our licence fee of $15, which was a small bite out of my teacher's salary of $4000. (Other benchmarks: petrol was 10c per litre; postage stamps 5c each.)
On our B&W set, Bill Toft and Philip Sherry read the News at 7.30 pm and in vaguely BBC accents. We saw every episode of Coronation Street, where highlights included Elsie Tanner buying a new bath. We heard from TV and radio (including Radio Hauraki, which had finally got a licence after its pirate years) how someone had shot farmers Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa in Southern Waikato and we watched as the tortuous, unsettling trials of Arthur Allan Thomas began.
From our new Browns Bay house, I drove the 11km to Takapuna Grammar in 15 easy minutes, passing Austins, Hillmans, Fords, Holdens. More than 70 per cent of our cars were from the UK and Australia; Japanese imports were starting to arrive but, well, "Made In Japan" still had a stigma attached.
I taught my Lower 6th and Upper 6th (make that Years 12 and 13 in 2020-speak) short stories by Takapuna's Frank Sargeson and poems by Devonport's Rex Fairburn. Some parents worried that New Zealand authors weren't significant enough for exam classes.
I caned disobedient boys with whippy lengths of willow from the Blind Institute in Parnell and felt sick afterwards. Those boys' hair was getting spectacularly, splendidly longer but schools felt uneasy. Gender-separate assemblies were held, where male teachers measured whether boys' locks touched the collar and female teachers measured whether the hemlines of kneeling girls' gym-frocks touched the ground.
Winter rain crashed down on our new section and our freshly sown lawn slid over the back terraces. Kikuyu grass invaded and soon we had a lawn that doubled as a trampoline. Summer sun made the clay yawn open in thumb-wide cracks. Crickets chirped in them; Pete lost Fun Ho! toy trucks, (proudly manufactured in Inglewood, Taranaki) down them.
The Queen toured New Zealand. Governor-General Sir Arthur Porritt put on his braid, plumes, sash and sword to show her around. An incredibly young-looking Prince Charles watched sheep being drenched and managed to appear interested.
Another famous face visited that year; was welcomed by thousands at Auckland Airport; toured the country to rapturous applause from more thousands; was lauded for his wholesome family shows. Name? Rolf Harris.
The All Blacks toured South Africa. Some of their faces were brown – Sid Going, Buff Milner, brilliant 19-year-old Auckland winger Bryan Wiliams – but South Africa graciously classified them as "Honorary Whites" for the tour. We lost the series, of course: referees were still supplied by the host country in 1970.
Back home, we had four good years in Browns Bay. We drove down to the shops, where parking was easy and unmetered. We took Pete paddling on the beach, by the norfolk pines planted in the 1930s.
We watched teams of marching girls in their white boots and inventive hats as they practised in the car park. We fed the horses over our improved back fence, while I explained the laws of trespass to them. The area still felt like a village, but the subdivisions were pressing closer.
We didn't seem likely to have more kids, so all three of us headed overseas for our great OE (Overseas Experience, which Covid-19 is currently denying today's young).
I worked in a couple of public – as in private – schools. I taught the sons of Iranian diplomats; the front row of my rugby team there was Eftekhari, Zayanderoudi and Mohammed Sayed. In another school, I taught Her Majesty's nephew - and I know that my lesson on apostrophes made Viscount Linley the skilled furniture designer he is today.
All four of us (it must have been the change of climate) came back a couple of years later. Every tree had been scraped from the wooded valley behind our house. Raw clay and concrete covered slopes. Developers had called the place "Sherwood".
Norman Kirk was elected Prime Minister the year before we left and a massed "Yes!" seemed to go up from the whole nation. Now Muldoon was leader. The country felt divided and edgy.
In the UK, we'd lived in cities and villages. Auckland still didn't feel like one of the former and Browns Bay was no longer one of the latter. We moved to the provinces. Specifically, we moved to Inglewood in Taranaki, where my high school rugby team included Dombroski, Kuklinski, Wisnewski and Fabritski - and where Pete and little sister Helen were only 300m from the home of those Fun Ho! toys.