Reading the True Tales of Onerahi piqued the interest of our editor Jodi Bryant and one contributor's memories, in particular, stood out. Suspecting she now lives on part of what was once his family farm, she tracked the now 90-year-old down and was delighted to discover him living nearby - fit, agile and with a memory still sharp as a tack.

Ian Hodgson has worked Whangarei land most of his life, beginning with his before and after school chores – and antics - on the Onerahi family farm.

The school boy milked cows by hand before heading to Onerahi Primary, then situated where the airport currently is. After school he returned to milk again and later helped with the family milk run.

"Onerahi at that time was starting to increase and had a population of about 350," Ian recalls from his homely Onerahi lounge shared with wife Muriel. "My brother Bert started the milk run in 1928 and pulled a cart with two layers of milk bottles until a van was purchased in 1937. We called 'Milko, Milko', as we delivered milk to the doors."


It was a family affair; Brother Harry carried out his milk delivery around Beach Rd by bike with up to 15 bottles in two bags strapped to the frame, while their sisters washed and sterilised the bottles.

Roads were metaled with the completion of the airport and power was supplied around that time, making life easier.

Their father, who had previously farmed in Cumberland, where stone walls were extensively used, built a stone wall on the property. Ian and his siblings would harness their horse, who would pull the sledge, and cart rocks to his father to build this wall. Part of the wall remains today at the now Dragonfly Springs wetlands.

But it wasn't all work – on Sunday afternoon there was often time to have fun and Ian twinkles mischievously as he recalls:

"I would dig up a fairly wet clap of cow manure and my sister would wrap it in about six layers of paper - and gently leave it lying in the middle of Church St.

"This was in the mid-1930s and it was mostly business people with their new cars usually loaded with friends or family sight-seeing and going down to the beach. A large hedge along the footpath gave us good coverage so it was the first car that came along, stopped to investigate what was in this lovely looking parcel. It was irresistible and, we were watching with great excitement as the driver retrieved and slowly undid the layers of wrappings.

"Toward the last wrapper, the paper would start to get a bit soft until, finally the truth was revealed usually with fingers poking into the valuable contents. An almighty 'Shit!' was spoken and, out the window, the lovely parcel was despatched. Amid peals of laughter from the back seat, the humiliated driver took off in a cloud of dust.

"We had a lot of fun over that – you had to make your fun in those days," finishes Ian, chuckling at the memory.

The 1939 war caused disruption for everyone. "Labour was in short supply and, with my brothers and father away, it was difficult for us to continue supplying milk so my sister Rene left high school and, at 15, got her driver's licence and kept up the milk supply during this period."

With the arrival of the New Zealand air force personal in 1942, Onerahi became a hive of activity.

"Hangars were constructed around the school. Hawker Hind light bombers patrolled the northern coastline daily and Rat Island was used as bombings practise, trainee pilots in Tiger Moths flew up from Ardmore about once a week before going overseas, it was thrilling watching them looping, rolling over and diving during their training sessions. But schooling was difficult for those three years of occupation, mainly because of the distraction caused by the take-offs and landings."

Ian recalls the war rationing, with petrol the biggest problem for those who used cars for work.

"Four gallons per month didn't go far and, as a result, car usage was greatly reduced. And some cars converted to gas producers. However, with greatly reduced power, people had to reverse up hills to gain enough power."

Ian's mother died suddenly during the war so he left school to run the farm with his sister and continue the milk run until his older brother returned and took over the farm.

"The eldest got the farm in those days so in 1947 I went to Taranaki and farmed."

It was there he met Muriel and the newlyweds, who celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary this weekend, returned to the north in 1954 to take over the other family farm at One Tree Point, which Ian's father had originally purchased in the 1920s. Due to transport difficulties, his mother had refused to live in such an isolated place so the farm was leased and the Onerahi farm purchased.

Instead, Ian and Muriel raised their four children on this One Tree Point farm and they later purchased the land next door, running a dairy and beef unit. In 1981, they sold the farm, building a waterfront home at One Tree Point with Ian taking on the role as caretaker at One Tree Point School. He worked this land for 23 years before retiring aged 76.

"I thought I'd better get out of the school before they kicked me out," he laughs. "If you meet the kids today, you don't always recognise them but they always recognise you!"

The couple travelled extensively to 73 countries before coming full circle and settling back in Onerahi.

"It's where I was born and it's quite a nice little suburb. We were going for a drive and quite liked this little cul-de-sac and we saw a lady walking into a house and pulled over and asked her if there was any chance anyone in the area was selling.

"She said she didn't live there but was visiting a friend who did. She went inside and came back out and said the lady inside could be interested. She invited us in and we had a look around, made an offer and here we are."

But the down-size hasn't deterred an active Ian. He still works his patch, mowing the lawns and tending to his vege garden. And his care-taking days have followed him; sometimes carrying out the odd repair job for nearby widows.

And, of course, being a veteran of the area, he knows the history of his new location.

"This used to be the Fisher's farm," he tells. "In fact, the original cow shed was right here where our house is. They used to make hay for our family. That was the story in those days - we all helped each other out."

Meanwhile, after selling the milk run, brother Bert had established an orchard on the original Onerahi farm until it was eventually sub-divided.

"Our family was fortunate to live on the farm where there was always something to do. We always had enough to eat. Onerahi was a good place to spend my first 17 years and now that I am back in Onerahi after 70 years, it is a privilege to be able to spend my remaining years here with Muriel. It's a very attractive area on our beautiful Whangarei Harbour."