By A FORMER RESIDENT
I had not turned 3 years of age when trams ceased to operate in Whanganui. I have visual memories of them but more especially I remember the thundering sound they made as they passed our house.
That was the earliest childhood memory I have of the street on which I lived. It bridged an open stream by means of a culvert less than half a mile from the city centre and intersected Victoria Ave where, in the later part of the '50s, Boyd's Corner Bookshop, Ngan Kee Fruitier, Vodanovich's fish and chip shop and McGruer's Drapers traded.
The stream was Churtons Creek and the street was, of course, Guyton St.
Guyton St when my family moved there in the 1940s was not like it is now.
We lived on the west side of the street between Spriggens Park and Purnell St when that block was entirely residential. As a child I thought the area was nondescript — I may have been wrong.
Within a radius of half a mile from our home there was: a cemetery, a morgue, three significant industrial depots, three major sporting venues, at least four corner dairies, two industrial bakeries, a prison, a radiator repair garage, a railway community hall, horse racing stables, a plumbing firm, an Army depot, a fire station, a church, a bowser, a match factory, an icecream factory and a school I'll rather not mention.
Most of those establishments were on Guyton St and nearly all of them had residential properties adjacent to them.
Beyond a half mile perimeter lay the city centre (with its three picture theatres), Queens Park, the Town Wharf, a railway station and two other schools.
It was in the nature of things that, in the 50s, a young child could roam at will across such a semi-urban/industrial landscape, usually without mischief, but with a nascent appreciation of the adult world and a developing sense of being a part of a wider community.
At the age of 5 I was compelled to attend school. Such an imposition required a trek through the commercial sector of Guyton St that makes up part of the city centre. Every school day for six years I would have observed its early morning character. Still-life images remain in my memory: a stack of newspapers awaiting the bookshop proprietor's arrival, ripped open by early morning customers who would leave money on the remaining pile. Milk bottles by doorways. Bikes leaning on lamp posts. The Studebaker and Citroen habitually parked outside Linwood Motors. An early model Holden displayed in Linwood's show room window. St Monica's upon the hill. McGruer's window display and the glass skylights embedded in the footpath — a relic that still remains.
During the course of the day that sector was busy — it must have been, it had more than 60 businesses.
It had: a butcher, a baker, a bootmaker, an undertaker, a taylor, barbers, a pub, a motor agent, dentists, a chemist, a dairy, bookshops, a lolly shop, cafes, a milk bar, cycle agents, a chiropractor, a watchmaker, an electrical engineer, radio station, the list goes on.
It's worth noting the name of some of those establishments: The Grand Hotel; Garney Spooner and Son; Percy Colman; 2XA; McGruer's; Fleming, Dick and Hird; Hanton and Anderson; Linwood Motors; WB Alexander and Co; Jack Hodge; Vodanovich; Ngan Kee; Prichards and Chainey Bros.
Immediately beyond the city centre were the Catholic schools, Saint Monica's and Saint Augustine's, and the other Catholic institution, the Aubert Home of Compassion.
On my release from school, with no imperative to return home before dinner, whim and caprice would determine what route I took. Sometimes I would have reason for returning home via Guyton St. A few pennies in my pocket could buy some carefully selected lollies from Miss Duncan's Thistle Sweet Shop. Two shillings would buy a haircut and free access to Eagle, Tiger, Roy of the Rovers and The Phantom comics. Huddy's (probably Times Book Club) had a fantastic pile of comics which, more out of good nature than forbearance, he allowed me to read. There would be other reasons too for taking the Guyton St option which, at times, would take me past the Grand Hotel. It had the smell of beer, a horseshoe bar, some mid-afternoon regulars and a footpath portal on St Hill St that enabled the loading of beer barrels into the cellar below.
Across the road where now the council chambers are situated there were at least five residential properties. The house nearest to the St Hill St intersection became a motor radiator repair shop and featured a little man abreast the ridge of its cable roof endlessly pouring water into a radiator. Three houses were situated hard against the footpath that re-established some of the street's residential character, and on a small hill above them all was the house where Googie Payne and Velvette Chevannes lived.
Across the road Doug Haynes had a bowser incongruously situated next to Saint Paul's Church, and, further down the road, near Wilson St, with an appalling disregard for health and safety procedures, firemen regularly cleaned their machines and practised drill manoeuvres on the side of the road.
There were two grocers on the Wilson St intersection that were in competition with each other as well as with the dairy on the corner of Churton St. In those days regulations protected grocers from competition with garages, and supermarkets weren't a significant competitive factor. Being the main source of household supplies, the dairy owner became a central figure in the neighbourhood. Mrs Dickinson was one such owner. She operated the Churton St Dairy. Her son Colin was a champion cyclist who represented New Zealand at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952. Mrs McKenzie became a subsequent owner of that dairy. She was, I think, a solo parent. Her son Peter became a lawyer in Wellington and more latterly a racehorse trainer. One of his sons, Brett, is/was one half of The Flight of the Concords.
Three doors down from our home lived Arthur Holder, arguably one of New Zealand's greatest athletes and certainly one of Whanganui's finest sportsmen. He raced as a professional around the turn of the 20th century in contests that were a regular feature of the Caledonian Games which were prevalent in those times. Next door to us Peter Wolland was a telegraph boy with a passion for music. His practice sessions were loud and incessant — drumming along with Buddy Holly. He became a member of the Hi Fives, a Wellington band I think, that later became the Maori Hi Fives. They had stints on the Gold Coast and in Scandinavia, made some records and were part of the Los Angeles music scene. Peter later became a resident of Reno and was instrumental in Whanganui becoming a Sister City of Reno.
TO BE CONTINUED