A place in my heart

You are old now, 120 years or so, but you are still beautiful.  No trip to Auckland is complete without walking slowly by, admiring you lovingly from the street, daring to put a hand on the white picket fence, and remembering …

 Ellerslie Oct 12

At a busy Auckland intersection called The Harp of Erin (although the pub which gave it its name is long gone), Main Highway swoops down towards the suburb of Ellerslie. In the 1920s my maternal grandparents moved to a lovely old house at 100 Main Highway, just past the Catholic Church: this is where I was born in 1952, and where my first memories originate. I wasn’t actually born there, but rather nearby in Cornwall Hospital. However my mother was the seventh and last of my grandparents’ daughters  and she was born in the house in Ellerslie, as were two of her older sisters and their only brother, Jim, the baby of the family. When my grandparents moved to Auckland from Tauranga, travelling overnight on the Ngapuhi, they already had four daughters: when Jim was born in 1928 Nellie, the oldest of the seven sisters, was 17 years old. So by the time I arrived in the next generation, the house was already well-loved by our family.

 img 031 All together for the last time  12 3 1939 033

My grandmother, centre, with her seven daughters and only son. My mother is far right, aged 13. The photo was taken in the garden in Ellerslie in 1939. It was one of the last times they were all together as Nellie, Winifred and Fay would soon move to new homes ‘overseas’. All the dresses that the girls are wearing in this photo were made by Laura, the second oldest sister, fourth from the right in the photo.

From my childhood I remember spacious rooms with gorgeous floral wallpaper, cosy fireplaces and warm, dark, wooden furniture. A magnificent well-worn kitchen table: a place for eating and ironing and cutting out dress patterns, for writing and playing and for setting the world to rights. Around this table I imagine my aunts’ and my mother’s suitors were vetted, and my uncles – and eventually my father – were judged suitable.

100B1428 

The little path from the front gate leads to a verandah with delicate fretwork around the eaves.

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I remember very clearly waiting happily, hopping with excitement, on the verandah with my grandmother holding my hand: my parents were bringing my new-born brother home. It was January 1955. Sometimes people say I was far too young to remember that, but I’m convinced that I do: my grandmother’s joy was easily transmitted to me.

In due course Lance and I would play our games up and down the wonderful central corridor, clattering around on the back verandah and bounding down the steps into the back garden. A back garden for a carefree childhood: a vege patch, flowerbeds and an enormous plum tree to clamber about in.

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Although showing signs of age, the plum tree is still blossoming and bearing fruit.

Over the back fence trains rattling north and south. There were two outhouses – the original toilet, although by then we had an indoor one as well, and the wash-house complete with its massive copper: this was an antiquated laundry arrangement which as a child I regarded with awe, little appreciating my grandmother’s drudgery of having had to light a fire under it and keep it stoked while doing the washing for a family of 10.

img Hilda 10 10 1942

My mother, aged 16, at the laundry in the back garden, October 1942

Best of all Lance and I had our Auckland cousins to share all this with – when they came to visit we would all snuggle up with our grandmother on the back steps and someone’s Brownie Box would capture our grinning faces: not that it was easy to get us all looking the same way at once – as any handful of photos of the same moments will show.

img 031 someone's birthday 1955 or 56034

6 Auckland cousins and our grandmother, on the back steps at Ellerslie, 1955. That’s me centre left and Lance is the baby. 

 Not long after I started school we moved away from Ellerslie. Until my grandmother sold the house, going back to sleep over with her was a treat for my brother and me.

While all around modern constructions have convulsed 100 Main Highway’s setting, the house remains unscathed: the picket fence and the gate, the front verandah and sash windows are just the same.  It’s a majestic house, still well cared for. Last year it was for sale and I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time inside and in the garden for the first time in over 50 years.

Ellerslie back 12

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4 thoughts on “A place in my heart

  1. Pam

    What a lovely story, and wonderful that the old house is still there. It’s a reminder of the importance of old photographs. I resolve to search out and cherish what is left of my family albums.

    Reply
  2. ventimigliaaltawords Post author

    Yes, Pam, you’re right – when I look at all the modern buildings around 100 Main Highway it amazes me that the house has survived. A few years ago I organised an event with my cousins to celebrate our Dromgool grandparents’ 100th wedding anniversary. This included the self-publication of a family tree and history so it the perfect opportunity for me to sort out the photos as well.

    Reply
    1. Peter Malone

      Hi Ventimigliaaltawords.
      I just came upon your site by accident, whilst looking for images of Ellerslie.
      I used to live 3 doors up from you at 94 Main Highway. My grandfather and father were the local plumbers: W. Malone & Son. (Dad was the “& Son”). I’m pretty sure they have both worked on your old house over the years, though exactly what work I’m not sure. My grandfather passed away in 1976 and Dad in 1990. I did my Plumbing Apprenticeship with Dad, but have never worked on your house.
      When I lived in Ellerslie (1966-1995), your family home was owned (for as long as I can remember) by a family called Ezernick (I hope I’ve spelt that correctly; sincere apologies for any mistakes). I’m not sure if they were there when I was born, but they owned the house for many years. I’ve only been briefly in the house once or twice when I was a lad, but I have personally painted that wonderful old picket fence by myself; that was in about 1977-78, when Mr. Ezernick asked if I wanted some spare work for the Xmas holidays. Have to admit at the time I didn’t think the fence was so wonderful, as it had to be scrubbed done to remove mold etc, then painted with two coats of white emulsion. I ended up with the most painful sunburn! Still, I got paid $90.00 for four or five days work, which was a lot for a 11-12 year old back then.
      As a memento of those days (and the sunburn) I brought myself a new Parker pen from the old O’Kiwi stationers up in Greenlane; you might remember it opposite the old St. John’s Ambulance station and across Woodbine Avenue from the “Four Square” grocers. I still have that pen.
      Have to say, I showed my wife photos of the front of your old house some years back (she’s not from NZ) and she was delighted by the design and attention to detail, such as the finials and fretwork. I’ve long admired the house and think it’s one of the most attractive examples of its kind in Auckland. And I know what you mean about the old coppers for laundry; my grandmother had the same thing in the old wash-house at their home in Sultan Street, Ellerslie just off Kalmia Street. We don’t know how lucky we are today…!
      All the best and thanks for stirring up some fond old memories of Ellerslie and my own childhood.
      Peter.

      Reply

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