A Journey

My story is about a journey our family made every year, a few days before Christmas. We journeyed from Wellington to Springston, mum's old home - a farm 20 miles from Christchurch.

The preparations began in May or June. After lengthy discussions with Dad, and checking the dates on the calendar Mum would write to the Union Steamship Co, no later than June, requesting our berths for the journey.

Mum would become tenser with worrying about preparations, as the departure date grew closer. One week before we left all Christmas presents would have been bought and carefully wrapped, and what was allowed into the suitcases would have been decided.

On baking day at least three batches of un-iced biscuits would be carefully placed and sealed in airtight tins ready for our return. Of course the house and garden would have received plenty of attention as everything was left spotless and weed-free.

The day we were leaving had to be fine and sunny, so Mum could do the washing. She would be up at daybreak lighting the copper. All the beds were stripped and everything she could find was plunged into the hot soapy water and scrubbed and boiled. My sister and I always had to wear something very old until it was time to change. After the washing came the vacuuming. Sometimes I was allowed to do a little, but mostly I had to run to the shops for things that had been forgotten.

By mid-morning mum would start to pack. She packed for everyone. I was sixteen and had left school before I had my own suitcase and could do my own packing. There was a large bulging shopping bag that contained Christmas presents, the Christmas cake and biscuits.

Dad would arrive home from work about three PM looking anxious--- but by then everything would be finished and we often sat down and couldn't find anything left to do...The paper and milk delivery and mail would have been cancelled and the cats meat and money for food would have been delivered.

Dinner had to be sharp on 5pm as the taxi came at 6.30. I was always in trouble for eating too slowly and threatened with being left behind.

I enjoyed the taxi-ride through the back streets of Wellington and past the wharves. I would peer through the wharf gates and try to catch a glimpse of the ships that were tied up.

We were amongst the first passengers to board the ship. I can remember travelling on the Tamahine, the Rangatira, the old Wahine and the Hinemoa. After showing our tickets and clambering up the gangway a steward in a white coat would grasp a suitcase and show us to our cabins. We hurried down staircases and along corridors. I tried to remember every turn so I wouldn't get lost if we were allowed to explore the ship. Dad was never in the cabin with us--Men and women were separated if there were children, but he would be near-by.

We were allowed to go on deck until the ship left the wharf at 8pm and we heard the throb of the engines. Then we went to the dining room for supper - always the first sitting. There we drank hot hot tea out of thick white cups that rested on thick white saucers. The tables were solid and heavy and the chairs could be chained to the floor. On the tables, which had stiff white tablecloths, there were always dry cracker biscuits and real cheese not the Chesdale we had at home. Once Dad gave a steward a tip, which I thought was rather wicked, and he came back with some animal biscuits. I thought they were wonderful as I always had biscuits baked at home. If we were lucky we had a seat with a view and as we sailed down the harbour we could wave to our house.

After supper it was straight to bed. First we would find the Ladies. The doors were stiff and heavy. To get water you had to push the taps down hard and out it gushed. Then back to the cabin. The oldest had the top-bunk. The bunks were flat and hard but comfortable. The bedding was folded neatly on top. I felt like a letter going into an envelope as I crawled in. We never wore our pyjamas in case something happened and we had to leave quickly. We took off the top layer of clothing and left it within easy reach.

No one in our family was ever seasick. I loved to feel the motion of the ship and tried to breathe with it - breathing in when the ship went up and out when it went down. There was a security in listening to the noise of the engines'.

Soon it would be morning. A stewardess would wake us at about 5am with a cuppa and a biscuit. My sister and I would dress quickly and find Dad. At last we were allowed on deck. How good the fresh salt air was. How good it was to watch the spray and the deep green of the water. Sometimes we saw porpoises leaping.

As soon as we could see Lyttelton Heads we had to rush back to our cabin and quickly put together our luggage. We had to be the first to leave the ship. A train from Christchurch met the boat. It would be waiting on the wharf along side, but that was not for us. The boat train was non-stop to Christchurch and we only wanted to go to Woolston, where my grandfather was stationmaster.

Clutching our baggage we would head for the big heavy doors where the gangway would be attached. It was stifling waiting for the doors to open. We had to wear our winter coats and thick cardigans underneath to save carrying them. It was bliss to breathe fresh air when at last the doors were opened. We had to hurry down the gangway and along the wharf scrambling over railway tracks and at last climb onto the platform at Lyttelton Station.

The train journey was one I always looked forward to. I loved the rhythm of the trainís wheels - clickety-clack clickety-clack. Tunes would rush through my head in time to the wheels. At Woolston granny would meet us with her car. The luggage was carefully stowed and driven, but we were glad to walk, slowly this time.

During the day relations who lived nearby would come to grannies house. The women would try to catch up on a yearís gossip and we would play with our cousins.

In the afternoon we caught a bus from the city to Springston. There was only one bus a day. I would watch the power poles and gorse hedges flash by, and try to work out which group of trees, poplars and gum-trees far in the distance could be the ones at the farm.

The bus stopped frequently and anywhere that was requested and often delivered parcels etc At last we could see grandad's big old car waiting. This time there was room for all of the luggage and us. The last stage of our journey was the short drive up the dusty metal road to the farmhouse.

The journey had ended 24 hours after leaving Wellington. But I felt that my holiday had not started until I got to the cowshed, climbed onto the fence and renewed my acquaintance with the cows....whispering their names softly....


Judy Utting.
December 1995