Barbara Drumm (nee Harrop) now lives barely 100m from the wonderful family home that gave her such a great start in life. She shares some memories of growing up in Mt Albert during the 1940s and 50s.
I WAS born in 1942 in Mt Albert, when it was a very different place from what it is today.
The houses occupied big sections of land and there were plenty of properties like this. I grew up on a very significant piece of land in Kitenui Ave that stretched all the way through to Alberton Ave, opposite Mt Albert Grammar School.
It was more than three acres and the Grammar School farmer, Mr Tilley, used our property to graze his animals on from time to time. We also had a famous racehorse by the name of “Ivy Vilonix”, which was owned by a Mr May, grazing on it.
Mr Tilley was a local identity who regularly drove a draughthorse and cart to deliver milk to the Grammar School boarding house, which was across the other side of New North Rd. The boarding house was eventually demolished and that land is now known as Alice Wylie Reserve.
Great community feel
Along with my three sisters and two brothers I was educated at Marist Convent School at the bottom of Kitenui Ave. It still continues to operate from the same site today.
The neighbourhood had a great community feel about it, and we all supported one another as and when required.
There was one activity that did make us less than popular. One of our neighbours bred chickens and kept them in carefully identified cages. We regularly sneaked in and let the chickens out, so that they all became mixed up!
Apart from the school farm animals we had our own collection of pets including turkeys, chooks, dogs and Neddy, the donkey (he used to escape on the odd occasion).
With our large property we were lucky enough to have a grass tennis court which was very popular. One unpleasant side effect of it was that our house sustained many broken windows, but at least my Mum knew where we all were!
We made our own fun and another activity that occurred was firing “shanghais”, while sitting on our front gatepost. The targets were bottles that we had carefully lined up on the neighbour’s wall directly across the street. We certainly never cleaned up the broken glass afterward!
Our land was big enough to have a rugby field on it. My Dad, along with the local priest, Father Outtrim, organised tournaments on Saturday mornings. They coached the two opposing teams, who were called “Lions” and “Tigers”. At the end of the season we had a prize-giving function with goodies provided by my Mum. This has never been forgotten.
For 14 or 15 girls our Kitenui Ave property had a huge benefit. The school house boys walked along Bennett St to and from school, mornings, lunchtimes and afternoons. My girlfriends and I would sit on a branch up our big puriri tree, which was near the front fence.
As the boys went past we endeavoured to flick their caps off with long sticks, to attract their attention. As school ball time approached that activity increased, hoping we would be asked to that function. Also a tennis ball over the fence at the appropriate time attracted the right glance.
One of those school house boys is now the father-in-law of one of my sons..I am not sure how I helped with that outcome.
We did not own bikes but my Mum would hire them for the school holidays to keep us active. Down and around Oakfield Ave became the local racetrack.
One time my brothers came home without the bike seats on, as they had been removed by the local policeman. The boys were riding on the footpath illegally, even though they were following Mum’s strict instructions to do so. That caused bit of drama, but my Dad sorted it out with the local senior traffic officer, Mr Ferguson. After that we never had bikes again.
In the early forties two teenage boys, Peter and Robin Towns, who were English evacuees from the war, came to live with us. I was very young at the time and have limited recollection of these lively lads.
My father, who was a first day pupil at Mt Albert Grammar, was able to have them enrolled there. They both went on to become very good scholars.
Eventually, when the war ended, their parents came out to New Zealand and they were all re-united.
In 1948 my parents opened our home to a young Polish refugee, who had been part of a contingent that arrived from Europe. He had been through dramatically tough times during the war. The only other survivor from his large family was a brother who settled in England. My mother ensured that the two of them remained in contact.
My Polish brother, called Tadek, was very nervous initially and struggled with his limited English. However I could brighten up his day by teasing him – in a nice way of course.
Tadek was a very handsome young man and I thought that one day he might like to marry me. That did not happen but I remained in close contact with him for the rest of his life.
He attended Sacred Heart College and my father encouraged him to continue his studies. He became a chartered accountant in due course and a successful businessman.
I have always admired my parents for opening our home to these boys to ensure they had a good education in a happy environment. They all became good citizens.
Value of a penny
At the bottom of Kitenui Ave there were several shops. There was Mr Behrent the greengrocer, Mr Clarke the butcher, Mr Burns the chemist, Zaida Brown the draper and Mr Hooper in the dairy where, in those days, you could buy a lot for a penny.
Mr Swinburn was the grocer, with his shop in Alberton Ave opposite the Grammar School gates. Mum was probably his best customer. We bought broken biscuits in brown paper bags and not much of the contents ever made their way home. Moyes Petrol Station was the stopping point to fill your car up, and catch up with the local gossip at the same time.
It saddens my heart to see so many trees disappearing. I climbed and built huts in several as a child and spent many happy hours there.
My childhood in Mt Albert could not have been better, and has drawn me back to establish my home, barely 100m from where I grew up, and raise my children.
Our home was always full of music. My mother and father were both very competent pianists, so it was inevitable that we were all exposed to music. We all started to learn the piano at the age of seven and as we reached grade 3 we were allowed to choose an instrument that we wanted to play.
My older sister Patricia played the double bass which was a very difficult instrument to transport. My next sister Joan played the flute. Then there were brothers, Dave and Paul who played several instruments. Dave specialised in violin and Paul, as you could say was an “allrounder” playing several different instruments.
My younger sister Cathie learnt the harp and singing with which she travelled around the world. Cathie was always heard singing while walking up Kitenui Avenue from school. She still teaches today.
I played the violin and viola, and had many enjoyable years in orchestras.
We were all at sometime in the ‘Junior Symphany Orchestra’, the junior equivalent to the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra.
Professor Charles Nalden was a very stern conductor and you didn’t dare arrive late or miss any practices!
On one occasion he contacted my father as to why Dave hadn’t been coming to practices. This stunned my Dad as he had seen Dave going out the door with his violin. Dave found the Tuesday night practices clashed with his rugby so he would put his rugby boots in his case instead of his violin. It seemed to be a good excuse as it was very hard to juggle our sports with our music.
Needless to say, in time Dave realised he would be hanging up his boots much earlier than his violin, which he still plays today.
I have lovely memories of myself playing the violin and viola but many of the members were studying at university and were very serious about their music, which I was not.
However I enjoyed playing in ‘pit orchestras’ for light operas. I still like to entertain my grandchildren from time to time. Thankfully the love of music has been passed onto the following generations.
It gladdens my soul to see several of them now bringing up their own children in Mt Albert in much the same happy atmosphere.
Barbara Drumm says her childhood in Mt Albert “could not have been better”.
From the Drumm/Harrop family album: Robin Towns with Neddy the donkey and David and Paul
Pat, left, David and Joan Harrop at the beach with Peter and Robin.
English evacuees Peter and Robin Towns in their Sunday best.
The Harrop girls ham it up with Tadek
Barbara Harrop in her late teens
Barbara and husband Denis on their wedding day in 1964.
The extended family forms a V to celebrate V-Day: (Left to right): Peter, Joan, David, Barbara, Paul, Pat and Robin.