Lauris has lived in Marlborough for more than 80 years

Lauris Ham has lived in Marlborough for more than 80 years.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Lauris Ham has lived in Marlborough for more than 80 years.

Sometimes the best way to understand a place is through its people, as David James discovers.

Sometimes you come across people that you just know have a story to tell. Sometimes you see someone and you just know.

When I first met Lauris (pronounced Laurie) Ham last year I would have to say – like almost everybody else that has met her – she has a bold and beautiful appearance. Lauris' dress code could be best described as 'living colour' and I was thrilled down to the ground upon encountering the 84-year-old adorned in purples, pinks and rainbow leg warmers with a maroon sun visor.

Lauris doesn't suffer fools lightly. There would be several occasions where we met and I was called a "nuisance" and a "bloody idiot" before I could learn much about who Lauris was and where she grew up. She loves a good strong long black coffee, and she never minces her words.

Lauris has lived in Marlborough for more than 80 years and her love for the region – especially its natural history – is only limited by her knowledge. Which happens to be quite a bit.

Lauris arrived in at Cape Campbell with her family when she was just 4-years-old and apart from a short time spent in Westport, she has lived in Marlborough ever since. Her family were one of the first to settle at Cape Campbell and make a go of it. That is, earn a living off the land. No easy task, since this was once an incredibly rugged part of the world. Still is. And so, 'making a go of it', required some real grit on the part of her family.

Life is full of colour.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Life is full of colour.

Lauris grew up a rather utilitarian lifestyle, in a place that was intolerant of gratuity. Everybody worked extremely hard on the young farm and there was no room for excess or redundancy. Trips to town were made twice a year in a horse and cart, and the family would have to time their travel to meet the receding tides.

Thus, all-in-all I would have to say that I felt very lucky and honoured to spend one afternoon with Lauris tripping around some of her favourite nearby spots in Marlborough: Millennium Rock before a modest cut lunch in Rarangi; Monkey Bay; and then to the site of the Wairau Affray to take a moment to meditate on the past.

Between stops she would tell me that I was an uneducated moron and a pain in the bum. But I didn't mind and took each insult with an awkward chuckle. But she taught me as much as I could learn in one afternoon about about her life and experience of the region.

Lauris aims to once again be able to walk up these steps at Monkey Bay.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Lauris aims to once again be able to walk up these steps at Monkey Bay.

Over our lunch in Rarangi I pulled out my recorder for a more formal interview.

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How long have you lived in Marlborough?

Eighty years. Apart from the short time spent living in Westport.

Fascinated by the land.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Fascinated by the land.

Name somebody or something that had a positive influence on you as a child?

Nancy Wake.

Tell me about Nancy Wake.

The sign on the wall reads "Life is too short to be anything but happy."
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

The sign on the wall reads "Life is too short to be anything but happy."

You shouldn't need telling. For crying out loud. You twit. Nancy Wake was the girl who wouldn't give up to the Germans. She used to help allied prisoner's get loose. And she rode for miles and miles on a push bike. The White Mouse they used to call her. Then the bastards wouldn't give her a Victoria Cross.

I guess there's Nancy, and Peter Yealands.

Why Peter Yealands?

Intrigued by Marlborough's history.
DAVID JAMES/FAIRFAX NZ

Intrigued by Marlborough's history.

He's got a motto and I can't remember it. Ha ha. That's how much he influences me (laughs). But it's something about how never ever think that something can't never get done.

What about something from your childhood that made you happy?

Oh. Grandad Brown I suppose. Grandad Brown was a … look I don't feel comfortable about people who aren't here. But, anyway, he was a grocer during the Depression and he would give away anything to anybody. Eventually he didn't have anywhere to live. And he used to go around to every family member to live.

Is there anything that you really love about Marlborough?

I'm interested in the history. It's what makes the country and what makes the people. The makeup of the land fascinates me. I can look at the land and I can see that huge explosion of an earthquake. You go down to the Monkey Bay steps down there. Oh, boy is that an awesome place! And I've studied the history of it, and I know that the ocean came down from Havelock down through to the Wairau. It didn't go out to sea. And that was an earthquake.

Anything about the people in Marlborough?

Have the people changed? Of course. People change. But a lot of them don't. Whinging, moaning buggars, don't know when they're well-off do they now. But that applies everywhere don't it? Not just here. Is there any philosophy that you live by? Do unto others ... you know the rest of that.

Do you see the world heading in a positive place, or a bad place?

Oh people have said that for years, and the world's still going. That annoys me when people start moaning about the banks, and they moan about that. What, what are you gonna do about it?!

Do you have any plans for the future?

Just keep going. I'd like my feet to get better so I can get around. Walk on the beach. And work in my garden. And one I'm going to walk about those Monkey Bay steps again. That's a goal for me. The last time I walked up there was with my sister before she died.

Is there anything else you would like to say?

There's some beautiful, positive people about. That's good. I like animals. I like hills and rocks and trees and birds. It's important to be close to nature.

At the end of our day trip, Lauris hands me a modestly bound book of hand-typed pages that she had put together about her life growing up at the Cape and in Marlborough. Its pages are printed, and interspersed with photos of her growing up. It's a heart-warming and memorable read, and an insight into a world that not many of us will ever really see or know.

Following are some excerpts. The funny thing about sayin 'I remember' is that I'm not sure if I really do, or if it is a memory of something that has been told to me. I do have an impression of arriving at the Cape (Cape Campbell). I was four and a half years old, and I can still see that long hallway or passage, as we called it. It seemed to go on forever, and a way at the other end were my two stepsisters standing at the old windup gramophone. The big steel needles were very precious and were carefully hoarded and the points touched up on an oilstone when needed.

The Stone Outside Dan Murphy's Door was my favourite song.

Threepence a week was our pocket money and we used to get a tin of condensed milk with the once a fortnight grocery order. We would put a small hole in the tin and feed our pet rabbit. He would lie on his back on our knees and we would trickle the milk into his waiting mouth. No doubt us kids had our share too.

In the days before we had a motor car, around 1940, we made our twice yearly trip to town, mainly to go to the dental nurse. We didn't like one of them very much as she used to give us a hit sometimes. I guess we were playing up. We would go to the front beach through Freeth's by horse and cart, around Mussel Point and to Hauwai or perhaps Kaparu. This town trip had to be worked in with the tides so's we could get around the point. I remember one time the tides didn't match the train time and as we were going around the Point the tide was quite high. The cart was floating and the water washed out our wee sister who was asleep in the cane basket. She floated out the back of the cart. I can still see it. What a nightmare these trips must've been for my city-bred mother.

 - The Marlborough Express

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