Magical memories

00:00, Nov 10 2012
Bernice Adams
Four generations: Bernice Adams holds 15-week-old great-granddaughter Emily Hulburt.

Ninety years is a milestone anniversary for anyone to mark and prompts amateur historian Bernice Adams to look back on the changes she has witnessed during that time.

Bernice, who traces her New Zealand heritage back to mid-1800s Rapaura settler, grandfather William Gifford, turned 90 last week. It was a busy day.

Family members gathered to celebrate, a card from Prime Minister John Key was among the written salutations, and other well-wishes were made via the telephone. "I was nearly late for dinner," she laughs.

It had been a reflective time, though, she adds. "I started thinking back over 90 years."

Bernice was six years old when electrical power came to Marlborough in 1928 and she still remembers the wonder of appliances that worked with the mere flick of a switch.

She went with her mother, Nora Squire (nee Gifford) to Wellington where they bought an electric jug and a toaster. The latter was just an electric rack, but the jug had a switch that flicked off automatically when the water boiled.


Other tools that lightened chores included an electric iron and Baby Daisy vacuum cleaner that needed two people to operate, one to pump the handle, the other to "drive" it.

A Baby Daisy is displayed in a shop at Beavertown, Brayshaw Park, Blenheim, where the Marlborough Museum has been built. Bernice helped establish that storehouse of memorabilia in 1990, following a fundraising historical photo gallery she organised in 1988.

The hours of voluntary work she did is part of her 48-year service with the Marlborough Historical Society.

History has been a lifelong interest, she says, then recites: "History ignored is history repeated," when asked what she likes about it.

Regulations govern so much of life in the 21st century, however, she laments. "There were lots of things we could do then that you can't do now because of all the jolly restrictions."

She laughs as she remembers her mother's proud boast at never sitting a driver's licence.

"And she used to say: ‘And I never had an accident . . . the only thing I ever banged into was a cow that walked into me'."

Bernice was a member of the Rapaura Tennis Club, played for the district's basketball (netball) team and helped organise fundraising dances in the Rapaura community hall.

Boys polished the dance floor by sprinkling the wooden boards with talcum powder then sliding along it on half-filled chaff sacks; girls decorated the hall with streamers and prepared sandwiches and cakes for supper.

They were served with strictly non-alcoholic drinks.

Word went round that alcohol was smuggled into the dance halls at neighbouring districts like Grovetown, Fairhall and Renwick, Bernice says, but never at Rapaura.

"We girls from Rapaura didn't [drink]. No fear."

Her formal education ended at Rapaura School, but the senior pupils' curriculum was extended by a teacher with a Masters degree. His lessons included topics usually taught in college, she says.

World War II started soon after she left school, upsetting everybody's lives.

"If I hadn't been on a farm, I would have been called up for some sort of service," Bernice says.

Members of the Women's Land Army filled occupations usually held by men and minded a large fruit and vegetable garden at Grovetown to supply servicemen based at Woodbourne and visiting troops from the United States.

A long paddock on the family's Raupara farm was often used as a practice landing strip, she remembers. "It had a long row of poplars and . . . through that gap in the poplar trees my mother and I might go and run out thinking, ‘it's going to crash'."

Airmen were regularly invited to the Squires' home for a meal on Sundays. Some brought their girlfriends and long-term friendships formed.

"Then everyone got married and started having families."

Bernice married Jim Adams and the couple had a son and a daughter.

Grandchildren followed and this week the youngest family member, 15-week-old Emily Hulburt was visiting the Adams' house.

Bernice smiles fondly at the infant in her lap, but says she is glad she was a 1920s child. "Girls in our era, we just didn't have time for the frivolities that there are now.

"We had our balls, we had our dances, but we were also working for the Patriotic Society and in our spare time we were making things, growing things, whatever.

"And once or twice a year we would [rent] an empty shop . . . and take the country to town," she adds.

The Marlborough Express