Six generations of the Kiwi way

MATRIARCH: Ida Hamilton at 105 is top of the tree.
MATRIARCH: Ida Hamilton at 105 is top of the tree.

Crammed into a small flat in suburban Tauranga, the Hamilton family sit on the floor and sofa arms, amid dainty coffee tables, cabinets of trinkets and walls covered in old photos, in the home of their 105-year-old matriarch, Ida.

All six generations - yes, six - have descended upon Ida's little house. They have come from as far afield as the Bay of Islands and Auckland, and despite the fact it's 28 degrees Celsius and there are a lot of them, no one seems at all perturbed.

Meet the Hamiltons, six generations of glorious Kiwiness ranging in age from nine months to 105 years old.

SIX GENERATIONS: The Hamilton family accompanied by partners at matriarch Ida's home in Tauranga.
SIX GENERATIONS: The Hamilton family accompanied by partners at matriarch Ida's home in Tauranga.

They are a fascinating encapsulation of the social evolution of New Zealand, all representing their generation with many of each era's stereotypical traits.

It starts with Ida, 105, in her cardy, beads, stockings and slippers, smiling charmingly whether she's understood you or not; followed by her son Maxwell, 84, in his walk shorts and socks pulled right up: "Yeah, Mum looks pretty good for 160 doesn't she?"

Then there's Roger, Max's son, a typical baby boomer at 62, dressed in modern smart casual, young enough not to find new technology baffling but still slightly nostalgic for the days when the butcher knew your name and gave you a cheerio to say thanks for your family's business.

Sarsha, Roger's daughter, is a Gen Xer 38-year-old mum who clearly cherishes her connections with the generations before her, but is youthful and fun enough to be a friend as well as a parent to her three kids.

The relationship between her and Serenity, the mother of Troydyn, the youngest Hamilton, is easy, despite the undoubted shock of becoming a 'granny' earlier than she might have imagined.

Serenity represents the modern face of New Zealand: straight-up, casual, confident and not bound by the restrictive social dos and don'ts that ruled her great- and great-great-grandparents' lives.

It's ironic she is considered a ''young mum'' at 18 when that wouldn't have been the case at all in Ida, Maxwell or even Roger's generation.

Troydyn is the future, but right now he's only really interested in trying to grab as many bracelets and wayward strands of hair as he can get his hands on.

They're all here, with partners and additional children, talking about ''family'' - their family and the changes they've collectively witnessed over 105 years.

Their recollections reflect the evolution of New Zealand both historically and socially. Ida remembers washing clothes in a copper with a fire under it and going to school by horse.

She has seen two sets of brothers off to two wars - one was killed in World War I, another carried a Gallipoli bullet in his body for years after, and a third was wounded in Trieste during World War II.

"She waved to Captain Cook as he sailed past, she's that old," jokes grandson Roger.

Ida was born in Bluff and has lived in Invercargill, Timaru and, since 1974, Tauranga.

Some changes have been easier to accept than others. She remembers a time when kids were less protected and she used to "send the boys off with some sandwiches and not see them for most of the day".

Maxwell concurs: "I remember us playing with bows and arrows with no supervision. I injured my brother quite badly once, but still haven't told Mum it was me," he says with a laugh, dropping his voice just below Ida's hearing threshold.

"That wouldn't happen now," he adds.

"Kids are no longer kids and I blame television. We used to play with our neighbours and know everyone in the street."

Ida nods in agreement: "They're all inside these days. Lucky if you know the people living next to you now."

Ida is from the generation familiar with home baking as a daily activity. She can still whip up pikelets in five minutes. Her shortbread went as far as the troops in Crete.

"They told me it was often a bit battered by the time it got there, but they ate it anyway and still loved it."

Sarsha says Ida easily impresses: "Nan was still doing aerobics in her 80s and driving in her 90s, although she did start going the wrong way down Cameron Road and commenting on how everyone was so friendly waving at her!"

''She went on a cruise a few years ago and was still flirting with the piano player," said Sarsha.

"She's a total inspiration to have lived such a full life and still be able to crack a joke and have some fun at this age."

Ida reckons the secret to long life is chocolate and Bluff oysters but it's obvious that a good sense of humour and having the love of a supportive family plays a big role.

The cheeky smile on her face is priceless when she is told by great-grandson Scott that "this is the lady who has come to talk to you and the man who is going to take pictures of you in your swimsuit".

Humour, food and making an effort to see each other is what binds this family. In an age where distance and busy-ness often keep us from seeing our relatives regularly, this family still picnics and camps together, although it is getting harder to get Ida out and about as  she slows down.

The young ones are refreshingly grateful to be part of this rather than just tolerating ''the oldies''. They really seem to enjoy it.

"We love a laugh and a bit of competition," says Sarsha.

"The older ones are still quite active in bowls and croquet and the younger ones are all involved in competitive sport.

''Nan still has the odd punt on the horses. We're even competitive about food. This year we're all competing for the best Christmas cake, although I wonder if that's a ploy by Grandad to get more cake to eat."

Serenity adds: "There's such a big difference between the eldest and youngest generations but we all learn from each other.''

''I know Nan and Grandpa have a tough time with the fact my generation has missed some of the social skills they have, due to technology.

''It's hilarious watching Grandad Max on his morning walk. He always says hello to everyone and if they ignore him he waits till they go past and silently says 'stuff you' because they didn't follow the rules of common courtesy.

"I think they'll always struggle with our casual dress code, too. They always dress well for any occasion, whereas we're all about comfort. But they do like lots of things about us - especially some of our new technology and toys, like radio controlled helicopters!"

And Troydyn? As he sits on his great-great-great- grandmother's knee for a photo, you can't help but wonder what his future will hold, if he'll develop the Hamilton dry wit and enjoy similar longevity.

"All I hope is that he grows up to be who he wants to be," says Serenity, "not what everyone else wants him to be. I hope he doesn't let the ways of the world stop him from achieving his goals and dreams."

Sunday Star Times