ONETANGI in the FIFTIES

Local resident Julia Meek looks back to an era when Onetangi sections could be had for one hundred pounds.

In the 1950s, my husband Ron and I lived in a rented property in Stanley Bay with our then family of two daughters. We did not own or even think of owning a car. Ron caught a ferry from Stanley Bay which took him to Auckland where he worked in a Queen Street furniture factory. The harbour bridge did not exist. He returned by ferry to Devonport and the Masonic Hotel for the “six ‘o clock swill” and came the rest of the way by bus.

The obvious place for a holiday was Waiheke Island – accessible by ferry, followed by some old buses.

The first island bach we rented was in Newton Road , Little Oneroa. It was not very nice. The toilet was primitive – not even a longdrop,  just a tin can which had to be emptied daily into a pit. Ugh! We soon discovered that Onetangi was the place to be as the Onetangi Hotel was the only liquor outlet on the Island and the public bar there was where all the social and political life was centred.

The ferries from Auckland took one and a half hours to cross and called into Matiatia, Ostend and Cowes Bay. In those days a good section could be bought for forty pounds. There was a bit of a flurry when Mr Dromgoole invested in a hydrofoil to bring people to Waiheke faster – thus threatening to raise prices of land. This was short-lived because of a dispute with the Maritime Workers’ Union. The union insisted that two crew members was the minimum necessary for safety while the owner was adamant that one was sufficient. The Hydrofoil was retired, as it turned out, permanently.

Meanwhile we had found a bach to rent in Onetangi, very suitably close to the hotel and the beach. And we proceeded to fall in love with Onetangi.

Although Oneroa was the most developed centre on the island, every village had its own shops and post office.

Onetangi had Crockers Store (in Eden Terrace) selling groceries and hardware. Dot’s Drapery – also in Eden Terrace – sold clothing, napery, beach toys, shoes and many other things. Dallimore had  a shop and a couple of petrol pumps where Shell (Z) is now. Then there was the Beach Store (on The Strand) with a dance hall attached and the Post Office store along the western end of the beach. A truck brought vegetables and a mobile butcher brought meat and sometimes fish. In some ways, it was better served than Stanley Bay – and there was no need at all to have a car.

In 1960, we bought our half acre in Onetangi for one hundred pounds. For some summers we camped on it with some discomfort because of the amount of gorse and lack of trees. However Ron cleared a bit of flat land for the tent, organised a water tank and a longdrop while we did our best to encourage native trees to grow.

Waiheke had only had electricity since 1953 but by the early sixties, we all depended on it. When a ship’s anchor disturbed one of the two feeder cables that brought power to the island and we were without electricity for four days and nights, it created problems. The most difficult bits involved refrigeration with shops losing frozen goods. We still had an old-fashioned meat safe made of plaster of paris and wire mesh, kept cool by a damp cloth and evaporation. I cannot imagine the chaos that would eventuate today with extended power loss.

We still lack power generation on the island – plus I am getting tired of salespeople coming to the door trying to persuade me to change to another supplier.

The great Go-Ahead for Waiheke was the decision by George Hudson to invest in real fast ferries to Waiheke in the name of Fullers. The whole economy of Waiheke relies now on the continuation of the service.

This is about how things used to be – but it also carries a warning. Wanting too much can lead to losing what one already had. The ancient oracle at Delphi warned about that and history can tell the tale.

So now it is up to volunteers who care about Waiheke in general and Onetangi  in particular to work for the life of the community, people who live here, animals and birds and fish which are essential to ecological health – and to cherish the Onetangi Residents’ Association Hall which was built by volunteer labour and is the centre of Onetangi social life.

Forget Facebook, Twitter, TV, and all that cyber stuff. Let’s be us, in real life, in this village on our little rock in the Hauraki Gulf – and work together to make it better.

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