Ninety-seven-year-old Harry and wife Gwen, 91, live in the sturdy brick-and-tile house they built in Mt Wellington 68 years ago and, although they are still eating their own greens, they have recently reduced the size of their vege patch.
Married in 1947, just after the Second World War, they lived with family for a couple of years before spotting this flat, north-facing 809m2 section in Camp Road. The quiet little cul de sac, with only seven houses in it, was close to the wide, green spaces of Mt Wellington, Mt Richmond Domain and Bert Henham Park, which are still there today. And, even though they are now close to the Sylvia Park shopping, dining and entertaining complex and have easy motorway access going both north and south, Camp Road continues to be a friendly and peaceful neighbourhood.
Harry tells the story: “We knew the people at number 4 and one day when we were walking by, he offered us a section. He owned a large plot of land and grew vegetables. Then his son decided he wanted the section, but the neighbour said, ‘My word is my bond’, and sold it to us and the son took the section behind us instead.”
“My washing had to be done in a kerosene tin with a fire under it, until the neighbour let me use her copper.”
Harry and Gwen paid £100 for the land in 1949 and for 14 months they lived in a garage until their snug new home was completed. Gwen remembers living in the garage, “which Harry wouldn’t line, because we were only going to be there for a little while”, with no running water and using a baby’s tin bath.
The house, whose design was chosen from a big book of plans, took longer to build than it should have, says Harry, because “the bricklayer took off with someone else’s wife and there was a building strike as well.”
“The mortgage was going to take us 30 years to pay off at £5 a month, so we scrimped and saved and paid extra off as often as we could. It really worried me that we were paying money but the balance was not going down,” says Gwen. As a result, they were mortgage-free within seven years – “the house was all our own!” she says proudly.
When Gwen and Harry first moved into Camp Road, most of the land was a large Chinese market garden with a big house, a few sheds where the gardeners lived, and draft horses to plough the gardens.
Slowly, as Auckland’s population expanded, the market garden gave way to houses and Gwen and Harry gradually became part of a larger community, as couples and young families moved into the street.
“They started off as neighbours and now they are family,” says Gwen.
Their daughter, Anne, was born here and grew up with the neighbours and their five children, doing everything together. One of those children, Margaret, now a mother and grandmother herself, has always called Gwen her “second mother”, and she visits the couple regularly, keeping a close eye on them.
Gwen and Harry have always taken great pride in their house and garden, looking after them and keeping them well maintained, and in 1965 they decided to make a few changes. The kitchen was very small, and with the folding table up, Gwen couldn’t open the oven door, so they extended and modernised that space. Now, a second living area, an open-plan space that collects the sun for most of the day and looks over the back garden, flows off the kitchen. At the same time, they added a new laundry and a sunny, north-facing patio.
Since then, of course, there have been further changes – a wood burner fireplace was installed in the separate living room, along with a heat pump, to keep the house warm, the kitchen and bathroom have been updated, and curtains and carpets are all in good order. The lock-up garage they once lived in is still there, as well as a large storage shed that used to house their chickens, and a small glass house.
Harry had joined Tasman Empire Airways Ltd (TEAL) after the war, doing maintenance on flying boats, before moving to Air New Zealand. After 35 years in the airline industry he took redundancy and got stuck into his beloved garden, his green thumb and the rich volcanic soil from Mt Wellington allowing him to turn out enough vegetables for the family and half the neighbours as well.
“At one stage, some of the neighbours wanted to change the name, but we petitioned to keep it – and it stayed!”
“Harry kept digging up brass buttons in the garden, and it turned out that Camp Road had been a British Army camp from the New Zealand wars in the 1860s and 70s and the buttons were off soldiers’ jackets,” says Gwen.
Gwen and Harry are now looking forward to the second move since they were married, to a retirement village, where they will be closer to Margaret, their “second daughter”.
“We have loved living here,” they both agree. “It has been a lovely, quiet, enjoyable and friendly community to be part of and after 68 years here, we will be very sorry to leave.”
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