Dream of Fields
Wellington café owner Kieran Hughes reminisces about growing up in the small Waikato town of Morrinsville.
I’m remembering sprawling dairy farms, cow paddocks, quarter-acre sections, the recreation ground, Campbell Park and St Joseph’s Convent. My dream places as a child. In the middle of the Waikato – 20 miles to everywhere: Cambridge, Hamilton, Matamata, Paeroa.
Picnics and polo
One dream is about polo. The excitement of going to this mysterious and spectacular game at the Morrinsville recreation ground. Four mounted players on each team, going hell for leather on the biggest area of field of any sport. It was played by farmers. There were the Watsons from Cambridge. Tangiteroria, from up north, was made up of four Taylor brothers. Waimai was the Boyds; Kihikihi the Kays.
The Saville Cup was awarded to the country’s best polo team, and Morrinsville won it a few times. The team in those days had Kenny Browne, who of course became a legendary trainer of steeplechase horses in partnership with his wife Anne. He always had the fastest polo ponies. Gordon Spence, a lad about town. The Clarkins. Paul Clarkin, like Tony Devich, went to work for Prince Charles – to look after his ponies.
There was always a picnic too. We’d sit on a rug under the trees, eating sandwiches. We had binoculars to watch the polo. I’ve still got them. We got to know all about polo. I used to collect the chipped wooden polo balls and broken mallets from the edge of the field. Dad would fix up a mallet and put a strap on it, and I would charge around the garden on my trike, being Gordon Spence.
Back in Ireland they wouldn’t know what polo was, although there’s a connection with horses through my father’s people. My father Brendan was born in the Fane Valley, near Dundalk in Ireland in 1923. Two of his brothers and his father were bookies.
When Brendan met Phyllis
Brendan came to New Zealand for a new life, for the opportunity. He came out after meeting Phyllis Ward in Oxford and getting married. Phyllis was English, born at Westcliff on Sea, but her mother Katherine was based in Auckland. It was after the war and there was a minimal fare to New Zealand, so they jumped on a boat with their first daughter Geraldine.
Brendan’s first job in New Zealand was working at Milne & Choyce department store in Remuera with his brother-in-law Max Kenning. I was born in 1960. Then Dad got a job as manager of Hannahs in Papakura. That’s where my other sister Fiona was born in 1961. Then we moved to Morrinsville in 1963.
Hughes for shoes in Morrinsville
Dad had saved a bit of money, but not enough to buy a business, so Gran helped out. He was able to buy a shop in Morrinsville’s main street. He called it “Hughes for Shoes” and ran it for the rest of his working life.
Every year, in the height of summer, the Morrinsville A&P show was held at the recreation ground. Among all the agricultural activity, Dad had a shoe stall – he was the only retailer there.
The Chamber of Commerce ran a competition for the best float at the show. The winner took part in the Grand Parade through Morrinsville, along with all the prize-winning bulls. And one year Dad won it. He had a giant high-heeled, pink woman’s shoe mounted on the back of a trailer. Around the edges it was thick with hydrangeas. In the heel of the shoe was a seat for Janice Gill, who worked in Brendan’s shop. She was dressed like a princess. The streets were lined with people, waving.
I remember walking to school on a crisp, clear winter’s morning and skidding in the frost on the grass verge. Looking back and seeing the twin tracks dark through the white of the frost.”
Dad also had a giant man’s Hush Puppy shoe, size 32, which I’ve still got. Every now and then he’d put it in the shop window with a price tag on it. We used to kill ourselves laughing at people’s reactions to it.
Football and religion
Another dream is about football. Dad and Martin van der Vorle set up the Morrinsville Football Club’s premises at the recreation ground. Martin’s son Paul was my best mate. Tragically, Paul was killed in a car accident when he was 17. Like every other kid in rural New Zealand, I started off playing rugby. But I just loved soccer for some reason and wanted to play it. I remember reading soccer comics like Billy’s Boots and Roy of the Rovers. A lot of the text was in dialects like Geordie, so you couldn’t really understand it, but you got the gist. I played under-14s and then for the Morrinsville seniors. Later I played in Hamilton, when I went to St John’s College.
The other thing was the church. Dad was a devout Roman Catholic. Mum got right into it too. Prayer meetings, people in the house speaking in tongues. She was a musician – she studied at the Royal College of Music in England and played the organ in church. The church and school were joined – St Joseph’s. We lived across the road from the school. Sometimes Dad would say, “I’m going to the six o’clock mass up at the convent tomorrow morning. Want to come?” I’d go along, to this tiny wee chapel. The nuns who were at the mass were my teachers at school.
The thing about Mum was she loved helping people. She got involved with all sorts of societies. She taught some Vietnamese immigrant children English and they spoke it with her Oxford accent.
Mum and Dad are buried side by side in Morrinsville cemetery.
Article reproduced with permission of NZME. Educational Media