Grand Lifestyle

Bringing Up Baby on the Chatham Islands

Di Gregory-Hunt has lived on Pitt Island which is part of the Chatham Island group for over 60 years. Di writes for us to let us know what life is like on the islands. You can catch up on her previous articles here.



Kia Ora once again folk from Di on Pitt Island. In my story a few weeks ago we were living with my in-laws. Bill, baby Ngarita and myself. One hears all sorts of stories about in-laws, well I must have been one of the very lucky ones in that area. My mother in law was an absolute gem and I loved her dearly.

Photo: Di Gregory-Hunt

I knew nothing about small children and absolutely nothing, totally nothing about caring for or being the mother of a baby. However, my lovely mother in law was a huge help and guidance to me with Ngarita. She just quietly and kindly guided me as to what and how to be a good mother. Sadly, I was not a very successful breast feeder but managed to last about 3 months and then had to go on to bottle feeding with cows milk.

In those days (1960’s) everyone milked cows for their household so having fresh daily milk was not a problem. Again, my lovely mother in law showed me how to get the mix right and depending on the age of the baby the milk was given in so much milk to so much water. The milk was scolded which meant heated to the point of killing any bacteria, not boiling it by the way.

Much as I would have liked to breast feed my children it really never got any better, so subsequent children were all brought up on good old grass eating cows milk.

I feel the need to that that after being at an all girls convent for seven years boarding when I did eventually leave and go to work on a farm as a land girl there was a bit of living free from confinement in a moderate sort of way. As young people do when they become independent initially there was the having a go at drinking and a boyfriend for a while. Fortunately, when I look back neither of those ‘influences’ lasted and I have never really been a drinker and bill and I were married for 51 years before he died. So although I did have a time of ‘slipping’ a bit, I soon settled down once married.

Bill was working for his father on the farm and there were 2 or 3 different blocks to look after. I helped my mother in law for living there so I did house work and whatever was needed. She taught me so much and one of those was how to make bread. I have now got my own way of making bread having sorted it all over many years and still make my own bread and not with a bread maker buy just by hand. I don’t buy New Zealand bread as fortunately my old hands are still able to do what is necessary to turn out a loaf or bread rolls etc.

Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

Eventually a house on another part of the island became available when one of Bill’s sisters and husband built their own place and shifted. The house we went in to was quite small – 2 bedrooms, a kitchen / living room area, a bathroom with a bath and basin and an outside wash house with a copper and 2 solid concrete tubs. No there was no inside toilet. Just an outside long drop which served the purpose of small and big evacuations!!

It was nice to have our own house and we lived in that house for the next 10 years or so. When Ngarita was about 2 years 3 months our first son William (Billy) was born and again that meant a few weeks on Chathams. I took Ngarita with me and after only 6 days in hospital I came home by boat across Pitt Strait with Billy baby. I was taught by my mother in law who was a no-nonsense lady, to feed your baby, change your baby, wind your baby and then after cuddling etc. put them back to bed. If they cried briefly don’t be worried, they will soon settle down and they did.

We didn’t have electricity but used Coleman lamps for light which had little net like mantles that glowed when the fuel (kerosene) was put in the small tank and they had a pump like gadget which you pumped up occasionally to make the light brighter.

Sometimes the children would poke something at the mantel which would disintegrate so having spare mantles was very important. Washing was done by hand over the tub with a washboard after the napkins etc. were boiled in the copper. A very time consuming job too!


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