Grand Lifestyle

Communicating on Pitt Island

Di Gregory-Hunt has been writing for Grandparents NZ from Pitt Island (off the main Chatham Islands or ‘Main Island’) for a few months now. Here is Di’s latest message from Pitt Island and how they communicated in the 1960’s / 1970’s.

Kia ora to anyone reading this from Di on Pitt Island. There was no telephone connection to New Zealand way back then. In fact, if my memory serves me correctly (Pooh Bear memory remember) we had no telephone connection to the main island (Chatham’s). We had radio telephone only and my in-laws had a radio telephone other folk didn’t then.

So, every morning at 8am we had a scheduled call (appointed call time) with the radio station on the main island and again at lunch time (I think) and again in the evening about 6pm from memory. This was to send messages (e.g. telegrams) and to receive messages re. family info, ordering things etc. It was our connection with the main island and a source of ordering whatever was needed.

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While living with my in-laws I seemed to take over the job of calling/answering the appointed schedules. If someone gave you a message to send e.g. a birthday message it was all written down in an exercise book or similar so there were many and varied messages as you can imagine.

It was nice for the person to know you had written what they wanted to say however my dear father-in-law often tried to send them off-the-cuff impromptu which would be annoying / irritating. I should have mentioned earlier that we on Pitt had an internal line (telephone) so could ring around Pitt on the old-fashioned telephone where you rang by turning the handle and each house had their own number.

My dear mother-in-law would often be quietly listening in so she could find out what was going on around the place. Just remember 90% of the people were members of her family, sons, daughters, grandchildren, it was quite funny really as everyone knew Granny ‘listened’ in on the phone. When Bill and I shifted to our own house we bought out own radio telephone and I still have it now although it hasn’t been used in years.

Probably what prompted us to get our own telephone was Grandad (father-in-law) constantly changing the texts on messages. Very soon we were having other islanders ringing to send their messages also and of course we had our own call sign which was ZLET and main Chatham radio station was ZLC. Over time I got to know the radio boys and we had a good rapport with them.

Bill didn’t take the calls as he left it to me and I have had a strong reasonably deep voice which carried across the airwaves well I guess. Once again due to poor memory I can’t recall when we got the connection with the main island (Chatham’s) but that was in place prior to the big move to be able to ring New Zealand.

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I do recall however when my Dad died in Timaru in 1970 I got a telegram/message via radio telephone from my brother Jim. Just remember everyone could hear on a certain station (shortwave) to all messages coming and going so one wouldn’t want to air ones grievances / complaints / dissatisfaction’s etc.

Living on a small island surrounded by one’s husband’s family/relations hasn’t always been easy and one as to have a strong, resilient nature / personality to withstand the scrutiny. When you are on your own with no family for support anywhere around you either get over it and get on with it or get out of it, and I chose to stay.

Having been at a convent boarding school run by nuns in the 1950’s stood me in good ability and strength to withstand all sorts. Having said that Bill’s family were all okay with me and I wasn’t a social person anyhow and had plenty to keep me busy in my own patch. In fairness to Bills relies, they were all pretty good.

When mail came it was quite exciting although that was a rather infrequent happening. I prided myself in having very good self-discipline so if and when mail did arrive I would make sure I had done my chores – washing, cooking, cleaning etc. before opening my mail. Of course in those days mail only came by fishing boat.

Read more from Di Gregory-Hunt here.

Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

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