Grand Lifestyle

Pitt Island: The Copper and the Store Order

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.

Thinking about some of my earlier years on Pitt Island is testing my memory. Although I was always a good worker with my hands, I do believe my brain was not so good – a bit like Pooh Bear ‘bear of little brain’. In other words, a Pooh Bear brain.

For our first few years at the new/old house we had no hot water only a copper which was lit daily and a wood stove for cooking a shack lock which seemed adequate at the time. Also, in the 60’s Bill cut all the wood by hand as chainsaws weren’t in our lives at the time. He cut the wood each morning before going away on the farm.

Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

Horses were also the mode of transport. Certainly, no 4x wheeler bikes then. The other think I had to adapt to was writing a store order (groceries etc.) The ship came very irregularly in fact usually at Christmas time and I’m unsure if it came again, perhaps mid-year, sorry I’ve forgotten!

However, the store order was a big list of everything, yes everything, you needed for eating, drinking, cleaning etc. Don’t forget you are ordering for many months ahead so no item should be forgotten. This also meant you got your children’s Christmas presents on the ship as well as everything else.

Shipping time was a bit event and almost everyone went in to help, catch up on ones socialising and generally have a day or two out and about. The surf boat went out to the ship (no barge in those days) and all goods etc. were winched over the side of the ship into the surf boat, so as you can imagine it was a slow ongoing job that could take two or three days.

The biggest obstacle for shipping at Pitt Island is the weather as the ship has to anchor away from the wharf. I think the ship anchor’s roughly about half a mile off shore in deeper water. Today is no different in the sense of the weather being the deciding factor. In fact, weather plays a big part in people’s movements even today.

Pitt Island Chapel. Photo: Marion Emeny

The biggest cargo/exports to leave the island then were wool bales and sheep. Every bale was rolled down to the wharf and over into the surf boat. With sheep each animal had a sort of belly rope/sling put around under its front quarters and then a bundle perhaps ten or twelve were hoisted up by the winch and lowered into the surf boat and away out to the ship which again hoisted each bundle up and they ended up in yards / pens in the ships interior / belly. For some unknown reason the hoisting or lifting of the sheep bundles was called ‘snottering’, no idea why.

The ship ended up in Lyttelton where the stock were sold at a later date at the Addington sale yards. The sheep were highly sort after (wethers) as they were big healthy sheep and the wool previously shorn was also worth good money. Most of the sheep then were Romney whereas today they are a mixture of varied breeds (composites) and cross bred wool is worth virtually zilch today.

The price / freight for sending a bale of wool today is $100 per bale on the ship so not much return on today’s cross bred prices. Coarse wool is not as highly sort after as say Merino which is a much finer micron, but who knows one day someone might find a good use for coarse wool as it is a lovely fibre, perhaps synthetics killed that once golden goose.

Going back to the not running hot water for many years so with the copper going every day the children bathed every night. That job was carting the water (in buckets from the copper along the path up the step and inside to the bath (no shower in those days). From memory we would just add more hot water to the bath and go through after the children, a sort of communal bathing. I was a rather fussy cleaning girl in those days as I had been taught like that by my mother thankfully.

I guess I would say life required a lot of physical input then as no Electrolux, no washing machine etc. so more physical effort was required. However, work didn’t bother me all those years ago and it got so much busier the more children I had, but we were happy.

Cessna landing at Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

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