Grand Lifestyle

Life on the Chathams: Returning to Pitt Island

Di Gregory-Hunt has lived on Pitt Island which is the second largest and only other inhabited island within the Chatham Island group for almost 60 years. Di tells us how she travelled to Pitt Island her first time visiting the area in the 1950’s.  You can read about that here if you haven’t done so yet. Di tells us about her return to the island, wedding and first baby.

Cessna landing at Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

After 7 years of boarding school I went home and lived with my parents for a few months. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be outside rather than inside. I saw an advert in the Timaru Herald for a land girl in mid Canterbury and decided to apply for the job.

The owner was a woman and my dear father couldn’t believe I would go to a farm job run by a female. This particular woman only employed land girls and I felt very fortunate to get a job there. She was a very good farmer and had two properties with mainly romney sheep and a few cattle.

Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

My father took me up there very shortly after I turned 18 and his advice was don’t be too quick to make friends. There was another land girl on the place and although younger than me we became good mates. I learned a lot from my employer, fixing fences, working in the wool shed doing a lambing beat and just general farm work.

After being on the farm for several months I got a telegram from Veronica’s oldest sister on Pitt to come back to work in the woolshed as a rousey, I decided to go back. So in 1961 about mid year I was on my way back to Pitt Island. I really can’t recall the travel situation but arrived back on Pitt and stayed with Veronica’s sister Nell, her husband and 4 children.

Flower Pot Harbour. Photo: Marion Emeny

I was reacquainted with the Gregory-Hunt family. I must admit to having a crush on Bill when I first visited and we re-met on Pitt as Bill was working for his father. About 5 of Veronica’s older sister and brothers were married and lived on Pitt and had young children.

To make a short story shorter Bill and I courted for a few months and then married on Pitt Island. I had only turned 19 about 10 days before we married. My Dad came down on the ship that did the Chatham run at the time (the Holmburn) and was horribly seasick. Having travelled quite extensively overseas without getting seasick I did feel sad and guilty for his unwellness. The ship was coming to work at Pitt that time to unload cargo – mostly food stuffs, probably diesel and general cargo so that had to happen before we were married.

Pitt Island Chapel. Photo: Marion Emeny

For some reason I still don’t understand the marriage ceremony (mass) had to take place before 8pm. The priest had come over on the ship with my father and my soon to be father-in-law. After working to unload the ship all day the guys probably weren’t exactly happy to wash up and turn up for a wedding, but they did. Bill and I were duly married and some celebrations followed. I think the reason for haste was my Dad and the priest were to travel back to the Chathams after the shipping day / work was done.

My mother didn’t come down, but Bill and I went out to NZ for Christmas 1961 for Bill to meet my Mother and family members. We stayed a short time on Chathams the main-island where Bill did some shearing and I worked in the shed. All the men on Pitt learned to shear. We spend a few weeks in New Zealand and my Dad lent us a car, so we were able to have a look around a few places in the South Island.

Pitt Island. Photo: Marion Emeny

Not very long into our marriage I discovered I was pregnant so felt rather nauseous for some while. We certainly hadn’t planned on having a baby and I don’t even think I really wanted one right then. However, I found out very quickly that if you sleep with someone the chances are you get pregnant.

Having a baby in those days 1962 you went to the main-island (Chathams) about a month before to await the birth. The hospital then was serviced by the Mission Sisters of the Society of Mary and they were just lovely and there was also a resident priest sadly now we have neither nuns or a resident priest. I stayed with a lovely couple while I waited and eventually the labour started so Bill and my kind host drove me to the hospital where I was dropped off while the guys, one being my husband went back home. Our first baby was born a 5lb plus girl who we named Ngarita (after my mother) and Veronica after my friend.

The stay in the hospital was about 8 or so days from memory with the lovely nuns caring, feeling and helping me adapt to being a mother. Bill and I, by the way were living with his parents as there wasn’t a house available for us at that time. We lived with them for about 3 years from memory.

Oyster Catcher. Photo: Marion Emeny

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