A recent TV news item depicted the shifting of a large two storied house in Lower Hutt. This brings to mind a similar, but considerably smaller operation performed by my father, Captain Charles Daniel, in January, 1921. The difference in these two projects was vast, considering the mechanical advantages of powerful trucks, multi-wheeled trailers, cranes, and all other appurtenances that appear to make the job simple, but are, in effect, costly by comparison to the effort expended by my ‘Old Man’ some 64 years earlier.
My father had acquired about one and a half acres of land, part of which fronted onto the foreshore of the Tamaki Basin, Auckland.
It was usually referred to as the “Lagoon”, was tidal by nature and a marvellous playground for children. For my part, this is where my apprenticeship in seamanship began, usually under the eye of the Captain, who brooked no argument as to the rights and wrongs of anything pertaining to ship husbandry.
Having obtained our section, the next problem was accommodation. By a stroke of luck this was resolved when my father bought (for £40) a kauri-built four-roomed cottage. This cottage was sited on Cleary Road about a quarter of a mile away.
At this time the Captain, in the employ of the Marine Department, had three weeks annual leave. The family, including Mother and we three children, left our home in Eden Terrace and proceeded to Panmure and Cleary Road, where operation “house removal” was to take place.
A real picnic for us kids.
The Captain, undaunted by the prospect, set about this operation as though he had been doing it all his life. With the help of Mr Sam White, who dealt in demolition material and the hiring of equipment, he obtained the necessary gear to shift the cottage.
This gear consisted of a couple of flitches of 10” by 10” oregon upon which the house would sit as if upon sledge runners.
In addition he had a large kedge anchor, timber and bottle-jacks, wire rope and snotters, steel blocks and shackles, etc.
The brick chimney with its wood range had to be removed, and then the house lifted from its foundation and the runners set in place.
When this was done the kedge was dug deep into the road, and blocks and tackles rigged ready to start the shift from the site to the road. The house was then turned to face the rise on Cleary Road unhindered by traffic – there was none then.
To do the hauling, a Mr Boakes came with two magnificent bay draught horses, and with the arrangement of blocks and tackles, these horses shifted that house faster than the Captain could rig the gear.
Whilst all this was going on the family camped in the house, Mother cooking on a couple of primus stoves, and brother, sister and myself, apart from chores and the occasional requirement of the Captain, had a wonderful time free from confining city life and its hazards.
In due course, after about a week, we arrived at the summit of Cleary Road one evening, and as it was all downhill from hereon, another day saw the cottage on site on our section.
It was whilst at the summit “parked” opposite a Mr Duffin’s place that I recall an incident still fresh in my memory for its succinct humour.
Mr Duffin was leaning over his front gate observing the captain preparing for the next day. He asked the Captain what he was going to do with the house. Being all ears, I could not help hearing the reply.
“Well”, replied the Captain, “I am going to take it down on to the section, fit it up with a couple more rooms added, and live in it.”
“Oh”, said Mr Duffin (a carpenter) “But you are a seaman; how will you go about that?”
“Never fear”, replied the Captain. “I may be a seaman, but I sleep with the carpenter’s daughter, and that’s good enough for me.”
In due course he did accomplish all he said he would do. For many weekends we journeyed all hands from Eden Terrace to Ellerslie Station then walked the three miles to Panmure loaded with vittles and other gear for the house.
It seems incredible now that all this was accomplished without a car, little in the way of capital and no machinery. Everything was built by hand, including some of our furniture, and we ended up with a comfortable home.
Sure we lacked electricity, had an outside dunny, wash-house and bathroom, but it was home.
The land sustained us with milk, cream, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and flowers. The lagoon provided all the fish we could eat.
Above all, we were a happy family, content with what we had, owing nothing other than goodwill to those about us.
Today the old home has long since gone, its site occupied by a large swimming pool complex where kids learn to swim; kids who will never go swimming in the lagoon, and who will never know the joy it gave me.