The black sand was hot, too hot to walk flat-footed on, but after a
week or two we were running over it with our mothers shouting how
clever we were and how could we bear it.
Summer holidays at Bethell's Beach always started like that.
We got on the train at New Market , out past Mt. Eden prison,
the highlight of our train trip, and on to the Waitakeres.
There we would be met by the Bethells with an old truck.
Up would go our luggage and us and off we drove, over sandhills
and through streams till we got to the farm.
The family home had been turned into a guesthouse, the homestead
with it's long verandah, enormous fig tree in the front garden and
white picket fence was the centre of our holiday accommodation, with
the guest dining room opening out on to the verandah.
The guests slept in little cottages, some made of corrugated iron,
some of wood, and oh the lucky ones in a large tent, spread out in
the surrounding paddocks and under the pohutakawa trees.
We were always put in the School House above the duck pond, there
was an old wooden lavatory down a slight slope and nearer the
homestead a bathhouse with a heater you had to set a fire under
if you wanted a warm bath, I don't think we ever tried it , two bare
bedrooms and a washstand; were paradise after shoes, socks and
Our mothers, they always seemed collective, sat around in deck chairs,
smoking, talking and doing cross-word puzzles, or taking us on long
walks up to Black Rock or down onto the wild west coast beach where
we were allowed to go in no higher than our knees , often attached
to a bit of strap-like kelp held by our mother.
Mostly we took off in the morning and went where the mood took us.
One day roaming around the sandhills picking up pieces of shrapnel
from the firing range, we saw a horse and decided to break it in.
I can still feel the tedious hours of horse breaking. We walked up
to it and hung on to it's mane and then thought how was the best way
to break a horse in .
The National Anthem suddenly came to mind, so
we sang and sang and walked and talked to the horse till we got sick
to death of it and told ourselves it was now broken in. We let go of
the mane and the horse ambled away, glad to get back to it's fossicking
for grass in the sandhills.
Back we raced to the main house where everything happened,
and told the Bethells who were sitting in comfy chairs on the
verandah, that we had found a wild horse on the beach and had
managed to break it in.
They looked surprised and looked at each
other and asked us some more questions, and then Mrs. Bethell
said “Oh that must be Nancy's old horse” no-one ever said you
silly children wasting your time on an old horse put out to graze,
they just let us draw our own conclusions and get on with the holiday...
My father came home from the war shortly afterwards and we
took him with such pride and excitement up to Bethells , we showed
him the brilliant West Coast sunsets from Sunset point and went on
hot walks up to Black Rock, but he told my mother he had
had quite enough of desert life and wanted a bit more comfort
on holiday, so we never went there again.
ed: Bethells Beach
is on the west coast, near Auckland, New Zealand
copyright Gael Levin