The inspiring life of Laura Miller
By Ian Wards
Laura Miller (1870-1953), was born in Port Cygnet, Tasmania on 7 April 1870. She was of Palawa (Aboriginal Tasmanian) and European descent; one of nine children born to Fanny and William Smith. Her mother Fanny was proud of being aboriginal and taught her children some of the traditions of her people as well as the violent circumstances of their slaughter at the hands of European settlers. Her father was a transported convict (convicted in Kent for stealing a donkey), who served seven years as a ‘timber getter’ in Oyster Cove, Tasmania.
Sick of the drudgery of farm life in rural Tasmania, Laura ran away to Hobart aged 12 and apprenticed herself to a dressmaker. There she became highly skilled as a ‘white worker’ sewing underwear and blouses trimmed with broderie anglaise and lace. She also made outer garments and in this way was able to earn a living.
She married Francis Thomason, a storekeeper, around 1890. They had a daughter Vera. Tragically Francis died in an accident not long after.
Laura remarried, to John Miller, in 1891. They had a daughter Recamea in 1894. John Miller was an abusive husband and they had separated by 1901.
A new life in Wellington
Laura moved to Wellington with her two daughters in 1907, to start a new life with her new husband William William’s (who changed his surname to Miller). William became a gardener at Wellington Botanic Gardens and Laura set up business as a seamstress, opening an ‘Underlinen Bazaar’ at 52 Adelaide Road.
Her shop windows were jammed with petticoats, chemises, nightgowns, and pants for women and children.
The family lived at the back of the shop and upstairs. They were happy, sociable, and enjoyed playing musical instruments at home or in concert groups. Since they lived so close to the city, they were able to attend many public events at the band rotunda, Athletic Park, or the Basin Reserve.
However, Laura and William looked to live a quieter life.
A home at Houghton Bay
In 1926 Laura and William moved to a section in Houghton Bay, where they built a house and lived for the rest of their lives. There they planted rich vegetable gardens and ornamental gardens full of flowers.
Laura opened a small haberdashery in Island Bay soon after. Every day she would walk around the south coast to and from her shop – in howling wind, sunshine, or rain. Her grandchildren recall she always enjoyed this short walk, no matter the weather.
Of this sewing machine, which lived at the Miller’s Houghton Bay home, Laura’s grand-daughter Audrey Inkersell writes:
When it was time for sewing the treadle rocked and wheels whirred as garments appeared from the machine with extraordinary speed. Cutting done on the table, usually without patterns, was the first step in producing clothes that fitted Grandma’s and auntie’s “difficult” figures very well.
A whale of a time
Laura and William assembled the jawbones of a whale that has washed ashore in Houghton Bay as an arch over the entrance to their property. The whale’s ribs were also used to edge the paths on the upper part of their garden.
Laura Miller is an inspiring woman, who tenaciously worked her way through difficult years in her early life to raise a happy and creative family in Wellington.
Many thanks to Kate Colbert for sharing Laura’s story and for donating things from Laura’s life to Wellington Museum.
Lyall Bay Days
By Tom Etuata
Piha and Hawaii’s famous Pipeline surf beach it is not, but Wellington’s Lyall Bay has its own unique charm. On hot summer days, when there is a decent ocean swell, the bay becomes a magnet for beachgoers, surfers, and ocean-lovers – despite the water being freezing cold most days.
So where does the name Lyall come from?
There are two men that could have lent their name to the bay. The first: Dr. David Lyall (below), a Royal Medical Officer who surveyed the bay in 1847.
The second: George Lyall, one of the directors of the New Zealand Company in 1840.
Names aside, one of my favourite Lyall Bay stories is that of ‘The Duke’ – Hawaiian surfing legend Duke Kahanamoku, godfather and inventor of modern surfing, – was invited by the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club to show–off his skills at the Bay on 7 March 1915. He surfed in front of a crowd of curious Wellingtonians.
The Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club was the first surf lifesaving club in Aotearoa, having formed in 1910.
Today, if you are looking for the ‘Godfather of Wellington Surfing’ then look no further than The Realsurf Co. Shop – owned and operated by Roger Titcombe.
He is a big part of the Lyall Bay surf scene, having lived in the Bay for over 45 years and has owned Realsurf since 2002. (He also ran the Goodtime Surf Shop which used to be on Onepu Rd and Coutts St in Kilbirnie.)
The shop is a surfboard museum of its own. When you walk in, look up. Numerous classic boards, all shaped and designed by Roger in the 1970s and 80s adorn the walls.
I bought my very first surfboard at Real Surf – an 8’ 3” Bear Malibu Longboard, which I still have today.
I lived at the upstairs flat at 66 Lyall Parade for several years in the late 1990s. Today the building has been converted into a beachfront home – with striking blue rodeca panels. Originally built in 1909, the building has a lot of history. In the early 1900s it was a dance hall and tea room;. later a skating rink. In 1915 the building was the Seaside Picture Theatre – at that time Wellington’s second purpose-built cinema.
Across the road from 66 Lyall Bay Parade reside two Surf Lifesaving clubs – Lyall Bay and Maranui.
Why two Surf Lifesaving clubs?
It can all be traced back to one particular incident in 1911 dubbed ‘The Big Row’.*
The incident began with a heated argument after the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club president, William Morpeth, who, at the last minute, changed the order of the lifeguards for an important surf lifesaving demonstration in front of Wellington City Councillors. This infuriated the lifeguards, George Neal, Ted Collier and Barney Wilson, who had been practicing their routine for weeks.
The three were part of a disgruntled group of Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club members ( of which 42 were women), who broke away to form another club called Maranui (meaning long sands in Te Reo) on the 3 October 1911.
In the Attic at Wellington Museum, you can see the oars and flags from the Lyall Bay Surf Life Saving Club.
Despite their history, I am sure the two surf clubs get along just swimmingly today (until their next surf club meet of course).
Lyall Bay is a great spot for Wellingtonians to enjoy. Not only does it have interesting surfing history and boast two surf life-saving clubs, it has it’s own unique sense of place and history alongside also a mix of cool eateries, a brewery and a shopping centre.
You could say Lyall Bay is riding a wave.
*Reference: Blue White and Dynamite – 100 Years of the Lyall Bay Surf Lifesaving Club (2010) by Gavin McLean
The rebuilding of Tapu Te Ranga Marae, Paekawakawa (Island Bay)
By Lawrence Wharerau
The basis of it all, is you shift because the grass is greener and the grass was green in Wellington.
Bruce Stewart, Tapu Te Ranga Marae, 1996
In the early to mid-1970s, with time on his hands to contemplate his next direction in life, Bruce Stewart had a vision to create a space for “the down and outs, the nobodies…” where they could take stock of their situation and recalibrate their lives. To provide shelter and comfort for the homeless, the ex-prisoner, the gang member looking to change their ways, the street kids, the desperate and those living on the fringe of society. This vision led to the building of the innovative Tapu Te Ranga Marae in Paekawakawa, Island Bay.
Built almost entirely from recycled materials and creative imagination, Tapu Te Ranga Marae has provided shelter for thousands of people over the
years – people who needed to momentarily step out of the race.
The impressive and unique structure incorporating ten different whare over nine levels was dedicated to women and especially to the mother Bruce, to his shame, often denied in his childhood. His mother, Hinetai Hirini, was of Ngāti Raukawa whakapapa.
Another dream Bruce initiated was to create a sanctuary for birds and plants; an island pā. This saw thousands of plants reared at the marae nursery planted over the 50 hectares of hilly country surrounding the complex. Bruce strongly believed in the principle of ahi kā and of giving back. He felt that we each have a responsibility to make a better world and to protect the environment.
He certainly had his naysayers and doubters. It was with determined grit, commitment and passion that Bruce pushed on to achieve his vision, to a level some considered arrogance. His unconventional approach often saw him butt heads with authorities and earned him several visits from local council building and health inspectors. Nonetheless he continued, determined to complete his dream.
When he passed away in June 2017 this passion was picked up by his whānau and staunch supporters to continue his legacy. He was buried at a spot overseeing his dream.
Almost two years later, to the day, the complex was razed to the ground in a tragic accident that saw only the nursery shed survive the inferno.
Fire inspectors discovered that an unattended brazier, that was believed to have been doused, was fanned back to life by a steady breeze which saw embers blow into the downstairs laundry area, sparking the tragic fire.
Bruce’s daughter Pare was in labour when the fire was discovered and in the time it took her to get from her home next door to the marae, the complex was already beyond saving. All available fire units from Palmerston North south were scrambled to contain the fire and keep it from spreading to neighbouring properties.
Two years later, Pare, her whānau and supporters are still dead set and committed to rebuilding Tapu Te Ranga Marae from the ground up. This time, with the support of neighbours, council, government and sponsors, they are keen to reconstruct the complex with the required resource consents and compliance.
For the Stewart whānau, Tapu Te Ranga Marae was more than a marae, it was a huge commitment, with the complex also serving as their home, their church, their university – the place they could receive guests from far and wide and share Bruce’s philosophy of giving back to the birds and trees.
A taste of history – Dick Lee & Co. at Wellington Museum
By Ian Wards
These celadon spoons were recently donated to Wellington Museum by Ken Chung. And they’ve got an intriguing story to tell, one that gives us a window into the food and community of early to mid-20th century Chinese Wellington.
These spoons were probably made in Southern China during the late 19th or early 20th century. They are an everyday type of spoon, used for eating a variety of delicious Chinese soups. They get their name from their green, jade-like, celadon glaze.
They were used at Dick Lee & Co., a shop near the corner of Tory and Jessie Streets in Te Aro, from the early 1900s to the 1970s. Dick Lee & Co. sold imported goods to the Chinese community of central Wellington and a variety of traditional Chinese medicines. It was a popular spot for older Chinese to gather and talk over a game of mahjong or a nourishing bowl of soup.
That’s where the spoons come in.
The owner of Dick Lee & Co., Chung Chun Ying, inherited the business from his uncle Chung Tack Foon, who returned to China with his family in 1929. Chung Ying was skilled in traditional Cantonese cooking. As well as selling imported Chinese goods and medicines, Chung Ying devoted a great deal of time to preparing and cooking nourishing cuisine.
These spoons would have been used to enjoy Chung Ying’s hearty rice congee soups. They would also have been used to eat other soups made with pork bones, Chinese dried mushrooms, dried vegetables, and herbs. These soups provided Chung Ying’s patrons with the authentic taste and the aroma of ‘home’.
Soup wasn’t Chung Ying’s only specialty. In his recently published collection of childhood memories, Newtown Boy, Stan Chun suggests that the clientele of Dick Lee & Co. also gathered in the shop because Chung Ying, “… made a real mean roast duck. There was nothing like it.” Stan describes how Chung Ying would make his way to the livestock markets on Allen Street and select “… a squawking duck with wings flapping all over the place…”, then use
“…various herbs to marinate the duck and roast it in his gas-fired oven. When ready the duck was chopped into bite-sized pieces with a Chinese cleaver. The meat was something else, almost melting in your mouth… I cannot explain the flavour of the juice, texture and fragrance of the duck, but believe me that Chung Ying earned the title of Roast Duck Master.”
At Wellington Museum we are fortunate to have a rice grinding mill and a medicinal herb grinder from Dick Lee & Co. Chung Tack Foon was a renowned Chinese traditional herbalist – a talent shared with his nephew Chung Ying. Using herbs, plant extracts and other natural ingredients, the store was popular in treating numerous ailments. Herbs were hand-ground until electrical grinders became available.
The Dick Lee & Co. mills are on display in The Attic at Wellington Museum, alongside small drawers which can be opened to release the smell of the herbs used at the Dick Lee shop.
Dick Lee & Co. had such a great community influence that it became something of a makeshift Citizens Advice Bureau.
A respected man, William Lip Guey would often be present to translate documents and explain laws for members of the Chinese community. Perhaps advice was better received alongside a calming bowl of Chung Ying’s congee or some delicious roast duck?