Topic: Reflections of Hanmer Springs, 1951 - 1955.

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Ron Morrow reflects on the time he spent at Queen Mary Hospital in Hanmer Springs

My name is Ron Morrow, I went to Hanmer Springs in the winter of 1951 as the Second Gardener at Queen Mary Hospital.  This was a new position created at the same time as a new Head Gardener was appointed to replace the retiring Head Gardener Pat Reid, and primarily to set up a vegetable garden.  This was aimed at both supplying fresh vegetables to the hospital kitchens, which up until then had all been bought in from Christchurch markets, and giving occupational therapy options for patients at the hospital. 

The new Head Gardener was Trevor Griffiths, who was later to establish Griffiths Rose Nurseries at Temuka, and was known world wide for his work with old varieties of roses.  The Timaru Rose Gardens are named after him.  The starting salary for the second gardener was 491 pounds ($982.00) per annum, and I think I paid 1 pound 10 shillings ($3.00) per week for full board at the hospital.  There was a building for single men boarding at the hospital but I had a single room in the Soldiers Block, now classed as a Heritage Building.  Single men on staff had a dining room beside the kitchen in the Rutherford Block.  Female staff ate in the dining room at the Nurses Home presided over by Sister Gunn, (Poppy). 

Besides Trevor and I there were 3 other gardeners and 3 labourers on the garden staff.  Names that I remember include Len Gilligan, whose job for most of the spring and summer was full time on the big lawn mower with a trailer seat hooked on behind.  He and his wife lived in the village as did Eddie Duffield. Ron Boundy and Ted Ashton were both single and lived in the men's quarters, though some time after I left, Ted Ashton got married and later became Head Gardener.  Then there was the Altments and Kaneps refugee families from Latvia who arrived either in late 1951 or early 1952.  Arvid (Jack) and Elvira Altments and their two young sons, excuse the spelling, Merivaldes and Viestris.  Elvira's parents, Mr and Mrs Kaneps, and another daughter.  To start with they all lived in an accommodation building by the entrance to the hospital grounds close to the Post Office, and backing onto the garden yard.  The 5 adults all worked in various departments of the hospital, Jack worked on the garden staff and joined the local fire brigade.

Most days of the week we had patients, both male and female, helping with light gardening duties, doing what was called occupational therapy.  The gardens at that time were quite extensive, lots of flower beds with annual plantings propagated in a small nursery and glasshouse.  All the gravel drives and paths had to be kept weeded and raked, before the days of using weed killer.  There was an orchard, and of course lots of lawns. And some big macrocarpa hedges which were all cut by hand.  We also had to look after the Avenue of trees in the village, keeping it tidy, including the big job of raking up and removing all the autumn leaves so that the grass kept growing and the 'host of golden daffodils' looked good in the spring.

Socially, there was plenty to do in Hanmer Springs.  An active staff social club centred on the big hall in the Soldiers Block, had a table tennis and a billiard table, indoor bowls etc, and often combined with the social club at the nearby Forest Service camp to run regular dances.  I joined the Volunteer Fire Brigade, and was secretary for a short time.  I played Sunday cricket for the local club, and we travelled to Culverden, Waiau, Parnassus and Kaikoura for matches.  The Hospital had a 10 or 12 seat Bedford station wagon, usually driven by Sam Durose a hospital driver, and this was used for Sunday cricket and other social outings.  I remember going to the "Ice Follies" in what is now the Isaac-Regent Theatre in Christchurch.  Sam Durose never drove at more than 45mph, even on the tar-seal after Culverden.  We left Hanmer in time to have dinner in the Amberley Hotel, attend the show in Christchurch, and it was away past midnight when we returned to Hanmer.  We played tennis on the hospitals 3 tennis courts, and we could get a key and have free use of the hot pools after hours.  In those days there were separate men's and women's pools for a very good reason.  There was a belief that the sulphur content of the water would rot your clothing, so everyone bathed in the nude. 

Not long after I went to Hanmer Springs, at a staff club dance I met Miss Helen O'Regan who had only been there since after Easter that year.  Towards the end of 1951 I went with Helen to Inangahua on the West Coast for the first time to the family farm to meet her family.  I have been over there many many times since, and it is always a delightful scenic drive, but in the early 1950's it was not a tar sealed highway like it is today.  We did not own a car, and there was no suitable bus service for a weekend trip, so we got a Morris Minor rental car from Mockett's Motors, the local garage.  The only tar seal between Hanmer Springs and the family farm at Inangahua was Broadway, the main street of Reefton, it was gravel, dust and corrugations all the way.  There were no bridges over the small streams, the road deviated to where the bed of the stream could be flattened out, and you drove through the water course.

At the end of 1952, Trevor Griffiths the Head Gardener left to take up a position with the Wellington City Council.  I applied for his job, and in February 1953 was appointed Head Gardener.  Helen and I got married in April 1953 and moved into the Head Gardeners cottage which was right opposite the drive into Chisholm Block.  After our daughter was born, the staff house at the top of the hill at the entrance to Hanmer Springs became vacant and was conveniently re-designated the Head Gardeners House and we moved there.  It of course is still there, but the old Head Gardeners Cottage is long gone, and been replaced by the Alpine Village Inn.

At that time 1953, Dr A.W. Wilkinson was the Medical Superintendent at Queen Mary Hospital, Mr Phillip McManaway was the Hospital House Manager, and Miss Margaret Petre was the Matron.  Her father was the architect who designed the Catholic Cathedral in Christchurch, and other churches in Oamaru and Waimate.  Dr Tom Maling was on the medical staff, and a Mr Jacquery was the pharmacist.  After I became the Head Gardener, we didn't actually call it restructuring then, but the House Manager and I simply decided not to persevere with vegetable production, did away with the Second Gardeners position but added another labourer, which meant I had 3 gardeners and 4 labourers to maintain the hospital grounds.

Not necessarily in order of importance in 1953, Helen and I got married, Edmund Hilary climbed Mt Everest, and the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.  To commemorate the coronation it was decided that we should plant an oak tree on the expanse of lawn in front of Chisholm Block.  So while I held the tree, Dr Wilkinson wielded the spade and did the planting, and Helen took the photo, all witnessed by an assembly of staff.  Unfortunately the plaque at the bottom of the tree only says it was planted by Dr Wilkinson on the 2nd June 1953, no mention of the Coronation.

We visited Hanmer Springs in 2009, to an open day at the old hospital.  56 years later, it's a slightly different photo.


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Reflections of Hanmer Springs, 1951 - 1955.

City:Hanmer Springs
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Reflections of Hanmer Springs, 1951 - 1955. by hurunuiadmin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License