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Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 7
PICTURE: Laura Mills
Muriel Piner has lived in Ward Street her whole life, on this section on the hill above Runanga township since 1933.
When 94-year-old lifelong Ward Street resident Muriel Piner was young, Runanga was a self-contained town with
shoemakers, an ice-cream factory and its own taxis. She also watched the original Miners’ Hall burn to the ground. She
shared her remarkable memories of a way of life long gone, with LAURA MILLS.
uriel Piner’s parents
emigrated to the
West Coast coalfields
from Cumbria (she
pronounces it the
English way, Coom-
bree-ah). Muriel (nee Rafferty) was an only
Her mother had been a maid in a “big
hall up on the moors” in Clifton before she
emigrated to far-flung New Zealand; the
photo looks like something out of Downton
Abbey. Her father was a coalminer who
found work in Runanga.
Muriel grew up in a house without power,
but with gas lamps, wash tubs for laundry
and an outdoor toilet. Do you remember
carbolic soap, she asks, or Lifebuoy? When
electricity arrived in town they got lighting,
then an electric stove.
The Runanga of Muriel’s childhood is
largely gone. But what is truly remarkable
is her memory; she can still account for
the location of every store, and who owned
When Muriel entered the world in Ward
Street her mother had the choice of five
local midwives and one local GP, Dr Mead.
She reels off their names, counting on her
fingers — Mrs Cook, Mrs Boddy, Mrs
Purnell, Mrs Taylor and her own nurse,
She talks fondly of Richard Maddison, the
man who cleaned the drains when Runanga
still had its own borough council. There was
also a Mr Merriman and Jamieson.
Here is her list of stores, starting up the
side of the Miners’ Hall in McGowan
Street: a shoemaker, bakery, and the large
co-op, which had a grocery managed by Mr
Story, while Mr Ray had the drapery, at the
back of which was an Italian shoemaker.
There was O’Connell’s store, which “sold
everything we wanted”; Mr Freeman built a
fruit shop there later.
Muriel’s parents knew trade unionist and
pioneer Labour MP Paddy Webb (she
recalls seeing him, and his “ little house”
which is now gone, behind the Miners’
The original hall faced Mill Street, and the
first movie she saw there was silent, starring
Tom Mix. Miss Watson accompanied on the
There was a lolly shop, ice-cream shop,
Wards garage (which Frank Wilde later
took over), Mr Farquhar built a grocery shop
and there was Dalzell’s butchery.
Then there was the house with the talking
pet magpie . . . now, she says, you can not
print what the bird said.
There was a chimney manufacturer, and
then was Mr Johnson’s house — he taught
them Scotch, Irish, clog and tap dancing,
but they had to take a shilling. There was
the fish and chip shop in McGowan Street.
Mrs Campbell sold ice-cream, lollies and
cakes, Mrs Braithwaite used to boast of
her clothing shop, ‘you name it, I’ve got it’;
latterly it was a fish shop.
Mrs Murphy had the ice-cream factory,
there was another shoemaker, and Mr and
Mrs Southward sold cakes, jewellery and
Runanga then had a council, library, four
churches, tennis courts, Post Office, bowling
and croquet greens, goods shed, Plunket
rooms, fire brigade and gymnasium (Muriel
played a lot of badminton there).
Her favourite was the Runanga Co-op
— you put a small wooden marble with a
number on it in a pipe as you entered, then
waited for your number to be called. If you
wanted, they would deliver on a Friday. But
after $40, your credit ran out.
When she was five years old she caught
Johnny Love’s bus to “town” (Greymouth),
although there was not much reason to as
Runanga was very much self-contained.
“There were a lot of people here in the
early days,” she says.
Behind it all were the coalmines. Seven
Mile at the back of Herd Street, with the
tramline that used to run to the bins at
There were three railway lines — one to
Rewanui, one to the goods shed and one for
the coal trucks. Behind the goods shed was
the stationmaster’s house. Further down the
line was the first station where they used to
get on a picnic train to Hokitika.
The Rewanui mine came after Seven Mile,
then James, then Strongman. And there
were all the little co-operative mines up the
Coast Road and up Rewanui way.
But mining also brought risks. Kaye
and Party was the first to explode, then
Strongman. She recalls labour strikes lasting
six weeks, and standing in a queue waiting
to get food.
Her first teacher was Ms Davison, the head
teacher a kind Irishman called Mr Malone.
They gathered on Monday mornings out
front to listen to a lecture, then sang God
Save the King. When they got older they
wore a uniform — black pinafore, black and
white tie and black stockings.
When she was about 12 the old State
school burned down (“nobody knows how ”)
and she went to the convent school until
the new State school opened. There was no
caretaker back then; the children had to
keep it clean.
The first Miners’ Hall was the heart of the
community — pantomimes, Maori concerts,
fancy dress, the pictures, dances, weddings
The last movie advertised before it burned
down was It ’s a Bet. Muriel watched the fire
from up on the hill.
“It was sad when it went, we only had
the Druid and Masonic halls, and the
When the Miners’ Hall was rebuilt it
faced on to McGowan Street, not Mill
Muriel taught badminton, and they played
the Australians in the ‘new ’ hall.
Cake Kitchen and did her apprenticeship.
She married Des Piner in 1944 in the old
Methodist Church in Ward Street.
Muriel, you see, was not just married in
Ward Street — she was born there. Their
first marital house was near her parents,
also in Ward Street. When her mother died
(Muriel nursed her until her death), they
moved into her parents’ house in Ward
Street, where she remains today. When she
leaves, she says defiantly, she will be carried
She learned to drive in a ‘baby’ Austin her
father bought her; he learned later.
Still she stayed in Ward Street. But as
people died, shops died with them, and the
once mar vellous Runanga where everyone
knew everyone began to slip away.
“ When there was a funeral, everyone lit
their stoves and baked, and the houses on
the funeral procession route pulled their
blinds as a mark of respect.”
When her own mother went into hospital
for a spell, another woman opened her home
to her. Doors were left unlocked, windows
They had three children — Winsome,
Harry and Daphne — two of whom still live
in Runanga. Her husband Des, a baker, died
when Muriel was in her 60s.
She has six great-grandchildren, and one
Muriel reflects that she had a great
childhood growing up in old Runanga, and
so did her children.
“ It was a wonderful place. Old people
made Runanga in the early days. It was
a really happy place, everyone knew one
another and helped one another. The
Cumbrians would have wonderful evenings
when they had their dances, balls and
But as I leave, with a bag of fresh baking
and an offer to call again, a schoolboy gives a
Thanks to Mrs Piner — Runanga’s oldest
resident — some of the old spirit lives on.
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