Home' Greymouth Star : April 14th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, April 14, 2015 - 7
thel Keown was born in Runanga, the
daughter of Margaret and Alf Keown,
and along with her brother Alan,
she grew up in the family home in
“ I was actually born in Ranfurly
Street and the nurse took me over next door and the
neighbour apparently said I’d been here before — I
was 10 pound.
“My father was a coalminer and worked at Rewanui.
I remember when he was badly hurt in a fall and
broke both his legs.”
Ethel attended the Runanga State School and
received her secondary education at the Greymouth
Technical High School.
“There were lots of kids there (Runanga School),
miners’ children mostly. We used to catch the steam
train to go to high school. It was the miners’ train —
they ’d come out to work from Greymouth, and we’d
go in to school and get back at 6 o’c lock at night.
“I went to work for Jim Steel when I was 16 years
old. He had his shoe shop, originally further down in
Mackay Street next to Percy Beck’s shop, then later
came up near Hay ’s Corner (Mackay-Tainui corner),”
“ Percy Beck and Alf Kilgour, who was Max Kilgour’s
father, would come into the shop for cups of tea. Alf
later moved up the other end of Mackay Street as
“ When I started work as a 16-year-old Mr Steel had
an old tart, Miss Wignell, working at the shop,” she
“ When the travellers came around she would have
her say but I would say ‘I like that ’ and Jim Steel took
notice. A lot of the shoes back then were Cuban heels.
I eventually did the buying and ordering of all the
shoes for the shop. I would go to Auckland twice a
year and check out the new ranges coming out.
“They ’d have models, and girls would be walking
around with the new shoes on. I’d order for Jim and
would go across in the railcar to Christchurch and
stay at a friend’s place and fly out the next day. I’d stay
at a hotel and would be up there three at least if not
“ People from Ballantynes and other places would be
there, and once everyone had put orders in the factory
would make the shoes. It took a while, months before
the shoes would turn up at the shop. I would buy in
the winter for the summer shoes, and go up again in
the summer to buy the winter ones. ”
When she was growing up, men wore suits, braces
and sports coats and the women kept up with the
fashion of the day, and going to dances which were
popular and a regular weekend pastime.
“I used to love going to the dances held upstairs at
Schaefs, which was opposite Harkers. If we had left
our ticket behind while coming in on the train we’d
do a bit of a dodge and go from one carriage to the
other ahead of the guard with his ticket clipper,” she
“I just loved the dances, and that ’s where I met my
husband Charlie while at a dance at the Runanga
Miners’ Hall — the Miners’ Hall was well patronised
in those days.
“ We were married in the Anglican church in
Runanga and we put on a bus for those who didn’t
have cars. The wedding reception was held at Owen’s
Cake Kitchen (in Greymouth), but we had limited
time there as other people were following us next in
line for their wedding breakfast.”
Ethel and Charlie Wright went on to raise two
daughters, Phyllis and Anita, before Charlie died.
“Charlie died of cancer early on and things were
tough, but people and my family were very good to
me. Once, I went to the pictures at the Miners’ Hall
with my mother and paid to go in. The man followed
me upstairs and said I didn’t have to pay and gave me
my money back. I was embarrassed but that ’s how
kind people were.
“ Mr and Mrs Steel drove out to Runanga and
asked me to come and work again when I’m ready,
and I eventually worked part-time. I would go into
work at 1pm and back with my brother Alan after
work. We all eventually moved to our family house in
Shakespeare Street. ”
Greymouth was a busy town then, and there was a
lot of employment with the coalmines and mills in
full production. Friday nights were a highlight.
“ Friday night was when all the buses would come
into town, and it was always busy. People would come
in and shop as the shops stayed open until 9pm on a
Friday night — Woolworths, McKenzies and such.
Everyone would meet in town and Doug Coburn’s
buses used to stop outside Hannah’s.
“There was really never any trouble on Friday nights
as people were pretty well behaved. ”
Ethel recalls when World War Two broke out and
how people kept in touch with what was happening
“ When war broke out the coalminers didn’t have to
go to war. A lot of young men from the West Coast
went to war and not many people had a wireless back
One of our neighbours, Ned Hambley, had a wireless
and he would stick it on the windowsill and turn it up
so all the neighbours could hear it. The news would
come on and it kept everybody informed about what
“I remember, too, when it was over and the joy in
the neighbourhood. I had two little children but if you
were single and working in town you went mad — all
Ethel looks across the stone courtyard at her new
home at Granger House, and gestures at the flowers
“ You know, it’s nice to sit outside among the flowers
and trees. I did a bit of gardening in my time, I used
to do dressmaking, too, and would make all my
“I learned the piano when I was a young girl but
I wasn’t much good. I learned at the convent — the
nuns would whack you over the knuckles if you played
the wrong note.
“ Tennis was popular when I was a young girl. Now I
enjoy my tai chi — it’s good exercise and it ’s easy.”
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Ethel Wright sits outside enjoying the West Coast sunshine.
At 97, Ethel Wright looks forward to her tai chi sessions each Monday and Friday morning. It keeps her active and focused, she says.
“ You move this way and that — it’s easy and I enjoy it.” Reporter PAUL McBRIDE listens to Ethel’s memories of growing up in
Runanga and Greymouth.
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