Home' Greymouth Star : December 15th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
10 - Tuesday, December 15, 2015
PICTURE: Laura Mills
Dorothy Aben at home in Cobden.
Dorothy Aben has lived in Cobden her entire life. As a youngster, her family had its own rail wagon for getting
firewood from the beach. She told LAURA MILLS about the days when bells would toll across Cobden, the naval gun
was fired during World War Two with some memorable results, and the whippet racing track was the place to be.
t is a wet day in Greymouth, and the
floodwaters are around the front gate
to Dorothy Aben’s Nelson Quay
home. Inside, a fire is burning and
the welcome is warm.
Floodwaters are also lying over the
wider dog exercise area, outside the front
“That used to be the rec,” she says, pointing
at the water.
“They played football, cricket and there
was whippet racing there. There was a big
clubhouse and a big football pavilion. There
were basketball courts where the dog run is.
“Crowds would come over from town for
the whippets, like a field day, now the ducks
have taken over.”
Dorothy Aben (nee McArthur) was born
at 13 Peel Street, and in 1962 moved to
13 Nelson Quay, to a house her uncle Bob
Blacktopp built for £3000.
She used to play at 13 Nelson Quay, when
it was just paddocks. She remembers when
people lived on Cobden Island — Neil
McCarthy who lost his life when his hut
burned down 40 or 50 years ago, and Barry
Shepherd would paddle over the river to
work at the harbour.
Her family did not have much, but their
dad was a carpenter and made them things,
including stilts — everyone would come to
have a play.
She remembers when the railway line went
down Nelson Quay, taking rock from the
Cobden quarry to the tiphead.
It was time for the children to go home for
tea when the train returned daily at 4.30pm.
The family, like others, had their own rail
trolley which they used to go to the beach
and get driftwood for the fire.
The would fill 20 sacks, and the children
would be perched on top for the return
journey, she laughs.
Then their dad would remove the stick that
was acting as a brake and away they would
race, down a steep hill from the tiphead to
the little bridge.
Back then, Cobden had the Abbie Ramage
store, opposite where the petrol pumps were,
which sold everything. There was McKane’s
grocer, who sold lollies too. There was
Nimmo’s further down, and a butcher on the
corner of Bright and Newcastle streets.
Mrs Aben attended the old Cobden
School, a grand brick building that was
damaged in the Inangahua earthquake. She
went to watch as it was demolished in 1968.
“They took the roof off to start,” she recalls.
When World War Two broke out, they
were not initially too worried, as they were
But when the Japanese bombed Dar win,
and planes flew over Auckland, she recalls
She was at school in 1945 when the war
ended. The children, waiting for class, knew
something was happening as the start of
school was delayed. They filed into assembly
at 10.15am and the principal told them.
“Everyone went mad, we kissed and
Her cousin from Hari Hari, who was just
19, did not sur vive the war. He was landing
a plane in England, but two planes had been
brought in on the one runway.
Cobden had only one coastal defence
gun emplacement on the hill. An area was
initially cleared at the little tiphead, but
there were concerns that if the enemy tried
to bomb it and missed, they would hit
Cobden. So it was sited aloft.
One day, it was test fired.
“The windows shook. On Ward Street they
shattered! They tried it out only once.”
They always remembered the war on
Armistice Day as well as Anzac Day, and
would lay wreaths at the old memorial bridge,
near where Cobden Takeaways is now.
All over Cobden, the bells would toll.
“ We would go all goosey. ”
From her house on Nelson Quay, she can
see over the river, to the Greymouth cranes.
One day in 1975, she had just woken up and
was looking out the window, watching the
coastal freighter Titoki making its way over
the bar into port.
Suddenly the funnel and mast changed
direction, and it grounded on the beach. Her
husband jumped into the car and was the
first there, throwing a rope out.
It was pulled off at high tide.
In 1988, attention was again on the river
when the second Greymouth flood of
that terrible year put about 32cm of water
through her home. She spent just two nights
away before returning, cranking up the fires
and starting scrubbing. She remembers the
kindness of those who helped.
After that, the floodwall went in,
restricting her view across to Greymouth,
though the house has not flooded since.
Mrs Aben left school at age 15, and went
to work for Trumans department store. She
has four children and three grandchildren.
The Cobden of her childhood is a place
of families, picnics, whitebaiting, bike rides
Some things have not changed so much.
“ It ’s a family place over here, someone will
always help out.”
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