Home' Greymouth Star : February 14th 2017 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 5
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Midge Stenhouse relaxes during a recent visit to the Coast.
Ninety-year-old Midge Stenhouse (nee Gillman) lives in Christchurch these days but she still calls the West Coast
home — and she is full of memories of the early days in the Grey Valley. PAUL McBRIDE caught up with the spritely
nonagenarian on a recent trip ‘home’.
told them in
going home and
they said to me,
‘here is your home
Midge,’ and I said to
them, ‘I may live in
Christchurch — but
the West Coast is
Midge Stenhouse was born in Ngahere to
her parents Carl and Jane Gillman, along
with nine brothers and sisters.
“I was born at Ngahere at home. Mrs
Dallard delivered me. Her husband used to
work in the railways but I don’t really know
what she did, but she delivered all the babies
in Ngahere back then.
“There was no shortage of children in our
family — Carl jnr, Masie, Jack, Snow, Len,
Dutchie, Slim, Jean, Lorna and me. I was
the baby of the family.”
Midge says the family door was always
open and nobody was ever turned away from
the Gillman home when times were tough
during the Depression.
“ We came from one of those homes
where the doors swung and had no locks
either, they were always open. Mum used
to feed the swaggers during the Depression
and had some mattresses down in the
garage. The swaggers were allowed to sleep
there when they were passing through.
Dad reckoned the swaggers must tell
the next one to ‘go and see Mrs Gillman’
because they were always turning up at the
Timber was in the blood and Carl Gillman
snr and his six brothers all worked in the
bush and mills around the Grey Valley.
“Dad worked in the mill up the road, and
all the boys worked in the mills and the
bush. My brother Len was killed at the
loading bay when he was working up at Red
As a girl Midge attended Ngahere School
but left at an early age and established
herself as the No 1 paper girl in Ngahere.
“I used to deliver the Argus in the morning
and the Grey Star in the evening. No
one had letterboxes back then so I would
put the paper on the veranda. If it was
raining I would knock on the door — I did
everything but read it,” she chuckled.
“Every morning I would meet the steam
train going through to Reefton. The
Blackball kids would be waiting at the
Ngahere station to catch the train to school
at Greymouth High School.
“The Argus would arrive in the morning
and at 4.30pm I would pick up the Grey
Star. I was just about the post girl as
well, or I might as well have been! When
I dropped papers off the people would
say, ‘Can you post this letter?’ The Post
Office was originally at Armstrong ’s Store
and when that closed it was based at the
There were two hotels and plenty
of characters living in Ngahere and
nearby then, and there was plenty of
entertainment watching the goings on, she
“I used to be happy bowling a tyre up the
road but if you had nothing to do you could
watch the men walk from one pub to the
other — with a bit of luck one would fall
into the ditch! We had a few old characters
who lived in huts along Red Jacks Road,
old retired people. Tinny Goddard was bent
over and he’d come to our door. He would
crouch over the fire with a pot of black tea
and read. One day he was coming up the
road with a bunch of flowers, he had a fancy
for the woman who was running the pub.
Slim, my brother, crept up behind him with
a pair of scissors and cut the heads off the
flowers. Old Tinny Goddard, all bent over,
didn’t know the flowers had been snipped
and went into the pub and presented
them to Maggie — just the stalks!” Midge
“He drank quite a bit. He used to stagger
home and collapse on Red Jacks Road not
far from his hut. In the morning he would
be covered in frost — even the drip on his
nose would be frozen. Dad used to get him
up and he would just shake his head and he
would be as good as gold.
“But one day Tinny was drunk and went
to bed smoking. His hut caught fire and he
was burned to death. Everyone in Ngahere
ran down to see his body, but I didn’t.”
Midge left school when she was just
13 to help her mother at home with the
“There were no mod cons in houses back
then and no hot water. Mum’s health was
going downhill and I was helping her with
the running of the house. I used to put the
sheets in a big kerosene tin with some water
and boil it on the open fire and then take
them back to the tub in the wash house.
down on the sheets — I was the washing
Cars were scarce in old Ngahere, and the
main means of transport were the trains,
truck, or horse and cart.
“Dad had a horse and cart later on and
would pick up all the groceries at the railway
station and then deliver them around
Ngahere, Red Jacks and even out to Waiuta.
“My brothers Slim and Jack had a car with
Harry Shrives and they used to go by car
and clear the bush ahead of the gold dredge.
Dad’s last job was on the big Ngahere
dredge, which worked out at Moonlight.
There were actually two dredges operating
from Ngahere then, one was called the
Atarau and the other was the big Ngahere.
There was also a Blackball dredge and
another one working out at Ikamatua. ”
Midge Gillman met her late husband Alec
Stenhouse by chance.
“I was playing basketball in Blackball with
Joyce Q uibell when she threw the ball and
it bounced down the road. It was picked up
by a whistling Alec Stenhouse — he was the
postboy but he never had to use his whistle.
It was the first time I had met him but
he came and sat beside me at the pictures
not long after that — the boys would wait
until the lights went out. Ian McGuigan,
Jack Lee, Ralph Smith and Alec, who was
the noisy one. That song of the time holds
special memories for me,” she says, reciting
the words to the song:
Holding hands in the movie show
When all the lights are low.
May not be new
But I like it.
What about you?
“That song always reminds me of those
days. I was 14 years old when we met and
we married in 1947 when I was 21.
“ We both loved dancing and would go to
all the dances — Ngahere, Nelson Creek,
Stillwater and Blackball. Normally it was
Jessie Bateman’s Dance Band playing, but
Anne Rodden’s band was popular and played
at a lot of the dances. Anne was on piano,
Joe Soster played violin, Arnold Beck played
the saxophone and Gordon Elley played
the drums — they were a good band. The
music was just beautiful and was always a
highlight on Saturday. I often wonder how
many romances and marriages started at
Midge’s mother had the contract to clean
the Ngahere Hall which she took advantage
of while growing up.
“Mum had the key to the hall and I would
take to key and go and dance just for the
sheer hell of it. I’d teach the local boys and
girls how to dance. I’d sing while I was
pushing them around — no radios back
then for us!”
All the country towns, including Ngahere,
held sports meetings and there would be a
good turnout of locals along with visiting
“ When the sports meetings were held
there would be chopping up on the domain.
Chopping used to be big back then — my
six brothers all chopped. There would always
be a dance that night, which was very
Before marrying Alec, Midge spent time
working in Wellington, where Alec was
working in the Post Office.
“ Dad said he was selling the house in
Ngahere when mum died and he wanted me
to live my life and not be tied to the house. I
went to Wellington and Alec was boarding
up there and working in the telegraph
section of the Post Office. I stayed at a girls’
hostel in Oriental Bay, it was a beautiful
area. Those were definitely the days when
you didn’t live with your partner,” Midge
“ When we were married we lived in
Wellington for a couple of years in one
room; you couldn’t get housing as it was
just after the war. We then lived at the
military camp at Trentham for six years
and then Upper Hutt before returning
to the West Coast. O ur two sons, Steve
and Greg, were born in Upper Hutt,
while Chris my youngest son was born in
“ Dad was living with us at the time and
reckoned I only had Chris on his account
— he loved him to bits. Dad died two years
later but it was good that I could look after
dad in his latter years. My husband retired
from the Post Office when he turned 55 —
that was the policy back then but he went
on to work for Armorgard. He’s been gone
now 25 years. I love the West Coast and I
love my husband — and there wouldn’t be a
day goes past that I don’t think of him.”
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