Spectrum 739 and Spectrum 740. A marvellous life

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Tono kōrero mai

A two-part programme, in which singer Phyllis Williams, also known as Kirimamae, looks back on her 'marvellous life'.

Part 1: Williams recalls her early life

She was brought up on the East Coast, near Tolega Bay, on an isolated farm. She remembers the challenges of living so remotely; their furniture had to arrive by sea and her parents had to build everything themselves. Forest fires were often a risk, and the soil was so heavy there was constant mud which made life difficult for her mother. However she considers her childhood idyllic. She describes how she learned to ride at three years old and was very comfortable on horseback. Cars frightened her more. A road was finally built to their property, but the mud was too deep for cars to pass and was only accessible by horse. Wool from their farm was transported by boat and later by bullock wagon.
She was one of five children, and their family was self-sufficient. They grew all their vegetables and rarely needed to buy food.

She married Charles Williams in 1926 and went to live at Matahia, close to Ruatoria. Their property was just as isolated as the place she grew up. The farm was on the other side of the Mata River, so their movements were dictated by the condition of the river. She tells some stories about the challenges of living on such a remote farm; on several occasions, her husband had to set the broken bones of injured men as they were unable to move them to hospital. A boy nearly lost his leg and the doctor had to gallop over the mountain to treat him.
Her son became very ill at one time, and was too ill to undertake the journey to see the doctor. Finally a doctor had to ride over the hills to see but he needed to be operated on at home. He had osteomyelitis and recovered, but it recurred several times throughout his childhood.
She says it did not occur to them to live anywhere else, that might have brought fewer challenges. They did not even think of moving to Gisborne or anywhere else. They enjoyed a good social life where they lived as they were the social hub for the area. They had an open house for visitors and had regular parties.
She describes the difficulties of catering for everybody; they had no fridge and needed to prepare things that would not go bad in the summer. Meat and dairy were a problem to keep fresh; they killed sheep and milked cows every day.

Part 2: Williams recalls her career as Kirimamae

The programme begins with Kirimamae singing and action song. Phyllis Williams continues to narrate her life at Matahia, expanding on the role of the river in governing their lives and movements. Despite her fear of crossing the river, she enjoyed living there. Their house was often full of visitors, but there were rarely uninvited ones. She tells a story of her first encounter with a swagger, and another about a farm worker who burned their house down while they were away.
She talks about difficult river crossings, including when she was bringing her newborn son home from the hospital. The river was so deep the horses had to swim, and she and the baby had to pile their goods up on top of the wagon and perch on top in order to avoid the water.
She describes how she got into singing, Māori culture and became involved with the haka group. She tells anecdotes about being asked to perform at short notice and the pressures of performing on air on the radio.
She talks about how the tar-sealed roads have changed the area that she is from; it has drastically reduced the time taken to travel anywhere and the availability of goods.

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Year 1991

Reference number 15313

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits RNZ Collection
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Interviewer
Williams, Phyllis, 1905-1993, Interviewee

Duration 00:57:37

Date 17 Nov 1991

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