Spectrum was a long-running weekly radio documentary series which captured the essence of New Zealand from 1972 to 2016. Alwyn Owen and Jack Perkins produced the series for many years, creating a valuable library of New Zealand oral history.
In this episode, Mrs Rata Mitribusz recalls her childhood in the forestry tent camps on the Kāingaroa Plain during the 1930s and communal life in the Māori village of Whakarewarewa, in the heart of Rotorua's thermal area.
Mrs Mitribusz’s parents had 14 children. They struggled to feed and clothe them during the hard years of the 1920s and 1930s. Her father worked planting the pine trees which now make up the Kāingaroa Forest. They lived in a canvas tent on the Kāingaroa Plains.
Mrs Mitribusz describes her daily life in the camp; rising at 5am to bake bread over an open fire. She would prepare breakfast for her father, and then the rest of the family. She describes the kinds of housework she would do – washing sacking, gathering wood. She would go out rabbiting in the afternoons. Her father hunted pig, as well as pigeon and tui. They would hunt the plentiful wild horses for their dogs. They also ate pūha and dandelion.
She was witness to hardship in the Kāingaroa camp including a woman who suffered badly from dropsy. To help, Mitribusz would gather kāramuramu which they would boil and bathe her wounds. There were no medical facilities. They used flax root for cleansing and dock leaf for sores. When a woman gave birth she was attended to by her husband. She recalls helping her father deliver one of her sisters during a blizzard. After a death in the camp, the site became tapu and they shifted their camp 11 miles.
Mrs Mitribusz recalls moving to a remote place called Te Hukui near Taupō. Her father became ill and so she lived with her grandfather. Her grandfather was employed clearing bush. She learnt to drag logs out of the bush for her grandfather. She was about nine years old. Life was hard and she lost a younger brother. Mitribusz once again hunted birds; pigeons and tui. Birds were food for wāhine. Being the childbearers, wāhine were entitled to the best foods. She collected huhu grubs.
An uncle brought the whānau back to Rotorua. They lived in Whakarewarewa (Whaka.) She describes how the kuia would sweep the roads; it was a very clean area. There was a typhoid epidemic in the 1920s.
She enjoyed the communal life and recalls her fondness for chief Mita Taupopoki (Ngāti Wahiao, Te Arawa and Tūhourangi) who was kind to her and the other children she lived with. Mrs Mitribusz recalls penny diving at Whaka and how she enjoyed it. She would make £2 or £3 on some days. She also recalls how the children would gather on the bridge to sing.
She had a missionary education at Whaka. She recalls how she and the other children looked forward to George Walker, the wrestler, coming to the village. Walker would host an event for the adults, and would throw handfuls of coins into the river for the children. Mitribusz remembers the practices for a haka which was performed when Lord Bledisloe gifted Waitangi as a reserve for New Zealanders. She is not as impressed with haka performances today (1976).