Quest to pre­serve his­tory

Central Otago Mirror - - CENTRAL NEWS - By JES­SICA MAD­DOCK

The back doorstep of Alexan­dra’s his­toric Val­lance Cot­tage is al­most level with the ground, be­cause the wife of the orig­i­nal owner was a ‘‘fas­tid­i­ous house­keeper’’ who would scrub it daily. Sto­ries about the past in­hab­i­tants of the cot­tage, which was built in the late 1800s, have been told in the mem­oirs of the last per­son to live there. Hazel Wes­ley was a daugh­ter of Wil­liam Val­lance and his wife Jean. She grew up in the twobed­room mud­brick cot­tage, built by her fa­ther, with her eight sib­lings and re­turned home in her late 20s to care for her ag­ing par­ents. She had just lost her hus­band, Tom Wes­ley, leav­ing her to raise their six-month-old son alone. When Mrs Wes­ley, who died about a decade ago, moved out of the cot­tage, she penned her mem­o­ries of 18 years liv­ing there – pro­vid­ing an in­sight into the lives of Cen­tral Otago’s pioneers. When she left the cot­tage in the 1970s, there was no run­ning water in­side and only cold run­ning water in the sep­a­rate wash-house. Ev­ery Thurs­day she would ‘‘light the cop­per’’ for bath day. She had to make sure the coal man did not call on a Thurs­day as the coal store, wash­ing and bathing was all done in the wash-house. ‘‘One day I was in the bath when he came and I just man­aged to scram­ble out and in­side the house be­fore he dumped the coal.’’ Although hav­ing cold run­ning water in the wash-house was a lux­ury, it also caused prob­lems, be­cause when the pipes leaked, the mud­brick walls would come down. This hap­pened on at least two oc­ca­sions. In one in­stance Mrs Wes­ley woke her brother, Ern Val­lance, who was fresh home from the war and had been out play­ing the banjo and drink­ing all night, to find some­one to re­pair the wall – but to no avail. ‘‘He called on some cob­bers and ev­ery­one seemed to shout for him . . . when he ar­rived home, mi­nus any­one to do the job, he was drunker than ever.’’ Mrs Wes­ley asked an el­derly neigh­bour and builder – Mr Mus­san – to re­pair the dam­age. He in­structed Ern to first re­move the re­main­ing loose mud­bricks. Be­ing some­what ‘‘worse for wear’’, Ern Val­lance missed a cou­ple of bricks – one of which hit Mr Mus­san on the head be­fore knock­ing out the tap, caus­ing the wash-house to flood. It was the mid­dle of win­ter and the water froze faster than Mrs Wes­ley could mop it up. Her fa­ther, who lived to the age of 98, put his longevity down to be­ing con­tented. Her mother’s dream of hav­ing a sit­ting room and a ‘‘chinie’’ cab­i­net were not re­alised. But she was de­lighted when her hus­band built the wash-house. ‘‘My mother, who was a very fas­tid­i­ous house­keeper, had to scrub the broom han­dle ev­ery day, also the hearth broom and the back doorstep.’’ Mrs Wes­ley saw out her days in a pen­sioner’s cot­tage in Alexan­dra. Her nephew, Dick Maskill of Nel­son, who pro­vided her mem­oirs to the Mir­ror, said one of the sad­dest things he can re­call was help­ing ‘‘Aunty Hazel’’ move to her pen­sioner’s cot­tage and watch­ing her open her glory box with her wed­ding presents still wrapped in tis­sue pa­per, be­cause for 34 years she had nowhere to dis­play or use them.

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