Houses rekin­dle great mem­o­ries

Kapi-Mana News - - FEATURE - By KRIS DANDO

Ar­min Blum doesn’t ex­pect an oc­ca­sion to mark the 60th an­niver­sary of Aus­tri­ans build­ing houses in Ti­tahi Bay, be­yond him tak­ing a drive over to see the homes he helped build.

The Sum­mer­set Aotea res­i­dent was one of 190 Aus­tri­ans who sailed to New Zealand in late 1952 and early 1953. It was part of a Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tive to con­struct homes for the thou­sands of Kiwi fam­i­lies on wait­ing lists.

The first state house in Porirua was com­pleted in Kapiti Crescent in Oc­to­ber 1948, but the Min­is­ter of Hous­ing an­nounced a spe­cial project for 1953-55. It called for 1000 pre­cut houses to be im­ported, 500 to be erected in Ti­tahi Bay. Mr Blum was in the wave of Aus­tri­ans who ar­rived in Fe­bru­ary, 1953. In all, 194 would come to our shores. He and a friend were at­tracted by a news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ment ask­ing for trades­men.

‘‘I thought ‘New Zealand, where is that?’ It was too far away for me to imag­ine, but I was con­vinced to go. I was 27, wages in Aus­tria were not good and I was a joiner.

‘‘There was not enough room in my house and I thought ‘If I go, I will do it for two years’. I’m still here!’’

Af­ter med­i­cal and se­cu­rity checks, the first Aus­tri­ans boarded their ship for a jour­ney that took many weeks. In a speech he wrote for the 50th cel­e­bra­tion of the Aus­tri­ans’ ar­rival, Mr Blum talked of stopovers in Genoa, Naples, Aden and Sydney, the heavy In­dian Ocean seas break­ing port­holes and the ‘‘strange land­scape’’ that con­fronted them when dock­ing in Welling­ton.

He was even more dis­mayed to find Ti­tahi Bay had no pub.

‘‘We couldn’t be­lieve the whole place was dry, we were very dis­mayed. But we had par­ties right from the start, we were in­vited to the pa [in Taku­pawahia] in the first week, I think we were quite pop­u­lar.’’

The Aus­tri­ans lived in huts once oc­cu­pied by the Amer­i­can Marines, and a work­shop was set up on the site where Ngati Toa School is to­day. Mr Blum says the ca­ma­raderie among the men was high.

The 40-hour work week wasn’t too tax­ing – morn­ing and af­ter­noon tea was un­heard of in Aus­tria – the lo­cals were friendly, and, aside from the wind, the weather was gen­er­ally fine.

Swim­ming in the sea af­ter work, a nov­elty for many of the Aus­tri­ans, be­came com­mon­place.

Dances at Prosser’s Hall, near where Porirua New World is now, were well-at­tended.

‘‘It was that clas­sic ‘ women up against one wall, men up against the other’ to start with. But when the mu­sic be­gan it was like the Charge of the Light Bri­gade, there were el­bows fly­ing as we rushed to­wards the pret­ti­est girls.’’

The con­tract to con­struct the houses was ex­tended from 18 months to two years when some of the tim­ber, made from Aus­trian larch and spruce, was con­demned on the Welling­ton wharves. Mr Blum, who be­came a fore­man, says there was a lot of pride taken in the homes built, which have stood the test of time.

In Piko St, Arero St and Whanga Cres, there are ex­am­ples of the prop­er­ties, which have dis­tinc­tive cov­ered porches.

Fol­low­ing the con­tract, and with per­ma­nent res­i­dence of­fered, only a small num­ber went home, he says. Some scat­tered to other parts of New Zealand, while a great num­ber stayed in the Welling­ton re­gion.

Mr Blum had ev­ery rea­son to stay. He met Joyce in July 1953 and they were mar­ried in March the next year. He worked on the Welling­ton wharves and drove a bus for many years.

Mr Blum stayed in touch with many com­pa­tri­ots through the Aus­trian Club and they met reg­u­larly for events and com­mem­o­ra­tions, es­pe­cially the 50th an­niver­sary, which had an ex­hi­bi­tion at Pataka, hangi at Taka­puwahia Marae and a re­union at­tended by 200 peo­ple.

That’s un­likely to hap­pen as they ap­proach the 60th, he says.

‘‘We are all too far away and there aren’t many of us left alive. It’s sad but that’s life.’’

Porirua Mayor Nick Leggett says there are plans to do some­thing to recog­nise the 60th an­niver­sary.

‘‘It would be nice to ac­knowl­edge the legacy of the Aus­tri­ans, which will just go on and on. I think peo­ple are more aware of the influence they had in Ti­tahi Bay to­day than ever be­fore.’’

Mem­o­ries: Ar­min Blum of­ten vis­its Ti­tahi Bay to see how ‘‘his’’ houses are far­ing.

Photo: PATAKA MU­SEUM

Work­ing away: Two Aus­trian trades­men among the bare hills of Ti­tahi Bay in 1953.

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