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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 17, June 1973

ELIZABETH MACKIE and HER COLONIAL OVEN - TE AROHA 1906

By "JANE HEATHER"

It takes so little to send memory journeying back down the years for always something reminds one of someone, offtimes, reviving happy childhood memories, as recently a chance meeting with a well known personality who had acquired an early colonial oven for the Waihi Museum, revived memories of a wonderful gentlewoman who used that oven f or many years.

Elizabeth Dall who was born in France in 1844, became the wife of Robert Mackie, born in Kincardinshire, Scotland in 1835. The marriage took place at Tokomairiro, Otago on September 5, 1865. Some years later they moved north and settled in Palmerston North, where their second daughter, Elizabeth was born in 1877. Moving north again the family then lived in and around Te Aroha for the greater part of their lives. Robert Mackie had a farm at the foot of Thompsons Track, Shaftsbury. He also had the first butchers shop in Te Aroha, on the corner of Boundary and Whitaker Streets now occupied by Ross's Drapers, and which was originally A.W .Edwards Drapers, followed by many others, to this present day.

On selling the farm Robert and Elizabeth Mackie took up residence in Morgantown Te Aroha, their large section extending from Whitaker Street to King Street. The house was built on the back half of the section with a large barn on the front portion, and a large flock of brown hens were penned outside the garden gate, towards the South east. How we young people loved that home and its surroundings, gladly going on frequent errands for eggs or milk. We entered by the little garden gate in King Street after crossing the lovely crystal clear creek that caused so many heart burnings and trouble in later years with the Borough Council and others. We approached the back door over a smooth stony path to an open porch with iron roof giving protection from sun and rain.

A portion of the creek was diverted to a stony ledge, forming a hollowed bench on the high side of the porch nearest to the mountain. It was surely the most natural and cool entrance to any home. On the bench itself were jars of milk, cream and butter surrounded by the ever flowing crystal clear water which cascaded down and across the stony floor to join the parent stream at the side of the garden. Beds of water cress grew along the way till the stream crossed Whitaker Street on its way to the Waihou River. Near the door was a tin basin, towel and soap. Much higher up and nearer to the native bush deeper pools were inhabited by the native carp or fresh water mountain trout as we named them. As children we were never tempted to catch them but enjoyed sitting quietly watching their speedy movements.

Answering our knock the door was opened and we were invited to enter what was perhaps one of, if not, the cleanest house in Te Aroha. Our hostess was tall and slim with a wealth of honey coloured hair and possessing a flawless fair complexion. She was always gowned in fresh clean floral prints with 9 gared skirts falling to her ankles, and wore a spotless apron. The room itself was comfortably furnished. A large basket chair with cushion's tied to the back and seat was beside the fire place, a colonial couch similarly cushioned near the window. A large multi coloured rag mat was spread on the floor in front of the colonial oven which was shining like a piece of black taffeta, as were the iron kettles on the hob.

The plain wooden floor was scrubbed clean and the runners were of opened out flour sacks, bleached till almost as white as the flour they had contained. The table, chairs and the foot stool were plain scrubbed wooden ones. There were plenty of books and reading material in the room which was always cosy and warm in the afternoon sun. We partook of crisp biscuits and the thinnest of oat cakes, made in that shining colonial oven with fire both over and under it. Then we had our choice of a mug of milk or water from the creek, (germs being unknown to us in those days). As always we asked to see the garden, to us the most beautiful garden in the world.

Elizabeth Mackie would take up her sun bonnet. Never ever did we see her out of doors without her French sun bonnet. Those crisply starched double frilled bonnets were the most delightful examples of pink, blue, or lavender head-gear we had ever known. The garden itself was square, with the front of the house sheltering one side, the other three sides being completely surrounded by a fence, (later out of sight beneath the dense covering of creepers, ivy, perewinkles [periwinkles – E], rambler roses and the loveliest pink ivy geranium). The whole place was quite apart from the outside world, not even the brown hens dare enter there. The garden was laid out in the form of a maltese cross, each of the four side beds containing different flowers, and the small circular centre old fashioned pinks. The diagonal paths were swept clean and smooth, not a weed to be seen.

In memory it is so easy to relive the scene: the scents of herbs such as rosemary and lavender permeate the air. Somehow this is Elizabeth Mackie's special domain and perhaps a tangible reminder of her birth-place. As we walk she tells us of France, Scotland and other lands. We look up and see the weather vane high up on the square roof pitched to a centre point, against the lovely ever changing background of the Te Aroha mountain. How peaceful it all is with only the sound of the creek, the birds of the native bush and the hums of the busy bees to break the silence.

We remember that this house was the home to 3 stalwart sons and two daughters and their children. Today they have gone their separate ways, and Robert Mackie no longer goes forth daily to his business, a typical well dressed but very reserved Scottish gentleman. And so we take our leave of Elizabeth Mackie and her lovely garden. But we, in 1975, great grandmothers ourselves have only to close our eyes to memorise the wonderful gentlewoman who used and took such good care of the Colonial Oven now housed in the Waihi Historical Museum.


N.B. The younger daughter: Elizabeth Wright (nee Mackie) and her husband lived in the then boom town of Waiorongomai where some of their children were born. They later returned to Te Aroha and then to a farm at Mangaiti where their son Claude and his wife and family still reside. In her younger days Elizabeth Wright was acknowledged as one of the best ballroom dancers of Te Aroha. This characteristic has been inherited by her younger daughter Phoebe Tong who for years has been a constant attender and supporter of Caledonian Society Inglesides throughout the Thames Valley. Phoebe and her husband Cyril Tong live at Centennial Avenue, Te Aroha. Bruce and his wife lived in Waihi. Their son Don had a Taxi service for some years and his children were very musical.