Billie Tait-Jones

Billie Tait-Jones was born at Te Kuha Pa, Lake Waikaremoana in 1946 and died in 2017.

Billie Tait-Jones came to her home in Mt Victoria with her partner 39 years ago. When they arrived “The previous Greek owner had boarders living there so we maintained those boarders, and they lived in three rooms upstairs.  And what they did was they shared the bathroom and the kitchen,

together.  There were about three boarders upstairs and one downstairs in the basement – who was living on newspapers . . . Piles and piles of paper that were tied up.” 

All the boarders left within about a year, because Billie and Colin wanted to make the house a family home.

After all those years, it’s just been renovated, too.  “I was quite happy with just the ordinary light-shades – you know, the ordinary plastic ones, the shades.  I was just quite happy with that, because I’d grown up in that type of environment.  And I’d grown up in the Ureweras – very remote area of Tuhoe where I come from in Lake Waikaremoana – in Ruatahuna – in the Ureweras. In those days we had candles and lighting that you had to put kerosene in. . . I guess I had a problem with the modernised light fittings that we now have in the kitchen.”

She’s happy about the decision to renovate an old house, though, rather than pull it down and rebuild, “Because I’m still living here and it’s still a family home, and we have a family environment here. . . I have two cousins living here.”

Council flats have been built next door since she arrived in the house. ”Naturally, I was devastated because what was there fitted in with the architecture of this property, during that time.” 

Before the original houses were demolished, “We were surrounded by families. Maori families – they were quite prominent here. I would say out of the one, two, three, six, seven houses that were just on this corner here where they are, there would have been about at least one, two, three Maori families out of those seven that were living in there. They didn’t own them; they were renting them, but they were cottage-type houses. . . .  So naturally it was a family living environment, where you lived sort of like a communal family living, in comparison with how it is today. 

Billie has been involved with Clyde Quay School in the past, on the Home and School Committee and things such as netball coaching and umpiring. “And the other activities that I took part in were the Crossways Community Centre’s activities. I sometimes took the after-school care over there.  Maori Affairs Department used to have their community Maori Welfare officers come over to support Maori kaupapa, and I helped to organise and invited them over to hui there.  I taught Maori language there – by way of the cuisenere rods – the rakau method.

She remembers with great pleasure the Queen Street fairs.  “We used to have, going back – you know how, when they close off the streets, for people to come out and sell what they want – we used to have that in Queen Street.  But I recall having that over a period of one or two years. I’d love to bring that back, because it was just a matter of closing off Queen Street and you could sell from your home, and coffee and teas.  . . The atmosphere was absolutely a family environment. We all got to know each other; we had fun –  it was a beautiful day – just enjoyed it.”

“I love living in Mt Victoria. One of the reasons why we bought the house in Mt Victoria was because of its closeness to the city and the fact that it was somewhere for my whanau to come and stay. . . . It’s more or less classed as the Austin Street Marae, my home. Yes it is. The Austin Street Marae. It’s a family home; it always has been; always will.  Welcome people who haven’t got anywhere to stay into our home with welcome arms.“

Mothers and pre-schoolers at Maori language session led by Billie Tait-Jones. Photographed ca 28 July 1981 by Evening Post staff photographer, Ross Giblin. The Dominion Post Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1981/2608/11-F