Cath Kelly was born in Wellington in 1926 and died in 2017.
Cath Kelly has been a long-time activist in community and left-wing causes. She came to live in Mt Victoria in 1954. “I didn’t have any idea really of where I wanted to live but I came to this house, which was very run down and a cheap house, I think – but when I looked out the window and saw the view, of course, I made up my mind. And everything I saw that was decrepit and falling to bits I thought, ‘Oh, that can be changed; that can be mended.’ I’d taken carpentry at night school and so I did quite a lot of the work.”
Like other Mt Victoria parents, Cath became involved in Clyde Quay School. “One of the other women and I were the first women on school committees in Wellington; or maybe – I don’t know – overall. The men were on the school committees spending the money and the women were on the PTAs (women and men) raising the money.”
The Town Belt is right behind Cath’s back gate. In their early days there, it had a bad name. “Six o’clock closing; they’d bring their drink or their meths or whatever it was up there to drink on a fine night. . . . I remember one occasion when I was up there, there was a man lying there sound asleep on some newspapers, all sort of spread out. And, anyway, I went past him. But the next day, there he was, lying there in what I decided was exactly the same position. And I started to get worried that he was dead. I didn’t want to prod him or anything – I didn’t want somebody waking up and seeing me on my own there. Anyway, I thought he might be dead, so I rang my husband to come up. He came racing up with some of the other men from the Trades Hall, and he just went over to him and said ‘You alright, mate?’ And the guy sort of woke up and it was clear thqt he was all right. But, you see, it wasn’t unexpected to see somebody like that.” Now this part of the town belt is a beautiful area, where Cath walks her dog every day.
“It was always very much a Labour area, in spite of being even now quite up-market. I always take on the job of going to the booth where they count the votes on election night – I like to go to Clyde Quay because we always win there, you see. That’s always rather satisfying. Satisfying to see the ones that don’t win, and their reactions. So, in spite of being quite a wealthy area, it was Labour-leaning.” Asked why this might be, Cath replies, tongue-in-cheek, “Oh, even quite wealthy people can have some common sense, I suppose.”
“It’s quite an unusual area, I think. . . they would response to things that they didn’t like – or that they did like, I suppose – and there was an engineer who was determined to put a gondola up Mt Victoria. Up Majoribanks Street onto the Town Belt, right up to the lookout. Absolutely impractical, among other things. Anyway, a meeting was arranged of the Residents Association and he came along and spoke. Of course, it was crowded out – and it was such a typical Mt Victoria meeting because someone had done a scale model and somebody else had done this, and done that – everything was planned. And all his arguments were squashed. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s real Mt Victoria.’”
When asked if she remembers any notable characters in the area, Cath recognizes that her husband Pat, a prominent trade union leader, was probably one of them. At one time they had a neighbour who “was extremely anti-communist, National Party and everything. And Pat’s Union car was red at the time. That was an assault to his eyes every time he saw it, you see. Well, he started ringing up in the middle of the night and breathing heavily . . . he spray-painted the back window of Pat’s car with ‘commo’ or something and squirted paint in the keyholes. Well, Pat went to the police with it and the police said “Why would he do that? Why would he put ‘commo’ on your car?’ Pat said, ‘Oh, I don’t know – perhaps because it’s red.’ And the policeman said, ‘Oh, that must be it,’”
Historic photographs courtesy of Cath Kelly.