Joyce McNee was born in Te Horo in 1926 and died in 2020; George Stuart was born in Hawera in 1927 and died in 2008.
Joyce lives in one of the oldest houses in Mt Victoria, built in 1878 by Grandfather Edwards, who came from Tasmania. “And as his family grew, the house grew.” It passed down through the family till it came to Thomas McNee, Joyce’s father-in-law.
“I’ve lived here since November 1946. Came here as a bride, into my husband’s family home, which then consisted of a maiden sister and a single brother. And then my husband and I eventually took over half the house and actually divided it so we weren’t sharing anything.”
Asked how it was living with her husband’s family: “basically I don’t think I was accepted. The old-fashioned notion that an interloper took the brother away . . . it was difficult, but you sort of accepted it. Because housing was difficult and to have somewhere to live, it made life easy.”
They didn’t move though. “Because I think Noel felt it was his family home and he just didn’t want to leave it . . . Plus I think there would be the security of the place. You didn’t sort of go and get another loan and go and do something else. Once you were secure you didn’t want to give that away for something uncertain again.”
Her husband had a workshop at the rear of the house where he worked as a cabinet-maker. “Many, many years. He went from cabinet-making, then he got involved iwht casket-making, which came through an involvement with E. Morris Juniors.” Noel used to make wooden hoops for the old-fashioned game of throwing hoops, when they both used to help organize the Clyde Quay School fairs.
When she arrived at the McNee house, there was a Boy’s Home next door. “We were quite well involved with those boys . . . my husband used to allow one or two boys into the workshop, as a bit of therapy or something, to play with wood. But that was a privilege. And it was more of a privilege to come into the house here to have a cuppa.”
In over 60 years, there have been many changes in the neighbourhood. In the early days “we basically knew most of the people who lived in the neighbourhood. If they weren’t your direct neighbours, we would know them because they went to school and their parents came to meetings.”
The first changes seemed to take place in the sixties. “It had a very run-down look; uncared for.” By then Mt Victoria wasn’t necessarily considered a nice place to live. “Well, I think that perhaps it was the type of people. The house at the top of the street was either known as the rabbit warren or the brothel, which would be one thing that wasn’t particularly nice. . . . “lots of people seemed to live in it – you know, roomers.”
“But with all these changes, there was still the solid core of us resident people that lived here, stayed in our houses for a long time – sort of didn’t move out till you were basically carried out.”
For Joyce, though, “I suppose the biggest major event in recent years was the removal of Ettrick Cottage and the building of a monstrosity block of apartments . . . We loved Ettrick Cottage. It was just there and an empty section in front of me – a little overgrown – and a view of the whole of the city.” Then all of a sudden “this section in Austin Street being dug out, right on the boundary, and a three-storey apartment block put up – originally with a high chapel roof on it, which we eventually got removed after a lot of problems. It still causes problems with the way it’s been dug out. My ground is still sinking – slowly, slowly – because it was all just virgin clay and all the moisture’s just been drained out of it.”
Like many other long-term residents, Joyce has noticed the disappearance of the corner grocery shops. Shopping was different: “More personal. We knew the people. Less temptations. You went with your shopping list and that was that. And you were served from behind the counter. You didn’t wander the shelves and help yourself.”
“George and I met not long before I was married, when we were both about 19.” They met through Harold, Joyce’s brother-in-law, who went to work at the Insurance Council with George when he returned from the war in 1945.
“And I was eventually introduced into the family, helping out with odd things. Until my mother finally died in 1962, and I was invited to stay, or live, in the house with Winnie and Harold until Harold died in ’71 and Winnie in ’76. And since Noel died, of course, I’ve been living in the house with Joyce and we’re the only two left.”
“And he’s just always been around. Always been around. Always just George. George to me; George to my daughters; George to my grandchildren. And I think he’s even just George to my great-grandchildren.”
Historic photographs courtesy of Joyce and George.
Joyce with husband Noel, their daughter and a friend, at the Zoo