‘Happy memories of starting a new life together as young Poms in New Zealand’

Mar 25, 2019
On the left, Brian and Jacqui Lee shortly after their arrival in New Zealand while the right shows the couple almost 60 years later. Source: Brian Lee

Travelling abroad for the first time can be quite an experience. It was for a young couple like Jacqui and I – especially when your first trip from England is half way around the world, to New Zealand. I have written previously about our actual boat trip on the Rangitoto, so I’m not going to delve into that adventure here, instead I’m thinking about our early months in a new country and how life there could be so different from home, and yet so much the same.

Read more: ‘Why the first time I travelled abroad was so memorable’

Our first thoughts, once we had got over the few days of hectic excitement, were about our new home, my new job, new people and even new climate (where June is mid-winter and December is mid-summer). In our innocence I guess we thought everything was going to be totally foreign to us, with unrecognisable brand names on any food or other goods we purchased, plus weird sounding place names and street signs, even down to the types of trees to be seen in parks and gardens. It came as quite a shock to go into a grocery store (supermarkets had still to be invented) and find we could purchase familiar products, just as if we were still in England. Nescafe, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Cadbury’s chocolate and HP Sauce were all there waiting on the shelves for us, as were numerous other items we knew so well. On reading labels we realised most of these things were actually made in Australia, rather than being imported, but they were still being manufactured by the same old companies we knew.

As if to balance that, we had pleasure in that there were lots of new, unfamiliar things for us to try as well, or perhaps familiar things under new labels, like Watties canned corn, baked beans and raspberries, and many other fresh things like passionfruit, tree tomatoes chocos, king fish steaks and venison (much more available than in England). Jacqui, who loves cooking, discovered the secrets of smoked-fish chowder – so rich that when it was cooled overnight, it solidified and you could make delicious sandwiches out of it. She also learned to prepare white-bait fritters, which became a great favourite of mine, learning about a lot of these skills from a famous radio personality of the day, ‘Aunt Daisy’.

One of the things Aunt Daisy forgot to mention on her program though was the average size of chickens for roasting. A few months after our arrival, Jacqui went into the local butchers to buy one for our weekend dinner, and when the butcher asked what size bird she’d like, she said: “Oh, I should think about 14 pounds [6.35 kilograms]!” The butcher looked at her for a moment and then said: “I don’t know where you come from missus, but in this country that’s an emu, not a chicken!” You can always learn something new in this wonderful world of ours, can’t you!

A lot of place names and street names in New Zealand are in the Maori language, very much like the Aboriginal words used here in Australia, and they sounded very musical to us after the rather brusque names used in the United Kingdom, like Bristol, Gloucester or York. We were suddenly assailed by names like Rotorua, Waitangi, Te Atatu and Whanganui while at the same time finding (again like Australia) many names taken straight out of England, places like Wellington, Invercargill, Auckland, Christchurch and New Plymouth. The mixture of exotic and familiar was really rather nice, discovering the new, while not being too far removed from the familiar.

New Zealand countryside resembles the British Isles in many ways too, in fact, it didn’t take us too long to realise that the country is a sort of microcosm of the rest of the world. They have lush forests there and they have vast areas of desert; they have a sub-tropical climate to the north and bordering on tundra to the south; they have great flat, open plains and they have some fantastic mountain ranges offering wonderful skiing experiences; they have superb beaches all round their coastline and they have hot springs like Rotorua inland. It is small wonder to me that the film makers created the Lord of the Rings there, the scenery is almost theatrical!

The country is populated by very friendly people, who quickly made us feel very much at home. All in all, we made a great choice in starting our life together in New Zealand; our only regret was that we had, for personal reasons, to leave after only five years of living there, to return to Britain. However, even after all these years we still cherish very happy memories of the place – we would love to be able to go back and visit sometime – who knows what might happen in the future!

What fond memories do you have about your younger years? Share them with us.

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