The Polio Epidemic
When we were children, we went camping every January at a beach. The beach depended upon where we were living. When we lived in the North Wairarapa, we went to Foxton, while living at Waitara in North Taranaki, we went to Urenui, except for one year, the year of the Polio epidemic in 1948. That year all the camping grounds were closed, so were the picture theatres, swimming baths, and the schools when we were due to go back in February. Then, the lessons came by mail, and we had to work through them at home, just like the Correspondence School pupils.
That year we went to Mimi. It wasn’t a camping ground, but the mouth of a river on a farm. Our car was a 1926 green Chrysler. Christobel had tons of room for the 5 kids and all the gear, and plenty of power to pull the caravan. Dad had built this himself, at the end of the war. The axel and wheels were off an old car, and the frame was built of angle irons from old beds. These had been welded together at Ryan’s Garage in Eketahuna. When we had to move from Eketahuna to Waitara, the caravan was just a chassis withj an iron framework. Dad got it all loaded up and called in at Ryans on the way out found that he needed a Warrant of Fitness for it. Luckily it did meet regulations and we were on our way. It was a special caravan. It was one of the first in New Zealand with a collapsible top. Both the end lifted up, the roof was put on, and detatchable canvas sides were then fitted. We had it for many years and then my oldest brother had it. It was finally blown over in the strong MacKenzie country winds and wrecked, sometime in the 1960’s.
In the war years, many things were not available, and if they were, then we probably couldn’t afford them. Dad not only made things himself but also haunted the auction marts. One year he decided to make stretchers for camping. In those days we didn’t have lilos and sleeping bags, but we slept on canvas and wood collapsible stretchers which invariably trapped your fingers every time that you put them together or took them apart – that is if you ever managed to get the end bars on. When dad made his own, he carefully cut all the wooden bars and bored holes of the right size to fit the dowels. Instead of canvas, he used sugar bags sewed together. These stretchers were his pride and joy and he told everyone how strong and durable they were – or so he believed until decided to demonstrate therm to the first unwary visitor who happened along. After elequently extolling their virtues, he sat down on one demonstrate their strength. It collapsed. So did the ne4xt. We never did get to sleep on one.
In the year of the Polio epidemic, we hitched the caravan up, loaded our 10 foot dinghy on top, and set off. To reduce the weight over the farm tracks, we off loaded the boat at a bridge on the main road, and my brother Brian rowed it down to the river mouth. Coming home he had to row it upstrem to the bridge…. We drove down in Christobel. She had a lovely winged Pegasus on the radiator cap when we got her, but dad had to smash the wings off as they were considered dangerous. Once at the river mouth, we set up camp. We had to share the paddock with a yearling bull which had once been a pet. It was very friendly but I was still scared of it. It never bothered any of us except that each time we left the camp we always came back to find all the tent guyropes slackened and the tent just about lying on the ground.
Each night, dad put out set lines. One morning we found we’d caught 3 small sharks. Swimming was good but mum forgot to take her togs. Several times we came back to camp to find her swimming in the nude. That shocked dad, or so we thought.
We had a good holiday on our own. When we got back home, we still couldn’t see any of our friends because of the Polio epidemic. Waitara was badly hit and there were many persons who we knew who had Polio. Many suffered from some paralysis for the rest of their lives. We didn’t go back to school until sometime in March that year.