By Pam Ferla
Ninety-six-year-old Lorraine Beach grew up on a farm south of Whitianga, and as a school girl, she rode her horse bareback, the four miles along Kapowai Road to Coroglen School. She recalls that her horse was black ‘and as mad as a hatter’. The journey included crossing the river twice as there were no bridges. The teacher’s name was Mr Cunliffe and naughty children got the cane. One gets the feeling that good-natured Lorraine was not naughty. This dainty lady, with eyes the colour of the cornflowers in her lovely garden, was born on November 1, 1926, in Whitianga, to Andrew and Alvina Hodge.
Imagine life with no electricity, very few cars and just windy clay tracks for travelling. Like most farm children, she would help out with the milking, which was done with the aid of noisy petrol motors in the shed. Provisions came down to Tairua from Auckland by a scow that docked at Tairua wharf. Lorraine remembers goods being left on a cream stand by the family’s farm gate. She recalls the Country Women’s Institute numbers declining and children needing to attend meetings (lit with kerosene lamps or candles) to bring the numbers up and keep the Coroglen branch going. There was also the excitement of big sports days at Coroglen and Tairua. Other social occasions included dances. Lorraine loves dancing, and can still demonstrate the nifty steps of the Veleta. As a teen, she started going to dances in the local Gumtown Hall as well as Whitianga and sometimes Tairua.
“Our dance music was supplied by local musicians. The policeman’s wife, Mrs Rose, played the piano and there was an old Maori man who could play the accordion.” Her face lights up when she recalls her pink taffeta dance dress, made by a friend by the name of Sybil Gordon, and having to hitch it up as she mounted her horse for the rugged journey to one of the community halls. Fancy hair styles were a waste of time in such conditions.
It was at a Tairua dance that she met Allan Beach, the fourth of nine children, born to Mary and Charles Clare Beach, a family documented in Tairua’s history. Mary Beach’s Store was a significant part of Tairua from the 1930’s as well as Beach’s Campground, that was set up later. Allan had returned from serving in Egypt and Italy during WWII. Lorraine remembers well the special dance held to welcome soldiers home, because that was where they first met. They married in 1949 at the Catholic Church in Thames and the couple went to live in a house on a hill in Pauanui and worked on Sheppard’s dairy farm. Lorraine and Alan also milked their own cows at the Pauanui farm. Access to Pauanui was across from Tairua Harbour at low tide. A few years later, they moved to Agnew’s farm at Hikuai, until Alan looked for a change of employment and shifted to Auckland.
He worked at The Central Hotel and later the Auckland Gasworks, with the couple living in a company house. “The house was such a mess, but we tidied it up and grew our own vegetables and made it nice,” Lorraine recalls with a smile. She worked at Milne and Joyce Department Store in Auckland and later applied for a job at Crown Lynn factory. “I went for the Crown Lynn interview and the man said I was too small to carry the heavy pottery and I would be better working as a cashier in the cafeteria.”
When the couple retired in the late 1980’s, they returned to Tairua and bought Mart Beach’s house, which was on the current library site. They enjoyed village life, with Allan keen on following the football and Lorraine happy in her garden. Allan died in 2000.
So what is Lorraine’s secret to reaching a sprightly old age? “Well,” she ponders. “On the farms we always had orchards and ate fruit from them as well as living off our garden veges. I have enjoyed life and worked hard.”
Lorraine still lives in Tairua. Dressed in bright flowery leggings, with vibrant blue nail polish on her toes, this sweet lady may well have found the secret to longevity.
Quote to break text “I have enjoyed life and worked hard”
Caption: 96-year-old Lorraine Beach celebrates her birthday at Tairua Friendship Club, with club volunteers nearby.