Where is home? or: How I learned to stop worrying and find my sense of place

by Chelsea Hughes

I have no idea how to answer people when they ask me where I’m from.  I was born and raised in Texas. At 22 years old, I moved to Chicago, then Washington DC, then Birmingham, England, then Wellington, New Zealand where I bought a house, had a child and became a NZ citizen. Now I live in Melbourne.
My standard response to that question these days is ‘I’m originally from the US but I lived in New Zealand for 6 years’. At least that explains why I have an American accent and can accurately spell and pronounce Wainuiomata. These are rare qualities.

One of the downsides of constantly uprooting and moving to a new place is this nagging feeling that I’ll always be an outsider, distanced from the locals and the connection they have to their home. Thinking about this for too long makes me depressed, which is sooo not my thing!

I’ve found, as a side effect of working at the National Library of New Zealand, I can find connection to where I am by absorbing its local history.  This surprised me because I’ve never taken much interest in the local history of my own hometown – The Colony, Texas, a small Dallas suburb founded by property developers keen to make more money from the sprawling Texas landscape.

While working at the National Library, I figured out that by exploring a place’s stories, I could find my own sense of place.  History books bore me, but I do love images, which is why I was so glad to find so many historic photos, newspapers and ephemera digitised and made available online.

Here are just three of the weird and wonderful bits of Wellington history I stumbled upon. While it’s not necessarily a trip down my memory lane, it does remind me of home.

New Zealand nurses are ROBUST

Nurses, nurses home, Wellington Hospital, Wellington City, New Zealand

Nurses, nurses home, Wellington Hospital, Wellington City, New Zealand. Pedersen, Doris Taur, 1907-2001 Photographs relating to Doris Pedersen’s career in nursing. Ref: PAColl-6809-5-03-1. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23218325

In 1928, a trainee nurse was called out to a home in Island Bay all on her own to deliver her first baby.  She was filled with terror thinking of all the abnormalities of labour she had learned so much about in her studies. When she arrived at the home, the mother was well into her first stage of labour while her other six children (!!) were running amok.

To keep the children out of the bedroom/delivery room, the nurse repeatedly closed the door behind her as she went back and forth to the kitchen to prepare for delivery.  When she returned to the bedroom with sterilised gloves, ready for the final stage of labour, she found that the door was stuck!  Having no success getting the door opened, the nurse went outside, climbed up the 15 foot bank next to the bedroom window, straddled the bank and window ledge and screamed instructions at the mother labouring inside.  Luckily there were no complications, though the nurse recounts, “had it been otherwise, I should have felt compelled to dive through the window, glass and all.”

The husband eventually returned home and hacked the bedroom door down with an axe.

Check out the full story in the January 1929 issue of Kai Tiaki: the journal of the nurses of New Zealand on PapersPast.

Come one, come all to the Evans Bay Christmas Carnival

Evans Bay Xmas Carnival. Anna John Budd, woman turning into man. Nature's greatest enigma. See the double bodied personality star. A Greenhalgh & Jackson attraction [December 1938].

 Evans Bay Xmas Carnival. Anna John Budd, woman turning into man. Nature’s greatest enigma. See the double bodied personality star. A Greenhalgh & Jackson attraction [December 1938].. [Theatre programmes for variety, comedy, and music-hall shows and performances toured throughout New Zealand. 1930-1939. Donated by Charles Cabot].. Ref: Eph-B-CABOT-Variety-1938-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22527874

The Evans Bay Christmas Carnival ran throughout the 1930s and featured carnival rides and sideshow acts like Anna John Budd, Chang the Chinaman with an orange-sized head (no relation to the character on Community) and Venus the lady with 500 tattoos (risque!).

They also had  pram races (were the babies on board?), and get this: in 1935 they had a midnight ‘battle royal’  where, according to the organisers, they fought it out with handfuls of confetti. Sure beats the lame Santa parade they have nowadays.  I couldn’t believe all that excitement took place right down the street from our old flat in Hataitai.

Some things change while some things stay exactly the same

A crowd of people at Lyall Bay beach, Wellington

A crowd of people at Lyall Bay beach, Wellington. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972 Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-045364-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23037444

I often look through old photos of Wellington beaches.  I really love that the people who visit them come and go over time, but the beaches themselves don’t seem to change much.  This is Lyall Bay in 1929.  The kids are playing on something called a ‘witch’s hat’.

Two things strike me about this photo.  The first is how strange it looks to see people casually lying on the sand fully clothed in business attire.  The second is a more personal observation: the woman in the centre of the photograph is using a paper parasol to shield her child from the sun.  When I first came across this photo a few weeks ago I saw her and immediately thought, “Oh my god, that’s me”.  I did the exact same thing with our newborn daughter, on that beach, with that parasol.

Ruby in the shade, Lyall Beach, Wellington.  Image licensed under Creative Commons: CC-BY-SA.

Great, now I’m homesick.







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