“We have a strong identity. I don’t think you ever lose it.”
Peter was born in the McHardy Home on the hill. His first memories are of the earthquake: “Mum and I were in the back yard at 31 Campbell Street. Mum had her hands on the fence talking to her neighbour, and the earthquake threw her off the fence and onto the driveway.”
Peter had been sitting near the house, and his mother called him away and picked him up. Cracks in the earth opened right underneath her, but not wide enough that she fell in. Soon the brick chimney broke off and fell through the tin roof, where Peter had just been playing. Peter’s mother took him across the road to where the local milkman kept his horses, and put him in the horse trough along with some other kids so they wouldn’t fall into any of the new cracks if they appeared. From the trough, facing back at the hill, he could see things collapsing and falling down.
Like many families from the Napier region, Peter’s family ended-up living in temporary accommodation; in their case, army tents at a makeshift camp at Taradale. His father’s assigned role there was supplying wood for the coppers that were used for washing. Peter’s next ‘adventure’ related to the earthquake was when he picked up a small tomahawk, and in trying to chop a tent peg cut the end off his finger. He was rushed to an improvised emergency hospital at the racecourse, and can still remember the terrible sensation of being put to sleep with ether for the minor operation. Soon after when back at the Port he and his friend were rummaging amongst the debris at the Port tip and discovered that the ‘dark spots’ on some of the bricks from a building that had been destroyed in a fire, were actually three-penny coins, which they were able to work loose.
Peter attended the Port School and recalls the rough-and-tumble fun they had growing up, including scraps between the Catholic and Protestant boys: “It made you tough. You had to be tough down here otherwise you got a hiding.”
During World War Two, Peter learned the drums and became active in the local pipe band after they announced needing more musicians to replace the men who were away overseas. Amongst other things, they became the band for the Home Guard unit. He also recalls air raid drills at the school during those years.