“We didn’t have to worry about keeping up with the Jones because the Jones had nothing either”
Rita Coates (nee. Ireland) was born in the Port on 30/8/29, and grew up on Hardinge Rd. She has fond memories of the Port – the camaraderie, the close-knit community, and the fun; which the regular lack of money in her household did not stop. She recalls many families were in the same situation. Her father worked on the Port, and didn’t make much money nor have guaranteed work. Waterside workers in those times had to report in the morning to a shed at the Port to see if you were to be taken-on for the day. In these times before public social welfare, there was very little financial security, and the process of getting work was very arbitrary – Rita’s father often remarking that the foreman gave work just to his mates. Yet the family got by, and never did without good food, though she did go to school barefoot at times. Mother was a dressmaker and sewed ‘for most of the Port’ to supplement the income; half a crown for a frock, 5 shillings for a ball-gown.
The family did have a car, which was quite rare, and growing up they would often go to Waipawa on Sundays for an outing. She remembers the Doris disaster when two lighters collided and sank in the harbour, the Depression which ‘helped us appreciate what we had’ in later years; and the years of World War II when the soldiers stationed locally used to leave a crate of apples outside the Port School for the kids to help themselves. Rita helped the war effort by making wool beanies for the troops.
“I was a stripper!” Rita jokes when talking about work after leaving school. She worked at the local National Tobacco Factory, in the stripping department which was responsible for taking the stalk out of the tobacco leaf and preparing it for cutting. Rita has been active in the Port community all her life.