Thursday, 26 November 2020


Life & lifestyle in earlier times

Both at the ripe old age of 90, George and Joy Simpson share 180 combined years of wisdom and fun. On a sunny Kuaotunu morning earlier this month, I met with the couple and their daughter, Paulette, and heard a few yarns about their 73 years together in and out of Mercury Bay. We touched on many stories of life and lifestyle in earlier times.   

The couple met only a few years after the end of World War II and by Joy’s account, she was not all that impressed with George. The new policeman’s daughter, 18-year-old Joy moved to Whitianga “kicking and screaming,” forced to leave her boyfriend in Taumarunui. It was clear to George that Joy had no interest in him, but he did work out that she was keen on horses. As a tactic, George set about to impress Joy by riding his horse up and down the street in front of the Police Station, until she finally at least took notice of his horse. The pair both worked at the Smith and Ross general store, where George kept up his campaign to woo her.

After some effort and time, Joy warmed up to George and the couple became an item. Three years later in 1951, they were married at St Andrew’s Community Church, with their wedding breakfast at the Whitianga Town Hall. In those days, with roughly 500 people living in Whitianga, everybody in town was there. 

George talks fondly of the days when the whole community knew each other by first names and where everyone was welcome into every house. The town hall was the centre of the community with movies shown on Friday nights, followed by a dance, where people of all ages would dance to lilting tunes played by Mrs Rose on her piano accordion.

The movie concessions consisted of peanuts in their shells rather than lollies, making quite a mess on the floor. So once the movie ended, the chairs were moved and the floors were cleaned for the dance by parents dragging their children around on sacking.

Through the 50s and 60s, the dances became more organised and more formal. George recons that the community was looking for excuses to celebrate, especially through the winter months when the town free from the busy summer campers.   

There were three or four balls per year with live bands like the Bruce Brothers (Ray, Dave and Alan) which were organised by local organisations, including the RSA, rugby club and fishing club. The balls were pretty much compulsory events, not to be missed and the ladies would work for months on making their dresses. The ladies would cut a huge number of sandwiches and provide all manner of other food. MCs like Merv George Senior were the hosts.

In the early years of their marriage, George and Joy owned a dairy in Monk Street opposite the Whitianga Town Hall. They owned the business for eight years.

They couple had three daughters, all delivered at the Mercury Bay Hospital by Matron Mary Hollins, who always encouraged speed of delivery so as not to suffer the interference of the district doctor. When Joy’s last daughter was what Matron Hollins deemed “slow at coming,” she dragged a mattress into the birthing suite and slept on the floor next to Joy to move her along.

From Whitianga, the family moved to Matarangi where they stayed for 14 years. 

Matarangi was then a farm with the family home plus a bach, and was incredibly remote. The farm could only be reached via Bluff Road from Rings Beach. Bluff Road has always been a rural road, but in those days it was not even covered in metal. It was left in clay which lacked traction in wet weather. “The road was built by real men with pick, shovel and gelignite,” George said.

In the early 60s, when the couple needed to get their three girls to school in Whitianga, resourceful Joy did a deal with Alf Simpson and bought his 33-seater bus, which she would drive along Bluff Road twice daily to take her daughters, the Mayclair kids from Rings Beach, and the Grays and other children from Kuoatunu to school.

Joy only had one accident over the time when on a wet day, she gently slid over the soggy clay surface at the Rings Beach side of Bluff Road and tipped the bus over. Joy and her only passenger, daughter Tina, got out of the bus through the windscreen and walked towards Kuaotunu to use the closest telephone. With help the bus was righted and with a little tweaking it was back on the road. In spite of the serious situation, the area’s kids still got to school that morning and were only an hour late.

Ironically, not 10 minutes after the incident, the County foreman arrived with a tray full of metal to spread on Bluff Road. He was a little late.

When it was time for their daughters to go to high school, George and Joy sold their Matarangi farm to Ken Woodhead and bought a farm outside of Whangarei. They stayed in Whangarei for 20 years pursuing a wide variety of careers ranging from farming, possum management, longline fishing and even office work for Joy. 

On the verge of semi-retirement, the couple moved to Te Aroha for 10 years which they called “beautiful but cold.”

When they were ready to retire, they moved to Kuaotunu and rented a house just above their own section of land on which they were meant to build a house. They stayed in the neighbour’s rental for more than 10 years, using their own property to house visitors. They are living on their section now in semi-permanent sheds, citing the process of building a house to their original plans too hard and too expensive. 

George and Joy are incredibly happy and a pleasure to be around. They are also amazingly young for a pair of 90-year-olds.  As Joy mentioned, they never expected to live this long.  “When we were younger, we thought that 80 was ancient,” she said.

Pictured: George and Joy Simpson, both 90 years old, enjoying the sunshine on their property in Kuaotunu earlier this month.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.