A Town Called Kawatiri

Eatwell Family.

The LITTLE house, still nestled below the gum trees at the south entrance to Glen Road, was the homestead to a 100-acre farm extending down the north side of what is now Poplar Avenue – a strip from beach to hills. It was brought and farmed in 1912 by George Cripps from the Wairarapa. In 1923 his niece Lillian, accompanied by her husband Bert Eatwell, two wee daughters Jonet and Florence and brother-in-law Bill, came from Kawatiri Valley near Murchison (South Island) to take over the running of the farm. Bert had just returned from service in WW1. He was one of the seamen rescued from the beach at Gallipoli and had been in England recuperating from severe injuries to the stomach. In later years George continued to live in a small cottage opposite the south end of Matai Road.

George Cripps was from the ‘Seven Oaks’ farm at Whareama near Castlepoint in the Wairarapa. Lillian was the only child of Wairarapa MP Farquar Grey and Nellie Carman, George’s sister. In later years George moved to a small cottage on his land opposite the south end of Matai Road. The Eatwell boys were from the Newman family who began the Newmans Coach Line company, then a swashbuckling, river fording horse-and-coach affair in the goldmining land of the Buller River.

The house was altered and extended by George for the new family, who basically had so little when they arrived here that John Buckley, a carpenter from the Paraparaumu village, hand made a large kitchen table and chairs so they would have somewhere to sit. Charlotte Buckley ran an account for them at her little store (in front of where the Paraparaumu rail station is) for quite some time until they were on their feet.

In 1919 two families from Wellington had built two small isolated holiday baches on the dunes to the south beach end of what is now Poplar Ave on land they had purchased from a Mr D Hyde. They were of asbestos sheeting, unlined, with corrugated iron roofs. They had rainwater feed tanks and long drop loos in the gardens, all the materials being hauled on sledges across the swampland from the main road. Mr Hoby’s (on top of what is now The Crescent), and Mr Ahern’s, 100 metres to the north. Poplar Ave marks the access way from these buildings to the sea. The brick chimney to the Hobys’ bach was added years later when there was road access.

After many years of holidays the Ahern family sold their bach to Bert Eatwell. It was greatly extended, as the idea was that Lillian could run a guesthouse there, and so the Ahern bach, also known as Kawatiri, is still standing and now known as Rose Cottage Rest Home. During building, the now five Eatwell children (Jonet, Florence, Joyce, Jack and Margaret) lived in an enclosure of small wooden floored canvas tents in the garden.

Raumati South was originally known as Kawatiri. The name brought here by the brothers is the Maori name for the Buller River, Kawatiri meaning ‘deep and swift’. But when the time came for a post office, it was not possible as there was already a Kawatiri Post Office in Nelson district. So the name was chosen for the guest house by the then Prime Minister, Sir Walter Nash. He and his wife were regular visitors to the guest house. Each afternoon his wife would sit at the long wooden kitchen table with Lillian (the same table) and chinwag while peeling the potatoes for sixty or more dinner guests and unexpected extras.

Years of farming followed with Glen, Dell and Dale Roads being named by the family after the rolling paddocks, extending from the large farmhouse across north to Menin Road. At the farmhouse the home paddock, now being No 1 The Crescent, contained the dairy sheds, milking shed, vegetable garden, chook house and a pigsty. All the daily chores in these areas were carried out by the children before and after they rode their ponies Trixie and Judy down Poplar Avenue, and along the Main Road to Paraparaumu School.

Aunty Flo would say that in the bitterest southerlies the children would clamber up on their ponies, or sometimes all on Topsy, bury their hands and faces in its mane and ask the pony to just take them home – not looking until the horses knocked on the back door of the house when they arrived back in Raumati South! Joyce remembers that because there were too many children for the horses, they would take turns – sometimes you got to sit on the front of a horse, sometimes on the back.

Poplar Avenue, a real road, was properly sealed in 1937, named for the two groves of poplars planted down it by Mrs Hyder whose husband had purchased the more hillside block of the farm, where Leinster Ave is now.

Herbert and William became the area’s first Real Estate Agents, purchasing and subdividing more land as the farm land was sold off. The Eatwell home property extended from the beach at The Esplanade over The Crescent and down to Tennis Court Road. Then Tennis Court Road was planted in pines by Mr Hoby and the Eatwells and nicknamed Pine Tree Road, a winding track went through to the south end of Rainbow Court where a motor camp was situated. A few of the pine trees planted for firewood still stand around the end of Rainbow Court. Many of the dark macrocarpas still visible today around Raumati South were planted at the same time for firewood. The camp was built by the Roman Catholic church as a refugee camp for Dutch nationals fleeing Indonesia. When it was a holiday camp, it is said that many Wellington families’ petrol ration would run out at this point, so they would camp a week and wait for more rations, so they could fill up the car and drive back to Wellington.

Bert was a very musical man who loved to sing. He would gather his children around in a room they called the playroom in the evening and with Jack and Joyce playing the piano he and the family would sing – with Bert leading many evenings. His war journal often mentions the fact that to his joy he managed to find music during the war. In more recent time Jack produced a CD of his own piano compositions.

Another of Bert’s talents was divining water, which he did with a stick held in his hand. He bored many excellent wells to supply better water to the guesthouse. He taught his children how to do it as well – some with more success than others.

Kawatiri became capable of housing sixty guests, some in tents on the property, and the playroom in the garden with a pool table and table tennis table became home to the thirty or so local teens who held youth club there every week. There was also a little shop next to the front office at the front of the guesthouse.

The Eatwell girls, Flo, Jo, Joyce and Margaret, took care of the cooking, linen, waiting tables and making up the rooms. Jack, the son, would take his nets to The Esplanade and catch sixty flounders at a time. Bert was also a great fisherman who loved to catch fish for meals at the guesthouse. In those days fish were so plentiful there were too many to even give away.

Pipis were also caught off Tainui Rd. The two youngest daughters, the delightful twins (Tanya & Vanya), would make up all the beds in the morning before biking off to school. They attended Paekakariki School first, a prefab at Raumati side school and later Presentation College, run by the Roman Catholic nuns at Ruapehu Street. The Eatwell children attended boarding schools outside the district for their secondary education.

After WW2 many small huts from Camp McKay dotted the guesthouse gardens. Guests would pay to sleep two people to a hut if they wished, or if the Guesthouse was full. Some huts permanently housed some special friends of the family, WW1 veterans who received free food and board in exchange for doing odd jobs, fishing, maintaining the gardens and most importantly supplying the fruit and vegetables from what had become market sized gardens. The farthest hut away from the house near the top of the hill was called ‘WOO’ hut, where couples would go to ‘woo’ . . . much to the delight of all the children at Kawatiri!

During her so-called ‘Free-time’ Lillian would take the children picnicking to the Maungokotukutuku Valley or the Waikanae River, always returning home with rocks she had collected to build by hand the stone walls and terraces at Kawatiri and around the property. Many of these stone and concrete terraces are still evident today.

The beach was a source of not only fish. Lillian and Bert would take the dray down to the beach and fill it up with hundreds of the white shells that proliferated there at that time, using a scoop. With the help of the draft horses, Nebbie and Nona, they would pull this load back to the guest house to make beautiful shell paths and driveways all around the wonderful garden. This was a constant labour of love because after a year of walking on the shells they had to be renewed.

Many Wellington families spent their holidays at the Guest House; many became permanent residents. They joined in all the activities provided by the Eatwell Clan. This was in the era of the great Summer Holidays. It was beautiful to walk on the beach in the evenings with guests. The beach had a magical charm – though sadly erosion has slowly changed the width of those wonderful beaches.

Bert and Bill had by now sold dozens of properties in Raumati South. All the roads were now established – this was started by Bert with his draft horses and scoop and Joyce remembers well riding on it while he worked. By WW2 the bulldozers were able to push through Rosetta Road, which prior to that was only a rough sandy track. Bert approached the farm and bach owners (there weren’t many at that time) and asked if they would give a small portion of their properties for the building of this road, and that was how Rosetta Road (named after the lawyer’s wife who did the legal conveyan-cing) became the established access way from Raumati Beach to Raumati South.

There was also another road built which was very special to the Eatwell family. Lillian used her wheelbarrow to clear the track through the lupin up Hobys Way to the old Hobys bach site at the top of the hill. After many years of wheelbarrow pushing the bulldozers finally widened her track enough for a car to be driven up to the beautiful house site on the top and The Crescent was born and Lillian and Herbert finally built a real family home, quite a landmark in its time. They moved in on Christmas Day 1947. From 1944 to 1946 the business side of the guesthouse was jointly run by Florence and young Margaret, just returned from Iona College.

As the family all married Lillian and Bert gave them the land and they built homes for their families down The Crescent. Some of those homes still stand, including a small two-room house at the entrance to the driveway to Lillian’s house. This was the Real Estate Office, the business later being sold to S A Kerr, who later sold to Colleen & Warren Prescott.

Joyce and Elliot and their three children Jenny, Mary and Hugh lived at Number 1 The Crescent for many years.

Now many of the grandchildren also helped in the running of the guesthouse in the early days. They remember a large wood burning stove in the kitchen – and steaming roasts delivered to delighted guests. The building on the beach side of Rosetta Road, opposite Kawatiri, was a fine Tea-house known as the ‘Gay time Tearooms’ and Raumati South shops flourished and the area was all very self-sufficient and thriving.

Joan Sherley (née Lamburd) from Khandallah, now a local historian, was a regular visitor to their family’s beach bach on Rosetta Road, a very close personal friend of the Eatwell daughters from the days of running down to help the children milking. Her family’s first holidays up here were in the Hoby bach.

Lillian had a tennis court and playground built at the bottom of the garden for the guests and family to use. In 1957 the community ran a Queens Carnival to fundraise for a community hall to be built next to the tennis court. The whole reserve was donated at that time to the community.

Lillian and her children were artistic or musical. Lillian exhibited her paintings both in New Zealand and in Australia until her old age. Holiday destinations for the family were Taniwha Springs run by Jack in Rotorua, which Lillian sometimes managed, De Bretts at Taupo and the Chateau Tongariro and Pikariri in Wanganui. Lillian also handmade hats, one of which, the only remaining one we know of, was kindly lent by her dear friend Gwen Thomson, still of Raumati South. Jonet was well known as a dance teacher.

In later life Lillian developed a passion for an annual retreat to Surfers Paradise during the NZ winter, with her two dogs Caroline and Pandy on her lap through out the flight. She couldn’t do it now, but always came home with suitcases full of exotic fruit and plants for her Raumati South gardens. She also sneaked back live tortoises for the garden ponds. Many of the permanent staff at the busy Paraparaumu airport were live-in guests. One, Noel Hughes, now in his eighties and living in Spain, is still visited by members of the family. By 1967 Kawatiri had been sold as a Guesthouse to the Richardson family and was run as a Rest Home.

William (Bill) his wife and two children had built a lovely family home on the hill overlooking Matthews Park. They had by now purchased the Maclean family farm towards Raumati Beach. They eventually moved to Palmerston North.

The two flat-roofed flats opposite Rosetta Road had been built by the family to rent. Margaret and her husband Ian Hunter built the house between the guesthouse and the flats. Herbert and William had purchased land called Hurley Farm, from the east side of the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club to the west, to a creek near Mazengarb or Soldiers Road to the north with Kapiti Road to the South, which later became Cedar Park and Seven Oaks Retirement Village.

This land was ‘frozen’ by the Government at the time under the Public Works Act for airport land, and was unable to be developed for years after Herbert and Lillian had passed away, and was then released to be sold and subdivision of the Northern Block then proceeded, taking approximately 10 years. Many street names in “Seven Oaks”, named by the Kapiti District Trust Board for the original family farm in the Wairarapa, are family names: Grantham Court, Florence Way, Marilyn Place and Gray Ave. Callender Tce is named after the surveyor.

Herbert passed away in Penrith Australia in 1962, having moved there 9 years earlier. Lillian passed away in Surfers Paradise in 1983.

In short, Lillian, or Nana Lil, or Nana Eatwell as she was called, was an amazing, strong, well travelled artistic woman who is remembered clearly by her children and grandchildren as being a very powerful presence. She was a very hard worker who expected those around her to do the same.

Jacqueline Elliott

Early Kawatiri showing store at front. Source: The Celebration History of the Kapiti District. Printed with the permission of the K.C.D.C.

Lillian Eatwell, daughters – Jonet, Florence, Margaret, Tanya and Vanya, daughter-in-law Gloria and grandchildren to date. Taken at home at The Crescent, Raumati South, approx 1959. Contributed by Mrs Florence McGillnutt.

Kawatiri Guesthouse, Poplar Ave Raumati South 1959, now Rose Cottage Rest Home.
G – 46916 – ½ Source: The S C Smith Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Tanya and Vanya Eatwell dressed up for a Queen’s Carnival float. Contributed by Tanya Buckley.

Meeting of the Beautifying Society (a horticultural group) of New Zealand held at Kawatiri in about 1942. At the left facing the camera is Bert Eatwell wearing a striped jacket. Photo reference: HP1669 Source: Clunie Collection, Kapiti Public Library.