Story: West Coast places

Allan Gillingham’s Plunket book

Te Ara theme editor Allan Gillingham was brought up on a farm near Harihari. In 1938 his parents were living in a remote part of South Westland, and his birth was dramatic:

'My parents, Jessie and George Gillingham, lived at the Public Works camp just south of Fox Glacier township in 1938. George was a truck owner-driver, working on what was many years later to become the road over Haast Pass to Otago. They lived in a small house without a floor, made of ponga and canvas, with a corrugated-iron roof and open-fire surround.

'While cutting firewood on a saw bench outside their hut, the belt flew off the saw bench and hit Jessie, who was seven months pregnant, in the stomach. Pains soon commenced and the decision was made to drive her by truck through to Greymouth Hospital, about four hours away, along twisting, unsealed roads and across several precarious river fords. Although Jessie said that she was ‘quite comfortable’ she was experiencing sharp pains. She said that the ‘real’ pain occurred the next day, leading up to my birth at 11.00 a.m. on 23 November, weighing just 3 pounds and 6 ounces (1.5 kilograms). After six days this had declined to 2 pounds 12 ounces (1.25 kilograms), so a decision was made that I should be taken to the Karitane hospital in Christchurch for special care. George’s sister, Ida, had the responsibility of doing this because Jessie was to remain in Greymouth Hospital for a further two weeks before she was able to follow.

'Because of the risk involved with travelling to Christchurch, I was christened in the bathroom of the Greymouth Hospital before leaving. Having made me as comfortable as possible in a shoebox lined with cotton wool, and with an eyedropper and bottle for feeding, Ida set off on the five-hour train trip. The departure was obviously a traumatic one for both Jessie and George, as well as for Ida who had the responsibility to deliver me safely. We were met at Christchurch railway station by a group of Karitane nurses who whipped us away to hospital where I stayed for the next two months.'

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How to cite this page:

Simon Nathan, 'West Coast places - Glaciers', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Simon Nathan