a family story

John Roxborogh


Effie was 11 days old when her mother died. When her father registered her birth he gave her all the family names; Euphemia for her mother and her maternal grandmother even although her older sister had that name already; Alexandrina for her paternal grandfather and Walker for her other grandfather. To save confusion she was called Effie, to be spelt differently from Grandmother Walker's name. Her older sister born in 1888 was known as Pheme.
Her aunt and uncle, Mary and Alex took over her care, in the end bringing her up as their own daughter. Ted was just 19 months older so they grew up much as brother and sister. It is more than likely that Mary was able to breast-feed this new baby thus ensuring a good start in life despite the loss of her natural mother.
Effie was a toddler when her Aunt Catherine and family moved to Boness Road, in Awahuri. For the next six years she was to spend much time with the Robertson cousins, particularly with Mary and Annie. Their friendship was to last all their lives.
When she was nearly five years old her father re-married. With Pheme and their newly-acquired step-brother Vernon, she would have attended the wedding celebrations. Years later when her own daughter was born she named her "Elsie", possibly after her step-mother. She was six years old when her step-sister Nathalie was born but there was little opportunity for them to grow up knowing one another as Donald and Lena left for South Africa before Nathalie had her second birthday.
The Manchester Street School in Feilding had opened as early as 1874 but there is no record of any of the McKenzie children having attended even although they had all reached school-age well before they left Feilding. Maybe Effie and Ted were not enrolled at any school until 1896 when they went to live in Mangaweka.
In comparison with the town they had just left, Mangaweka was a pioneer village still in the flush of its infancy when Alex and Mary and the children arrived there. Sited as it was beside the planned main north-south railway line, with a hinterland of farming country, it rapidly developed into a thriving centre. It was to be home to Effie for many years. With Ted as friend and older "brother" and the Walkers and McLeans a little closer than they had been previously Effie's childhood days were busy and happy ones.
Three Log Whare School had opened in 1894 with a roll of 23, but by the time Effie and Ted arrived this had swelled to 59. Children of all ages were crammed into the one classroom making conditions unpleasant, if not unbearable, in the hot summer weather. According to the school log-book parents threatened to keep their children at home and so the authorities sought a truant officer but there were no takers within the community for that position. A new building was opened and another teacher appointed but the number of school children continued to increase with a third teacher, appointed in 1897, having to take a class in the shelter-shed. By 1898 there were no fewer than 84 pupils in the infant room. Accommodation and staffing continued to be out of step with the needs of the school consequent upon the rapidly increasing population.
Cramped conditions, teachers under stress and a rigid curriculum with mass-teaching methods did not make for happy day-to-day school experiences for many of the children although there were exceptions mainly among those for whom learning was easy. Early records have been lost but it may be assumed that Effie was one who did do well at school. In 1899 head teachers were given the responsibility for the annual standards examinations previously carried out by the school inspector. However the Standard Six examination was not covered by this new regulation and continued to be conducted as before but was now to be known as the Proficiency Examination. Early records have been lost but it may be assumed that Effie was a successful candidate and that she was awarded a Proficiency Certificate when she was 13. Later she was to become a governess.
The strict adherence to a weekly timetable not withstanding, there were special days when school was closed for national or local events and of course, for the celebration of significant happenings in other parts of the British Empire. One such took place at the turn of the century following the relief of Mafeking. That victory proved to be a crucial point in the Boer War and school was closed for a day in celebration.
In the same year Lord Ranfurly, Governor of New Zealand, honoured the town with a visit. The flag flew and there was hearty singing of the National Anthem for everyone knew that Queen Victoria ruled over the British Empire.
Other events which occurred during Effie's school-days included the official opening of the railway line in 1902 and in the following year the first excursion to Castlecliff, at the mouth of the Wanganui River. That was a community outing with three hundred people travelling there by train. Those were the occasions that stood out as memorable highlights in the minds of many of the pupils long into their adult years.
When her name first appeared on the electoral roll of 1911 Effie was still living at home in Mangaweka. As was the case for most women at that time her occupation was given as "Domestic Duties". Shortly afterwards she was employed as governess to the Smith family who lived in the Kawatau district and it was there that she met an Irish emigrant by the name of Patrick O'Keeffe known to all as 'Paddy'.
In the late 1890s Paddy had left the tiny village of Kishkeam in the western part of County Cork, the last of three brothers to emigrate to New Zealand. His first job was as a navvy on the main trunk railway line, working out of Hunterville. How close he must have been to Effie, then a school-girl, when working near Mangaweka! Later he was to work as a shepherd, firstly at Moawhanga on the tussock land near Waiouru, and then later at Tirikaukawa, west of Taihape. The next change in his life came when he was successful in a farm ballot, drawing a property on Ruru Road, Omatane, in the remote hill-country south-east of Taihape.
          Effie's marriage to Paddy in 1914 brought a further Irish flavour to this basically Scottish- Presbyterian family. No doubt Grandfather Walker was delighted to have an Irish grandson-in-law. Mary had died six months previously but Alex was there to give the bride away. The ceremony was performed by the local Catholic priest at the home of Paddy's neighbour, a Mr Totman. Effie's bridesmaid was Gwenifred Evans, whose mother was a first cousin. Although only 15 years of age Gwen was a dressmaker and had probably sewn the bride's frock as well as her own for this occasion. Imagine Alex' delight at the wedding feast when he was able to share his great regard for a good whisky with both the priest and the new husband!
Although Effie herself did not become Catholic at this time, nor indeed even later, she was to support Paddy and their children and the local church throughout her life.
 In rural New Zealand pioneering conditions prevailed throughout the years of World War I and well into the next two decades. The Omatane district had been settled prior to Effie's marriage but its relative remoteness and inaccessibility meant that it was still back-blocks country. It was to be 40 more years before electricity reached the district.
Paddy had cleared the standing bush on his land and by 1914 was running more than 1600 sheep. He was an ambitious and progressive farmer, in time acquiring additional blocks of land and running cattle as well as sheep. Had Donald McKenzie been living at that time he and Paddy would have had much in common.
The O'Keefes were to rear a family of five. It is believed that their first child was a son, Donald, who died in infancy. In 1917 Francis Roland (Frank)
was born and his sister Elsie, two years later. When Frank reached school age Paddy bought a dairy farm near the main north-south highway and the railway line. The rough state of the road and the distance from the school at Omatane had meant that even riding a horse to school was too hazardous an undertaking for a young child And with Dennis their third child then a babe-in-arms, it would have been impossible for Effie to have made the twice-daily return journey with a horse and gig.
By 1929 Paddy had over 2500 sheep and was employing several shepherds, farm-labourers and milkers. Up until the time that they bought their first car he rode on horse-back from farm to farm, checking stock, supervising operations, and seeing to the well-being of his employees.
An important part of the farmer's programme was the regular visit to the saleyards. The men yarned, competed, bargained and forged friendships. While Alex was still working as a drover he and Paddy often met at the Taihape sales and finished the day's business with a visit to one of their favourite watering holes.
Unlike many of her
age living on farms in New Zealand between the two world wars Effie did not have to milk cows or to help with the mustering. However, like farmers' wives everywhere she was often called upon to provide food for the regular employees engaged in seasonal activities such as haymaking and shearing, and for the influx of extra helpers required at busy times, particularly if they had to beat the weather. Although casual labour was needed sometimes, hay making was on the whole a co-operative neighbourhood-based operation. Effie supplied the oatmeal water - gallons and gallons of it, along with the baskets of scones, apple tarts and fruit cake. This was the traditional harvest-time fare provided by most farmer's wives up until the time when modern mechanisation and contract systems replaced the friendly neighbourhood arrangements and the women's role became surperfluous. This was not to happen however in Effie's time.
And when the period of hard work was over and the moon was up the whole gang of harvesters, Maori and European alike, sat around the kegs of beer swapping yarns long into the night.
Life with Paddy was never dull. He was a hardcase Irishman with a memorable brogue and a tremendous sense of humour. He loved Effie dearly - a gentle, quietly-spoken lady who knew from her maternal grandparents a little of what it meant to be Irish. The kindness, fun and generosity which abounded in the O'Keeffe home was vouched for by many throughout the Taihape area. Effie and Paddy held continuous open-house, no one was ever turned away. In the days of the swaggies and the depression of the 1930s theirs was the half-way house, a temporary sanctuary for many. As each traveller went on his way he would check the message left for the next rover - perhaps a stone placed in a certain position or a mark on the gatepost, the universal symbols of the swaggers. Year after year they would know to return for food and a yarn , for a bed in the hayshed and a fresh pair of boots in the morning.
In 1926 a second daughter, Doreen was born and three years later another son,
Patrick John. The children attended the Ohutu primary school and later, with the exception of Patrick, they travelled by train to Taihape where they were pupils at St Joseph's Secondary School. Effie and Paddy chose to send their youngest son to St Patrick's College at Silverstream in Wellington, perhaps with the hope that he might in time enter the priesthood.
Over the years Effie kept in touch with her uncle Alex, on occasions driving a horse and gig to visit him in Mangaweka in the early days and later when he was old and alone taking him to live with her family in Ohutu. Her children were in many ways his grandchildren. As a little boy Dennis would follow him everywhere. When Alex died in 1945 Effie was one of his beneficiaries.
When the O'Keeffes purchased the Ohutu property it included the site of Utiku's little Catholic church which had served the surrounding country district and the nearby bustling timber town, since its opening in 1911. Whereas going to church had previously entailed a long trip by horse and gig over a rough road for the O'Keeffe children it was now just a matter of running across the paddock to be on time for Mass.
In the 1970s a dwindling cogregation led to the closure of the church. For many years it remained a landmark, a picturesque sight to be viewed from the main road a few kilometres south of Taihape. In 1989 the building was transported to Taupo where it was converted into a private residence.
Along with its lovely setting the Utiku Catholic Church will be remembered always by those who worshipped there,or visited or who just paused to admire when passing.
The children grew up and first Elsie and then Doreen married. There were grandchildren, seven in all, one boy and six girls.
Effie died suddenly one day in 1955 while talking on the telephone. The Maori shearers who were working on the property at the time remained with Paddy throughout the immediate period of mourning, never leaving his side. Three months later Paddy himself passed away. He and Effie are buried side by side in the Taihape cemetery. A stained glass window was placed in the church in commemoration of their lives.

Effie's Family

Effie McKenzie =
Patrick O'Keeffe (1870-1956)

Francis Roland  (20 Jan 1917 -)

Elsie Julia Mary (14 Jan 1919 -)
Nathalie Eleanor Pearl (22 Jul 1895 - )

Dennis (13 Aug 1921-1 Jul 1983)

Doreen (3 Jan 1926)

Patrick John (27 Mar 1929)