Geoffrey Alley, Librarian: His Life & Work
Chapter 11 — Home On The Range
Home On The Range
When the Alleys moved to Upper Hutt in October 1946, Geoff and Euphan were both aged 43, Judith was 14, Ruth11, Rod eight and Pat four.1 Their new home was 20 miles from Wellington, not too far to detach Geoff from his library activities but near enough to the rural world to restore his association with it. Ebdentown Road was on the northern fringe of Upper Hutt, and the two acres of land at no.56, which surrounded a spacious and gracious wooden house with a verandah,2 bordered the Hutt River. The land was relatively undeveloped and was big enough (but not too big for someone with other responsibilities) for Geoff to see in it the potential for creating a New Westcote.
The Hutt Valley is divided into two sections at the Taita gorge. The borough of Upper Hutt, which was incorporated in 1926, has its headquarters about four miles further up the valley, but its boundaries take in most of the valley floor back to the gorge. Its population, which was estimated to be about 4000 in 1939, had risen to 5500 by 1946 and was increasing at an accelerating rate. It was still predominantly a rural service town, but it also had, within its boundaries or on its outskirts, a Department of Agriculture animal research station at Wallaceville, a military camp and a racecourse at Trentham, a golf course at Heretaunga, and a Catholic secondary school at Silverstream, as well as the beginning of industrial development in a small way. There was a vaccine laboratory and there were plans for a tyre factory. There were some affluent residential areas near the golf course and on some wooded slopes, but the character of the population was beginning to change as open land was subdivided to house younger people, many of whom were war service veterans building with the help of rehabilitation loans.
Upper Hutt was then, in fact, in the early stages of becoming a satellite suburb of Wellington. It was a stimulating place to live in, but its growth was beginning to cause many problems which, 60 years later, are perhaps not so apparent to the inhabitants of the city of 38,000 which now thrives there. To begin with, transport in 1946 was designed mainly to provide page 268link of sorts between greater Wellington and the Wairarapa. The main road was a narrow one which ran along the western Hutt valley and then, beyond Upper Hutt, having nodded at the borough centre, climbed over the Rimutaka range, where tourists delighted in photographing signs which warned travellers to beware of wind. A tenuous rail link, powered by the ingenious Fell locomotives, also climbed over the top, and on the first section of its rails steam trains, with carriages unheated in winter, carried the small band of commuters to and from Wellington. The borough council, for its part, was taken by surprise by the need to provide for an increasing population more densely packed. It had prided itself for many years on having an attractively low level of rates. Its infrastructure, including fundamentals like water supply and sewage, was therefore creaking,3 and there was of course no public library.
The climate of the upper Hutt valley, separated by hills from the coast and from the Antarctic blasts, is quite different from that of Wellington. It has fiercer frosts in winter and hotter days in summer. Much of the land, being old river bed, is stony, but there are also areas where centuries of floods have deposited good soil. The Hutt River,4 which flows along the base of the western hills in the upper valley, is normally small and wadeable (though with a good flow) but it is an important source of water for the Wellington region, and it is capable of turning on spectacular floods.5
For several years from 1947 Geoff worked heroically to convert his new property into orchard, vegetable, and ornamental gardens, holding up the evening meal until there was no light to work by. Thinking back to that time, Rod said, 'Thank God we escaped daylight saving – as it was the evenings would drag on interminably for us ravenous young ones.' In a remarkably short time (but a long time – perhaps seven or eight years – for a small boy) Geoff formed an estate which was to grow into a rather wild, intriguing, productive, and unique garden, with a distinct personality. He could not have done it without his strength and stamina, nor without his determination to create something that would make the land bear fruit. There was also a touch of fanaticism in the way in which he allowed the estate to use up every bit of available time, and the lives of both Geoff and Euphan were circumscribed by the fact that they had no car until mid- 1953, when an Austin A40 was acquired, so that the siren calls of interests outside Ebdentown Road could be only faintly heard.
At the beginning Geoff was not, in fact, much of a horticulturalist. He had basic gardening knowledge from Westcote and had struggled to make things grow in the stony land near Lumsden, but he was not well prepared for his new challenge. The enthusiasm was there, but the knowledge was not. The gap was filled by voracious reading about all aspects of gardening, page 269which, together with his physical labour and his ability to learn from experience, turned him eventually into something of an authority.
Long-term planning involved especially the orchard, which Geoff located in a relatively difficult patch of ground known as the Hawthorn Paddock. Inherited from the previous owner there were plum trees, and a remarkable cooking apple which no one could identify but which bore heavily. He added many more trees, especially pears, of which he is said to have established 17 different varieties, as well as peaches and nectarines. In the early days of his apprenticeship he dug massive holes in this paddock to receive the first pear trees and was surprised to find, when they were delivered, that they were standard young trees with a root ball of no more than a foot (30 centimetres). The backfilling with soil from the fertile lower flat would have been very good for the trees, but it was not in the initial plan. The ignorance which this episode reveals is astonishing, but equally astonishing is the speed with which Geoff moved on to advanced work with fruit trees. Not only were the techniques of pruning and budding and grafting learned very quickly, but Geoff also developed methods of dealing with the ground around the trees which were designed to conserve minerals and make them available, and also to improve the structure of the soil.
As texts for his orchard endeavours Geoff took two small but authoritative, clear and wise books by Justin Brooke, a Suffolk orchardist who had some 160 acres in pears alone, to which he ascribed almost biblical authority. Written with a combination of common sense, intelligent observation, and innovative and almost subversive ideas, expressed clearly and succinctly, they could have been designed expressly for Geoff 's cast of mind. The first of them, published by Faber & Faber in 1951, was Peaches, Apricots and Other Stone Fruits. Of the second, Dessert Pears (Hart-Davis, 1956), he wrote the following note for the NLS booklist, Books to Buy:
The author is a fruit grower with long experience and an unorthodox approach to many problems. He has written successfully about stone fruits and figs, and now has added an equally provocative book in a field in which very little good material has been written. Mr Brooke is a believer in herbage as a means of building up soil structure and supplying plant materials. He is sound on orchard management, harvesting and selection of varieties.6
The purpose of the vegetable garden, as well as that of the orchard, was to ensure that supplies for the house would come from the garden in sufficient quantity to guard against any possibility of famine. Potatoes, for instance, were grown in enormous quantities and, after digging, were page 270graded into three lots, the largest of which were for the house. The house potatoes were stored in large jute bags labelled by the month, and if a bag was opened too soon there would be dire warnings of starvation in the months ahead. Young members of the family were expected to help in the garden, which they did, often for long hours at times when their friends were wanting them to join them. The deal was, 'You want to live in this place, enjoy the food, and not have to worry where the money is going, then you need to help.'
In the pleasure garden Geoff 's greatest love was probably for roses, including a fine specimen of 'Dainty Bess', of which he wrote in 1970: 'I got it first when I went to U. Hutt from Wgtn in 1946. In one dreadful summer Dainty Bess was the only (almost) rose that wasn't ruined by rainstorms – its single clarity and angelic quality made it unforgettable.'7 But the camellias were also planted and tended with pride, as were many small plants, dainty perennials and shy bulbs. Alister McIntosh, who had a property at Akatarawa, further up the valley from Upper Hutt, shared Geoff 's gardening interests. When Geoff recorded his memoir of Alister he did not start it with an account of a report or a meeting, but with a rose and a pear. In his taped reminiscences he said:
At the front of our house in Upper Hutt there grows a rose called 'The New Dawn'. A slip of it was given me by Alister many years ago. It's a rambler, a very vigorous one indeed, a delicate pink. It's good to have it. Then in another part of the place there is a pear tree with a piece of the Doyenne du Comice pear from his home in Wesley Road. He gave me these cuttings and I managed to persuade one of them to take in a tree of another variety. So we have two varieties, as is quite common, growing on the same tree. It's fine to have this. Bunyard, the great English pomologist, in his book on hardy fruits describes the Comice pear, 'This delicious fruit can hardly be too highly praised and should be grown in different forms and in positions so that its season may be extended.' The rose and the pear, both members of the same family, Rosaceae, give me great pleasure and symbolise something of my long association with Mac.8
The work involved in continuing maintenance of the garden and the orchard would not have diminished after they had become established. Gardens are not like that, and in any case the work was important for Geoff, who needed to have contact with the land and be part of the cycle of planting, nurturing, and producing. As John Roberts has remarked, 'The one thing that might have really satisfied GT would have been making a smiling farm out of the bush.'9 This satisfaction was not granted to him, but he was able to combine work on his small patch of land with the equally page 271pressing demands of librarianship. It was part of his drive to re-create the Westcote of Riccarton on a smaller scale in Upper Hutt. It was his dream, Judith has said, 'another Westcote, his private domain, communion with the camellias and roses and pears and potatoes. Total and absolute. None of the privations of Lumsden, no FJ [Frederick] lurking as in Westcote.'10
But Ebdentown Road differed in significant ways from Westcote. There, Frederick farmed the 30 acres, while Clara's domain encompassed the orchard and the flower and vegetable gardens as well as all the comings and goings of interesting people and the direction of the family. In Upper Hutt, Geoff really took on the roles of both his parents, while Euphan, who was intelligent and talented and capable, as she had shown in her work with playcentres in Hataitai, was not able to dominate as Clara had done. Geoff decreed (and was not overruled, as many husbands would have been) that the Shacklock range, which could burn both wood and coal and had a wetback, had to stay and that no electric water heater would be installed. He did a lot of work, like bottling fruit or making his Southland rice pudding overnight, that other husbands would have happily avoided, but he did not understand the need to make it easy for people to do a daily round of domestic chores.
The river-bed was an important extension of the estate for Geoff, not only for its supply of firewood but also for recreation and its calming effect, a sort of safety valve within a safety valve. Well separated from housing and other human developments in that part of the valley, it was peaceful and in the late afternoon of a fine winter's day very beautiful and quiet. 'Would you like to go to the river?' or 'Let's go down to the river' were his invitations to join in wood-gathering, which was carried out to an elaborate plan. There were depositories of wood within reach of the property which he would add to as the summer passed, and which he called 'freezers'. Then, close to autumn, it would all be gathered to a point near the house and Mr Jones, whom the children called 'Sawmilly Jones' (but not to his face), would be summoned. With his portable mill, a large, breaking-down saw powered by a Model T Ford motor, Jones would cut the gathered wood into manageable pieces which could then be split over the next few weeks and stacked in readiness for the winter.
Life in the river-bed really was part of Geoff 's enjoyment of life. Often on a weekend morning he could be found walking up from the river, in shorts and with legs like tree trunks, carrying what looked like another tree on his shoulder, and he would invite friends, as a special treat, to join in the search for wood for their own purposes. And there were other things to be found, too. On one expedition he came across a stash of perfectly good pick-heads which he took under his control, and then offered one to a member of his staff, who accepted it gratefully. He delivered it the next page 272day, saying, 'There you are: one-twelfth of a dozen assorted picks.' But the wood was vital to the domestic economy, since it was used for cooking and heating water as well as for the front room fires which were the focal point of the weekend nights. After Jones had been killed accidentally at the tyre factory some time later, Geoff showed his respect for him in a number of practical ways in supporting the family.
For a host of reasons going back to his childhood, Geoff was a loner, driven by his own vision in whatever he was doing, who had serious blind spots which prevented his seeing a situation as others saw it. He was the one general (it would be too harsh to say, in his own words, 'the one bad general') who controlled the 2–3–2 scrum in 1928 with great success, and during his later professional career he was still the one general whose contribution was admired and supported by those who were happy to be supporters. His attitude to the design, the operation, and the control of his home was entirely consistent with his management of his outside life, and was logical within the terms of reference he had adopted for himself. That it did not seem logical to many of those who were affected by it would probably have surprised him, and in many ways life under his rule was rich and rewarding.
Geoff was not the kind of librarian whose work is an extension of personal book collecting, but rather the kind who builds libraries for the people and joins the people in using them. The impression given by his home was that there were many books in it, but they tended to be books that were there in passing, rather than ones for which every available inch of space had to be commandeered for shelving. Books of his own which have survived in family hands include works by standard novelists and poets, philosophers and political economists. John Dewey, D.H. Lawrence, and Aristotle figure prominently, and histories like Edward Gibbon's and Thomas Carlyle's, as well as books by practical experts like Justin Brooke, but they give little indication of the range of his reading. Regular current reading included the New Yorker (in the days of its glory) and the Economist, and, unlike many other busy people, he returned to Shakespeare and the Bible to refresh his mind.
Both Geoff and Euphan loved chamber music above all other forms of the art. One of the advantages which the ownership of a car from 1953 brought them was that they were once again able to join the Chamber Music Society, attending the concert series which were given in Lower Hutt. Singing around the piano had continued, with Euphan accompanying and Geoff exercising his fine voice. Although Ebdentown Road was not a centre for artistic and literary life as Westcote had been, there was, nevertheless, a quiet but substantial air of culture in its atmosphere.
Clara continued to live at Westcote after Euphan and their children page 273joined Geoff in Wellington, keeping in close matriarchal touch with all of her descendants. It was a regular annual routine for her to receive news by telephone of her grandchildren's school successes, which, of course, in keeping with the Alley ethic, were expected to be at the top. She also kept up her connection with the National Council of Women, and when it held a golden jubilee conference in Christchurch in September and October 1950 (four years late) she attended it as an honoured guest and cut the birthday cake, after which she asked the members present whether they thought that the early aims of the council had been fulfilled. 'Our pioneer women achieved so much,' she said, 'because they gave all of themselves to the accomplishment of the task before them. If we, the Women of today, really wanted Peace we could if we cared enough – cared to the point of real self-effacement and self-giving – achieve too.'11
Clara Maria Alley died on 8 April 1952, aged 85, after a painful illness during which cancer had spread to the bones of her spine and pelvis,12 and was buried next to her father, Thomas Buckingham, at Bishop's Corner between Leeston and Southbridge.13 One of her obituarists, who had known her for only five years, wrote that 'Even in her eighties, she was still the student, intensely interested in all that was happening, keen to know what others were doing and thinking … a fine representative of that earlier generation of self-reliant, capable and intellectually courageous men and women to whom this country owes most that is good in its attainment.'14 Rewi wrote his tribute in a 67-line poem, 'The Good Comrade'. These are some of those lines:
To fight for votes for women
in the days of her youth was as bad
as being a Communist today, almost;
but she fought, and kept on fighting
until the votes were given; these here who march
all these good peasant women
are her comrades, they who shatter the tin clay gods
throw out the garbage
How often, as a boy has she taken me by the hand
drawn me over to show the tracery of twigs
against a winter's sky; or the beauty
of a rose bud, or the glory of apple blossom
standing so firmly, part of the earth herself,
and of its gentleness.
Oliver Duff, writing as 'Sundowner' in the New Zealand Listener, said, 'When I heard of the death of Mrs. Alley – mother of Rewi and in so many hidden ways responsible for him – it was like hearing that a tree had fallen on a perfectly clear day.' He remembered meeting her many years earlier, when 'I came away feeling that I had met an ageless woman; a woman neither young nor old, but standing quite still in a pool of serenity and wisdom.'15
Clara passed on to her family an ethic of integrity, industry, and tolerance, but Frederick, who was principled, upright and pretty tyrannical, was also an enduring model, and one who seems to have influenced Geoff, both positively and negatively, more than others in his family. 'I don't think Dad ever realised what a powerful model that old man was,' Judith has said, and it could be interesting to try to determine what contributions his two parents made to Geoff 's character. There are so many contradictions. He was immensely proud of his children, for instance, but found it hard to express his pride. He was very good with small children and would talk with them solemnly and with genuine interest, but his enthusiasm would wane as they grew older and developed their own ideas and personalities. He found it hard to give praise directly to a member of the family, but would tell others about good things they had done. It was not an easy job, being one of Geoff 's children, and yet they grew up as a very close-knit family with a very strong sense of unity.
There was no state secondary school in Upper Hutt when the Alleys moved there, so the young ones travelled by train to Hutt Valley High School in Lower Hutt – even Pat, although Heretaunga College, which had opened in Wallaceville in 1954, would have been available for him. It was when Judith finished secondary school that another of Geoff 's puzzling inconsistencies appeared. 'I fought losing battles with Dad about going to university or to teachers' college,' she said. 'The ethic for young women at that time was really teachers' college. I was expected to teach because that was what Alley women did and did well.' It was not until much later in their lives that both Judith and Ruth undertook university studies, with considerable success.
For those who knew of Geoff as one of the pioneers in integrating women into the public service, in placing them in positions of responsibility, and in promoting equal pay, this attitude towards his own daughters would have seemed strange. It was not unusual at that time for librarians interviewing school leavers for library assistant jobs to find some girls who were clearly cut out for university study but whose parents thought it unsuitable for their daughters, but Geoffrey Alley was not, one would have thought, one of those parents. And yet he does seem to have shown more interest in his sons' potential than in that of his daughters. Judith sang at neighbourhood page 275gatherings and acted in children's theatre, but Geoff did not attend. He did once show up when she was swimming for her school, but when she came second instead of first he melted away. The boys were given more help and encouragement, and Geoff went to see them play cricket or rugby. He carried equipment across the river to clear a patch for the boys to practise cricket and the shot and discus, and trained Pat to the point where he achieved second in the intermediate shot put and first in the discus for Hutt Valley High School at an inter-school sports meeting, being credited by a sports reporter with 'the best technique of any of the athletes'.16 It is typical of Geoff that his methods of training were not those of the gymnasium and the sports academy. He was scornful of the use of lumps of metal; in his day they threw bags of chaff or bales of hay.
Geoff 's easier relations with his sons would have been partly due to the fact that they had joined the family when he was more settled in his career and when he was at home more than he had been earlier, but the strong influence of his own father meant that he not only adopted attitudes which were common enough in his own time but also reverted to those of an earlier generation. When Judith entered teachers' college, as required, she lived with the Somersets (her aunt Gwen and Crawford) in Wellington, and Ruth, in her turn, also found haven with the Somersets. But Judith was then able to come to see her father in a different perspective as she worked from 1957 to 1959, after gaining teaching experience, in the School Broadcasting Service, using the resources of the School Library Service of the NLS and attending meetings, at which he was also present, on children's literature. Ruth, also, saw another side of him when Geoff lent a hand in getting the New Zealand Players theatre company under way in 1953, not least because Ruth was a performer. 'Of all things,' Rod says, 'he had to stump off to a south Wellington suburb to buy a pair of boots that they needed on the eve of their first performance, this in the midst of a pretty nasty muscular inflammation he had then.' Gwen writes of 'our beautiful niece Ruth', working with the New Zealand Players and determined to be a famous actress.17 Ruth's books, published later in her life, which included two on play school ideas as well as several children's books, attest to a marked sympathy between Gwen and herself.
The régime which Geoff established at Ebdentown Road was good – even admirable – in many ways and influenced his family positively even when they were irked by it. But it was primarily his régime. Members of the family certainly appreciated later both the environment he created and the objectives he aimed for, but the need for them to get out into a wider world as they grew up is evident in some of their reflections on their earlier lives. For others, too, Ebdentown Road was something of a hidden kingdom, though those who did penetrate it were entranced by its atmosphere and page 276by Euphan, who could almost be called its hidden treasure. Only some of Geoff 's professional associates became well-known at Ebdentown Road, but those who did were good friends of Euphan's as well as of Geoff 's. Mary Parsons was a regular visitor, to Hataitai at first and then, until she went back home, to Upper Hutt. Jean Wright, who was much more influential as a professional adviser to Geoff than many people realised, was one of a short list of those visitors whom Pat remembered as people. She had known the Alley family for a long time and, quite apart from professional matters, helped the domestic cause by sending reliable supplies of seed potatoes, especially Jersey Bennes and Epicure. She also found in a Christchurch shop a suitable shot for Pat to put when he was under Geoff 's instruction. Another was Mary Fleming, of 'the unquenchable smile', who, Pat has said, 'often came on Sundays in her little Austin, on wet days with a parka and gumboots, and she would potter around the garden and go down to the riverbed with him'. The children were allowed to sit in the car and play with the controls, and Pat remembers her trudging up from the riverbed, carrying a log on her own shoulder and still smiling.
Many of Geoff 's professional associates never got near Ebdentown Road. Patricia Perry has remarked that she and Stuart were never asked to go there,18 and a list of other absentees would reveal several surprising omissions, among them people Geoff liked and admired. Of the old-time associates, Archie Dunningham was one who was regarded as a friend by the family, and there was a special relationship with the McIntoshes, known to the family as 'the Toshes'. Alister McIntosh was the one person to whom Geoff always deferred. He would often tell Euphan of some wonderful coup that Mac had pulled off; 'This would be on good days,' Pat recalled, 'and he would not expect any response from Euphan, whose role it was to listen; on bad days he would tell it all to the roses.' He was proud of the fact that he had Mac's unlisted Akatarawa telephone number, but used it sparingly, mainly to arrange visits between them; and when the McIntoshes came to Ebdentown Road he would change out of his gardening gear into a clean shirt and grey flannel trousers, which he would seldom do for others. Among other associates, the librarians in charge of the CLS offices were often invited to end one of their occasional Wellington meetings by visiting Ebdentown Road for an evening meal.19
Within the family circle, the Somersets were also important to the Alleys. Crawford, in particular, got on well with the children and with Euphan, whom he regarded with special affection. Despite his severe physical handicap, resulting from the illness which hit him when he was a young man, he had a sunny nature, was full of jolly, even corny, quips (such as 'Tea up before you drive'), and, as Pat remembers him from childhood, was 'someone who would talk to us at a nicely judged balance page 277of avuncularity, friendship, and paternalism'. Geoff 's relations with his other siblings tended to be restrained, but when Clara was suffering her last illness Joy helped her in practical ways and nursed her with great love and compassion, and Geoff afterwards had a great deal of respect and admiration for her.
Geoff did not like to be described in public as an old All Black, but his rugby memories were important to him and to his close friends. A photograph of the Christchurch Boys' High School team of 1920 had an honoured place in the house, and he remained in regular contact with Jim Burrows, who had been in the same team as well as in the 1928 All Black team. Jim, who had been rector of Waitaki Boys' High School for a few years after the Second World War, then returned to the army and was commander of the New Zealand forces in Korea in 1954. He might have been expected to be influenced by the hysteria which erupted after Rewi's broadcasts from Peking during the Korean War, but he was a level-headed man who knew the Alley family well and would have been able to perceive in Rewi's action the family's congenital enthusiast whose enthusiasm produced so much good in so many other ways. He was certainly not deterred from maintaining good relations with Geoff.
In 1956, the year of the first post-war visit by a Springbok team to New Zealand, Jim Burrows was commander of the southern military district in Christchurch and would have attended the 1928 All Black team reunion dinner on 17 August, the evening before the third test, which New Zealand won by 17 to South Africa's 10 at Lancaster Park. On this occasion Geoff proposed the toast of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union.20 Earlier, on 4 August, he had assisted the flamboyant radio commentator Winston McCarthy in describing the second test at Athletic Park in Wellington (won by South Africa 8 to 3, in a genuine Wellington southerly storm), but his contribution was not a great success, according to Allan Mercer, who listened to it at his home in Hamilton: 'He was too slow to get his ideas into words.'21
Another of Geoff 's rugby friendships was with Fred ('Lofty') Earl, a forward who played in the Lumsden team which Geoff captained. Fred made his career in the Railways and in 1930, when his grade was fireman, he played for the Alhambra club in Dunedin and took part in two games for Otago.22 When Geoff was in Upper Hutt, Fred was driving the locomotive WAb687 on the Upper Hutt line, and Geoff sometimes rode in the cab with him. Geoff would also, some lunch hours, go through the Wellington railway yards with pieces of steak and some onions and they would cook up a good feed in the sheds. Geoff was deeply shocked when Fred died in 1955.
On the whole the Alleys were not particularly gregarious. Geoff was page 278not comfortable in social situations, except with people with whom he felt completely at ease. Other friends and acquaintances included members of the far-flung family, and, of course, in Euphan's case, Dorothy Davies, as well as some of their immediate neighbours, but there were also some local inhabitants with whom Geoff enjoyed taking part in selected community affairs, such as opposition to the felling of a large redwood tree which had inconsiderately established itself just where the borough council decided later a footpath should go. When he saw the need to tweak the tail of authority he tended to treat it as an enjoyable contact sport, but this was not simply bloody-mindedness – he really did want to do his bit for the town, and he would have seen reining in the authorities as a valuable contribution.
Some of these friends became involved in a campaign to persuade the borough council to establish a public library. Among them were Dick and Julia Bradley and Evan and Elma Wright, with whom Geoff joined in several satisfying activities. Julia was a member of the staff of the Upper Hutt Times, which had been established in 1949 partly to present a different view on local politics from that of the older Upper Hutt Leader, which tended to follow the borough council's line. The Times was controlled by a directorate, made up mainly of Upper Hutt district farmers and town businessmen, led by Les Andrews of Kaitoke and including Dick Bradley. Its managing director is described in Kelleher's history of the borough as 'stocky retired Brigadier R.A. (Bob) Lowe'. Evan Wright was a biochemist at the Wallaceville research station and Elma was an innovative teacher. One of the causes taken up by the Times was the need for a public library and, as the campaign developed, Elma Wright became its leader.23
It was not an easy job to get through the defences of the entrenched borough council, which had beaten back several attempts to overcome the reluctance of a majority of its members to establish a public library, including one by a committee of local organisations which had recommended that a library should be the local war memorial, a proposal which was supported by all the organisations concerned except the Returned Services Association. But demographic changes were shifting the balance of opinion in the community, and an interesting point made by Elma Wright in her account of the campaign which finally overcame the council's resistance is that the 'Upper Hutt Chamber of Commerce supported the campaign, not only because of its interest in providing civic amenities, but also because it knew that people who went to Wellington or Lower Hutt to borrow books also spent money there'.24
The decisive push began when, in October 1951, the Times reported that a small temporary building had been offered to the council by a local businessman for use as a public library, and that the offer had been page 279refused. A meeting of interested people held at the Wrights' home led to a deputation being sent to the public service committee of the council and eventually to the establishment by the council of a committee to prepare estimates and a report on premises for a library. The core of this committee consisted of three councillors, including the mayor, G.L. Williams, who did not consider that a library was urgently needed, and E. McCurdy, who did, but in addition the council provided for a member to be nominated by the Chamber of Commerce and for another two to be elected at a public meeting, which was held in the Presbyterian church hall on 26 February 1952. The council thereby provided an open and official channel for the unofficial campaign committee headed by Elma Wright to make representations and to ask for advice from the National Libary Service.
The February meeting, attended by some 50 people, was addressed by Priscilla Taylor of the NLS, who outlined the functions of, and the service provided by, a well-run public library, and one of the two members it elected to the council's committee was Elma Wright. Reports of the meeting and of subsequent discussions increased awareness of the library proposal, especially when some of its opponents, including the mayor, suggested that a considerable proportion of those who were present at the meeting, being connected with the Wallaceville laboratory, were not ratepayers. 'May I,' wrote one correspondent to the Times, 'ask the Mayor of Upper Hutt if he thinks that members of the Wallaceville Laboratory staff float about in a sort of civic limbo, and don't have homes and families and do not pay rates. Of the twelve members of the Lab. staff who attended the recent Library meeting in St. David's Hall, ten are married and have homes in the Borough, on which they pay rates – and have done so for many years! They are first of all citizens – good solid members of the community. Where a man works does not affect his everyday physical and cultural needs.'25
The mayor also unintentionally helped to swing public opinion in favour of the library when he said at a meeting of the council that he had an interest in a small bookshop in Upper Hutt and 'was in a position to know that there was no widespread need yet for facilities beyond those now in the district'. This gave correspondents to the Times the opportunity to point out that the mayor's interest was in fact in a private lending library, and the editor the chance to suggest that 'any councillor whose private interests may influence his voting should remain out of earshot while the matter is being discussed'.26
The council's committee reported early in April, recommending that steps be taken towards the establishment of a library, including the provision of £2000 in the coming year's estimates. But, since two councillors had resigned and a by-election was to be held on 3 May, the council decided to refer the library matter to a poll of ratepayers to be held at the same page 280time. The way the councillors voted on this proposal is interesting. Those who opposed a poll seem to have been the ones who favoured the library proposal and wanted to press on with it without bothering the ratepayers, while the majority, who wanted the poll, were those who were confident that the ratepayers would turn the proposal down. As if to signal their confidence, the majority also reduced the provisional financial allocation for a library to £1000.27
The campaign committee was now able to focus its efforts on a specific objective, and in so doing it set out to demonstrate the range of books and services that would be available from a well-organised public library which qualified for assistance from the National Library Service. The Times gave space to extracts from a talk on libraries given by J.W. Kealy of Auckland, a former president of the NZLA, in April, and in the issue before the poll it featured on the front page a symposium of opinion from local men and women well known in church work, commerce, education and women's organisations. Hazelwood's department store also gave a large amount of window space for several days beforehand for a display of books of the kind which would be available from a public library, including, as Elma Wright notes, 'a biography of Mainbrace, especially chosen for a district well known for its interest in The Horse, books on the fine arts, home gardening, world affairs, cookery, and motor racing, one for the pigeon fancier and another for the person interested in modern methods of sewage disposal'. The books were supplied by the NLS, the display was arranged by the staff of the Lower Hutt Public Library, and some of the equipment used was lent by the Petone Public Library.
When polling day came the ratepayers were asked to say whether or not they wanted a free public library. It was a small poll, but the library project was supported by 351 voters and turned down by 258. Of the eight candidates who stood for election, seven had proclaimed as part of their platform that they favoured the establishment of a public library, and the two who were elected were keen library supporters, described by the Times as 'forthright men endowed with commonsense and the ability to express their opinions fluently and with a solid background of business experience [who] will be an asset in raising the borough out of the quagmire it is in to the standard of a modern self-contained city'.28
Geoff 's public role in relation to the library campaign was strictly in accordance with the policies that had been accepted by the government for many years. Factual information was provided to organisations and committees which were recognised by the local authority, and assistance such as the provision of books to illustrate the kind of service a public library linked to the NLS could provide was given upon request and not as part of an unofficial campaign. He himself did not figure publicly. His name was page 281not mentioned in the article which Elma Wright wrote a few months after the success of the campaign. Nevertheless, he regarded the establishment of a public library for Upper Hutt as one of his main objectives as a citizen, and many of the things that were done by the campaign committee bore a striking resemblance to methods he had developed elsewhere. Looking back, Elma Wright has said, 'Of course the main thing we remember him for was the tremendous help he was in getting the library started. He really was the éminence grise in this enterprise, always working through people rather than directly … I suppose he had to be careful not to be seen to take too prominent a part, and I got used to the feeling that I was firing the bullets he had made.'29
After the poll there could be no holding back. When a new initiative is approved amid controversy, it must be established and be operating effectively while enthusiasm for it is still alive, and those who had been involved in the campaign had to get the library up and running quickly. Irma Nuesch, who had graduated from the Library School in 1951 and had been working in the NLS, was made available for appointment as Librarian. The original offer of a building had lapsed, but upstairs accommodation had been found in the centre of the town. A team of volunteers worked in the evenings to convert the space for library use, building and installing shelves and painting walls and shelving. Geoff was prominent among the evening workers, and he also ensured that CLS books were provided in quantity to supplement what the library had been able to purchase. The library opened to the public on 4 July 1952, and within a year the number of registered borrowers had reached 3400, or 34 per cent of the population,30 and commuters on the Wellington trains were agreeing that the public library was 'the only good thing the Council had ever done'.31
Because of the very small budget which had at first been allowed for the library, it could not have operated without the assistance of over 20 volunteers, who were recruited and organised by Elma Wright.32 A couple of these were members of the NLS staff, whom Geoff allowed to go home early to prepare for evening duty on the grounds that their work in such matters as selecting books for the CLS would benefit from the experience. Elma Wright was co-opted to the council's library committee. At the next election she became a councillor and chairman of the library committee, to which Geoff was then co-opted. 'He could, of course,' Elma has since recalled, 'be most exacting and there were times when I found it hard to come up to the standard he required. … He was good at the impressive pause and I think overawed some of the committee just by his presence and of course his reputation.'33
At about the same time that the public library was being established, Geoff and some of his friends, including Evan Wright, formed an page 282independent ticket to stand for election to the Upper Hutt Licensing Trust. The establishment of the trust, to control the sale of liquor in 'the whole of the area within the boundaries of the Borough of Upper Hutt as from time to time constituted', was announced in July 1952,34 and an election for six members was set down for 23 August. There were 30 candidates. The entire Labour Party list of six, who gained votes ranging from 1197 to 453, was elected. Geoff was next with 425 votes.35 It then transpired that one of the successful candidates was not eligible, since he was not a resident of the borough, and the election was declared null and void. The licence allotted to the trust then lapsed and the whole idea of a trust sank without trace, to the relief, no doubt, of the licensee of the Quinns Post hotel.
This chapter is about Geoff Alley's creation of a world that sustained him apart from the world of work and professional achievement. It may be taken to cover this part of his story to about the end of the 1950s, by which time his world was as settled and permanent as any human creation can be. Although family members grew up and moved away, not always with the fondest memories of all parts of life there, and the parents got older, Ebdentown Road became an entity which remained with them.
In many respects Geoff 's life as a busy senior public servant with a suburban home which offered scope for manual work and with some involvement in local affairs was typical of his time and of New Zealand. But the Ebdentown property, in all its size and complexity, was much more than something that the average New Zealander needed just to keep in touch with real life. It was a separate life. It was a sanctuary; it was stress management; it was therapy. After a bad day Geoff would go straight out into the garden, in winter with a torch. After a tough NZLA meeting he would go home and pick peaches. He would think about library problems while working in the vegetable garden. He would often preface a new idea at work with 'When I was thinning the carrots …', and members of the family sometimes heard him rehearsing arguments to be used in difficult professional encounters to come while he worked away in the garden. He did not just plant his fruit trees; he studied the question, sought out the best authorities, made himself an expert on orchards. He shared the enterprise with his cats, of which (or whom) he was deeply fond, and members of the family were also dragooned, perhaps less willingly than the cats, into support of it. And, despite apparent privations, there was a sort of luxury in the frugal conditions he preferred because, though frugal, they were based on a plentiful supply of the good things of life.
Visitors who saw Ebdentown Road when the ambience that Geoff created had matured have commented on a 'large orchard and garden; many very large apple and pear trees bearing different varieties; some lawn at back and front; other large European trees, two of which had a hammock slung page 283between; there were vegetables – asparagus, corn, carrots, peas, beans; and hedgehogs';36 and a 'rambling white house in the middle of a large untidy garden'.37 It is easy to imagine the lord of this manor cramming himself into his Austin A40 to set out on one of his rare excursions, aiming to be back as soon as possible.
Geoff made himself into a great gardener and a great grower of things and, as Judith has said, 'the old place had some great magic about it'. Once, when sending a Christmas card which bore a reproduction of a painting by Balthasar Denner (1685–1749) entitled 'Stilleben mit Äpfeln und Pokal', she wrote on it, 'The apples, wine and nuts remind me of just the "snack" Dad would love.'