Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 6, 2008
Memories of Rabbit Island in My Early Years
In those days, about 1936, we travelled to Rabbit Island via the Old Coach Road. It is now called Cotterell Road after John Cotterell, a surveyor who won the contract for a twice-weekly ferry service between Pearl Creek and Nelson in 1842. One of the ferries was The Pearl and it operated from Cotterell's Landing. It was probably from here that our great-uncle James Thomas and his son-in-law, Thomas Haines, left for Nelson in 1889. They spent the night at the Customhouse Hotel and both men drowned on the return journey when their boat capsized. Their bodies and some of their supplies were found near the Tahuna Back Beach.
What was then Rabbit Island Road turned off the highway at Pea Viner Corner, Appleby. The two buildings still there, built about the 1940s, were owned by Kirkpatrick's factory. Why Pea Viner? The factory processed peas and picked the peas off the vines, which saved picking them in the paddocks. One of the buildings, later owned by O'Connors, is now the Appleby Fire Station.
We travelled to the beach by horse and cart and went down through Pearl Creek, then through two crossings at low tide on a very rough track. The last water crossing was behind the first house, by the bridge to Rabbit Island. Appleby School had most of their picnics on the Island and we played on the high sandhills, sliding down on sacks. The present Beach Road was built many years later and the large flat area behind it was then all sandhills and pine trees. The only picnic ground was what is now The Old Domain, and the track we used to reach the beach is still there.
Dave Hammond, a neighbour, had a bach there and Mum used to take us children, along with her parents, Jim and Emily Schroder, to stay for a few days during school holidays. My grandfather was about nineteen, in the late 1800s, when he helped to plant the first plantation of pine trees on Rabbit Island.
Easter Monday was a great social day for the district at Rabbit Island. We always had the day off from working on our father, Laurie Thomas's, orchard at Redwoods Valley or on our farm, and went to Rabbit Island for a family picnic. The Thomas, Barnes, Biggar and O'Connor families all joined together to enjoy ourselves, and the small picnic area was packed with horses, wagons and people.
One memorable journey was when, as very young teenagers, we were allowed to go to Rabbit Island for a picnic with the O'Connor boys, Fergus, John and Kerry. We missed low tide and the two horses were swimming, page 29while we stood on the flat deck of the wagon with the water up to our knees, holding our picnic gear up. Our parents didn't hear about this for years after! As the road improved, Dad would take our tractor and tow the orchard trailer and our boat. My father died in 1962 and didn't get to see the good roads that there are now.
Dad used the boat to go fishing off the beach. As we got older he would row the boat out with some of us swimming alongside. A large fishing net was dropped over the side and he would circle round and come back to shore. Then came the job of pulling the net in, with everybody, even strangers, helping. Mum would have the fire going with big frying pans and would cook the fish right away. Dad also took some of us floundering at night with lanterns and spears, near where the bridge is now.
Pearl Creek was a Sunday afternoon attraction. It was a wide creek then, good for fishing and whitebaiting, and Dad would row us up and down. We could get large amounts of whitebait, a bucketful at a time, and no townies came out then. What we couldn't eat was dug into the garden for manure.
Picnics, swimming and whitebaiting were very good activities at that time.
Families at Rabbit Island about 1936. Back row from left: Sam Woods, Laurie Thomas, Gladys Thomas, Walter Biggar, Phil Amos(?) Dolly Biggar, Win Barnes, Tom Barnes. Front row from left: Norma Thomas, Betty Thomas, Noeline Biggar, Barry Barnes, Elviene Thomas, Kerry O'Connor (partly obscured), Kevin Satherley, Laurie Barnes, Stan Barnes. Photograph courtesy of Stan Barnes