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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 5, 2002

The River

page 51

The River

From 1924, when our family moved to Nelson, we lived in Grove Street near the Maitai River. Most of the neighbourhood children learned to swim in the river as the Municipal Baths had not yet been built. There were many swimming holes, the more popular ones being 'Collie', under the Collingwood Street Bridge, 'Loggie', near the Municipal Baths, The Girls' Swimming Hole', just upstream from the Nile Street Bridge and, further upstream, 'Black Hole' and 'Dennys Hole'. On summer week-ends and during school holidays it was quite usual for hundreds of people, young and old, to cool off and frolic in their favourite swimming holes. The Nelson Evening Mail at times reported crowds of 200 or more at Dennys Hole, where the City Council provided dressing sheds, but strangely no toilets.

The river was relatively unpolluted, without the amount of slime on stones so evident in parts today. The three main primary schools – Central, Auckland Point and Hampden Street – competed in annual inter-school swimming sports, held at the Girls' Swimming Hole. The pupils changed into swimming togs behind a handy tree or bush, girls on one side of the river, boys on the other, and I don't remember anyone ever losing clothes. Very few boys wore socks and shoes, or indeed any footwear in the summer, so there was little to look after.

All races were swum going down stream with the current. I swam my first race as a standard one pupil against the only other competitor, a boy from another school named David McKenzie.

When the Municipal Baths opened in 1926 the inter-school sports were transferred there. I attended the official opening ceremony, and all present were invited by the mayor to have a free swim. As I came out of the dressing shed, a young fellow ran past me and took a dive into the water. Unfortunately he dived into the paddling pool and had to receive first aid. He was lucky not to have been more seriously injured and a pipe safety railing was put up later.

page 52

The river still continued to have a lot of appeal, and retained much of its former popularity. There were a number of punts along the river, some well built but others made of odds and ends. The latter often leaked badly, requiring frequent caulking. For this we used pitch that hung down like stalactites from the Collingwood Street Bridge. As we did the caulking we used to chew pieces of pitch, just like chewing gum, until our jaws ached. Although it lacked flavour, it made our teeth nice and white.

One year the Monopoli boys, who lived a few doors away from us, arrived at the river with a big punt that could hold four people. It was twice the size of other punts. After a successful launching and typical horse-play trying to splash and half drown each other, it was suggested we have a tomato war. The Monopoli family grew tomatoes and must have had a surplus that year, as we all trooped off to the tomato garden where, apparently with parental approval, we loaded up with soft ripe tomatoes. We took them back and put them in the punts to use as missiles. A long and hard fought battle followed and soon the river was red with blood ripe tomatoes. It was a day to remember.