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New Zealand's First Refugees: Pahiatua's Polish Children

Polish milkbar cowboys

page 206

Polish milkbar cowboys

I was in the first wave of older boys to be sent from the Polish Children's Camp in Pahiatua to work in Wellington, and was given board by a nice New Zealand family and a poorly paid job. On Sundays, I went to Mass at 7am with the family, and then joined my friends for the Polish Mass and drifted on to the Polish Boys' Hostel in Island Bay for a midday meal. During that time, most of my friends had well-paying jobs on the wharf or at the freezing works, and some even bought motorbikes.

I desperately wanted a motorbike of my own, so I limited my spending to paying board and saved the rest. To avoid spending my money, I stayed at home and amused myself with knitting scarves and making cords with a cotton spool. Then came the day when I had £300 in my post office savings account. Armed with this grand sum, I went to Tommy Oats, a motorbike shop in one of the small alleys off Manners Street, and came out with a brand new AJS motorbike.

The problem was getting it home. Now that I'm over 70 years old, I can admit that I walked it home most of the way. And I can also admit that I bluffed my way through getting my learner's licence. When asked a question I knew nothing about, I would answer with something I was very familiar with. Witold Suchodolski, Czesław Bełczącki, Stanisław Ośeciłowski and I knew how to create an impression with our bikes.

On Sunday afternoons, we would ride out in a band. It was as though we were going into battle when we got on our bikes and rode down the old Western Hutt Road at full speed, avoiding potholes. Our destination was a milkbar in Lower Hutt. We would roar up to the front, get off and walk in fully aware that all eyes were on us.