Visiting the past

Lyall Bay looking surprisingly calm

The trip to Wellington last week catered for two needs; to see my friend Jayne, and to gather research for the book I am writing. Jayne and I met when I lived in the area many years ago. We had a lovely couple of days together, one of which involved Jayne offering to drive me around the areas I wished to research. So, we headed across town, through the ‘tooting’ tunnel and towards Lyall Bay – one of the places the protagonist of my novel lived in the 1970s. I’ve called her Marjorie and she is based on a very complex woman I used to know well. Back then she liked to be called Mother.

Looking towards Houghton Bay

My memories of Lyall Bay are of heavy rolling surf and surfers lined up like families of seals in black wetsuits waiting for the ‘right’ wave. That’s the thing about memories, especially when visiting places from the past – they often differ from that image captured in your mind. I do have a good memory, I believe, of the time Marjorie lived here, and of the unit she lived in, as I had visited her there many times. I did feel a little odd however, as my friend drove me to the end of Endeavour Street and I spotted the row of white block houses. What I remembered as a large green area in front of the houses, was anything but, with a fence dividing the property opposite, and glowering pōhutukawa trees. I felt a little sad, I guess, viewing these humble homes, yet pleased they had not been replaced by some multi-storied high-rise.

Endeavour Street flats

Jayne drove me towards the beach again, as I had remembered walkways that dog-legged through several streets eventually taking one through to the bay. Why did I do this? Because I am aiming for authenticity in my novel. I wanted to return to the place I am currently writing about. The place where Marjorie is in my head. I need to have the street names correct, and going in the right direction. I need to gauge how long her walks might have been, and where it is logical for her to have walked. I wished to confirm where the shopping centre was, and other places she would have gone. Marjorie didn’t live in Lyall Bay for long, so there was little attachment for me to this house, as it had never been our family home, as humble as that had also been.

Access to Lyall Bay from Apu Crescent.

I remember taking this path to the beach a few times back in the 1970s. All unprepossessing houses on both sides, now home to new families, maybe twice over. Families Marjorie shall never say ‘hullo’ to, or get to know their children’s names. Marjorie died twelve years ago; that’s how quickly time goes.

6 thoughts on “Visiting the past

  1. Your experience describes why we decided not to settle in our hometown in 2020. Nostalgia can trick us into thinking there were more positive qualities to our northern Ont. town, when in fact, it just may be a trick of our rose tinted retrospection.

    I am reminded of Harper Lee’s “tired, old town” whenever I go back home and yet the old photos I have seen present a town that was a tidy, busy little place in the 70’s when I was growing up there.

    And so, I do understand the importance of revisiting the past especially in order to write your novel with some degree of accuracy for the setting. Have you thought of looking through any archives? The library might have photos of the way the town was in the 70s.


  2. I lived in the Wellington area through the 70s and visited my mother’s flat a number of times. My friend who drove me there on this visit has lived in Wellington her whole life. Lyall Bay has changed all that much. But yes, the archives are a very handy tool to add research. I’ve looked up images of the time for some things, but shall look again. Thanks for the comment Louise.


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