Topic: A Tale of Two Towns

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My weekly column in the News-Banner (Bluffton Indiana's daily newspaper) on Aug. 18, 2010.

I wrote three weeks ago now about how I had linked up with some of my former work colleagues from the 1980s through Facebook, and that they had shown some interest in our annual cardboard boat race.

I thought Saturday’s duck race on the Wabash might  be something else that tickled their fancy so I made sure I posted news of this on Facebook, directing them to the News-Banner “On The Beat” blog where they could see photos of the race, and indeed our city, and received a couple of interesting replies.

One was taken, not so much with the duck race, as the Wheels of Yesteryear antique tractors. He had grown up in a smaller rural town in the South Island, and the pictures posted on the blog brought  back memories for  him.

The other was more of a surprise.

One of my other friends now lives in, or at least near, the tiny Hawkes Bay town of Waipawa. Like Bluffton, Waipawa has a river running through it, and also like Bluffton, has an annual duck race on the river.

(“Wai” is the native word for “water” by the way!)

He promised to send me more details, but hasn’t got around to it quite yet.

He joked that perhaps we should set up a sister city  link between Bluffton and Waipawa. What he didn’t know at the time, but I had great pleasure in telling him, is that there is currently another link between our two towns.

Shanly Street in Waipawa was actually named after my great-grandfather, Francis Joseph Shanly, who was one of five gentlemen elected to the town’s first board of commissioners, when it initially became a town in February 1884.

“Councillor Shanly” is apparently recorded as making several proposals at the first meeting and, in the words of the local newspaper of the day, “was clearly not backward in coming forward.”

“Councillor Shanly” was originally born in Exeter, England, and moved to New Zealand sometime in the mid-1860s. After arriving initially in the South Island town of Christchurch, he, and his brother who also arrived at about the same time, headed north to the Hawkes Bay region, on the east coast of the North Island, in the mid-1870s.

(Their father, who had also immigrated to New Zealand, stayed in Christchurch. Having already buried two wives, he married a girl almost 30 years his junior in 1871 and had five more kids before he himself died, just one month after the youngest was born, in 1881. His widow doesn’t appear to have remarried, and I can’t imagine life being easy for her in 1890’s New Zealand, with five young kids in tow.)

Francis established a coach-building business there, which survived until 1916, and a “family home” was maintained in nearby Dannevirke until the mid-1980s when his youngest daughter died.

The Hawkes Bay is a kind of remote, but very nice (and sunny and warm in summer!) part of New Zealand. It’s one of those areas that would make a great tourist destination if it wasn’t so hard to get to.

As a child, I remember being taken by train to Dannevirke to visit “Auntie Marge” - that youngest daughter, and only surviving of Francis Joseph’s 13 children.

(The train service to the area was stopped some years ago - it wasn’t making enough money apparently!)

While I remember her talking about Waipawa, I was too young to really be into family heritage at that stage. Yes, I liked history, but our family didn’t seem to have anyone “exciting” in it.

And Dannevirke was kind of a quiet, sleepy town. I wanted to live somewhere exciting when I grew up. The Hawkes Bay didn’t really strike me as being “it.”

Although I passed through Waipawa several times on my way to the larger Hawkes Bay towns of Hastings and Napier in later years, I never took the time to stop and look around.

It is a typical rural town, with not a lot to see, unless you know you should be looking for something special. And it wasn’t until many years later, in fact, after I had moved to the United States, that I found out about the street.

Too late by then!

The town has a population listed as approximately 1,900, which I guess must include surrounding farms as I don’t recall it as being that big.  
Looks can be deceptive, of course.

My own grandfather, George Dunstan Shanly, the second son of Francis Joseph and the first Shanly born in New Zealand, eventually moved his family to the Wellington area at the bottom of the North Island. He farmed sheep for the Catholic Church in the  town of  Upper Hutt, where I lived for my last 20 years or so in New Zealand.

Shanly Street in Upper Hutt is named after him.

I do know about that street - in fact, my cousin and her husband bought one of the first houses built on the street, and I also almost bought a home there myself in the late-1980s.

(Someone with more money than I offered a higher price, so I missed out!)

Alas, my father failed to make it three-in-a-row for the family, and so the run of fame, or infamy, depending upon how you want to look at it I suppose, came to an end.

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