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Case study - A child’s life on Uretara Island in the 20th century

A child's life on Uretara Island

Leo Ducker was the first pakeha child to be born at Ohiwa, on 24 June 1906. He was the fifth of seven children, and was born prematurely to his mother, Lily Eyes. His father Frank Ducker was away at sea working as a steward on ships travelling between Auckland and Australia.

A local Maori woman delivered Leo in the unpainted shed on the hill behind Ohiwa that was the Ducker home. Lily was not able to feed Leo and so a Maori wet nurse fed him. Leo graduated to Highlander condensed milk and then cow's milk when the family cow had calved and her milk came in.

In 1911, at age five, Leo started school at Ohiwa with his classmates from the Crowther, Black, Reid and Holiway families. The children mostly rode to school across the mudflats on horses or ponies, sometimes as many as four children to a pony!

Leo's only sister, Olive, left the family to live with her grandparents and attend school in New Plymouth and only visited with the rest of her family twice, so Leo's childhood was spent mostly in the company of his brothers. The brothers would regularly play at the Ohiwa Wharf, even though this activity was strictly forbidden by their parents.

One day, while at play at the wharf when Leo was just five, he missed a plank and fell from the wharf down into the sea. It was lucky that Leo was wearing a large straw hat tied to his head as a local man, Mr Morrison, saw the straw hat floating towards the Ohiwa bar. Mr Morrison dived in, swam to Leo and pushed him to shore, saving him from certain drowning. When Leo's mother and father got home that night there were 'spanks all round'!

Read more about Leo Ducker's life on Uretara Island (128 KB, pdf).