Home kids' celebrate a bond

Children at play outside one of the three Glendining cottages in Andersons Bay in November 1950.
Children at play outside one of the three Glendining cottages in Andersons Bay in November 1950. The cottages, called Cameron, Nisbet and Somerville, were built in 1930 and each took 18 children, adding to the accommodation provided by the two-storeyed Glendining Home, which had opened in 1913. Photo by the Evening Star.
Life at Glendining Presbyterian Children's Homes in the 1940s was more a piece of bread and dripping than a bowl of cherries, but Edith and Walter Connor are thankful for their time there.

If they had not lived there, she might never have met her wonderful husband, Mrs Connor (73) told the Otago Daily Times.

"Now, you're supposed to say you have a wonderful wife," she teases Mr Connor (78). They laugh.

The Mosgiel couple, who have five adult children, will celebrate 54 years of marriage on Tuesday, a month before the homes' reunion, being held at Chisholm Park in conjunction with the Andersons Bay School 150th anniversary celebrations at Labour Weekend.

Laughter may not have come easily to the young Edith Randall. She was the only girl in a family of five. Her father died when she was 4 and her mother when she was almost 9 - not that she knew immediately of her mother's death. She thought she was in hospital.

Following her mother's death, Edith, her twin Keith and brother Les were sent to Glendining.

Mrs Connor remembers them arriving in an older brother's model T Ford, all clutching little bags of lollies. When they got to the home, she was placed in Somerville Cottage and the boys in the main house.

They rarely saw each other after that.

Her introduction to the other girls involved walking through their ranks while she was pelted with pillows.

"You survived that and away you went," she said.

Mrs Connor remembers being told she was the only orphan there at that time - "and that means you have status", but she was never quite sure what that meant.

Many of the children at the homes were from single-parent families. Mr Connor was in that category. His mother died from tuberculosis when he was 6.

He and five of his seven siblings eventually were sent to the homes, but before arriving there Mr Connor spent three and a-half years in hospital or convalescing because he had been diagnosed with tuberculosis in his hip.

While there could be some bullying at the homes, he remembers his time there fondly. It was exciting, like having 24 brothers.

He had a leg in a calliper and was not very agile and the wind at the Andersons Bay site (in Albion St) was so strong it would sometimes bowl him over.

It was a frugal existence in those wartime years. It was cold. Meals were basic. Mr Connor did not mind "drips" - bread and dripping put in the oven which accompanied porridge at breakfast. It was quite nice if it was crisp, he said.

Mrs Connor was not so keen and would swap her drips for bread and jam, if she could.

The boys milked house cows and tended the vegetable gardens, which provided fare for the children, while the girls undertook cleaning and the older ones helped out the younger children.

While the Connors knew of each other while they were at the homes, it was not until they were both grown up that the romance blossomed.

After Walter left the home at the age of 16, he became homesick for it and used to visit at weekends. Mrs Connor worked at the home for a few years after she left school and Mr Connor invited her to his 21st birthday party.

Later, he asked her for another date, but she could not make it, so she told him if he asked her out again she would go.

That was not quite the done thing. Mr Connor told her that he would do the asking, but Mrs Connor, who had already taken quite a shine to young Walter, said she was just making sure her options were covered.

Before they were married she followed him, working as a nurse, as his career as a surgical footwear bespoke maker took him to Nelson and Lumsden.

"I didn't have a chance," Mr Connor said joking.

Mrs Connor said she was probably more independent than a girl from a traditional upbringing. Parents of that time might not have allowed her to leave Dunedin.

They believe their shared experience probably made them a closer couple.

The couple were sad when the homes as they knew them closed in the 1970s.

"We used to think if anything happened to us, our children would have somewhere to go," Mrs Connor said.

The couple are sad, too, that the reunion next month is likely to be the last major one for the "home kids".

• Reunion organiser Peter Greenfield expected about 120 would attend the reunion.

A brief history of Presbyterian children's homes in Dunedin

• Pleas for an orphanage begin within the church in the late 1890s
• In 1905, Francis Henderson, of Broad Bay, assigned 500 from his will towards establishing an orphanage.
• In 1906, concern about children on the streets prompted deaconesses at Knox and First churches to take children into rooms at 100 George St.
• The purchase of a home at 41 Clyde St followed later that year and on July 10, 1907, the Presbyterian Orphanage and Children's Home opened,By January 1908, 19 children were living there and arrangements made for another 27 to be boarded out in the community.
• By July 1908, a house at Grants Braes was bought and by 1910 the two houses were catering for 63 children.
• Glendining Home, named after Knox Church elder Robert Glendining, opened in 1913 in Andersons Bay, home to 60 children.
• A 16ha farm next door was bought later to provide cheap milk and butter for the homes and provide training for senior boys.
While some children at the homes were orphans, many were from single parent families, often where one parent was dead.
• Scandal struck the Presbyterian Social Service Association in 1922 when its superintendent, Edward Axelsen, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for indecently assaulting four boys under his care, resulting in the association pulling back from expansion of its children's services.
• Three new cottages were built on the Glendining site in 1930, each taking up to 18 children and the complex was named the Glendining Presbyterian Children's Homes.
• By the 1970s, reducing demand for residential care meant that by 1975 only 19 children were in PSSA Otago's care.
• In 1976, Glendining Home was demolished and the farmland sold for residential housing in Elliffe Pl. While there were still some young people living in the cottages, emphasis shifted to caring for people in the community.
• In 1991, the last two cottages on the Glendining site closed, and a service was held to mark the end of 85 years of Presbyterian children's homes in Otago.

Source: Making A difference, a Centennial History of Presbyterian Support Otago 1906-2006

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