Notes on Akaroa by Gerald Mottram
The town has not changed much. The section where Jack McLeneghan’s shop was is still empty and desolate. However, I do not think I would like the place to progress too much. It is probably better as it is. The provision of rowing boats and powered dinghies for hire is a big improvement. The wharf needs new decking badly and a bathing shed at the south end of the town would be very convenient. If some good angel would remove the pine trees from the L’Aube hill I would rejoice greatly.”
There was an old French cemetery on L’Aube Hill above our home. It was fenced and there were two large willow trees which were said to have grown from a cutting from a tree by Napoleon’s grave at St Helena. It was quite picturesque with wild rose growing freely. Unfortunately it was completely neglected. It was apparently nobody’s business to look after it. Many of the graves had wooden tables instead of gravestones, and the names had become unreadable. Eventually some years after we left Akaroa, it was decided to flatten the whole cemetery, trees and all, and erect a tablet with the names of people who were known to have been buried there on it. I think it was paid for by the Government. I thought it was a pity that the cemetery could not have been looked after and preserved, but these things require money and effort.
My grandfather Gerald Mottram was born in Akaroa. His father was a tailor and they lived behind and above his workroom on Lavaud Street (now Rue Lavaud). Today the house is a French restaurant — The Little Bistro — and by all accounts a very fine one. If you go there, look up at the attic window. That was Gerald’s bedroom.
Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula have been on my mind this past week. Regular readers of this rather irregular blog might remember some letters I published around ANZAC Day. They were written by my great-uncle Ben (Gerald’s brother) from France during the First World War. The other day I heard from Craig Giddens, the great-grandson of one of the ‘Peninsula Boys’ mentioned in the letters. Craig says Ben would have been referring to Martin Giddens from Little River, or perhaps his cousin John Thomas Giddens, who was later killed. It is very moving to make these connections, to join the dots, nearly one hundred years later.
Sadly, the other reason for thinking of Akaroa this week was the death of a dear friend. Alisdair MacLeod was one of the truest people I have met, and we are deeply sad to have lost him. Al came to Australia to build a life with my beautiful friend Kaye, and over the years we have often talked about New Zealand, but it was only this week that I learnt that he was born in Akaroa. Sometimes the smallest places produce the most remarkable people.
Vale Alisdair. We will miss you very much.