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Merle Ussher

Posted by SC Comments Off on Merle Ussher

Merle was born Ella Merle Mobbs to Horace and Nell Mobbs in Christchurch on 9 October 1919, but spent almost her whole life on the West Coast. The Mobbs family farmed the 2900 acre Pae O Te Rangi Farm at Anawhata. The Mobbs’ homestead had a bush camp-style chimney, a dado around the kitchen made with Pitch pine said to have come from the wrecked ship Orpheus, and a roof of split kauri shingles, in time covered with iron.  The Mobbs ran cows and sheep and there was a large shearing shed. Merle grew up in this isolated spot, with muddy roads and lack of population enforcing the remoteness. A visit to the doctor meant a day’s trip on horseback.

Auckland Tramping Club outside Mobbs house, 1931. JTD Diamond photo

Auckland Tramping Club outside Mobbs house, 1931. JTD Diamond collection

When the Roses were in residence at their Whites Beach bach, Merle and family friend, Doreen Ryan, would make the long walk to take billies of milk and cream down to them, and, in the other direction, they walked to the Parkers, halfway down to Anawhata beach, delivering milk. If it was hot, they would continue on down to the beach and skinny-dip in the Anawhata Stream. Merle sometimes went into New Lynn to stay with the Ryans, but never stayed long as she missed the farm.

Schooling meant riding her white pony, Silver King, bareback to Te Henga at the beginning of each week, through bush and streams, before returning at the end of each week. Later she attended Piha School and had spells when she was taught at home.

Merle knew the names of all the native plants and would take her friends on rambles, naming the plants they found on the sides of tracks and roads. Her mother was a keen gardener and grew flowers and vegetables for the table, and these were skills passed onto Merle.

Her horizons widened when during WW2 Merle signed up as a wireless operator for the WAAFs and spent four years in airbases around New Zealand. A photo of Merle in her uniform graces the walls of the RSA and she is the only woman with her name on the WW2 Roll of Honour on Lion Rock.

Merle married Philip Brabazon Ussher in 1948 and  her father Horace built them a concrete house at Piha, plastered with black West Coast sand. This was a style of house-building common in Horace Mobbs’ home country of South Africa.  The couple broke in a small dairy farm on the Usshers’ land at Piha, Merle utilising skills she had learned on the Anawhata farm. The Usshers supplied Piha village with cream, as well as taking cream into town.

Merle inherited from her mother a great love of gardening and soon a colourful flower and vege garden was flourishing around the family house and she later had a produce stall at the front gate. Three children were born, Jackie, Adele and Greg

Merle was an avid reader and intrepid traveller. In 1989 came the thrill of visiting South Africa, her father’s homeland, and she was able to visit her son, then living in Kenya.

Merle in the CWI

Merle in the CWI

Merle was involved in many activities at Piha, especially the Country Women’s Institute and the RSA, of which she was made a life member. She and Phil were keen members of the Piha Indoor Bowls team.

With an intimate knowledge of West Coast history, Merle later contributed a regular column under the initials MJ to the Piha Community News, handing down her memories of Piha and Anawhata. She died on 5 November 1994, aged 75.

This piece has borrowed from an obituary in the Piha News, February 1995, written by her family.

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