My Story| Who is Leonie Henskie Part one

Today I talk about my childhood, the death of my mother, school and travel

I was the oldest child in a middle class New Zealand family in Christchurch.

We did all the normal things growing up however, it was only once I was an adult that I realised that we did a few more of them in luxury compared to other people.

My mother was diagnosed with cancer at an early age. So I lived with illness in the family from a young age.

My siblings were two and three years younger than me so they did not really know what was happening but in the last year Mum was in and out of hospital a lot.

The year before Mum died our dog was killed on the road.    The day that our dog was killed on the road the school was told and I cried a lot.  That was Standard 1 New Zealand schooling – equivalent to 2nd grade, or Year 3 in modern NZ schooling.  Not long after that the family got another dog which was still alive when I left home.  During this time we also had a cat which we had found as a stray when she had kittens. We had found her under an old house and I had the privilege of naming her and when her kittens were old enough we gave them away to friends.

I was leading a fairly normal childhood at this time, I was doing ballet and guitar, and as the oldest I was allowed to see my mother in hospital as well.  When I had to have my adenoids out in Standard 2, Mum came to hospital with me.  That year I also broke my arm and I had to make the decision to stop ballet or guitar.  I stopped ballet as I was never very good or light on my feet.  Then nearer the end of the year Mum died.  We were told in the morning before we went to school and then we went to school as normal.  We were considered too young to go to the funeral and I do not remember crying again for the rest of my childhood until I was 21 when I finally grieved for my mother.

I started at the school my mother had enrolled me in as an infant in Form 1 or middle school equivalent. I only recently acquired all my documents and in them was the fact that when I was only 1 year old Mum enrolled me in Rangi . I loved school and met some wonderful people who are still friends now. I had seven years at that school and it gave me a lot of privilege. I was able to excel in sciences and we only worked with the boys schools from time to time.

My first form year was also the year that my family decided to give us a taste of travel.  I was the only one over ten and treated as an adult so it was a good time to travel.  My extended family went to California for the August school holidays.  We hired a car and we drove from LA right down to Tijuana Mexico and all the way to San Francisco and everywhere in between.  Memories I have of that trip was my first introduction to hotcakes and maple syrup for breakfast.  Numerous TV Channels which we had never dreamed of, at that stage I believe we only had two TV channels in New Zealand. Going to Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm, and Universal Studios.  Universal Studios was amazing seeing how props were used on films.  Disney we had a ball of a time going on the monorail each day and one of the rides I will always remember is Small World.  Another highlight for me was seeing squirrels at Carmel on the 90 mile Drive.  An eye opener for us all was when we did a day trip from San Diego to Tijuana Mexico.  We went through the border and drove through to Tijuana.  We had never seen anything like this in our lives.  It was the first time this middle class New Zealand family had ever seen squalid conditions.  We stayed in the car the whole time and couldn’t get back to the border fast enough.  To us this was not a good introduction to Mexico.  The other main highlight of this trip was going to the Yosemite National Park and staying for one night at Lake Tahoe.  One side of the hotel was in California and there were no slot machines or anything else.  The other side of the hotel was in Nevada and the adults were allowed to gamble.  Yosemite National Park was amazing and we went through just before the winter season so there was no one visiting and we had the park to ourselves.  We only drove so did not see much of the park but what we saw was stunning.

The next time we travelled was in my third form year and that was also a car trip from Brisbane to Sydney.  Highlights I remember from that trip were going to the Grundy’s amusement Parlour in Surfer’s Paradise and winning a number of ornaments which I still have to this day.  I remember we stopped in Coff’s Harbour and saw the Pelicans there and another place we went was the Pineapple Plantation on the Gold coast.

That was the last of my international travel until I turned 21 when my parents gave me an 18 day contiki bus tour with some extra days in Sydney for shopping purposes.

School went pretty smoothly I was a B student most of the time that hung out with a lot of the A students.  I was goalie for the school B Hockey team, got involved in Cricket when we started a girl’s cricket team and dabbled in soccer when we tried to convince the teachers it was a good idea.  In my sixth form my parents went away for six weeks and instead of getting someone to look after us at home we all went into the boarding facilities at our schools.  I loved boarding for the short time I was there.  The comradery from the girls was amazing compared to what I was used to.  I only really made one close friend at school and that was Jane whom I see occasionally now and she was my Matron of Honour. I was heavily involved in drama and I did Speech and Drama upto grade 5, I remember in, I think it was the fourth form, doing a recital of Pam Ayres “Oh I wish I had looked after my teeth” in front of the whole school assembly of about 600 girls and the teachers. I think I stopped Speech and Drama in the fifth form however my friend Jane went on to do Speech and drama up to teaching level, and became a speech therapist.  I continued to dabble in drama and was involved in school plays every year whether on the crew or actually on stage.  I even did it in the seventh form when my parents wanted me to stop that extra-curricular activity so I could concentrate on final exams.

I was involved in theatre a lot over the years and even spent time as a prompt and tea lady for the Canterbury Children’s theatre.

Camping was a big part of my childhood. My one set of grandparents were in the local caravan club and when I was young used to go camping often with them.  At Christmas every year the family would take us first to Woodend and then to Alexandra where we would meet up with other relatives.

Another big part of my early childhood was Hamner Springs. Part of my family had a business in  Hanmer Springs so from a very young age we were sent up there for weekends and most winter holidays.  I remember the fun we used to have playing around the grounds, visiting the hot pools  going walking up Conical Hill, doing forest walks and when it snowed using sacks on the hill round by the camping ground.  We spent so many happy times up there totally unaware of what was going on at home.  Hamner Springs was also where we went for our Standard 3 school camp. I loved it as I was able to show a lot of my classmates a lot of my favourite hangouts.

When I was at high school we started camping on the side of Lake Aviemore, one of the hydro lakes in the South island.  The parents had a fully self-contained caravan with shower, and 12 volt facilities so the fridge and all the power could run off the car battery.  My siblings and I had our own pup-tents so we got the idea of proper camping even though the caravan was just beside us. We had a canoe and would swim all day in the freezing lake. Starting in the morning with a wake-up wash and swim.  We had many good years at Lake Aviemore. We even started learning to drive there so we could assist with backing the boat trailer around.

One holiday I remember just before I started high school we did a tour of the North Island, we stopped in all kinds of places and we went all the way from Christchurch, up to Russell in the Bay of Islands where we saw the Treaty House and a few other memorials of New Zealand history, stopping wherever we felt like it in the caravan.  One place that stood out to me was Tolaga Bay just north of Gisborne.  The water was amazingly warm and I seem to remember picking up some very unique shells on the beach.

My parents made sure that we knew our country before we travelled.  I remember from a very young age travelling all over the South Island so later in life we knew what people were talking about when the said the had visited such and such a place.

We also used to go camping or picnicking at a number places within a couple of hours drive of Christchurch. For Easter we would often go to Coe’s Ford and in winter we would go with a group of people to Lake Linden and play on the ice and in the snow.

We were lucky when I was growing up that the indoor ice-skating rink was just around the corner from home, so, I think it was every Friday night or Saturday Afternoon during Winter I would go skating.  I was not any good but it was a fun activity.  We also went Roller-skating with our youth group and other friends once some roller rinks opened in Christchurch.

All of my school holidays were spent working in the family business.  I worked in the family business until my first University holiday when I went Cherry picking with the other students. As a result  I was taught a strong work ethic from a young age.  I did driver’s education through school and as soon as I was confident I was given a company branded Escort van and a weekend job to do.  I was allowed to take the van to school in the seventh form and another friend of mine who lived on a donkey farm and I used to take turns car-pooling. When I went to Otago University in Dunedin to study Pharmacy,  I took the van down with me so I could continue to work in Dunedin.  I was privileged because of this job and had a steady income so I was able to afford to do things all year. I was not the typical struggling student.

Because I had the van in Dunedin I was able to take a group of us swimming regularly up at the main indoor public pool and a few other activities that others might not have been able to do otherwise.  I was also involved in Hockey and Soccer socially in Dunedin so got to see quite a bit of the city by car.  One of the things I remember in Dunedin was the first time that a number of the students in the halls of residence saw snow. They were amazed at it.  Of course to me it was just another hazard I had to deal with when driving, and soon got used to it.

I had a lot of fun in the halls of residence in Dunedin.  The comradery  was great and I made some good friends some of which I still run into from time to time.  Sharing a dorm with another couple of people all year was good.

My second year of tertiary education was in Wellington.  I went to Heretuanga Central Institute of Technology because I was accepted into the Pharmacy school there.  One of my other students from my halls of residence in Dunedin also came up so I knew someone else when I got there.

See Part two for the continuing story

 

4 thoughts on “My Story| Who is Leonie Henskie Part one”

    1. Thanks Kristine. It was reading the Millionaire Messenger which made me think more about sharing my story so people can understand I have gone through a lot of what they have been through and if there are ways I can help, I will.

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