08 May, 2023
Restorers of an old Waipu bungalow recently uncovered a time-portal of sorts after finding historical newspapers illustrating a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era, where cigarettes were peddled as a ‘gift of the Gods’ along with dubious health remedies, brassieres and corsets were all the rage, and huge flying machines were anticipated.
In late April, six pages of the Auckland Star from September 9, 1925 were discovered behind a bathroom cabinet mirror by local builders contracted to renovate a 1925 The Braigh bungalow by new owners Susan and Paul Bussell.
Offering an intriguing insight into Kiwi life in the 1920s, some advertisements and articles pertain more to the era, with women being the sole consumer target for housework and kitchen appliances, smoking advocated as a health benefit, and at least five ads on laxatives, highlighting people’s concern for their bowels. Other items however show issues which are still prevalent today such as the pay gap between the wealthy and the ‘working classes’, being intoxicated while in charge of a vehicle (horse and cart), and how misuse and abuse of communication devices such as the public telephone, was also a problem nearly 100 years ago as it is still in modern times.
Possibly used for extra padding to stabilise the mirror against the wooden frame, the pages are still incredibly in ‘mint condition’ Susan says, given the length of time they have been hidden in the bathroom, ‘I've never seen anything like it’.
“I was looking at the lost and found section at the number of dentures that have gone missing and I was just thinking, wow, this is really fascinating. It occurred to me how important the newspapers were in those days and what they communicated, it’s a lot of reading,” she says. “I find the news around women is very interesting, there's so much information on how to get a good clean, how shiny can you make the pots and pans. There's also an awful lot about laxatives…”
The Bussells bought the ‘art and craft bungalow’ – a popular style in the 1920s built with natural materials – in 2022, after deciding to move from the United Kingdom where British citizen Paul and Kiwi Susan had lived for 34 years.
Returning to New Zealand ‘is something I’ve always dearly wanted to do’ Susan says, as the relocation is a return to her maternal Northland roots. The former solicitor’s family first originated in Hokianga before settling in Mamaranui as dairy farmers, and The Braigh home is a sweet reminder of her grandparents’ farmhouse.
According to local history documents, the bungalow was built by Percy Taylor in 1925 after the first house on the site was burnt down, and in due course was bought by the McDell family who also owned the general store on the corner of Braigh and Shoemaker Roads. From 1958, the residence then became subsidised accommodation for new female teachers who were
‘bonded to country schools after graduation’ and was eventually closed in 1988, ‘a sad day for the young men of the district.’
“I understand there was a lot of interest in this property because it was advertised for subdivision and locals were concerned. It is still known by Waipu residents as the house where the young teachers lived… a lot of people are really very fond of this house,” Susan says. “What I love about the bungalow is the size and layout, it is very nicely designed, in two years’ time the house will be 100 years old and there's no sign of damp.”
While husband Paul wraps up their life in the UK, project manager Susan is intent in keeping the historic feel of the house besides adjustments to the kitchen layout and ‘trying to be sustainable’ by reusing old timber and old-style components in the reno such as the two large laundry sinks and refurbishing the original Rimu floors. She also plans to decorate the walls with William Morris wallpaper, a naturalistic designer from the 1860’s whose style is based on plants and flowers.
As the house sits on ‘nice, soft ground’ the garden will be made-over with a focus on natives, incorporating the large trees still living on the property including a possibly 100-year-old feijoa which still bears fruit, ‘which is incredible.’
As for the newspapers, the slightly yellowed historical documents of a bygone era will remain a significant part of the early 20th century property although this time showcased more visibly.
“A few of the pages I might put back behind the mirror again perhaps along with some papers from current times as a sort of time-capsule, but most of them I’m going to frame and hang up in the house,” Susan says. “So the old news will be on show once more.”
It occurred to me how important the newspapers were in those days and what they communicated, it’s a lot of reading.”
- Susan Bussell
Old newspapers telling the times of a past era; Susan Bussell on the steps of her 1925 The Braigh bungalow, which is currently undergoing renovations, where the pages from the old Auckland Star were discovered. PHOTOS/JULIA WADE