Life in New Zealand’s railway settlements in the 1950s.

Railway families weren’t wealthy, nor abjectly poor, after all, the men were employed. Sometimes, as was the case in our family (before my mother married), a woman may also have worked on the railway, possibly in the Refreshment Rooms on the station or in the ticket office. However, generally, when a woman married, she stayed home and raised kids. This my mother happily did. She knitted and sewed, cooked and cleaned and maintained the garden for home and family.

New Zealand Railways provided sturdy houses.  Families lived relatively comfortably amongst others whose life experiences they mirrored and shared.  Rent was ten shillings – about 1/3 of the weekly wage.  Most yards boasted fruit trees planted by the railway and vegetable gardens tended by the residents.


The railwaymen worked eight hour shifts throughout the 24hour period, maintaining, stoking and driving steam locomotives, (and later, diesel locos) shunting freight wagons, manning stations and signal boxes and maintaining lines.  All railway workers wore a uniform; the men wore black and the women in the Refreshment Rooms wore sage green.

Most railwaymen aspired to own a car, however, mothers often walked along country roads from settlement to town with babies in prams or on bicycles with babies on board. A housewife might have made her selections at the grocery store and organised that her purchases be delivered by the grocer’s boy who rode a bicycle with its large front basket fully laden.

Families cooked on a coal range for which coal was delivered once a week. The range heated the house and the water, which came from an outside tank.  As the embers died down at night, boots and uniforms were dried on the racks above the hot plates, and orphaned animals were given refuge on old jumpers and rugs on the still warm range.

Almost every railway settlement had a brass band.  Musicians competed annually at the New Zealand Brass Band Contest.  Dad was one of the best.  That’s another story.

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