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  • Writer's pictureNicole Ellwood

Rotten Row and Other Stories

Janet Abbott spoke at the Christchurch Art Gallery last weekend about the baches at Taylors Mistake and surrounding bays. I was transported back to a time when life was simple, and fish were plentiful. Janet's family bach 'Rosy Morn' is a sweet little dwelling we often lunch beside during our walks. Here are some of her stories I most enjoyed.

Early settlers were attracted to this area because of the abundance of fish and rabbits. Hobson's Bach was build in 1879 by John Hobson, an eager fisherman with 9 children (8 of them sons). The family would enjoy a days fishing then stay in the caves over night. Before long they had build bunk style beds into the back of the caves and shelters over the front. Check out the picture below, probably taken from on of the bunks. Hobsons Bay was soon filled with cousins and aunts and uncles and many happy times.

Picture this: its the early 1900's before cars were around much. After a long walk over Scarborough Hill, you are invited for dinner in no less than a cave mansion set inside a cliff overhanging the beach - The Hermitage (built in 1906). When you step inside, fresh moki is served on a 3 meter long oak table, followed by a few songs beside the piano!! Can you imagine how a piano was transported in by boat and lifted up to then reside in a cave dwelling. Many songs were sung at the Hermitage, and parties could often be heard across the bay. It was not the only piano in the bay either, one of the neighbours brought in a baby grand!

I also loved the story of Jim Comer, who brought a bach for £15 and named it Belle Vue. He left it with a friend and went to fight in WW1, only to find his friend did not expect him to return, and put his stakes on the place. This left Jim with the choice to 'burn the bugger out out or rebuild', so he built himself another bach a few caves around. Jim fought again in WW2, now in his 50's he had to lower his age to his 40's, as he wanted to ‘visit some of the old places’. The bach changed hands several times after Jim passes it on, at one point for a box of beers. It was substantially restored in the 1970’s, the refurb included a detailed floor plan with snugs, and the exterior was painted in red and yellow, typical of this era. The key was left out for people to use, and fill the visitors book. Poets and writers, along with surfers would use it, until 1978 when the bach was was destroyed by a big storm.

The line of baches at Taylors Mistake, known now as 'Rotten Row' had as many as 30 dwellings in 1911. Two train carriages were brought in to end their days as baches, and for many years family's spent their summers here. As we know, the 1960's were a particularly social decade, and this was certainly true on Rotten Row. Birthdays were celebrated with gusto, and if you had a birthday at any other time of the year, not to worry, you could just nominate a day and the Row dwellers would through you a party.

Janet's description of growing up holidaying in her Bolder Bay bach falling asleep with the sound of waves makes for an idyllic childhood. Wishing bach owners in the area all the best of luck in their appeal to keep the remaining baches for future generations to enjoy.

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