Times and Tales of Allison Home

By Suzanne McKenzie | Posted: Tuesday August 13, 2019

No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth. Robert Southey

Presbyterian Support Southland (PSS) marketing and communications personnel were treated to a captivating trip down memory lane recently when Luke Ferguson* and Ronald Thompson*, past residents of one of Invercargill’s first children’s homes, paid a visit.

Their visit was sparked by the launch of PSS’s centennial book: For Young and Old – 100 Years On which includes an account of Allison Children’s Home, where Luke and Ron were entered into care in 1953 and 1957 respectively.

Marketing and Communications Manager Courtney Forde said PSS had planned on presenting the long-time friends with a complimentary copy each but she was delighted with what turned out to be a perfect opportunity to put names to stockpiled photographs – some of which were entrusted back to the pairs’ safekeeping.

“Time just flew by when Luke and Ron were here … It was such a privilege to hear of their stories growing up in Invercargill and their memories of the home.”

Like the story told by Luke of a few of the boys from Allison House, sending the best climber up the tree to act as scout, while the rest raided the local orchards of apples.

“We got a few good feeds,” said Luke, “But we also got a bit of a hiding when we got caught.”

“The ironic thing is, our neighbours said if we’d asked first, we could have helped ourselves.”

Ron agreed they “were no angels” and told a similar tale involving coveted school stationery and a very understanding, local shop-owner.

Then there was the time the boys were discovered hiding in a tank, smoking dried-out dock leaves, rolled in toilet paper; and the time when their misdeeds meant they missed out on presents and the prized outing to the Invercargill Fire Station’s Christmas party.

Equally, there were plenty of stories of good times, comradery and kindness shown.

“Every Easter without fail, a big box full of Cadbury goodies would arrive from an aunty and we’d have to divvy it up amongst all the kids.”

“Nobody was ever left out,” said Luke.

Ron and Luke have many fond memories of the Dicksons, one-time managers of Allison Children’s Home and their horse “Jimmy”. The boys took turns riding behind the big draught horse in a jogger cart, on the weekend.

Many pranks and practical jokes were played, with some not always going to plan.

“I tricked Ron into thinking he was putting his thumb into sugar to lick, when it was actually caustic soda, used to clean the separator,” said Luke.

Ron’s payback plan of “giving Luke a right dunking” turned into a near-drowning when he underestimated the ferocity of a heavily-flooded culvert he pushed his friend into.

There were tales also of possuming in Guthrie’s Bush; eeling in the Waihopai; a hospital stay following a hard knock at rugby; and many late afternoons spent eating gingernuts and drinking billy-brewed tea with the legendary Burt Munro.

Luke and Ron left the home when they were old enough to work. Even when there was a years-long pause between connection, their friendship remained firmly intact.

PSS Communications Coordinator Suzanne McKenzie said she too was humbled by the experience and admired the pair’s obvious bond and positive outlooks.

For Luke and Ron, memories of years gone for the most-part bring smiles, but there are also those that come accompanied with sighs. They choose not to focus on the latter.

“Growing up at Allison Home was interesting, challenging, never dull. Life-lessons are always of value.”

“There were plenty of good people that helped shape our lives.”

“I reckon they’d be proud of us - We turned out pretty alright.”

* PLEASE NOTE: The names of the Allison Children’s Home residents, referred to in this article, have been changed to allow them to remain anonymous.