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50 years as (mostly) Kiwis

The Harper siblings with their parents Ian and Prue Harper, as photographed by the Wairarapa Times-Age on arrival in Masterton in 1967. Children from left Marilyn, 18, Olivia, 14, Clare, 9, Jack, 11, and Scilla, 17. PHOTO/SUPPLIED.

By Gerald Ford

Five siblings who moved to Wairarapa from England 50 years ago reunited in the region this month to celebrate the jubilee anniversary of the move.

The Harper family, led by parents Ian and Prue, emigrated to Masterton in 1967, with Mr Harper taking up a job teaching at Hadlow Preparatory School, then an all-boys school.

The youngest child was then 9 and the oldest Marilyn (now Totman) was 18.

Travel had been nothing new to them, Mrs Totman related.
Mr Harper had worked with the United Kingdom’s Colonial Service and four of the siblings were born in Sarawak, Borneo, and the fifth in Zambia.

Every two-and-a-half years, the family would travel back to the UK, usually by ship, to see both sets of grandparents with whom they alsokept in touch by letter.

“We did have a very privileged childhood actually – although there were about 12 different schools,” Mrs Totman said.

After Zambia gained independence in 1964, Mr Harper moved the family back the United Kingdom where he was a school principal in Somerset.

“They lived abroad for so long, they couldn’t settle in England. They found the class system difficult, and they hated the cold,” Mrs Totman said.

The family emigrated to New Zealand as “10-pound Poms”, a term that referred to assisted immigration schemes developed by the Australian and New Zealand governments after World War II.

“The story is he (Dad) went to London and couldn’t find the Australian Embassy so he went to the New Zealand Embassy instead. So on that whim we ended up in New Zealand,” Mrs Totman said.

The immigration took “so long to be approved” and by the time it was, young Marilyn was 18 years old and had begun her nursing training.

“And then somebody said to me, ‘Are you going too?’ and I thought, ‘I suppose they have hospitals in New Zealand”.

The Harpers were one of the earlier families to emigrate by airplane – 36 hours of flying with five stops including a night in Hong Kong.

After a few months in Masterton they moved to a small farm block at Dalefield.

Mr Harper continued teaching at Hadlow school until he retired, also coaching rugby and cricket.
Her father was “a very unusual and innovative teacher” – remembered well by former pupils at his funeral some years ago, Mrs Totman said.

“So many remembered him and his quirky, eccentric, English ways”.

The reunion came about because “my youngest sister (Clare Harper-Lee) said come on, it’s been 50 years on May 6 … and so they came (including) one from Australia and one from Northland, and we had a hilarious weekend.”




Marilyn (Totman)

After graduating from nursing, Marilyn returned to the UK in 1971, to catch up with grandparents and cousins “and also to show my New Zealand friend around England and Europe”.

There she met Peter Totman who was living on a family farm near London and practiced law, and they married the following year.

Marilyn emigrated to Wairarapa a second time in 1981, with Peter and the three children, the oldest of whom was 7.

He has practiced law in the region and she worked in elder care in Greytown and Carterton.

The children now live in the UK, in Macau, and in Wellington.


Scilla (Ecuyer)

I am retired and living in Maleny, Queensland with my Australian husband of 43 years. We have raised four children. I have had a great antipodean life in New Zealand (Victoria and Canterbury University), Australia and Papua New Guinea. I am extremely grateful to my dear parents for in their decision to move across the world to New Zealand.


Olivia (Worboys)

I live in Wellington with my husband of 45 years. I have been a kindergarten teacher, teaching in a variety of kindergartens in NZ. We have enjoyed travelling overseas and I now relieve teach and spend time with my 3 children and 8 grandchildren! I did not want to come to NZ at the age of 14 but looking back I am so grateful to my parents for choosing to live here!


Jack Harper

“I have been married for 36 years and have three children and live in Havelock North. After schooling at Rathkeale College for 5 years, I then graduated from University of Canterbury, set up a financial planning business in Hawkes Bay which I ran for 15 years and then sold.”

Jack is the founder of “Driving Miss Daisy”, which specialises in helping the elderly and disabled and has 65 franchises in New Zealand including Masterton, and is expanding to the United Kingdom.

“I have loved our nomadic childhood and have been eternally grateful to my parents for making the decision to emigrate to NZ back in 1967.”


Clare (Harper-Lee)

A head teacher in Kaitaia, a children’s rights advocate. Married for 36 years, a mother of three and a grandmother of three. Clare describes herself as a traveller whose favourite stops so far have been Mexico, Russia and Poland, and a lifelong learner having studied at the universities of Victoria, Otago and Auckland.


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