by Helen Martin
Known in Helensville as a caterer, Janice McMurdo is now also an author, having recently published a novella set partly in South Head. Growing up on a South Head dairy farm and with parents deeply connected to the local community - her father Clive was involved with the Kaipara Dairy Company, her mother Joyce with the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers - Janice has a strong local pedigree. Clive McMurdo was raised on a farm in Fordyce Road, her mother’s parents Johanna and Malcolm Sheffield were Pokeno farmers before buying and living in Helen’s Villa in Nelson St, later moving to a Garfield Rd villa. Like many of her generation, Janice was born at Malolo House. As a child she and three of her four siblings rode their horses to Waioneke school with two on each horse, no saddle, just a surcingle and a sheepskin. By the time brother Tom was born there was a bus to take them to school on the rough, gravelled road.
Janice loved life on the farm. For a time, her father was President of the A&P Show and she was always very proud when her calf won an award. “I always had a pet calf for Calf Club. Every night after milking I’d train my calf to walk on a lead. We had sacks for covers to make their coats shiny and one day I got into big trouble for mixing up about 10 eggs and covering my calf in the mixture,” she says. She loved riding horses, and got into trouble there too when, after her father and others established the South Head Golf Club on the McMurdo farm, she did some damage to a green by riding a horse across it.
As a shy, gawky teenager she didn’t’t enjoy her time at Helensville District High School and left when she was 15, opting to stay on the family farm for a year before moving in with her grandparents in Garfield Rd. “Helensville in the late 1950s was so quiet,” Janice says. “There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. Mum got me a job at Screatons, but the moment I turned 18 I went psych nursing at Kingseat and lived in the nurses’ home. I was only there for six months before I left and went waitressing.”
Janet’s life as a young adult included time spent as a solo parent in Mt Roskill and marked the beginning of her interest in catering. “As a kid I wasn’t interested in food, I just saw it as fuel, but I started getting interested after I invited friends for dinner. There were no good recipes about, so I just used my imagination and the meal was delicious.” Moving to Perth she bought and ran a lunch bar for five years then, worn down by long hours and frequent break-ins, and with her children now adults, she returned to New Zealand.
After a time, she moved back to Helensville as part owner, with John Perry, of the Regent Theatre. “At first, we lived in the cinema, then we built an apartment upstairs and I ran a café from the foyer. After equipping it and adding a kitchen and a cool room, I added twenty cinema seats, a large screen and a DVD projector and held a popular series of dinner and movies every Saturday night. The Café Regent featured musicians, poets, parties and weddings, and was very popular with the local music scene. It was an interesting time and I learnt such a lot.” After seven years Janice moved out, bought the shop in Commercial Road she later named Food for Thought and set up a catering business, Onion Jam Creative Foods. She acted on her interest in therapy, training in the techniques of hypnotherapy and Emotional Freedom Technique (E.F.T), which focus on personal empowerment through release from fears and phobias, addictions, stress-related illnesses and pain. She also studied the Hawaiian healing practice Ho’oponopono and now offers therapy.
Janice’s lively story The Bird’s Nest, which is about a man on-the-run in the South Head bush in the 1950s, started to form while she was at The Regent and, although modest about her writing talent, she persevered, first publishing a 30,000-word version, then re-writing and re-publishing it, adding 10,000 more words (cover design by local graphic artists Jacky Pieper and Georgia Black). “When I was young, I wanted to run away and live in the bush, so I suppose the idea came from there. I used to go deer stalking with my father and brother and I wanted to write an adventure story about the South Head of my childhood – the bush down Wilson Rd was so pretty and everyone knew it as The Bird’s Nest.” Driven by her father’s work ethic, Janice has already begun writing her second book, which is again set locally and this time centres on a young girl and a Dalmatian man.
The Bird’s Nest is available from Paper Plus, Helensville, and from Janice, who can be contacted on 420-7858, 021 131 7308 or firstname.lastname@example.org