The Schimanski family


A gentle, reminiscing mother waiting for her children to return home from a dance or the “pictures” gave Thelma Schimanski two things—her mother's undivided attention and a love of family stories.

As the ninth child, Thelma—born in 1929 and too young to “go out”— kept her mother, Martha, company in front of the open fire in the family’s large sitting room in Durham Road, Inglewood. As they waited for the older children, Martha (née Dodunska) chatted to Thelma about her own childhood in Poland, and about Thelma's siblings' childhoods in far-away Christchurch.

“By then the family was well-established with adult children so my mother had lots of spare time. We spent many hours together while she talked about her mother and father and what her mother told her.”

It was not until after her mother died in 1973—and nearly 100 years since the fritz reuter brought her Dodunski family to Taranaki—that Thelma, by then Sister Mary St Martha, started to document her mother’s memories. In 1978, while working in Christchurch, she turned her focus to her father, whose family arrived in Lyttelton harbour on the friedeburg. The stories her older brothers and sisters talked about became real as she visited her relatives and their friends in Marshland.

“It was exciting to be in Dad’s country and see some of the people and places I had heard about. In 1988 I travelled to Christchurch with my sister Gert to attend the Marshland School reunion because she went to school there. Her brothers Les and Vic also attended and I found out Dad went to school there too.”

These stories are Sister Mary St Martha's recollections of those told to her by her mother, brothers or oldest sister Gertrude. “I just wrote as they talked.”