Nancy Murphy, nee Roper, was born on Rarotonga in 1962 to her parents Glenys (known as Glen) and Charles Ashley Roper. As a baby she was called Dorothy or Dotty Ann.
Her father, who was known as Ashley (and occasionally Cas), was sent to the Cook Islands sometime around 1960 by New Zealand’s then Department of Scientific and Industrial Research to man the weather station here. He worked at the seismology building on Happy Valley Road and a lot of the data gathering he did in Rarotonga was shared with Nasa for space launches. He was also commodore of the Rarotonga Sailing Club in 1964 – his name is on the board at Sails in Muri – and was known to referee the odd rugby game or two as well. Ashley went on to become a scientist of some standing, and was in charge of Antarctica’s Scott Base at the time of the Erebus crash. He oversaw Scott Base laboratory programmes for more than 20 years and had an Antarctic mountain peak named after him, Mount Roper, following his death in 1994.
The family – which also included Nancy’s older sisters Kerin and Rosie and an older brother Steve, who all went to school here – spent five years on Rarotonga, returning to New Zealand towards the end of 1964. Nancy was born three years into their stay (and was later followed by a fifth sibling born in New Zealand).
She remembers being babysat by Stella Neale, daughter of famed Suwarrow hermit Tom Neale, who her older sister Kerin has stayed in contact with since their time on Rarotonga.
They lived in what Nancy describes as a “government house”, just down the road from the old hospital. Her eldest sister found the house again on a visit in 1982, but Nancy hasn’t been able to find it on this trip and thinks it may have been torn down. While she was only two when they left, Nancy says that even in New Zealand her family “kept all the traditions up”, with her mother grating coconut to make raw fish and her older sister dancing the hula, having learnt it during their stay in the Cook Islands.
“They brought the culture back with them,” she says. “I’ve got a beautiful, big wooden bowl that they used to put the raw fish in, and my younger sister’s got the thing that they grate the coconut with. We actually went and bought one to take back to New Zealand, so I can make correct raw fish, not with coconut out of a can!
“I’ve been wanting to come back just to get some memories of the place. My sister said it had changed a lot, but I’d say some things have changed and some haven’t.”
Nancy and her husband Peter arrived in Rarotonga just over a week ago and returned to their home in Christchurch, New Zealand, last Friday.