Her memories of her childhood on the wretched gum-fields of the Northern Wairoa have a lasting effect on the original Thunder Child, Jessica Jackson. An only child who loses her mother at a very early age, she grows up obsessed with feelings of poverty and loss. Her efforts to protect her own children from such deprivation become her downfall; her strong character leading her into strife along the way as she tries to influence events that are actually beyond her control. Thunder Children is set on the Kaipara Harbour and the surrounding districts against a background of New Zealand history.
The winter of 1936 was a hard one, with continuous frosts and then rain, every day for weeks. Later, as the spring came there would be thunder storms and floods but now it was simply cold. The gum-fields of the Kaipara were not pleasant, even in good weather but in winter, they were abysmally bleak and miserable.
In a sheltered hollow, high above flood water levels, a solitary whare, a shack, stood surrounded by heavy fog that muffled sounds and cast an air of mystery around the place. Inside the punga walls a family slept fitfully, the cold seeping almost into their bones. Even the birds, usually so prolific and noisy were still huddled out of the cold.
In the gloom, six year old Jessica sat up slowly on her rough sacking hammock and peered through the early morning gloom at her parents’ bed. Her father’s form was barely discernible behind the bulk of her pregnant mother.
The wind whispered in through the cracks in the punga log wall as the child quietly pulled the thick coat closer round her shoulders and tried to find a comfortable spot in the hammock. The old grey blanket that covered the sacking had slipped down in the night and now formed a hard ridge in the middle. She tugged futilely at the blanket then curled herself into a ball, avoiding the ridge and squinting dreamily at a chink of light in the punga frond thatch roof.
‘Come on, you two! Time to get moving! A lot of work to be done today.’
William Jackson’s voice snapped her wide awake. For all his rough tone her father’s voice was gentle. He climbed out of bed, ruffled his wife’s hair and gave Jessica a light tap on the rump as he passed her hammock. Jessica yawned hugely and he protested, ‘Good grief, child, put a hand in front of your mouth when you yawn! I can see what you had for dinner last night! It’s still all in a heap down there!’
She smiled blearily at him, shivering in the half light as her mother dragged herself wearily from her bed. Caroline pushed back a mane of hair and went to the fireplace where she stirred the embers before adding a few sticks. Jessica stood close to the warm ashes and peered up the gap between the whare walls and the free standing corrugated iron chimney that towered above her, smoke already curling from its top and staining the early morning fog. At night, she could sometimes see the stars through this gap but now all was white outside.