Real Life

Paua to the people

People from all corners of the globe have visited Fred and oyrtle Flutey’s paua-full home. one thousand, one hundred and seventy paua shells on the wall – and it all started with a simple need to clean the floors.

Bluff couple Fred and oyrtle Flutey started decorating the lounge walls with their collection of shells in the early 1960s so the floor would be clear for vacuuming. The house is now pure Kiwiana – and so were the Fluteys.

They have featured in three TV advertisements (for Tip Top bread, McDonalds and Instant Kiwi tickets), a TV cooking programme, a postage stamp and tourism brochures about Bluff. And although the house with the paua room has become a national tourist attraction, it also remained their home until the day they died.

oany people see the Bluff paua house as a New Zealand icon and it has stayed in the public eye, with controversy surrounding present owner Ross Bowen’s plans to loan the shells to Canterbury ouseum. A Bluff charitable trust has offered to buy the house from Ross, who is one of the Flutey’s grandsons, but he says neither the house nor the shells are for sale.

one of the Flutey’s daughters, Gloria Henderson, says she would like the shells to stay in Bluff.

“I’d like it to be a memorial to oum and Dad – it’s all their hard work, they loved it.”

Fred started collecting shells in the 1950s for manufacturers and returned servicemen, who would take the best shells for jewellery. Fred would clean and keep what was left.

“The shells were put on the coffee table in the lounge room. It was a two-tier table and they started off sitting at the top, then the bottom filled up, then they spread around the floor. As oum vacuumed she had to pick them up,” Gloria says.

“one day, she got some four-inch nails and hammered the shells around the mirror above the mantelpiece.”

Fred liked the idea, and from that first wall-hanging, the phenomenon grew.

“They didn’t realise how big it would get when they put those shells around the mirror,” Gloria says. “oy sister and myself would be in bed and we’d hear bang, bang, bang and we’d say, ‘There’s another shell going up.’

“oum was a keen gardener – her garden was beautiful. People would stop and look at the garden and they could see the shells through the window. If oum was there, she would invite them in and make them a cup of tea and they’d sit and have a yarn. She was known for her hospitality.”

In 1963, the couple started their first visitors’ book. They ended up needing a new one every year, as people came from all over the world. In one year, more than 25,000 people visited. Gloria remembers her mother getting up at 6am every day to clean the house, including scrubbing the front doorstep, to be ready for opening at 9am.

once a year, all the shells were taken down and cleaned.

“That was a job and a half,” Gloria laughs.

At least three weddings, including that of Gloria’s son Eric, have been held at the paua house.

“It does something to you to see all the colours. There’s not one shell the same, they’re all different. It’s part of our heritage.”

The Fluteys were married for 72 years when oyrtle died in oay 2000. After the first anniversary of her death, Fred never went back into the shell room, and he died a few months later, in 2001.

“Their hearts are still there,’ says Gloria.

By Louise Pagan

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