Andrew (Andy) Herbert Duncan Interview

Today is the 4th August 2015. I’m interviewing Andy Duncan a retired pharmacist of Mahora, Hastings and Joyce his wife. Now would you like to give us the life and times of your family – where they came from ‘til today … look forward to hearing your story.

Thank you for the opportunity, Frank. I suppose we can go back to my great-great-grandparents on my mother’s side to start with, who arrived in New Zealand on the sailing ship ‘Zealandia’, arriving in Lyttelton in … 1859 they arrived in Lyttelton, to Canterbury where I understand they had some land given to them and that was John – John Chivers was his name. He was a cabinet maker. He was about twenty-three years of age at the time and his wife was two years younger. They were a very religious couple – they were good Baptists – and they went on to some farming land in Pareora West, which is west of where Timaru is now, and that was where they lived for several years. From there they actually went to Lawrence in Otago, and then their family went on to Dunedin where my grandparents and mother were born.

My father was also from Dunedin. His mother was widowed at a very early age, when my father was something like fourteen years of age. And that family came from Fifeshire in Scotland. My father took up teaching at an early age. He started originally in Taieri West I think it was called in those days, on the coast just south of Dunedin. That was his first teaching job. His second teaching job was the East Coast of the North Island strangely enough. He tells me that to get there he had to go by train from Dunedin to Christchurch; to Lyttelton where he caught the ferry which went to Wellington, and then by train to Napier. And in those days, the late 1920s, he then went by ship, because there was no road in those days right up round the East Cape … went by ship to Te Araroa, and then by lighter from the ship ashore, and then by horseback into a school. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of that little school – it was a … in those days it was termed a Native School, and essentially Maori children.

I hope he took a packed lunch with him when he left Dunedin. [Chuckle]

Yes, they certainly knew what travel was.

Well the effort … there was no alternative was there?

There was no alternative, no. From there he went to North Auckland to a school at Rangiahua. Rangiahua is a little bit south of Kaitaia. It was while he was in Rangiahua … must have been – yes, it was during the school holidays at Christmas time, he travelled down to Dunedin where he met up again with my mother, Irene, and something like six weeks later they got married, and she had hardly ever been out of Dunedin. He then took her to Rangiahua, and they lived in a hotel there for the first few months of their married life. Rangiahua now – all I can find now that remains is a bridge over the Rangiahua river. We did make some enquiries from people up there when we visited there several years ago and they told us approximately where the school and the hotel were, but there was no sign of anything there now – it’s just a farming area.

From there he went to Tangowahine. Tangowahine is on the road between Dargaville and Whangarei. Now we’re talking now about the1930s … early 1930s. My older sister Beth who was eighteen months older than me, was born there in that area and then in 1933 I was also born while my father was at Tangowahine. My passport and birth certificate say my birth place is Te Kopuru. Now Te Kopuru is where the hospital for Dargaville was. It’s around on the harbour just south of Dargaville.

Being a primary school teacher the family shifted a little bit, and from there they went to Otahuhu for about two years. And when I was about four … three or four … we then shifted to the Wairarapa, to the end of the world – to a place called Nireaha.

You certainly went to some very interesting-named places because I’ve never heard of any of these places before.

Well Nireaha is about seven miles – or … we measured things in miles in those days, didn’t we? Into the Tararuas from Eketahuna. We would have gone there about 1938. It was just before the outbreak of the war. My father tells me that because of the war … he was too old at that stage to be called up but his job had to be retained, and he couldn’t shift from there during most of the war. Those regulations were relaxed round about 1944. So he became a member of the Home Guard, and of course at that stage I do recall on several occasions going with him, being a child of about six or seven – that was on … well, they weren’t exercises, but all these men sat around and had talks on how to blow up railways and …

A bit like Dad’s Army.

It was, it was very much like Dad’s Army. One of the things that I do recall as a child was the way that the cars all had to have brown paper pasted over the headlights so that they didn’t shine around. But one of the things that did really fascinate me was the fact that cowsheds had to have shades over the lights so that they didn’t shine out into the yards. And even as a child I remember wondering why the Japanese would want to come and bomb a cowshed in the middle of Nireaha. [Chuckle] Nireaha was where I started my primary school. It was just a two teacher school so for the first three or four years I had one of the female teachers that was the assistant there, and then shifted into my father’s class, so he actually taught me from about the time I was in about Standard 2 until I left primary school.

Nireaha was an interesting place really, in those times. The farming was done in among tree stumps. The area had been cleared – well, it had been milled – but the stumps hadn’t been taken out. The area was fenced off and they had their cows in among the tree stumps. The farmers spent a lot of their time clearing these stumps. I remember they used to use … they used a lot of gelignite. I’m just trying to think what the name of the equipment that they used – it was a metal hollow tube that they put the gelignite in and then hammered it in …

A splitting gun.

there and exploded it. Yeah, so during the schooling hours there’d be periodic explosions.

Right. [Chuckle]

Yeah, you had to be ready for that.

One of the other memories I have of Nireaha was the 1942 earthquakes which were centred in the Wairarapa. They were actually … one was in June and the other was in August. One of those was even greater than the Christchurch earthquake. It was 7.8.

This is the first I’ve ever heard there was an earthquake in the Wairarapa.

Well, it was mainly because it wasn’t densely populated. It was severe enough that in our house, which I suppose was built in the 1920s … a school house … the chimneys fell down – the brick chimneys – all of the preserves came out of the cupboards, and … all the cupboards were emptied out. I was actually rolled out of bed I remember, it was in the middle of the night. Yes, they were pretty strong earthquakes. Eketahuna and Masterton were fairly badly hit. I think Masterton – after the second one, I remember being taken through there with our family to have a look see – well the streets were actually roped off and they had the army in there to stop looting.

So what was the date again?

That was June 1942 and August 1942. Prior to the August earthquake, the one in the middle of the night, there was quite a severe tremor earlier in the evening, sort of round about four or five o’clock in the afternoon. It was still daylight and as it started I remember we ran outside. And we lived in a valley, and you could look across the paddocks and you could actually see the ground waving, and feel yourself rising and falling as it came through. Yeah, so that was one of the …

The other great excitement in Nireaha was when the cheese factory burnt down. [Chuckle] As children we were … I suppose I’d be about ten or eleven … I was with several of the other children and we were stuck up on rooves of houses, the dairy factory houses around there, with a wet sack to put out sparks as they came across – yeah, the embers as they blew across. Being so far away it took half to three quarters of an hour for the fire engine to arrive from Eketahuna by which time all the damage was done.

Was the factory rebuilt?

The factory was rebuilt. It had been a cheese factory but they rebuilt it … I think it was a casein factory that they rebuilt it for. ‘Course it … in those days there was a cheese factory at every settlement – well that’s why there was a settlement, wasn’t there? And most of the milk was transported by the farmers in their horse and carts.

I suppose a lot of the friends you had were the children you went to school with in these little settlements, because you wouldn’t have friends … a long way because it would be impossible to …

It was, and particularly being war time you were very restricted in how far you could go, because there was petrol rationing and those sort of things. I did have a couple of aunties … or when I say aunties, one of them was actually my mother’s cousin … who lived in Wellington, so sometimes on school holidays we would actually go and visit them. I do remember staying at my auntie’s place – she lived in Northland Road which is the road that runs along the top of the ridge in Northland, and a magnificent view of the whole of the Wellington harbour. Might have had a good view of the harbour, but it certainly got the wind, mmm, and it really used to rattle. I recall being there when an American fleet was in the harbour, and of course their boats they had sort of anchored at all different areas right throughout the … they weren’t concentrated in one spot. And there were American servicemen all over the place then. They had that big camp at McKay in Paraparaumu or Paekakariki, and they had more in the Wairarapa too. And then one morning we got up and looked out and suddenly there wasn’t a ship in the harbour. They had all disappeared overnight, and I think – I believe now, they went from there to Tarawa where there was a major battle.

So what age would you have been during that period, Andy?

I was born in ’33 so that was 1944.

So you were only a little boy.

Oh, yes, yes. Pretty impressionable I suppose. From Nireaha in 1944 we shifted then to Te Horo, south of Otaki in the Horowhenua, and I finished my primary school education there and then I went on to Horowhenua College in Levin. We bussed up every day. We’d have to cycle down to the main road, and I just see in the paper the other day that the store where we used to leave our bikes behind and catch the bus was burnt down.

The one where the restaurant was?

Yes, that’s the one.

They would be a lot of rural children I guess, that went there would they? Levin wasn’t a very big town those days, was it?

No. It was developing fairly quickly. Now the high school when we went there, had about … it started in 1940, that high school. I would have started there in about ’45. That was the only secondary school … only high school …between Palmerston and – there was something in Porirua, all round that area. Yeah, so – and the bus that we caught originated every day at Paraparaumu Beach. They used to leave there at seven o’clock in the morning, we caught it at twenty to eight in the morning and – yeah, it went to Levin. So because of that, the bus left straight after school finished so you didn’t end up with a great social life from secondary school. You still really only got to know those in our own immediate area. But that meant that you didn’t get involved to any great extent in sport because that was on either after school or on Saturdays.

But for amusements we would – weekends – we did a lot of biking around the place and with the other friends we would bike up the river there, the Mangaone River. There was a bush road that went up there, or the remains of a bush road, so we’d bike up there. And between there and Reikorangi which is in behind Waikanae, there was an old bush railway. It was pretty well overgrown. We used to push our bikes through there – you couldn’t ride them – come out at Reikorangi, and then ride down on the road to Waikanae, out to Waikanae Beach and then along the beach, collect our twenty toheroas each, and then bike back home again, and that filled the day in.

Well, but what a wonderful way to grow up.

Oh, yes, yeah.

I was in the compulsory military training at Linton, and we used to take the trucks down to Waitarere Beach.

When you mention the military training there – at high school we still had our …

Cadet training.

… and I joined the ATC, so I was in that. And we did go to Ohakea on a couple of occasions and have camps there during the school holidays.

Then – 1949 – I was fifteen and a half, and my father arrived home one day and said to me “I’ve got you a job in Wellington, and you start on Monday”. And I said “well what’s that?” And he said “oh, you’re going to be an apprentice chemist”. And I said “am I?” That was the first I’d known about that, it was the first I knew that I was going to leave school. I mean I did have School Cert [Certificate] at that stage and I’d just started on the 6th Form, and it still surprises me that my father, being a school teacher, sort of cut my secondary school education off so prematurely. But that’s what it turned out, so I was due to start on the 21st March 1949. The date that sticks in my mind is the 18th March 1949, which was on the Friday before. There was an NAC plane crash between Waikanae and Te Horo. It was an NAC Electra and there were fifteen people killed in it. It was a misty sort of a day. The plane disappeared and somehow I can’t recall how it all happened, but I had actually left school on the Wednesday prior to starting work, and I found myself roped into the search party. ‘Cause we – as kids we knew all those hills – so with two or three others we tramped up through the hills in the back ’til dark and then we struggled back home again. We hadn’t found anything. They actually found it early the following day. A week or two later these friends that would have been in the search party with me decided to go back up and have a look at the actual crash site and that’s one of the things that does stick in my memory … a site like that.

That was on television recently, that crash.

One of the things that I do recall was the smell.

Oh, well that does mark the time. So at fifteen and a half you were off to University, or Pharmacy College.

Well what you did there was an apprenticeship. You were signed up for four years, and I was signed up to this pharmacy in Kelburn in Wellington. There was only the boss and myself – there was only the two of us in the business. And at night times, and a couple of nights a week and later on on Saturday morning as well, you attended the Pharmacy School which was in Cambridge Terrace in Wellington. They had night classes, and after two years’ tuition there you sat exams and then when you passed those you went on and did the second part of the course. The first part of the course was basic chemistry and botany and not very exciting subjects, and the second part of the course was the pharmacy subjects themselves. But in the meantime of course you were doing the practical work as you worked.

So Andy where did you live then? Your folks were in Levin, and you were in Wellington …

Well for the first three months I boarded with my mother’s cousin in Northland in Wellington, and then I went to the Boys’ Institute, which was a boarding institution run by the Salvation Army in Tasman Street, down by the Basin Reserve. And I actually spent 3 years there, it was only 25/- a week to start with and that was actually what our wage was. When I started we were paid 25/- a week and we did get a boarding allowance of £68 a year from the Labour Department. It was a few months after I started that they negotiated more realistic wages, but they weren’t anything very great for all that. I mean it went up to £4 or something, so we didn’t make a lot of money out of that. Yes, so I did my four years’ apprenticeship in Kelburn, and the last three months of it was actually done in my compulsory military training which actually counted towards it. I think it’s still wrong that was the case, but at that time it did actually count towards your apprenticeship.

So having had my association with the ATC I ended up in the Air Force in Whenuapai, so I spent three months in Whenuapai. Yes, which was a great experience really. I don’t regret that one little bit. Just on military training, for three years after you’d done your initial three months you had to do three weeks a year for three years. Being in Wellington at that stage I ended up out at Shelley Bay at the Air Force base out there, with absolutely nothing to do. You were just a nuisance.

It was a flying boat base originally, wasn’t it?

No, the flying boats did land there, but not for the Air Force. No, no, it was just there to support what was known as Bullshit Castle, which was, you know, the hierarchy in Wellington. Yes, the only time I did anything reasonably useful was in 1954 – early in the year I was pulled into there and we were seconded to the Royal baggage party. So we had to shift the Queen’s luggage from Government House, and hangers-on from the Hotel Waterloo in Wellington. We had to all their equipment out to … or some of it went out to the ‘Gothic’, which they had as their boat. And we had two Bristol Freighters out at Paraparaumu. We had to take stuff out there for them to take to the South Island. Yes, so that was a bit of an experience, shifting the Royal underwear.

Okay, so when I came out of my Military Training I still hadn’t completed my Pharmacy degree, so I had to find another job in Wellington because my employer that I’d done my apprenticeship with, he had sold out during the time I was in camp. So I had to come back and find myself a job, and I did that with the John Castle Empire, as we called it. It was rather interesting – a set up where there was – five pharmacies they had. It’d come about because the original John Castle came out I think from England, and he had this rather large family, and as each of them – oh, he was a chemist … a pharmacist – and as each of his sons and daughters qualified he set up another shop in Wellington. The only thing was that the idea was to amalgamate the profits from each of these shops and divide it evenly among them, because some of the shops were more profitable than the others. There were three brothers and two sisters that were involved so there were five pharmacies. One of the brothers contested the Will where it was laid out for this amalgamation of profit, because he was the one that was making all the money. And he contested the Will and lost out, so he ended up by pulling out of the conglomerate and started his own pharmacy in Berhampore, which then left five pharmacies and four qualified, so they always had to employ a manager. As I say I was unqualified at that stage, but I ended up by working in two or three of these pharmacies circulating around until I qualified, which would have been in 1955, I think … ’54.

Once I qualified I took on several relieving jobs, and I did a relieving job in Otaki and then I went to Rotorua, which was relieving for my boss where I did my apprenticeship. He’d started another pharmacy in Rotorua so I did a relieving job for him. Then I went to Mangakino which was quite an experience. It was in the heyday of Mangakino.

When it was booming and all the work was being done there.

Yeah – about the time they were finishing Maraetai 1 and starting on Maraetai 2. Yes, you were a bit cut off from the rest of the world, [chuckle] and it was quite an education to me because where I’d been used to working in cities and being able to access things for prescriptions you know, within the day, you were sort of suddenly two days away.

Yeah, and the pharmacy there was owned by … the pharmacist that was there had taken a liking to one of the beaches, and he’d disappeared and left his wife who also had the licence to run the jewellery shop there, ’cause they were all licensed premises. So she had the pharmacy and then the jewellery shop which she amalgamated, and then had to employ managers. I went there while the present manager was on his honeymoon, so I was there for three or four weeks.

At that stage Mangakino had a population of something like six thousand. A thousand of them were school children, so some of them were less than that, so children then were a big source of business as far as the pharmacy was concerned. Yeah, so you were kept pretty busy seven days a week.

So what age would you have been then?

Oh, twenty-two. From Mangakino I then came across to Napier in my Morris 8, in the days when it was a metal road from the de Brett’s Hotel to the Te Pohue Hotel. And came over here, one of the attractions being that I had met up with Joyce in the meantime, in the time that she was actually in Wellington visiting a relation. I was boarding at the Boys’ Institute with her brother, and it was through there that the association started and I got to know Joyce. So I came across here. She was doing her nurse training at the …

Oh, Joyce is a nurse?

Yep. Yeah, she was at the Napier Hospital. And worked in Napier at Hobson’s Pharmacy for a few weeks, did a relieving job there, and Marewa for a few weeks. And then came across to Hastings and took on a job with Noel Wilson, and I was with Noel Wilson for something like five years. In the meantime Joyce and I got married – we got married in 1956.

So where did Joyce’s family come from then?

Okay. Joyce’s father came out from Denmark through Australia, and he must have arrived in New Zealand … certainly before the First World War because he ended up by joining the Auckland Infantry Regiment. And he went to Egypt and then on to Gallipoli. At Gallipoli he was injured, and so he was taken off there and patched up again, and when he was fit enough they sent him off to the Somme. So he saw both sides of it there. He came back to New Zealand and recuperated on Great Barrier Island where apparently they had a … some sort of a rehabilitation set up … and that’s, I understand, where he met Joyce’s mother. Then they set about and had eight children, and Joyce was the youngest of those. Now she lost her mother when – at a very early age, three months old or something – so her father then employed a housekeeper and from what I understand, married the housekeeper and went on to have another four children.

Now he was in the dairy factories – he was in Newstead in Hamilton in a dairy factory there. Prior to that he’d actually been in the South Island at Karamea. But from the dairy factories … a steam ticket somehow, because he ended up in saw mills in their days of steam power there, and he seemed to stay in saw mills from then on.

This second wife of his seemed to … I don’t know whether she fell out with the locals or whatever happened, but they seemed to be forever shifting, so they went from one place to another, mostly around the forestry in the centre of the island, in from … what’s the big forestry there in between Taupo and Taumaranui, and round that area?

And she had started off her nursing by doing nurse training in Te Kuiti Hospital, then she had to go to a bigger hospital for her general training and that’s when she ended up in Napier.

Yeah, so as I say, I worked for Noel Wilson for about five years. Our son Robert was born in 1958, and shortly after that we decided to build a house which we did, as you did in those days, by cashing in on your Family Benefit and hocking everything, and for £3,000 we had a house built in Plunket Street – on a back section in Plunket Street in Hastings.

But I was only there for a matter of months before I took on the job as the first manager of the Hastings Urgent Pharmacy, which was set up by the local pharmacists. Prior to that they’d been doing a roster for after hours service, and the place got big enough that they decided to have one pharmacy which would do all that, which was owned by the combined members. So I took on the managership of that – that was in Queen Street. There was a house attached to that, and the idea was that you lived in the house. Not only did you work there from five ’til nine at night and then as long afterwards it took you to clean up or do what you had to do, and then get dragged out of bed at all hours of the night on odd occasions.

So where was it in Queen Street?

About where the Mad Butcher is now. Next to the Group Theatre. Across the road from Bayley’s. No, from there it was actually shifted into Heretaunga Street, right up the far end, but that was well after I had left it.

So after the initial two years there, I then purchased Mahora Pharmacy which had been run by Miriam Hunter. She’d been there for about ten or twelve years. While I was at the Urgent Pharmacy I also did relieving during the day, mostly for members of the Shareholders, which made a pretty long week of it, because you worked from half past eight or nine o’clock in the morning until after nine at night but then that would go on for seven days of the week.

We purchased Mahora Pharmacy which in those days was at 1001 Tomoana Road, which is across the road from where the premises are now. It was just myself and one shop girl, that’s all we needed then. After about three years a chap by the name of Bill Saunders who was a farmer from Southland came up this way and he decided to invest some money and have a little play around, so he decided to build some shops at Mahora. So he came along and asked us whether we would be interested in shifting our pharmacy across the road where we are now. So those are those shops. The agreement was that after I think it was ten years, we would be able to purchase the property off him at the price he paid to build it.

Wouldn’t happen today.

No, it wouldn’t happen today. He wanted ten percent return on his money for the ten years and then, as I say, purchase it at that price. Yeah, which was a good deal as far as we were concerned. So it was actually two businesses that were involved then, and it was two shops. There was the bookshop next door to us, which was owned by a chap called Sid Butters, who at that time was actually touring around. He’d gone over to Europe with his wife, and they bought a camper van over there and they toured round for about twelve months. And it was while he was away that we reached these great decisions to shift the place, so I rang up Sid in London and told him we were going to shift his shop for him, which we did. So by the time he arrived back in New Zealand again, he was in a completely different position to when he started. ‘Course in later years we ended up by having the bookshop shifted across the road, and we took over the whole premises. Yes, so that was our pharmacy years.

And so you ran the pharmacy continuously for quite a long period of time didn’t you?

Oh, yes, yes, I ran it until my son decided to … he’d qualified, and he was quite happy to take over that pharmacy so the idea was that as he took over I’d gradually ease myself out. We did that over a matter of five or so years.

During your time in the pharmacy you became involved in the politics of pharmacy, didn’t you?

Yes – yeah, I did. In the late sixties I became involved with the Pharmacy Guild, which in those days was known as the Chemists’ Service Guild, but which later became the Pharmacy Guild of New Zealand, which looks after the commercial side of pharmacy, like promoting, merchandising, and that side of it. But, one of the important things was looking after the contract which Pharmacy had with the Health Department for supplying medicine. So as a member of the Pharmacy Guild I ended up on the committee known as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Committee, and we would negotiate every two years with the Health Department on the remuneration for pharmacy. And the Health Department would have – or we would have an Executive Director and three other members of our Council on, representing pharmacy, and the Health Department would have representatives. There’d be somebody from Treasury usually, and quite often somebody from Industries and Commerce, and it was before an independent Chairman – chap called Bradshaw, who was a director of the Bank of New Zealand. His position really was an arbitrator. So the idea was that we would get down and do all our negotiating and things would go backwards and forwards, and we’d have several meetings and things would come to a conclusion and shake hands and everybody would be happy. A lot different to what happens these days.

So those were interesting days. I did end up with the Executive Director and one other of the councillors, and at that stage I was the Vice-President of the Pharmacy Guild and we did an overseas trip. Well, the idea was to study the introduction of computerisation into pharmacy. It was just in the early days of computerisation. We were having a look at that aspect. There was also continuing contact with companies that we’d had quite a bit to do with one way or another – the likes of Kodak, and Johnson & Johnson, and Max Factor, and also the research companies – AC Nielson – and also our equivalents in both the States and England. In the States we had the National Association of Retail Druggists, known as NARD, and the President was Willard B. Simmons. [Chuckle] He was a Texan. [Chuckle]

Yes, so we went to Los Angeles and San Francisco, then across to Chicago. Went on to Toronto, to the Canadians, and then down to Washington and New York, to London … Oxford … Edinburgh and back to London. That was in 1979, the idea being that when we completed our work in London our respective wives flew over, and we met up with them and we did a little bit of a tour on the way home again. But it was a pretty intensive six weeks that we did – it was pretty exhausting. But it was one of life’s experiences. It gave us a taste for world travel too.

And so during this period of being a chemist, you also had been involved in other community organisations, like Rotary, and I think the Founders’ Group, and there’s several others I probably don’t know about as well.

Originally it was with Jaycees. When I started at Mahora we ended up joining Jaycees, which I think was a great organisation in those days, training. When you reach the ripe old age of forty you got kicked out of Jaycees, so that was when I joined Rotary and have remained there ever since. As far as my association with the Founders’ Society, which is the local branch – the Hawke’s Bay branch – I was enticed by Ian Abernethy and Nanette Roberts to join the Founders’, which I did. And then within a short time I ended up by becoming their Treasurer when nobody else would have the job on. So I’ve ended up on the committee there and running that. When I took that on I didn’t realise that they didn’t have such a thing as a database … nothing was on a computer. It was all on pieces of paper, so I had to rationalise that.

What I haven’t mentioned as far as my pharmacy involvement was that we locally started our own wholesale – co-operative wholesale company. Yeah, that was in the 80s. We built that up , yeah, quite a reasonable distance, and then amalgamated with Taranaki; and then amalgamated with a group in Whanganui so it became quite a substantial business. I was a director of that for several years – yes, and when I left the turnover was something like $65 million dollars. It was a big business. In the last 12 months it has amalgamated with the Canterbury Co-op, which had – prior to that – amalgamated with Wellington, so it’s – you know, it’s now quite a big … yeah, for the central part of the country.

Just coming back to your Rotary … while you were in Rotary you’ve been President; you’ve done most things within the Club over your period and you’re growing into becoming the oldest member there now, aren’t you?

[Chuckle] Well I don’t know about the oldest, but certainly one of the longest-serving. [Chuckle]

So just looking back … an overview of pharmacy, I suppose some of the major changes were the computerisation of everything.

Yes, although – yes, that certainly made a huge difference. But medication itself changed dramatically. When I started pharmacists ended up by manufacturing a lot of the stuff. When I say manufacturing – you made up mixtures and ointments and powders – extemporaneously compounded preparations, but there’s very little of that now, if any. Medicine has become much more specific. When I look back now, it was – well, I suppose the forerunner of what was to come. So many of the things you … one example might be say, digitalis where it was used for heart conditions, and it was just the dried leaf itself that was used. But then the actual ingredient was synthesised, and because of that it was able … in most cases now, these things are made synthetically, but they’re specific – when I say specific, they’re a hundred percent active ingredient with predictable outcomes – much more stable of course. When these things were in liquid form or even tablet form, they had a pretty limited sort of life, although I don’t think it was realised then, you know, just how little life a lot of those things did have.

But a lot of things die back through insulin and things like that. Insulin was used when I first started but the dosage of it wasn’t able to be adjusted the way it is now. Adjusted down by hour now, whereas in those times you’d go along to the doctor and he’d do a test with Benedict’s solution of the urine or something like that, and say “well, you know – I think you’d better come back in three months.” So there was a lot of that sort of thing.

But all these great advances that there’s been in treating heart conditions and cancers and stomach ulcers and things like that, where there was a lot of stomach ulcers that required surgery – well, you don’t see nearly as much as that sort of thing now, because of the medications available that prevent that sort of thing. Psychiatric control is a lot easier.

So during the last probably ten years you took to the adventure of motor-homing, and travelling here, there and everywhere.

Yes, motor-homing … well it actually started with caravanning, didn’t it? For many years we’d had a caravan and taken the kids around, but you know, you only use your caravan a couple of times a year. When I started to retire we ended up, … well, we were enticed into attending a ICFR – International Caravanning Fellowship of Rotarians – rally.

Who enticed you?

Who enticed me – it was Bruce Downer. Even in those days he had a bus – converted bus. So we went along, and the first meeting, or rally that I went to was in Waitomo. And next thing I know I’m signed up and a member.

The caravan wasn’t … it was only a little pop top – wasn’t very practical, so I decided that we’d just buy a little motor home. So we bought a little L300 motor home, but of course that proved pretty inadequate fairly quickly. So we ended up buying a larger Ford Transit and then later replaced that with this new one, which we presently have, the Volkswagen. With the motor-homing we’ve been able to do quite a bit of travel. We’ve done the length of the country two or three times one way and another, but there‘s still so many places to see. And belonging to the ICFR you end up by going to places that you never thought of or been to. Of course the NZMCA, the New Zealand Motor Caravan Association, they’re an amazing organisation for – they give a lot of assistance for caravanners and motor-homers. Then a couple of years ago we decided with some of the others to do a tour in Australia, so we hired vans there and with two other couples we drove from Cairns up to Cooktown, and back down to the Tablelands and across to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and then up to Darwin, where we met up with another two couples and one single person and their vans, and we went on from there down round the western coast and ended up in Perth. All of that took us two months and we saw an amazing amount of scenery of varying types, right from the rainforests in the Queensland area to the real desert areas in Western Australia, and yeah, had a great time. Saw some of the amazing scenery which Australia has. The only problem with Australian scenery is that they put it so far apart. [Chuckle] You’ve got to travel a long way to get there, but when you get there it’s worthwhile. Yes, seeing some of their mining and – yes, and all the different kinds of mining. It’s not surprising that it’s such a well off country really ..

Oh, it’ll come again too.

Oh, yes.

They’ve got so much wealth.

Yes. And in such a variety too, I mean you’ve gotyou know, apart from steel and gold. We’ve been over diamond mines, we’ve been over uranium mines.

Yes they’ve got everything.

So it was during the latter part of your trip that Joyce had a problem with her eyesight which deteriorated?  

Yes, yes. It was ten days before we were due to finish that Joyce ended up by finding that she had a restriction of her sight in one eye, so we had to end up by flying down to Perth to the hospital down there for three days. And I think we flew back and met up with the rest of our tourists whod taken our van on for us for another six hundred kilometres. Finished the trip and got back to Perth, spent a few more days there and then we flew home. 

So after that you sold your lovely home in Simla Avenue and moved house. 

Yes, yes. Well after we bought the Mahora Pharmacy we rented a place in Joll Road for a couple of years. Then we bought a house in Duart Road just a short distance up there, number 11 or something. And in Duart Road at that time Tony Reid was on the corner, and then there was Mrs Masterton – Graham Masterton’s mother had the place, and then there was Peter Foote the dentist, and then there was the place that we bought.

So he was the Spanish-type flat-roofed one on the corner, was Peter Foote? 

No. No, it was on the left-hand side – that was the next one up again I think.

The house that you would have lived in has gone? 

Yes. Yes, the last we saw of that it was sitting on some oil drums out on the corner of Lawn Road. 

I think Larry Cooper bought the section and lifted the house off it. 

Yeah. But it‘s ended up out at Dartmoor. Those were long narrow sections. There was three-quarters of an acre there. We all had them fenced off – when I say all, three of us had them fenced off, and some farmer chap used to bring some sheep and put them in for us.

The chap Todd used to live up there. He had some sheep he used to graze around the Duart … 

It was quite a good spot. We were there for ten or eleven years, and then we ended up buying Simla Avenue and we were there for forty-two years before we decided to shift into Mary Doyle, and of course that was influenced to a large degree by Joyce’s situation, and the fact that with the amount of domestic work that I was doing the section didn’t get done.

And of course being on a different split it couldn’t have more levels, the whole … from the front gate right to the top level. 

Yes, yes.

Fine when you can see properly and do things properly.   

Oh, exactly, yes.

So now you have a son and a daughter?  


You have some grandchildren – now tragically, you lost one of your grandsons.  

Yes. Well our son has got two sons, and as you say one of them was tragically lost in a kayaking accident on Lake Coleridge in April of this year, and his younger son William, whos at Lindisfarne, due to finish this year – he’ll be going to Varsity next year. Our daughter is married to Pete Ness whos a builder. Their family – their eldest son is about twenty-six or so now. He’s a qualified accountant and he’s working in Palmerston. Their second son – he’s got into the building – he works for Totalspan. And their daughter, Liz, is twenty … twenty-one. She’s trying to find a niche for herself. She’s very interested in doing computer work which … as far as doing apps and marketing type of things for people. She’s been doing work – like promotion work for the Council on their cycleways, so it’s more odds and ends of things, she hasn’t really settled in for one single …

Now is there anything you think you may have forgotten to tell me?

There’d be lots of things that I’ve forgotten that I could tell you, Frank.

Because sometimes little things come in. See, we haven’t spoken about your caravan holidays as a family, because you must have gone all over New Zealand.

Yes – yeah, we gave the children a fair look at the country all right, in caravanning. We did even take them over to Australia once, not caravanning though, just for a trip in their high school days. And we did a bus trip from Sydney up to Surfers and spent a week or so at Surfers and then came back again. Yeah, Joyce and I have done several trips in the Islands … Fiji. We went to Penang in Malaysia, been to Raratonga. Been to Hawaii. So those are all just sort of trips .

Of course there’s an opportunity to still see some more of New Zealand. Did you mention the Rotary caravan group?

The ICFR? Yep.


Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • Andrew Herbert Duncan
  • Joyce Duncan

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