Anthony (Tony) Gordon Hastie Parker Interview

It’s the 8th of November 2018 and I am interviewing today Tony Parker … AGH Parker … very well-known old family in Hawke’s Bay; have a farm which is over ninety years in the family at Maraetotara, and today I’m at the family home at Havelock North, high upon the hills overlooking the plains – wonderful view, and I just say good morning, Tony and thank you for allowing us to have this interview on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank.

My father was born in London and he was the last of six children, and he was sent to the Colonies. And he came first to New Zealand and then he went to Australia, and then he went to the Argentine and didn’t like it there. So he went home to London and there he met somebody from the Transvaal and British Mining Company, and he opened up a ranch called Redlock Ranch, in Southern Rhodesia. And he went to the war from there about 1914.

He met my mother in England. She was born in East Anglia near Ipswich, and he met her there – she used to go for long walks alongside the military, and my father was in charge of some of the military and he said “eyes right!” when he passed my mother. And they got married just before the war … during the war … and my father fought in Palestine in the second battle of Bathsheba and the battle for Jerusalem, and ended up in Syria under Allenby.

And he came out to New Zealand with two small girls in 1919 and bought Wairunga – he landed in Wellington, and he had a great friend, Walter Raymond, at Waitui in Hawke’s Bay near Waimarama. And he put his wife, Dora, on the train soon after arriving in Wellington … was met by Walter Raymond and taken out to his farm near Waimarama. And Wairunga came up for sale – it was a mill run by Bryan Brothers then, and he took possession of the property on the 2nd of November 1919, so a hundred years is coming up soon. So that’s the story of my father.

And I was keen to do cabinetmaking – I was quite good at cabinetmaking at school. So my father wanted an heir for Wairunga, and he gave me a hundred stud ewes and that got me started at Wairunga.

At what age, Tony?

I was about sixteen then – it was 1946. I left school in ‘46 and went to work in Southland for a guy called Berwyn Ladbrook at Conical Hills, Gore. I got sick of working for him and he actually gave me the sack, so I went on my bicycle round to Charlie Tripp which was about thirty k [kilometres] and knocked on the door. And Myra Tripp answered the door, and I said “I’m looking for a job,” and she said “come in for a cup of tea.” Charlie Tripp gave me a job a fortnight later – he said “you’re starting in a fortnight.”

The schools you went to?


Before that?


Before that?

No, nothing before that. My father was in charge of me. My mother was in hospital and he didn’t know what the hell to do with a six-year-old child, so he abandoned me at Hereworth. That’s how I got there.

During the war years too of course. It was a great place to babysit.

It was ‘36, before the war. The last term of ‘36.

Are you sure?

Yeah – I went at six years old, like you Jim.

Okay. Like to tell us anything about your time at school?

No, I never succeeded at anything at school.

You won the school race.

I tried very hard to win a cross-country race but I wasn’t allowed to run in it at the last moment. Frank Gilligan came and told me my parents were worried about the training I’d done, and he stopped me running in the race that I could have won.

Okay – well, moving on …

Well I developed a stud, which my father wanted me to do. And Al Ray came to give a talk to the Young Farmers’ Club in about ‘55, and I’d been running the stud and had bred open-faced sheep by then, and he talked about performance recording at this meeting. It was a very good thing to do to go out on a limb to expound his theories, because he did his PhD at Iowa University in America under J L Lush. And the only performance recording had been carried out on pigs up ‘til then, and he adapted the performance recording idea for the sheep industry and took it back to the Romney Breed Society and they didn’t want to know about it. So he was very wise to go to Waimarama to expound his theories because it was only somebody out on a limb like me that could have got away with doing it.

About what year was that?

It was ‘55 – he did his PhD in ‘48 and came back to Massey as a professor.

Did you live at Wairunga?


And how long were you there before you moved to Havelock?

I was born there.

Oh – it’s the family farm of course, and then …


… you were born there and all the kids were brought up as well … your brothers and sister. It’s a bit out in the wop wops, isn’t it?

Yeah. It was very isolated early on when my father first took it up. They didn’t have a car and they were dependent on Selby Palmer who took them to town about once a fortnight to get bags of flour and bags of sugar and bananas and that sort of thing.

Doesn’t seem that long ago but it was still pretty primitive, wasn’t it?

Yeah. It was very primitive. And Selby Palmer lent us his woolshed because we didn’t have a woolshed – we had a set of sheep yards but no woolshed, and he allowed us to do the dipping and shearing at his shed. And he also invited us over for Christmas, and that persisted until the early fifties. And I was included in the later years. Had many happy memories of Christmas at Palmers with Dorothy and Selby Senior.

That’s interesting … well that’s another contact, you see.

Yeah. His son, Eddie, is running Te Aratipi at the moment and he’s a great friend of Johnny and Paulette’s. He’s doing a good job, and he’s a very nice person.

Tony, did you ever go to University?

Yes, I went to Massey and did a wool course, and that’s where I caught up with Prof Ray for the first time.

And he was ..?

He was Professor, Sheep Husbandry at Massey.

And you carried on from there and became very proficient?

Well, we got an award last year … a sheep and beef award for a significant contribution to the sheep industry – work we’d carried out about sixty years earlier.

You got recognition in the end, and that’d be a good honour.

It was.

So what was the acreage at Wairunga?

It was only four hundred and twenty when I started. I bought an extra hundred acres from a neighbour on our side of the road, and John has bought another sixty-five hectares of the same property recently, so he’s got a big mortgage now.

So I haven’t worked out between acreage and hectares yet, so was it about half … the size?

The area Johnny bought was about three hundred acres. It’s brought Wairunga up to about nine hundred acres.

All beef or some sheep?

Johnny’s dropped the sheep numbers from two thousand to one thousand, and he’s rearing bobby calves to pay off his mortgage.

And when you were there – but you were a bull man weren’t you? Didn’t you bring a bull in from overseas?

No, I didn’t bring any bulls in from overseas. I tried to bring some Simmentals in from overseas and for a short time we had a Simmental stud but I sold it to Robin Lowry, who also had a Simmental stud.


Yeah – he was a neighbour.

Now when did you meet your wife?

Well I met her at a wedding in Remuera, Di [?Caughey?] and Noel Stewart’s wedding. And [chuckle] Charlie Edwards tells the story about how Robbie went for a swim and I got wet.

So what year did you get married?

‘59. We’re going to celebrate our sixtieth wedding anniversary next year.

Well done, well done. And you brought Robbie back and you went to Wairunga?

Yeah. And had four kids.

From a Remmers girl in the city she went into the wop wops – way back, farming?


And she fitted in?

She was a physiotherapist when I married her. And she’s just organised … I think the last physiotherapists’ reunion at Havelock.

Always great, those reunions, aren’t they?

Yeah. The class of ‘55, so they’re mostly in their eighties now.

Now, lets go back shall we, a few years? How did your father or grandfather come to New Zealand?

My father was the last of six children and he was sent to the Colonies, and my grandfather was a builder in London and so was my great-grandfather.

And how did they get to New Zealand? By ship?

By sailing ship.

And what was the name of it?

No, I can’t tell you. It’ll be in PH’s book.

I asked on what sailing ship that Tony’s grandfather came out to New Zealand in, and it was 1903 on the ‘SS Ionic’, and he arrived in Wellington on the 5th of March.

I‘m going to read out a breakdown of the accounts during the period that makes interesting reading in 1923:

The income was 981 lambs sold for £1,024.18s.10d; 7,766 pounds of wool for £281.9s.2d; equalling £1,306.8s.

Expenditure was droving £6; materials £28.6s.5d; insurance £7. Interest on mortgage £569.11s.10d; to de Pelichet McLeod £111.7s.9d, which comes to £680.19s.7d. Rates to the Hawke’s Bay County £31.14s.8d; The Rabbit Trust £2; that equalled £33.14s.7d. Land Tax was £2.11s.5d; shearing expenses £49.14s.4d; solicitors £10; personal drawings £43.13s.11d; that came to £858.0s.6d.

They lived on less than £1 a week.

Yeah. A similar pattern of income and expenditure occurred for the next ten years, but between 1929 and 1934 the income dropped considerably – the income for the year ‘30/’31 was 668 lambs, £353.7s.4d; and 5,500 pounds of wool was £94.17.3d, which came to £448.4s.7d. That’s a big drop, isn’t it?

Yeah. There was a slump.

Now Tony, you went to Antarctica at some stage. Would you like to tell us a little bit about that trip and why you went?

Well, we were at Rotoiti and I was introduced to Bob Wood who was … had done winter in the Antarctic, and he said he had to have a CB with him because they wouldn’t allowed him to be on his own. So I said “I’ll cook for you, and be with you”. And I got a letter from Bill Sladen from the John Hopkins University in America … in Baltimore … saying that if I wished to go to Antarctica I could go, and my labour would be free and they would feed and clothe me and transport me to the Antarctic. So I was overjoyed about that.

How long were you there?

I went three times in ‘63, ‘64 and ‘66.

And for what length of time?

Just during the summer period.

And you left Robyn at home?

Yeah, and the children.

And apart from doing the cooking and looking after your friend, what did you learn from your trip?

Well I developed a system of banding penguins. Bill Sladen had brought some netting and some aluminium section down for me to make a corral out of, but I didn’t think the penguins would drive very well into a corral. And they were all in creches at the time when we were banding them and I thought if two sections of yard were made, carried by two separate people, the creche could be encompassed quite well. So I made the docking yard. And Bill Sladen was a bit angry with me for not making the corral, but the docking yard worked quite well. And the next year I promised to have another one made by Olsen’s in Hawke’s Bay which would be a proper docking yard, and Bill Sladen said to me “don’t tell the American Navy you’re selling them a docking yard.” [Chuckles]

So that was a great success.


Good – so you were back in the good books with Bill Sladen.

Yeah. He became a great friend eventually.

And did you enjoy your stay there? You must have done …


… three years. You fly down on the Loadmaster … you flew down with the Americans, did you – each time?

Yeah. We travelled the C130s quite a bit.

And did you actually stay in the camp or did you move further away from the camp at any stage?

We were at Cape Crozier, which was a thirty-minute helicopter ride from McMurdo, and that’s where we were based. There was a small Nissen hut there which we kept warm with a diesel burner. And I did some painting down there.

Because you are quite an artist, aren’t you?

Yeah. All the ones in the dining room were painted down there. These ones were not.

[Looking at paintings]  And that one there – that’s not ..?

No, that’s done from a calendar … two calendars.

Now you did all these paintings?


Did you do this one?


Did you really? My word.

I thought a painting would look good over the mantlepiece so I did it when the house was being built.

Tony, did you go to a school for painting or was it just self-taught?

I was taught by Willie Rush at Hereworth.

Yes. Right, and took it on from there. And did you carry that on at Wanganui Collegiate?

Yes, I did an etching at Collegiate, this one. It appeared in ‘The Collegian’ once.

Gee, that’s good – very good.

Salisbury Cathedral.

Now I see you’ve got suitcases all around here and diaries. Have you got some secrets you want to share with anyone?

My father was a very good keeper of records and he kept all these letters and business. The most important ones are in here, and they’re various clippings.

Has it got a date on them? That’s the big thing – a lot of these things don’t have a date, and that’s the pity.

Well that’s probably about 1912.

Yes – oh yeah, 1917.


Oh yeah – Harboard. [Reads] At Commodore House, Portland, the wife of Rear Admiral Richard Harboard, of a daughter. You 17th of October?

No, I’m on the 16th of January. He was a great keeper of records, my old man.

They’re really good to have.

There’s a few more documents down here. That’s a receipt for fertiliser … might have been important in those days.

Well you never know, they might be important now – the tax department [chuckle] might want to talk to you about a couple of things. And a diary for every year?


And you can look back – really interesting. How far do you go back with those, Tony?

To 19 … there’s one diary from 1919.

Do you keep all those in a safe place or do you keep them in a suitcase?

In a very unsafe place. Must be some more somewhere.

Yeah, Tony’s had a very interesting life indeed. Wonderful artist as well in his spare time. He’s a man of many works … cabinetmaker, painter, been to Antarctica, travelled to England, he’s just seen the world; got a lovely family and a home up in the Havelock hills towards Pakipaki looking back towards Napier … just sublime.

End of November 1919. It’s in the book. But I found the diary with it too and I haven’t got it here.

That’s all right.

This book’s in several houses – both books.


Yep. I printed one for each grandchild.

And how many grandchildren do you have?

Six, and one great-grandchild.

Haven’t you done well?

Yeah, but he’s got a baby … she’s turned three a few days ago. And she’s quite a good skier.

On the slopes?

Yeah. She’s joined the Army and is at Waiouru at the moment.

Great opportunities for kids these days.

Yeah. She’s a qualified ski instructor so there’s no doubt that Amelia – they’re about an hour away from the top of the mountain.

And if they’re in the Army they probably take the helicopter to the top now and then.


Yes – oh well Tony, that’s made a good talk about a few things. If you ever think of anything else and you want to add to it, we can do.

I think that’s enough.

But on behalf of the Knowledge Bank I thank you very much for this talk this morning – very much appreciate it.

Original digital file




Additional information

Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin


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