Archibald (David) Mardon Interview

Today is the 4th February, 2015. Interviewing David Mardon, the senior family member of Pernel Orchard Ltd, to tell us about the Mardon family from the start ’til today. David would you like to just start off by telling me some of the details.

OK, well, part of the property has been in the family for just over 100 years. My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side had 10 acres in Evenden Road, and then when the old man got married in ’36 he bought 6 acres that bounded Pakowhai Road but also had a common boundary with the portion of his parent’s property. So that was the original land holding.

Now if we go back a bit as far as my paternal grandmother, she was one of 12 children, 3 girls and 9 boys, and her Mum came out from the UK in 1863 – when she was 18 years of age. Her family were going to come out with her but they didn’t and then they abandoned the idea of immigration and she never saw them again. And she was a nursery governess to the Fitzgerald family and later to the Rhodes family and this was in Christchurch.

Now on the 10th March 1868 she married Francis Lowe in Christchurch. Now Francis – his family had immigrated to Tasmania when he was just a child and I think there were 2 or 3 boys that came over with him. Just prior to 1868 either one or two of his brothers and himself came over from Tassie to Canterbury. It was either something to do with horses or sheep or something of that nature. Anyway, just how many of those boys stayed on I don’t know but Francis, the one that we’re interested in, did and he and Phoebe, that was the great-grandmother’s name, married and lived in Christchurch for about three years and they took up land at Mt Hutt near Rakaia and they lived there for 9 years. They later lived in Tinwald again in Canterbury.

In 1897 the family came to the North Island and set up a flax mill in the Manawatu and then in 1898 they moved to Waipawa where Frank, the husband, worked on the new railway. And then a bit further in 1899 they came to Hastings and drew a block in the Mahora area settlement in a ballot, and that was in Pakowhai Road down near Frederick Street. And it was from there that my grandmother lived and she originally … she was married I think around here, but she and her husband, Harry Mardon, who was involved in flax milling in the Manawatu and they lived in Manawatu in Palmerston North. I remember seeing the house that they lived in and funnily enough the plans that had been made for that house and it was in Featherston Street I think, and from my recollection my Dad and his brother and twin sisters were all brought up in Palmerston North. He used to tell stories of living in the urban area of Palmerston North.

Now just what brought them up to Hastings I’m not sure. Sure, his wife’s family lived up here, but the old man, Harry Mardon, had, I think, dust on his lungs from flax milling which was a common factor. So they came up and bought the portion of land in Evenden Road. Now, it had some fruit on it, plums, peaches, some apples but the biggest area was bare land and I think they grew spuds and had cows and I don’t believe old Harry did much with the fruit. From what I’ve heard, my grandmother had a tearooms in Hastings at one stage, and I think the fruit was dealt with by my Dad’s uncle, one of the 9 brothers that I mentioned earlier. They lived in Maraekakaho Road opposite the sale yards and their place was called Sunnybank. Now I think he dealt with the fruit. He had more experience than Harry.

So, now as far as my Dad was concerned, as I said he went to school in Palmerston North. Born in 1898 so that by the time they moved up here he was a teenager I guess, so he might have done a little bit of schooling – high school – up here, but I think Harry wanted him to be a plumber and he wasn’t that thrilled about that idea so he said he would go down and work with his uncle, that was another of the 9 brothers, in Canterbury. His old uncle had a farm at Hinds in mid-Canterbury – it was quite big I think – he had stock, wheat, all of that sort of stuff and a lot of horses. And of course in those days horses were a dominant feature from the draught horse. They had the old German bulldog tractors. He often recalled that.

So, I’m not sure how long he was there but World War I of course intervened. His brother, who was 2 or 3 years older than him was a Gallipoli veteran and then on the Somme, but the old man went to Featherston training and trained on Vickers machine guns. Now he had said that the group that he was with was the best trained Vickers group that had come through that area. And there was another hiccup which I take it he was always regretful of and it was something to do with his brother coming home from the First World War and they took the old man out of the group that he was with and put him back with his brother or something, and the group that the old man was with went overseas and really just got over there and it was all over. And that was … the old fellow often said that one of his big regrets was that he didn’t get away on that trip. But then you never know – the Spanish flu was part of that issue too and I think he had a touch of the flu.

OK, so he did shepherding, bush falling, worked on numerous stations around this area. Mangaohane, and up the Wairoa way I think a wee bit, and also did some shepherding on Kidnapper’s Station – Gordons’. Then spent I think the next 20 years as a solo mutton butcher at Whakatu.

So he never worked at Pakipaki freezing works?

No. I don’t believe so.

I didn’t realise they did solo butchering at Whakatu.

Yeah. A few years ago I saw a photo of all the guys on the floor and there was quite a row of them.

So how many years did he work at Whakatu?

I think he worked 20 years. He … what was it – 105 big sheep or 120 lambs I think, was the days average tally or something.

I think their biggest lamb kill was two million in a year and I know I’ve just done Tomoana as well and their biggest day was 20,000. Anyway coming back to … was he married?

No. We’ll cover that next.

OK, so now on my Mum’s side – she came from Canterbury, Ashburton, and the family had a farm at Waterton which is between Ashburton and the coast. Not brilliant land I don’t think. But then they bought – the old man and I think his sons – bought nearer Methven, a place called Lyndhurst. Mother trained as a nurse at the Ashburton hospital and in 1933 answered an ad for a nursing job in the Napier Hospital. That was post-earthquake. A lot of nurses – nine nurses were killed in the Nurses Home and of course they were short of nurses. And that’s what brought her up to Hawke’s Bay. Her sister-in-law to be, one of Dad’s twin sisters, was also nursing at Napier and I think that’s the link. Sunday night teas I think were in those years quite an issue, and Mother being on her own over there, and Ellie was the sister-in-law to be – brought her out and that was the link.

So they were married in ’36, and both went down to Canterbury to her family to be married, and had been negotiating this 6 acre block that an old bachelor by the name of McNab had. And I think the old grandfather sent him a telegram while they were en route to Canterbury to say that the deal had gone through. So – married in ’36 – had to get the old home tidied up a bit which I think another rellie helped them with. It was a little old typical villa cottage thing which was quite close to the road over on the main block over there. So, that first year, ’37 or ’36 – I think it was ’36 – they got caught with a frost. There was a significant frost in the district which basically cost them all the fruit that they had. So the old man went back to the Works for that year. Now ’37 I think might have been reasonable – ’38 was the year of the flood. Another significant event in the Hastings area.

Especially here when you think the water used to go right up to Tomoana Works.

That’s right. Well, in actual fact in ’38 it came up to the front gate over here which is in front of this one. It didn’t get in the house and that was April. I think he had a lot of fruit stacked out in the orchard and we got a replica of the wheelbarrow and the wheelbarrow had a motor bike wheel and just a couple of shafts and handles on the end that you could stack bushel cases on. So I think he wheeled the whole lot out with a wheelbarrow. And I don’t believe he had any, or much packing facilities then, and I’m guessing the old uncle might have had something to do with what happened to the fruit. And I think they built a packing shed in ’39 and put a Benjamin screw type grader in, and I think he brought that new. My recollections are of the old shed and of the grader and that was in the days when fruit was picked in bushel cases, stacked in the shed and tipped into the hopper one by one, put over the grading table that this particular grader utilised, screw type sizing method, sized by size and shape rather than by weight, packed into wooden cases and every apple wrapped. My recollection of sturmers that he would pick the whole sturmer crop, stack it in the shed and pack it out at their leisure.

They used to say they were waiting for the bruises to come out.

Especially on sturmer. And they seemed to keep okay. You can’t do that today. So that grader was used right up until the ’60s. So that was about ’39 I think. His parents both died within a few weeks of each other in 1942. I think the old man had a bladder problem and whenever I ask about the grandmother – she was bedridden for three years I think, and whenever I asked what the problem was it was creeping paralysis, whatever creeping paralysis was.

Well, that was Parkinson’s wasn’t it?

Well I wonder too.

No, creeping paralysis was MS – multiple sclerosis.

Oh OK. I don’t think it was the shaky one.

I haven’t mentioned much about the Lowe family – nine brothers and three sisters. A lot of them lived around here and my grandmother was the eldest daughter. The next one lived over the road in Pakowhai Road here. She married a chap Beech – Annie Beech was her name. I have recollections of Christmas nights over at their place and her son being Father Christmas. She lost one son in the Second World War. Then the other daughter was Sophie and she lived in Percival Road. Her family was the Albert Hill family. Another little significant issue – she was 18 years younger than her eldest sibling and her children – she had 3 or 4 – and there was 20 years between the oldest and youngest, and Ted is that one. The old man had 75 cousins on his Mum’s side, and I think there’s 4 left. There’s Ted, Tom Lowe, Reuben and Jennie Lowe, they’re brother and sister, and they are of the Archie Lowe family – the one opposite the Sale Yards.

I didn’t realise you were related to Ted.

Oh yes. Firey Ted.

That’s interesting. With your blood association with the Lowe family you never wanted to go and climb any mountains or anything like that? My reference there is to …

Yes, of course, to George. That was always a sore point with the old man that Ed Hillary got the kudos and George didn’t make it. But in speaking to George’s brother, George had often said that the right guy got to the top especially if you looked at their lives post-Everest. George went back teaching and Ed made a fantastic job of the relationships between him and the Nepalese and I don’t think anybody else could have done that job as well as that.

And then later in his life he went to India as the Ambassador.

He paid a price, losing his wife and daughter.

A man of his times. I think he was a great person.

Okay so – and there’s still a number of those families around here.

Okay so -from the orcharding point of view – I was born in ’37, went to the local Mahora School and then to Hastings Boys’ for a couple of years and came back and started here in ’53. And in those years we were running a mail order trade in conjunction with the railway to the lower half of the North Island. That was not an easy issue. Dealing with the railway was one issue in itself. But because, from a freight point of view, my recollections are that the old man liked to send as many packages to Mrs Jones as she had ordered as he could on the one occasion, and that was fraught with problems. You had to have them in at the rail at 11 o’clock in the morning and they either had to be picked the afternoon before or on that morning to give them life, and they were put in uncooled wagons and I think from Eketahuna north was sent by truck and the rest of it by rail, and I usually ended up with the job of taking them in there. We had an old ’27 Chrysler that had been cut down into a ute and I was always late and always in strife with the guys down at the rail. And of course they were Government employees and they got paid no matter what, so if you made their life difficult they made it difficult for you. So it was 11 o’clock for private orders and it was 4 o’clock for market fruit. And I was usually late for market fruit too. But – that’s the way it was. And I think in general, although we did have problems, the rail got it there most times in reasonable order. Today we do a bit of courier work. There’s still the odd hiccup with that.

I always remember – this must have been with one of the blocks of land you acquired – I don’t know whether it was later in your time, but you planted potatoes and got an absolutely huge crop.

Oh, okay. In ’54 I think it was, we bought 20 acres on our northern boundary. Where we are here of course is highly fertile soils of the Heretaunga plain, now known as the Plain Zone with some degree of protection, and we paid I think £375 an acre which was quite big money but then all we had to do was pull the fence out and I’ve always said that if anybody can afford to pay the bigger dollar for a property it’s the guy straight next door. It’s simplicity for him to expand.

So we planted some trees in ’54 and the majority of that planting was Granny Smith. We ended up having 10 acres of Granny Smith which was almost unheard of in those days – in fact I think it was the biggest planting around. And in those days the plantings were 100 trees to the acre and the tendency was not to crop them to any extent for the first few years. So you cropped in between the trees. And the first couple of years we grew tomatoes for the cannery – Scoresby tomatoes. I think we grew in both those years around about 180 ton and we had Samoan women picking them and the plants were quite wide, quite big. We’d bought an old single back axle wheeled Bedford – well it wasn’t old, it was relatively young – from Mahora Stud Farm up the road, and it had been designed for carting a bit of stock and the deck was too big. It was actually ideal for the tomatoes because you could straddle the row – dual wheels at the back would have torn up the plants but the single didn’t. 64 Wattie boxes, 6 trips a day. But at least you could pick them up and put them on the truck and take them to Wattie’s, and Wattie’s was 10 minutes away, and not have to take them off again. They were palletised – you stacked them on pallets on the truck and then they offloaded the pallets at Wattie’s.

Then the following year – and we were increasing the apple plantings over that time. The following year we planted potatoes. Now there’s a little irony because a few years ago on National Radio I heard a talk about the great potato famine of the ’50’s, and I pricked my ears up and it gave a bit of history because I was aware that in that particular deal with the potatoes we’d done pretty well. And from what I gather Canterbury was the ring leader of the issue. There’d been a lot of potatoes planted the year before and there’d been a glut, so a lot of the traditional growers backed off the next year, and backed off quite considerably apparently, and potatoes in that particular year were extremely short. We had approaches by 2 or 3 firms about buying the crop in the paddock, and the old man wouldn’t have that, and I think we were getting £90 a ton and I can’t remember the tonnage but he also was getting £35 a ton for basically pig potatoes so … and I can’t remember what the end figure was but he paid off the property and bought a car.

Yes, I always remember that story.

There haven’t been many incidences like that since.

I always remember your father when Kay and I were here packing fruit in the shed. He was a great one on SafaSleep electric blankets.

Oh, God, ‘cos he had a mate … I can tell you about that too.

So anyway he sold us this and I’m sorry, but it stopped working about 6 years ago.

Well, the guy that built it stopped working a long time ago.

That was 50 years …

Yeah well – that was a situation where this guy … he was a young chap working in one of the local Banks – it was not his home town, and he was at a loss one Sunday afternoon. I think in those years mother sold fruit at the gate and they had to come into the shed and they must have been puddling around on this Sunday afternoon working and he bought some fruit and hung around and hung around and hung around, and I think stayed to tea and from that developed a contact and a life-long friendship. He got out of the Bank eventually I think and started up an electrical import business and that’s how the blanket issue … then his son came up and went to Lindisfarne in latter years.

So the orchard is planted in potatoes. It’s all cashed up, all paid for.

Yeah basically, and we then were looking at the apple plantings coming on stream and as I said – there wasn’t 10 acres for a start, of Granny Smith, there was … from recollection there were 19 rows of 35 in a row – that was across the block – then in that same patch we had 3 rows of Goldens, 2 rows of Red Delicious, 12 rows of Golden Queen, 6 rows of Cox’s Orange, 2 rows of Kidd’s Orange, 3 of Goldens, 6 of Grannies and 3 of William Bon Chretien pears and Northern Spy rootstocks on the Grannies and some of the others. Some of the Grannies were on Morning 12 which was a disaster, and some were on Morning 16. Spy was by far the best. The others were too vigorous in the soil we had.

These were all multi leader.

All multi leader. So that’s more than – usually 3 or 4 uprights. And in those early years the early pruning was not done to any real degree. The old man didn’t know a great deal about it, and as the years went on and Phil and I got more involved and interested and picked up more knowledge we rehashed the trees quite significantly.

So it was during this period that Philip must have come home …

Oh yes Philip came home the next year I think – he came home in ’54. And in those years I remember pulling willow trees out because there was a patch in the original block that he bought had half a dozen big willows in. You basically dug a bloody great hole around them and cut all the roots off and then pushed them over. We had an old sprayer made out of a truck chassis which had a 300 gallon water tank on it and a Friend pump and a couple of guys stood on the back and then a driver – and then the guys that were doing the spraying stood on the back with a gun each so the driver positioned them in the centre of the 4 trees and then moved them up to the next 4, and moved them up to the next 4, and moved them up you know – and the amount of fruit you grew in those years really hinged on what you could spray. Because if we go back a step when the old man first started the 6 acre block was what they call reticulated – it had pipes underground and a spray shed and pump up at the house and it emptied the tank there and pumped it through the pipes and the operator had a 100ft of hose that you just shifted from tap to tap and walked around each tree and sprayed it. That was a very limiting factor.

A lot of the orchards in our area were all reticulated.

Yeah. And that was a hard job because a 600lb pressure hose had a mind of its own and you had to fight it.

So we moved through the ’50s and gradually dropped the private order trade and started supplying the Apple & Pear Board with more fruit. We always had supplied them but – and in those days of course you were allowed to sell a couple of cases of fruit to an individual but you couldn’t sell it for resale. There’s a lot of history involved in how that developed and the success that it had over all those years especially from the ’70s on.

By the time we reached the ’60s we were really pushing the poor old Benjamin grader. And the fruit industry in Nelson had developed a thing called the Ansor grader and we waited 2 or 3 years while they perfected it but they never really did. The principle was wrong and it was a brutal unit on fruit. It did have rotary bins which was an advantage. So we rehashed the Benjamin and put that on one side of the Ansor and we used that through the ’60s up until ’69 I think. I can’t remember the figures that we were packing at that stage but it was certainly climbing up. When we got to the mid ’80s we were packing 20,000 Grannies.

It must have been during this period that you got your new glass sprayer too.

Yeah, I suppose that’s right. I suppose if you look at the spraying deal, in the mid ’50s there was a package came out called a Besblow which had a Wisconsin motor and a fan and seven nozzles and you could clamp or bolt it to an existing sprayer. So we put it on the old truck unit and that was the first real introduction to air blast where air enhances the ability to get the spray into the tree. And there’s no doubt that revolutionised spraying. We had that for a number of years and then we bought – it must have been the late ’50s or early ’60s – a John Bean.

I remember we all came and had a look at it.

A 454 model with a big 6 cylinder GM motor. A very well built unit, there’s no doubt about it. A steel tank unfortunately – there was no fibreglass in those days. So we used that for a number of years and then we got another model – 377 which was a bit smaller and we’ve still got that although we don’t use it. There’s a bit of history with that because when the oil shocks came we went away from petrol and we put a high speed diesel in it. We had 10 difficult years out of it and then we put an Isuzu in it and that sort of solved all those problems.

So we come back to the grading situation and bulk handling because that was developed in Nelson in New Zealand for a start, and prior to that idea we were picking into bushel cases. And then when bulk handling came along they were 8×4 footprint I think. That’s in the old measurement. Bins of that nature. Because the key to all of that was hydraulics and I think forklifts were used at the tail end of the war. Whoever invented them was a back saver.

When I think of the numbers of cases I’ve put up on those hoppers!

And when I think of the cases we used to take to the Apple & Pear Board. Well, if you start off at picking – you picked it into a bushel you stacked it on usually a couple of bits of 4×2 – and you made a heap. And then you brought the tractor and trailer down and put them on the trailer and you stacked them on the trailer, then you took them to the shed and you took them off the trailer and you stacked them in the shed, and that was just the beginning. So there’s a number of things that have really made a difference but the principle of hydraulics in farming and material handling has just … saved a hell of a lot of backs.

You haven’t forgotten the case making machine.

Well and there’s the case making too.

When you think of all the apple boxes you had to make enough to pack into and nail them down.

Yeah, and Frank – somewhere I’ve got a booklet by the Cutler grading people. They’re in Portland, Oregon or they were, and I’ve seen some letters sent from Wenatchi and Yakama on just commending the fact that the Cutler people – they were using it as advertising – on their machines. And this one packhouse had 32 Cutler graders and they packed a million & a half or something – and that was in the days of wooden boxes. And I don’t know whether they were making them by machine – this was the 20s – but a gigantic amount of work.

But it was just part of the thing – everything.

And I think in those years coolstores were multi layered. You went up lifts. And there was no pallets, it was all dunnage. And you know, with Jefferies coolstore.

But that was the way it was done then. And when you think now they just go through an air curtain into a coolstore …

When I first took fruit to the Apple & Pear Board – no pallets and you picked every case up off the truck and you put it on a conveyor alongside the … the floor of the building was raised – it wasn’t ground level, and the trucks that we had were usually lower than the average and the conveyor was bloody near over your head, and I can still hear the noise of the fruit being pushed down the conveyors. And all that went in the coolstores with dunnage. And then when the first forklifts arrived down there – little two cylinder Coventry Climaxes.

So bulk handling was the late ’50s, and in the ’60s we swung over to trailers – 90 bushel trailers – to pick into, and I don’t know who came up with that idea but looking back on it it was a bit crazy because you couldn’t put them in coolstore because you had to have covers over them. So your packing rate had to be fairly smart and you dry dumped them, that means no water was involved. So the innovations that came out of the apple industry in this country were the bulk handling and then using water as a medium to get the fruit out of the bin. Lucky that apples floated. Pears were always difficult, you always had to increase the density and the materials used for that made them slippery and greasy. So that was never a brilliant deal. But the water method of getting fruit out of the bin is perfection. It’s simple and extremely effective and of course with … required hydraulics, whether it be a forklift or you know …

So we’d used this Ansor and Benjamin combination up until the late ’60s, and there had been a guy in Tauranga who had developed an orbit grader for kiwi fruit. And the principle of that thing – oh, sizing accuracy was always the big problem, and the graders made in this country sized by the size of the fruit. The imported Cutler that I’ve just mentioned used a weight system which was certainly better and there were a number of Cutler graders around. Slaters in town had 3 or 4 and Hopes had them. In fact I think Hopes had the first one I ever saw with rotary bins.

Anyway so back to the orbit. This orbit idea used wands and it threw the fruit up into a shelving – canvas shelving. The principle of it was that you released the same amount of energy to each apple or each fruit. The heavier the fruit the shorter distance, the lighter the fruit the higher distance, so if you imagine the steps of a ladder leaning and from all of those steps you have chutes; well, you tossed it up into the chutes and then it slid down and the sizing was pretty accurate and it was quite gentle. The Gillespie boys had one and there were others around and they were using it on apples. So anyway we got in contact with the guy, John Hancock from up at Te Puna about building us something. He came up with the idea of – instead of the chutes taking the fruit all the way back to a common level why don’t we leave the fruit at that same level that it was tossed at and have a bin configuration like multi-level cake plates. So we went with that idea and tossed out the old grader and this new one was going to be up and running – ha ha – for the season. Well, it wasn’t – oh, and we were going to use water to take the fruit from the trailers so the fruit slid into the water and then got elevated out.

He had quite an ingenious sorting table which I can’t remember the details of now but it was not too bad. The whole unit was a bit slow and his engineering of the cake plates was not brilliant. He had 10ft diameter cone shaped canvas as the bin, and it had a friction drive to turn it round. Well the friction was hit and miss and the problem became apparent – because the cone was made out of canvas it would pocket and you would get a heap of fruit in one spot and nothing in another and of course that upset the balance as well. Now the idea was that instead of walking along the grader you went up and down on a unit that went vertically, the principle being that you could stand on the unit, pull yourself up with a counter weight. When you’d filled the box you were 18 kilograms heavier, therefore the whole unit would come back to ground level and put it on the conveyor and get a new box and you’re 18 kilograms lighter so you’d go up.

Now if it had been engineered better maybe it would have been better but there was another fundamental principle that was forgotten about. These two cake plate units were on two axis and they overlapped where the feed system went in. Now when you throw something the orbit of that is in a straight line and unfortunately when they entered the chute they had to change direction slightly. And I remember we had some beautiful Golden Delicious, the best we’d had for bloody years, and I took them into the Apple & Pear Board the next morning and every one had a bruise on it where they’d clouted a bit of metal. Of course you never noticed it at the beginning. I nearly cried, Frank. They all came home again.

Okay, so that season was extremely difficult. I would spend 4 hours fixing it and 1 hour packing, type of thing. It was called an orbit grader. Well it bloody near put me into orbit.

Did it eventually work properly?


Have you still got it in the shed?

No. I don’t know what happened to it. Poor old John – it just about tore his hair out too. He would go off for walks in the orchard – thinking walks – and here we were champing at the bit: “Come on get it finished, get it going”.

He was the guy that built it?

Yes. He was a brilliant engineer. But brilliant engineers don’t need a fruit season pouring in over the top of them.

There was a Yankee publication called the Good Fruitgrower and there was an FMC grader advertised in this. Now I think FMC had taken over from the Cutler boys some years earlier and the Cutler had been made out of Oregon wood, old agricultural endless chain links, steel framed canvas cups – made a lot of clacking noise – but the principle was very sound. It weighed the heaviest fruit first and then it carried the rest of it to the next weigh station and you took the heaviest fruit out and it carried the rest of it to the next station and you took the heaviest fruit out and so forth down the line. So you had the biggest fruit coming out first and you could get them pretty … pretty accurate.

So anyway this FMC had a bit more modern gear on it. It was built of metal and it had plastic cups and it was 4 lanes whereas the old Cutlers that I recall had 2 lanes, and some of them in latter years came up to 8 lanes. But the one we purchased was a 4 lane and I think it cost us £15,000 and it came in big boxes. Now this did not include the rotary bins. This was just the main frame, the singulator which fed fruit on to the cups, and the endless chain of cups. So we had to put sorting tables and all the gear. And in that same year that we installed it a chap that we had here working helping us convinced us to get rid of the trailers – we had 18 trailers – and go to the standard flush bin. And in actual fact when you think about it you could stack a trailer load of fruit on the footprint of one bin, in fact you could stack two trailer loads on the footprint of one bin, and you could put them in the coolstore. And you could get the fruit out of the bin without damaging it.

So it all fell into place. Now we had that unit for 22 years, and that unit was the forerunner of grader development in Hawke’s Bay and almost in New Zealand. Because Kevin Fernough – Kevin Fernough came and looked at it and he’d been playing around, I think he’d made a Cutler type unit with metal cups and I can’t recall whether he did that first or afterwards. Kevin unfortunately was a cockie’s son and a good engineer and died of cancer miles too young in age. So he came down and he spent weeks looking at it and discovered that the patents had run out, so that’s what got him under way. So he built some gear for Hawke’s Bay fruit packers. And then Neil McDonald … and Kevin developed a company called Treeways. And then when he died a chap who was a freezing works engineer, Doug Clarke, he picked it up and ran with it. And from that Hamish Kennedy, although I think by the time Hamish came along there had been a number of FMC units imported. There were 3 or 4 around here in the next few years. Hamish was from Kiwi Fruitland and got into electronics. His expertise lay in software rather than hardware. And now I think he dominates the world.

So now, during this period you increased the size of the orchard as well.

OK, so – ’68 I think – ’68 we bought 25 acres on our western boundary and my brother-in-law and sister took 10 acres and we took the 15, so the 15 got added to Pernel. And then in ’78 – another 10 years – we purchased 20 acres in Morley Road from Selwyn Begley. Selwyn had asparagus and he wanted to get into grapes. I think we paid $60,000 for that 20 acres.

I knew that farm very well because I sprayed it.

And of course that was in the years when it used to flood and Frank, the diversion must have been through at least 40 years now. And what a fantastic difference that made.

It used to come up through holes this side of the stop bank, it was terrible. But anyway when Selwyn levelled it all off and put it all in asparagus and worked like a Trojan down there. So that gave you a total holding ……

Yeah, brought it up to about 33 hectares and it’s remained at that. We contemplated and endeavoured to purchase Irvin Morley’s property at one stage but he wouldn’t have it and Irvin had boundaries on our north side with extremely high – 105ft high poplars and – poor old Irvin, we had a 40 year war with him over those poplars. And how they got removed with a degree of skulduggery … probably better be left there.

Now during this period you were also involved with the community and I’m thinking of the tremendous amount of work you and the family put into the Blossom Parade.

Oh, okay, yeah – trying to think of the guy’s name that spurred us on. An orchardist from Frimley. Anyway, we’d looked at the Blossom processions and there was a chap that had a small orchard in Frimley. He had been dabbling around with natural blossoms and we thought ‘oh, maybe we could have a go at that’. So the next year we – at that stage we had a Fordson tractor with some terrible back tyres on it which we didn’t think too much about because on hard ground it would shake and rattle a bit. Anyway we built this 3 flower deal which was spread over the tractor, and if you were standing out in front it was a triangular shaped thing – the layout of the 3 flowers. The flowers would have been 2 ½ metres across I suppose, and we used natural flowers, camellias and daffodils and what-have-you, and then had a girl sitting as the centre piece of each flower, and I think we came second, ’cause the guy that I mentioned came first. And when I thought about it later, I thought ‘yeah, he had it better than we did.’ He had it built on a tractor too, a little Ellison. But he had a branch sticking out the front and the three flowers that he had – it was ironic that we both chose something similar – as if they were up the stem and the principle of the way he had done it was miles better. And of course I mentioned the tyres on the old Fordson and we lost a considerable amount of vegetation on the way to town because we had put it on smaller wheels to suit fruit and the tyres were sort of a made up thing … I think they glued the cleats on.

So that was the first one, and then we built a number of them and went away from the tractor and we‘d picked up some old vehicles. We didn’t like the idea of them being towed because the frontal effect was the key to it we felt. So we got an old vehicle for the next one – I think it was a girl on a swing – and we were limited to how high you could build it because we had to get it out the shed door. We got over that later by separating the bits and rebuilding it outside. And daffodils I think dominated that.

Yes, one was a teapot. Do you remember the teapot? There was one that had like an outhouse at the back with a sloping … was that called ‘my ladies garden’?

Yes I think it was. Then we had one with a mushroom. That was 1960 the year of the riot and Kathy Herbison was the ……… and we see Kathy quite a bit and she’s a grandmother like we’re all bloody grandfathers now.

The year of the riot they were bringing up trains from Palmerston North and Wellington and the train arrived along with the southerly, and southerlies on this coast can be … Old Man Southerly rules the roost. So didn’t they open the pubs? They couldn’t do much else and that’s when the fun started …

And then they had to get the Fire Brigade and the guy they had on the Fire Brigade, Bryson Brown, was the biggest bloody ratbag … and he had the end of the hose. I don’t think Bryson ever had a better day.

That was really a great period of time.

We built about 7 or 8, and then later involvement with the Fruitgrowers’ Association we built a few more. We did one for the Centennial which I was always quite pleased about because we had it as a book and I think we called it “A Page in Time”, and it had a modern couple. I think Bob and Jill Dodd did the one, and Richard McKenzie – I don’t know whether Richard’s missus did it or not.

Those were community projects and you gathered all your friends around you.

You’re right Frank. It was a community project. We would spend the winter getting the frame ready and the beauty with natural flowers – it was always a last minute effort.

I remember all the cars going down to Takapau.

We got involved once with the Junior National Party building that rocket … and that was tedious because it was artificial and you spent weeks and weeks making flowers and poking them in the glue and … so I much preferred the other one.

Then the orchard carried on – do you still pack your own fruits?

Not now. We packed all through the ’80s and we changed graders in early ’90s and I think it was a good thing but electronics had come on the scene then, and we bought a locally built electronic unit which was a good unit but progress over those years was pretty rampant in fruit grading and then things got tough too. All through the ’90s Frank, things were not brilliant and the ’94 hail storm slaughtered the district. We came out of that not too badly, but I always remember Johnny Moffat and I were at the top of the Ag building and Johnny looked out and said “the district will never be the same” and he was right, but I’ve always said I don’t believe it was the hail, it was marketing circumstance and discontent and of course lack of money rolled in the discontent.

Unfortunately the apple industry never had the true co-operative strength that the Dairy Board had.

No, no. And we had the reverse of the Kiwi fruit industry. The kiwi fruit industry had gone from multi and had learnt the pitfalls of that. And we lost the local market act but I never believed that was a problem. I‘ve always thought that its true destiny lay in export.

So where do you pack that fruit?

OK, we pack it at two places now. Oh, we went out of packing at the time of the millennium. I had suffered some heart trouble and I had a couple of stents put in and we had had a fruit shop fire in ’96 and we were faced with what the hell to do there, and we had two folk who’d been involved with the hospitality industry working for us. The wife was running the fruit shop and doing a fantastic job. She had the right personality and the husband was running the picking gangs and I always believed he did a very good job. We were packing a lot of fruit. We were packing for 13 others at that stage.

And our packhouse manager had got fed up with the pressure and he wanted out and we talked long and hard and decided that no, we would give up packing now. From a financial point of view that was, I believe, a wrong move. From a health point of view I suppose you could argue … I’ve always said if I’d carried on packing I’d have been in a box by now. If we could have found a packhouse manager and an engineer because that’s where the pressure is, keeping gear going, and if you’ve got 30 people there and you have a break down and you’ve got to make a decision ‘can I fix it in 20 minutes’ or got to send them home and that’s always a difficult call.

So we went away from packing and went more into retail and the café area and tour work. We had been approached after the fire by the tourism people in Napier as to whether we would be interested in doing fruit tours – anything of that nature. The wine industry, the grape industry in this district had been the smaller industry, smaller than the apple industry, and it had catered for the tourist a hell of a lot better than the apple industry and they felt that there was a niche and an opportunity to do that, and that’s what helped push us into building what we built – that complex out there. We went into it and looked long and hard as to the viability, and at that stage of course, the couple that had hospitality experience were still with us but then they decided to go and do their own thing in Norfolk Island. And we had a guy in the café that was there for 6 years and – looking back now he was there for too long. And it was not an area that I had enough expertise in, and over the years that we’ve been there there has now grown a hefty amount of competition. So it’s hard going restoring it, but we are making progress. But of course on the other side of that coin, time is catching up with us. And now it’s time to have a re-think.

Yes, and of course the time working with your parents and the company with your brother it’s a long partnership.

Oh yeah, well, you see I’ve been at this racket 62 years. Our best years were the ’80s there’s no doubt about that – which I’m grateful for because it coincided with when my kids were growing up and perhaps a little bit more … my eldest daughter went to Massey I think it was about ’84 and it was in those years that we had a property at the beach and they were great years.

And we made some mistakes there. We ventured into that thing a way up country which we shouldn’t have done but then I know folk that ventured into kiwifruit and then pulled it out. I was involved with the Fruitgrowers’ Association for 30 odd years I suppose, and I remember we … in those years all the kiwifruit that was grown in the district was packed in the district. There was a chap McLeod who was getting out of organising that and that must have been after it was all shipped up to Tauranga, and he said at one stage there were 35 packhouses in this district packing kiwifruit. He said ‘Hughie Robinson down the road here, he had the best block of kiwifruit in the district and he pulled it out and put bloody Braeburn in’.

That’s interesting, so just looking back whether you chose to be an orchardist or not … I’m sure you’ve got a lot of satisfaction but there’s been some hard years. Fruit growing hasn’t been easy.

No, the last 20 years have been tough. They’ve started to come right I think for the district. The irony as far as we’re concerned is that in those years when it was starting to come right we’ve been caught with adverse weather on three occasions, but again that’s the name of the game.

Now just going back to the family. Mavis who – we were at your wedding many years ago. Your children, what are they all doing at the moment?

Okay, well the eldest daughter currently lives in Sydney. She’s got two kids and her husband works for Electrolux. They’ve had a few … he didn’t start off with them. He started off with Simpson Whiteware gear I think it was, or might even have been another name before that – you know takeovers. They have lived in Auckland on two occasions and they have lived in Singapore, and they are currently back in Sydney in Cronulla.

Ros helps us with our accounts and financial advice. Then the next daughter, Gillian, she did a course in travel consultancy at CIT and said to me when she graduated “Dad, Helen (a girl shed met down there) and I want to go for a holiday before we start work.” I said “oh yes – where”? “Norfolk Island”. So three years later she was still there and we went over there for her 21st. Then she shifted off to Garuda in Sydney for 8 years. Then I think she saw the light with Garuda in the end – they were stumbling around … and went to work for American Express – I think in Sydney for a start, then came back to Auckland with American Express. Now she works for ANZ Bank. And her partner, Rod Knight, has got a business that designs plastic plumbing fixtures and drainage, and they live near St Luke’s and that partnership is good. She is well travelled. She’s had more holidays than … they came down here at Christmas in a motor caravan and went up round the East Coast. She rang me on the Tuesday after Auckland Anniversary Day and said “oh, we’ve just got back from Central Otago. We’ve been down there for 4 days.” Not long after starting with Garuda, Easter came up and she went to Edinburgh for Easter. Where she hasn’t been is not worth knowing and the two of them are very complementary in the sense they both love travelling.

Okay, so the next ones Alison, she’s married to John and he was a pricing guy with Unison or one of them. Now he’s in the middle of another job and they live at Hillsborough and she’s inherited two kids.

Where’s Hillsborough?

In Auckland, not too far from the new motorway extension to the airport. So she’s inherited 2 kids and she works in HR for Westpac. I think she’s one of the hatchet girls – hires and fires.

Joanne lives over here in Taradale. Her partner is one of the Turner boys from Puketitiri, a relationship that I’m highly delighted about. He’s an excellent guy. And he’s a design engineer and a practical engineer as well. Works for Patton’s and does a lot of work out at PanPac. So she’s inherited two kids.

And Gavin … Gavin’s a kindy teacher at Palmerston North – or early childhood. And he’s got a girl of 7 and a boy that’s 2 in about 4 days. And they live in Palmy. I don’t think I’ve missed anybody.

Well, that seems to have completed … the only thing you need to complete now is your day. You probably have to go over and lock up the gate and …

See that they’ve put everything away.

Yes, so I think that’s pretty good David.

It does enough for what you want.

Original digital file



Pernel Orchards Ltd

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • David Mardon

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