Barham, John Kenneth Interview

[Power tools were being used outside the room in which this was recorded, consequently there is some noise, especially in the first half]

Good morning. Today is Thursday 18th November 2021. I am Lyn Sturm and I have been given the privilege of interviewing John Barham of Greenmeadows. Right, John, your full name please?

John Kenneth Barham.

And you were born on ..?

16th May 1924, and I was born at Auckland, at Crichton’s Maternity Home, Valley Road, Mt Eden, Auckland.

You’re fantastic, sir! [Chuckle] And so your parents ..?

My parents … my dad was working in a garden where they grow vegetables, and my mother was what they called a washerwoman in those days. [Chuckle]

At any rate I was born there, and any rate two years later someone said to my dad “Why don’t you go down to ..?”

Hawke’s Bay?

I was just trying to think. We left Auckland and my father went down to a sawmill. I’m trying to think …

Was it Norsewood?

No, this way.


No. Up Te Kuiti way … can’t just think of the name …

It’ll come back to you.

… of the sawmill now, but at any rate, that’s where he went to work; and he stayed there for I think … only six months I think it was … ‘cause he said to my mother, “It’s too cold here – let’s go down to a warmer place.” And she said, “Where are we going to go?” And he said, “I think we’ll go down to Hawke’s Bay.” And so we came down, and he had enough money to buy a little cottage on Hardinge Road, Ahuriri. I think he only paid about £600 for the cottage, and that’s where I was brought up as a child. I went to the Convent school at Coronation Street – a Catholic school it was, run by just three nuns. And they used to walk to the convent from … I used to walk every day from the hill anyway, down to the school.

Anyway, I was only about five and a half, I think it was, when the earthquake came. And being a brick school, all the walls went outwards and the roof came down, and a lot of the kids got various injuries, but there was no one killed. I got a few bruises and what-have-you, and my desk mate, Bill Poppelwell – a beam came down and it took off a couple of his fingers ‘cause he was holding on to the desk like this. I was down on the floor. [Chuckle] So I stayed there until … oh, that’s right – my cousin, Bill, was a grocer’s boy down at the port, and he went and rescued me and took me home, and the first thing I said to him was, “Hey Bill, where’s all the water gone?” And that was because the earthquake had lifted Napier up about six or seven feet, you know. And round the east and back across, the water used to lap across Hardinge Road; sometimes the waves would come over onto the road, you know? But [of] course when the earth moved up, of course there was not as much water there; it showed all the rocks and that that were on the sea bed, you know? Anyway, I stayed there.

About 1939 war broke out. I was fifteen and a half then, and I said to my dad “I’d like to join the Navy”, and he said, “Son, you’re too young to go to war, I won’t sign the papers.” So he wouldn’t let me go in the Navy. When I turned seventeen I said to him, “Dad, can I join the Navy?” And he said, “I think I’ll let you go now”, he said. So I joined the Navy for the war, and I stayed in to [for] the rest of the war. And I signed on as a radio operator in the Navy, and I joined the ship the ‘Gambia’; that was a New Zealand Cruiser, and it was destined to join the British Pacific Fleet, that’s right – it joined the British fleet along with the Americans. And [of] course I knew what war was then, because every second or third day the fleet would be attacked by kamikaze pilots from Japan. Some of them were sunk, and there was quite a loss of life.

That’s right … finally the war finished and our job was to go down to a place called Wakayama, where all the prisoners of war were held from the Burmese action. That place was [?] … oh, I went down with two of the hospital ships, that’s right. And then we sailed from Yokohama to Tokyo Bay for the signing of the peace [treaty], and the USS ‘Missouri’ was the ship that was going to be the one that the peace [treaty] was going to be signed on, and it was already anchored there. So we pulled up about … oh, I would think about … it was yards in those days … about four hundred yards from the ‘Missouri’. We could see what was going on but we couldn’t hear what was being said.

And then I returned to New Zealand and got out of the Navy, and that was in 1946 when I … yeah, it was ‘46, that’s right … in January ‘46 I got out of the Navy and came home to Napier.

What was your rank while you were in the Navy?

I was a Leading Radio Operator in the Navy. Before I joined the ship, twelve of us were sent to Guadalcanal up in the Solomon Islands with a mobile radar unit and stationed alongside American aircraft batteries; and mainly they were alongside airports. And that would be the worst part of my life in the Navy, was going up to the Solomon Islands, ‘cause ooh … there’s just some living creatures like tree snakes and land crabs; all sorts of different … [next section noisy]

When I came home I didn’t know what I was going to do, and so I went round different places; they says, “No, we’re not taking anybody on but I’ll put your name down.” I finally ended up getting a job with a motor trimmer who was trimming cars and all that, and doing niche sort of work, you know? And I lasted there for probably two or three years, and then I got a job with Russell Pettigrew driving trucks over to Taupō. I wasn’t really built for trucking but I stuck it out; and then I went on to Newman’s Coach Lines, which was a bus from Napier to Wellington, and that was much better because all the freight walked on – you didn’t have to lift anything. [Chuckles] I stuck with Newman’s for about ten years.

When I turned sixty my son had a scaffolding contract up at Marsden Point. They were doing a revamp up there, and he said, “If you want to come up to Marsden Point, you’re welcome”, you know? And I said to my wife, “Well – want to go to Whangārei?” And she said, “Oh, I’d love to.” So that’s where we ended up, up there for three years in Whangārei, and we rented our house. We’d bought a house and we rented it while we were up there; worst thing we ever did, because when we came back it was absolutely trashed. Cost us a fortune to get it fixed, you know?

Just for relaxation, my wife had a couple of horses in harness, and I used to travel to sports meetings all around the country. I used to tow the horse in the horse float. I had to get a decent car to tow the … that’s right, so I ended up with an Oldsmobile car, American car.

When I came back from Whangārei, I got a job at Whakatu Freezing Works so I said to myself, “I don’t think I’ll last very long here.” I didn’t really like the job, but I struggled on a bit; and then one of the bosses of Whakatu came to me and he said, “Would you like to be a supervisor?” “Hmm – that sounds all right.” He said, “Be salary; might be a little bit of extra time, but”, he said, “the salary will be good.” The money was good in those days at Whakatu, you know; so [I] stuck Whakatu out, and in 1967 [1986] Whakatu suddenly closed down leaving about twelve hundred workers out in the road; they shut all the gates. I can’t remember why they shut it down, but it was pretty hard on all those guys, not getting any wages every week, you know? [Of] course I was one of those too – my salary stopped. But I’d joined a … what do they call it? Pay so much money into … dollar for dollar it was, you know; they paid a dollar, I paid a dollar. And I had all that money that I got from Whakatu – I think it was about … something like twelve for each £1,000 from Whakatu. Luckily I got given it back, ‘cause it was all the money I’d put in.

A superannuation fund?

Yeah, superannuation. Yeah, that’s right, that’s the word I was thinking of. And I stuck Whakatu out for a while, but I ended up then – I was in my sixties too, then – a mate of mine said, “Do you want a job?” I said, “Yeah, I’ll take on a job.” He says, “It’s not much of a job”, he says, “but it’s at Crichton Ford, a garage in Napier.” He said, “They want somebody washing their cars”, and I said, “Oh, I could do that – that’s easy enough.” So I stuck with Gary Crichton for about three years, washing cars, and then I knocked off completely. I went on the pension.

In those days the pension used to be … not sixty-five, I got my pension when I was sixty. So we had the pension, plus the wages from Crichton Ford to live on, and we had a freehold house. And because I was a Catholic I could go to the Catholic Credit [Union], they called it, and you could borrow money off them quite easily, you know? I wanted a car and I could go and get one – didn’t need a deposit or anything, just went to the office and said, “I’d like to borrow some money.” “How much?” “Four or five hundred?” “No problem.” That all stopped after a while.

So family … how many children did you have?

We had six children. We lost two. The first two we lost. One was drowned in the Napier Creek which runs between Georges Drive and … oh, forget the other name of the street. We were living in a State house at that time, just around the corner from the shops, and unfortunately someone had left the gate open and [?] was only two and a half. He got out onto the road, went over to his little mate’s across the road and they both went down to the creek area. And the water wasn’t running in the creek, it was all slime; and it just looked like a lawn, you know? And of course the little kids just ran into the water, and ours was drowned and the other boy was lucky that he crawled to the bank.

And the second one we lost up at the Napier Hospital. He had something wrong with his blood.

Was it blood poisoning?

Something like that, yes. It must have been, I just can’t remember the terms they used for it but he died under an operation, unfortunately.

How old was he?

And then we were left with four boys, and we’ve still got the three of them in Napier, and one still up in Whangārei. So I’m lucky that I’ve got three sons here which is a big help to me, you know? They do a lot for me.

So at the present, I wish I could work – I can’t. My body’s had it, you know.

And so how long since your wife passed away?

It’ll be eight years this year. And she’s buried up in Taradale Cemetery. So every Christmas and her birthday we go and put flowers on her grave, you know.

That’s lovely.

When I turned six or seven I went to the Marist School up in Convent Road. I didn’t get to high school – I got my Proficiency, which they termed it in those days, and I went to high school but I was only there for … I think it was about six months. The Depression was on at the time and Mum and Dad were finding it a bit hard – living conditions were a bit hard in those days – so I decided to leave high school and see if I could get a job and help them with a bit of money, you know. And I did.

What family did you have?

Mark’s had three children, two boys and a girl; Paul’s had three boys up in Whangārei; Buzz has had two boys and a girl in Napier.

Oh right, so you’ve got some grandies?


And did you have brothers and sisters?

Yes I did, I had one brother. Unfortunately he was killed overseas in Egypt during the war. He was a bit older than me, he was probably about six or seven … yeah, ‘bout six or seven years older than me. Anyway, it was in Egypt where he was killed. So [saw noise] I never had any other brothers or sisters, I was left on my own then.

Napier’s changed from a little city to what it is today, [background noise] to be eighty-five [sixty-five] thousand population now, and [in] early days it was only about sixteen thousand, eighteen thousand people lived in Napier.

And do you enjoy living where you are now in Greenmeadows?

Oh, it’s a pretty good position; it’s pretty handy to the shops and doctors and … you know? This is a good area, no problems with neighbours; they’re good neighbours, excellent.

Have you got any hobbies like golf or bowls?

I used to play a bit of golf and a bit of bowls, and yes, I did have hobbies. I used to do a lot of reading.

What about gardening?

[Chuckle] Unfortunately no, [chuckle] – I’m a weed gardener. [Chuckles]

I like that. Now you’ve also seen changes as far as transport goes?

Oh of course. Our first car was an Austin 7, a 1938 model – Buzz has got one at home now, a little Austin … is it an Austin, Buzz?

Buzz: Morrie [Morris] Minor.

John: Morris, yeah, Morris Minor.

What was the make of the bus that you drove for Newman’s?

Mack. [Spells] I’m not quite sure where they come from.

How many seats did it have in it?


And then you would’ve carted freight as well?

Yes. That’s about all, yeah.

We’d been married for sixty-five years. [Chuckle]

Oh, that’s wonderful.

That was my best achievement.

Not everybody’s that lucky to have a marriage that long, especially these days.

Funny how I met Maureen, you know – I was working for this guy and I was looking round for a car, but when all the guys returned home from service overseas all the vehicles were snapped up, you know; and there wasn’t any yards like there is now. And I walked into this garage in Kennedy Road called Gray & England’s, and a fairly old guy came up to me and he said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Oh, I’m just looking to buy a car.” He said, “Well you’re in luck”, he said, “we’ve got one here that came in a couple of days ago to sell on behalf.” I said, “What sort is it?” And he said, “It’s over there … you can see it.” It was a Hillman Minx. So I said, “Look, I’ll take it.” I forget how much I paid for it … can’t remember anything about it now.

Anyway, I went out to a friend’s in it one night or one afternoon and I stayed at his place [‘til] eight o’clock at night. And it was pouring with rain when I left there and as I came along the Parade I could see someone running on the footpath, and I stopped and it was Maureen. I said, “Hop in.” She said, “I can’t, I’m soaking wet.” I said, “Get in.” I said, “Whereabouts are you going?” She said, “I was running to get home.” In those days she lived in – what’s the road by the swimming pool that goes up the hill? Just be the children’s playground on Marine Parade, that goes up to …

Buzz: Oh, by the gardens there.

John: Prison was up there …

Buzz: Oh, that’s not Shakespeare …

John: But anyway, I said, “Hop in, I’ll take you home”, and she said, “Oh, I’d like you to come and meet my mother.” So I went in and she introduced me, and she went and got changed and got in some dry clothes and we had a yarn for a while. And about two days later my boss said to me, “You’re wanted on the phone.” And I [thought], ‘Who’s ringing me?’ And it was her; and she said, “It’s Maureen.” She said, “Would you like to take me to the dance on Saturday night?” [Chuckle] I said, “I’d love to”, and that’s how we met, you know.

That’s wonderful.

Buzz: Coote Road.

John: Coote Road, that’s the one, yeah.

Buzz: Now who sold the car to you?

John: She said to me, “Where did you get your car from?” And I says, “Oh, Gray & England’s; some old guy ripped me off.” And she said, “Do you know who you were talking to?” I says, “No.” She said, “You were talking to my father.” [Chuckles] I thought I’d done my chips, telling her that he ripped me off when I bought my car from him. [Chuckles] I think it was £80, I think … £75 or £80. That be right, Buzz?

Buzz: I remember the number being £18.

John: Yeah, I know it was cheap.

Buzz: You called him a robbing bastard a minute ago. [Chuckle] Sort your life out.

[Break – recommences on new topic about his father]

John: His sister married a geologist, and he was working in a coal mine down in Greymouth. And he said to me one day – we were only … oh, how old would we have been? Still at school … must’ve been in the school holidays when we went down to Greymouth. And he said to me in the morning when we were there, he said, “I’m going to take you two kids down the Liverpool Coal Mine.” And he said, “I’ll show you what they do down there.” So we went down; I was glad to get out of the mine [chuckle] – I didn’t like being down in tunnels, and we were crawling through little tunnels and in the distance you’d see a light that looked like a candle, but it would be a miner with his miner’s lamp on, you know; chipping away at the wall. And then he took us from there onto the Ngahere gold dredge, and I can always remember saying to one of the crew on the gold dredge, “Did you get much gold today?” And he said, “We wouldn’t have got half a matchbox.” [Chuckle]

Was gold worth a lot more money then?

I forget now what the price was … no, it’s gone.

So they were two interesting places that we went to when we were kids, you know. And then when the war broke out a guy by the name of George Dibbin was sailing his yacht around New Zealand, but when he pulled into Napier he was sent down to Somes Island for being a German you see. So the yacht was left in Napier. He had a girlfriend that [who] went with him right round New Zealand and she looked after the yacht while he was down in Somes Island.

[Interview continues on a new subject with John talking about his wife]

She started it, and she bought a little poodle dog and the dog would just sit on the counter. And I said, “Doesn’t it off jump there?” No, it stayed there; I was looking at it – be all day there. She had quite a few shops over the years … lingerie.

Was that mainly in Hawke’s Bay?

She started a shop up in Whangārei while I was working at the refinery – at Kensington in Whangārei, a gift shop it was.

So what job did she get when she left school? What was she doing when you met her?

She never went to high school; she started a job in the tea rooms in Blythe’s in Napier. She wasn’t what you would say a knowledgeable Kiwi, because she didn’t go to high school, you know.

Actually that was the case in [for] a lot of your generation; the children only went to Form 2 and then they left school and they got jobs …

That’s right, yeah. It was the time of the Depression, you know. That’s the reason why she didn’t go to high school; she got a job as a tea lady at Blythe’s and she used to help out with a bit of money for the family, you know. It was pretty hard for people in those days.

I was told by one of my boys, he said, “You’re a veteran.” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said “Well, you’re a survivor … a full time survivor.” I says, “What are they?” And he said, “Well, you survived the Depression; you survived an earthquake; you survived the war and you survived a sixty-five year marriage.” [Chuckles]

With this virus that we’ve got in the world now …

Oh yes, it’s shocking. There was a protest over in the park last Saturday; I think it was in a religious group, protesting against the vaccination.

What would be the worst thing in your lifetime that you’ve been witness to?

Solomon Islands. Yeah, that’d be the worst. Mosquitos by the million, land crabs by the million, tree snakes, and … oh, God! You name it, they had it. I got malaria when I was over in the Solomons.

Does that actually get cured or can it come back?

No. It wasn’t a recurring one, fortunately. There’s different types of malaria, and mine wasn’t one that would reoccur [recur].

And you’ve kept good health?

Good health, yeah. I can say honestly I never had a day off work because of health.

You’re very lucky. So what’s the recipe then?

Good living. I didn’t drink; I wasn’t a real drinker. I’m still not, I drink tea or coffee. I don’t drink beer or any spirits; or wine, I don’t have. I think that was good.

Were you a smoker?

I was in the Navy, that was … I mean it …

Compulsory, like? [Chuckles]

You had to have a smoke while you were there, otherwise you weren’t a sailor, you know. [Chuckles]

And a tot of rum?

Oh, tots of rum, yeah. And I had my twenty-first birthday on the ship. ‘Cause there were six hundred and fifty crew, and at the mess there was a table … about twelve seated at the table, both sides. And the day I turned twenty-one I had all this rum pushed down towards me; they said, “Happy Birthday.” I couldn’t drink all of those. I tried to drink them but couldn’t.

Were you sick?

Oh! [Chuckle] I had a head on me for about three days. [Chuckles]

Just as well you only celebrated your birthday once then …

[Chuckle] Yeah. That was off the coast of the Philippines.

And were you a good sailor?

Yes I was, yeah. ‘Cause I’d done a lot of yachting when I was a boy.

Where did you do that?

Down the port here. My father bought me a P Class yacht, the small one, only about eight or nine feet long, you know. Little sail boats, and I learnt how to sail it. And my brother used to come out with me sometimes on the yacht.

My other brothers [sons] in Napier … Chris is a house painter, and Mark works for a stevedoring company down at the port; and of course Buzz has got his business, he’s got about thirty on the staff, you know.

How did he get the name Buzz?

It was because of Buzz Aldrin, when he went to the moon. Someone said, “You should go to the moon like Buzz Aldrin.” That’s when the kids called him … he was going to Greenmeadows School; we were living in Greenmeadows then.

And the name stuck with him?

Stuck with him, yeah. When he started his business someone said, “What’re you going to call it?” And he said, “Buzz … Buzz Electrics.” That’s what it is today, Buzz Electrics. His partner, she works with him too, out in Hastings.

So what is his name though?

Kent … Kent Barham. ‘Cause my father was born in Kent in England – that’s how he got his first name.

What year did he come out to New Zealand?

He came out in 1916, I think it was. The war was on – the First World War. And he joined up with the Wellington Rifles, and after the war … what did he do? I forget … oh, I think he went down to the wharf; yeah, he was a wharfie, they call them.

They worked hard, but they made good money, didn’t they?

They did, yeah, they did. And [of] course when Mark got this job down at the port stevedoring – he remembers his father [grandfather] being a wharfie. [Chuckles] And of course the old port’s changed now, you know – it’s like anything around New Zealand – everything’s changed.

Do you think the changes have made it better?

No. I don’t think so. There’s been a lot of crime, you know, round the country. And of course now we’re stuck because of this virus, and that’s nothing to do with living conditions.

[Siren outside] Cop car – stationed out there every day you hear the siren go by … nearly every day they stop somebody.

So when you were young, a teenager, what was crime like then?

You could leave your bike outside, and no one would pinch it.

You didn’t have to lock your doors at night?

No, didn’t have to lock door[s], you could go out and leave the house open and come back and it would still be the same; nobody touched it. But today you couldn’t do that.

So how do you think we can fix it?

I don’t think we will. I think it’ll get worse. Yeah. I had my car stolen off the drive and that was the Mongrel Mob, and my son, Chris up in Coote Road, had the same. His car was stolen by the Mongrel Mob.

[Break; continued at a later time on a new subject]

Twelve of us guys that did the radar course in the Solomons were picked to go to the Islands, and we were transported on an American destroyer up to Guadalcanal. We couldn’t get a destroyer to take us back – we had to wait for a plane to get us home. ‘Cause it was nearly Christmas by the time we got home, and all the American top brass were all flying to Australia and back home to United States, you know. And that’s why planes were hard to get a lift from, you know? It was quite an experience sailing on an American destroyer, quite different to the British … all their customs, you know? I can always remember some of the sayings they said. One of them was, “Garbage detail, Lay aft of the fantail – Prepare to throw garbage over the side”, you know? Things like that, we never ever heard of them, you know? [Chuckle] They treated us really well though, the Americans. Would I do it again? [Of] course I would. [Chuckle]

Good man.

Even though I got malaria, which I didn’t like very much.

No. Well what was the food like?

We used to live off American food. Hot cakes and maple syrup for breakfast. Yeah – I forget what the lunches were. At an American transfer station in Noumea called … I don’t know why, it was called Club 13, for some reason, and there was about three thousand Yanks there at this camp. That’s where we went to first, and you know those Quonset huts that’re shaped like this? There was [were] four of them for your meals, because of the number of people that they had to you know, cater for. And we couldn’t believe how easy it was for them to … they used to get trays about that long and they had six departments [compartments] on it. [Them] And you’d walk in a queue and the guys would be dishing out the food with ladles – throw it on your plate, you know, on your tray. You get meat, you get a few vegetables, then you get ice cream to go on your meat. [Chuckles] They couldn’t care less where … long as they landed it on your tray they didn’t care where it went. Anyway, we got used to it.

They had a whatsaname there at this camp – what do they call it … Club 13 – a brig, and all barbed wire all round it. And I said to one of the guards when we had a bit of shore leave there, I said to one of the guards in this place, “Why are those girls here, put into a brig? What have they done wrong?” He said “They’re getting sent back to the States.” And I said, “What for?” He said, “They’re prostitutes.” Yeah. [But] Noumea wasn’t the town it is today; it was more or less French, Javanese, and quite a different population than what it is today, you know? I’d like to have gone back there, taken Maureen there but she wouldn’t fly unfortunately.

Oh, that’s a shame. But at least she did see all of New Zealand?

Oh yes, I took her down to the South Island as well, but I caravanned the North Island and we did the South Island by bus.

Oh, on a bus tour?

A bus trip, yeah, tourist bus trip, so we did get out of Napier, [chuckle] yeah. Her sister was an office lady … Maureen’s sister. She worked for some accountant in Napier, I forget who it was now; and her brother was a motor mechanic.

So who did he work for?

He worked for himself yeah. He had a garage in his house at home. It was bigger than an ordinary garage, you’d get a couple of cars in it.

So there’s nothing you would change?

That would be a hard question. I heard on the news a couple of nights ago that – what’s the lady’s name that’s [who’s] the leader of the National Party?

Judith Collins.

I think she only had five percent of the people voted for her.

Is that for preferred prime minister?

Yeah. Judith Collins – five percent. Our present prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, I think she had forty-eight percent.

Big difference …

She’s copped a hard life with this virus, you know. Her real home is in Mt Albert in Auckland. And my cousin had a grocery shop in Bell Road in Remuera. What else was up there?

What did you do at Whangārei? What was your actual job?

I did office work, and I was also the runner boy for the firm. I used to hop in the truck and go and get parts and paint and all that from Whangārei. I used to do timekeeping.

So what do you mean by that?

Well if a boy started at eight o’clock or if he didn’t come to work, you’d cross him off the sheet so he didn’t get paid for that day; only get [got] paid for the days they worked. It was quite responsible but I had a lot of time off. And I used to do a lot of fishing up there off the wharf, go down at lunchtime in the car and throw my line out. Never had a rod, just an ordinary fishing line and sinker; throw it out and gosh, I only had to be down there ten minutes and I’d pick up something, you know? Small snapper or cod or … take it back to the guys, give it to them. I used to keep some for myself.

What was your preferred fish?

Oh, I would say snapper. Yeah.

Did you eat kahawai?

Yes, I’ve eaten kahawai – it’s okay. Smoked kahawai’s nice. In my day there was only one fish and chip shop in the port, and now there’s about … oh, gosh I don’t know how many in town; quite a few. And there’s quite a few down at the port now, too; clubs and that, eh? All those wool stores are clubs, not wool stores. Our firm actually was down next to F G Smiths – they used to have draught horses and trailers to carry wool down to the wharf, ‘cause overseas shipping used to anchor out … didn’t have a wharf in Napier. They used to anchor offshore about two or three miles, and to get out there they were towed by a tug – these lighters they called them – bales of wool for the ship, you know, pull up alongside. There was one ship in the bay when they had the earthquake, and they could see all the smoke and that, and they wondered what was wrong ‘cause they didn’t feel the earthquake on the ship. It went on for a long time, the quake.

Can you remember how you felt, were you really, really scared?

Oh yes, we were all scared. [Chuckle] We thought it was the end of the world.

So were you able to live in your house?

Yeah. The only thing that collapsed was the brick chimney which was outside the house, you know, up against the wall; they all collapsed inside the kitchen, but Mother fortunately was shopping when the earthquake was on. She was down at the port, shopping. My cousin worked for Nivens, [Jas J Niven & Company, Marine Engineers] and then he got a job as a grocer’s boy in a grocer’s shop at the port. That’s where he learnt his trade, and that’s how he started his shop up in Auckland – it gave him a grounding, you know.

[Break, then recommencing on new subject about Maureen’s sister]

… where Maureen’s sisters lived. And when her husband got crook we used to go up there about once every week or second week to see him, you know? Then they moved out of their house in Tauranga; went to a rest home at Ōmokoroa. That was about eighteen or twenty ks [kilometres] out of Tauranga.

Are you still able to drive?

No. I drove ‘til I was about ninety-three or something like that; I wasn’t concentrating properly, I’d be over the white line, and the next thing I’d be in the cycle lane. And then one day I got a few horns; I thought. ‘This is it, I’m going to give this driving away, I’m going to have an accident’ – I still had my licence – so I did. And the car I had was a Nissan, and I said to my granddaughter – she’s working in a dentist’s place in Wellington, but she was up here on holiday at the time – and I rang her up and I said, “Come and see me, I’ve got something for you.” So she came, and I had this key in my hand and I said, “There you are, there’s a key for you.” “Oh, what’s that for?” I said “That’s my car.” “Oh, I can’t afford that”, she said. I said, “You got twenty cents in your purse?” “Yep.” “Well give it to me”, I said, “you’ve just bought yourself a car.” [Chuckles] So I gave it to her for nothing.

Well done.

Yeah. And she’s still got the car down in Wellington. I wasn’t a good driver, you know. People were getting a bit angry with me I think with my driving habits [so] time I finished.

But you had a good long time driving, didn’t you?

Yeah. Yeah. I knew I wasn’t good, you know.

[Break; new subject talking about camping at Māhia]

Maureen’s clothes were in the caravan and Maureen was talking to the next-door neighbour, and one of my boys came running from the beach to where we were and said, “Hey Dad, a boy’s just had a spear through his foot.” And what happened was they were on the lagoon spear fishing for flounders, and this boy thought he saw one and he fired his spear – and it went – it was about that long, the spear – right through his heel and come [came] out the other side. And I had a station wagon; I thought, ‘Gee, it’ll take too long for an ambulance to come out and pick him up’, so they made a bed for him in the station wagon and they carried him into it. And he was conscious all the time, he didn’t pass out. But they’d already rung the Wairoa hospital and the doctors and nurses were waiting outside for me to arrive and they took him. I don’t know how they took the spear out, I’ve got no idea, but … would’ve been about eighty [?eight?] years later I was in Napier, in town, and I got a tap on the shoulder. I turned round, it was this young guy; I said, “I don’t know who you are.” “Don’t you remember me?” I says, “No, I don’t.” He said, “I’m the boy that you took to Wairoa hospital with the spear in my foot.” He said, “I just wanted to take you and shout you a drink, if you’d like to come with me.” I was grateful …

That was lovely …

… I was grateful to him. Yeah. Amazing, eh?

So which part of the Peninsula were you staying at?

The camp? I’ve forget now where … oh, there’s so many camps, I can’t remember them all.

[Another short break; subject is still camping]

Place called Tikitiki, and we stopped there; we stopped and had a coffee there. And guy in the shop said, “Have you seen the little church?” I said, “I’ve seen it.” He said, “Go and have a look on the inside”, he said, “you’ll be amazed.” And everything in the church, the whole church – the seating, the pew[s] -everything was carved. The Māori … it was amazing what they’d done to it. It was an old church … it was very, very interesting, yeah. I couldn’t believe all the carving that was done – gosh, it was amazing! Even the rafters were carved, you know, like this one up here. All carving.

And did you go and see the wharf that goes out into the sea?

Yeah, yeah.

Is that Tokomaru [Bay]?

Tokomaru, yes. And we went right up to Whakatane, Tauranga, come [came] back down through the centre [of the] island towing this caravan.

Good trip …

Yeah. Oh, she enjoyed caravanning. She also enjoyed … she was a harness lady, horse and harness coach. That’s why there’s a photo of her harness club up there – well not her club, but just a photo of her harness.

So where did she keep her horses?

We had … the house that we were living in had an acre and a half paddock, and she only had two horses so big enough for two horses, you know. And [of] course we had to buy a … to carry the horses round and all the sports meetings and …

Horse float?

Horse float, yeah.

Well John, on behalf of the Knowledge Bank and myself, I would like to thank you very, very much for letting me interview you today. I really appreciate it, and I wish you all the very best.

I hope this day is not the last day I will see you either, I hope you’ll call on me again sometime.

I shall endeavour to do that, John. In the meantime you just keep safe.

I will.

Thank you.

Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Please contact us for information about using this material commercially.

Can you help?

The Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank relies on donations to make this material available. Please consider making a donation towards preserving our local history.

Visit our donations page for more information.

Format of the original

Audio recording

Additional information

Interviewer:  Lyn Sturm

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.