Basil George Diack Interview
Good afternoon. It’s 12th of November . I’m at the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank; I have with me Mr Basil Diack, well-known businessman from Napier. It’s my pleasure to introduce him now, so good afternoon, Basil.
Hi, Jim, how are you?
Never been better, thank you very much. So Basil, what I’d like to know – as you’ve been here a great many years in Hawke’s Bay, to give us a bit of a background on your grandfather, great-grandfather, when they first came to Hawke’s Bay and came into New Zealand to start with. So I’ll leave it over to you.
The Diack family originated in Invercargill. All the Diacks probably came from Invercargill. We believe they were of Scottish descent, but there is a story which I have never actually seen in writing but told to me, that our name, Diack, come [came] from the Dutch word van Diack. And in those early years the Dutch were not popular with New Zealand people, and they were advised before they came to change their name. And they took the ‘van’ off it and the Diack – they put an ‘i’ in it, or – I’m not too sure if it was Diack … van Diack – and it could have been [spells] v-a-n D-a-c-k. But to my knowledge I’ve never met anyone else except my aunt who give [gave] me that information.
But George, my father – I never ever knew my grandfather or my grandmother. I was just a lad. My father was a builder in Invercargill. He had eight brothers and three sisters. We lived there till 1948 – I was ten years of age then, and George built an eight-berth caravan and he shifted all the family to Napier. Napier become [became] the choice, firstly because my father being a builder, said that if you could make money as a builder in Invercargill when it rained practically every day, he thought you’d make a hell of a lot more money in Napier. So that’s how we shifted. He built this eight-berth caravan and there was [were] seven of us, and we arrived in Napier in November of ‘48. And he had cousin who had a big section, and we lived there in the caravan ‘til my father built a house in Seapoint Road, which is still there today.
And he started a building business as soon as he could, and there is [are] buildings in Napier that Diack Builders built. My two elder brothers served their time as carpenters; I served mine. And in 1956 after building the Motor Company and quite a few … Waipawa Post Office and a few things, my father thought that the building would take a bit of a knock. And we priced the cathedral in Napier – that would have been about 1956, and we missed out on that job by £6,000. And I think if George had been a Church man he might have been able to … but he wasn’t, and A B Davis got the job.
So when he lost that job, he looked round and said “there’s an old pub for sale on the Marine Parade”, that went from Marine Parade to Hastings Street. And his plan was that we hop in – it needed … it was [in] a bad state of repair … and that we all work there and run it as a pub, and we do it up. And if there wasn’t enough work then some of us would go out and build houses. And that’s how we got it. We bought the pub in 1957 and we sold it thirty-nine years later as a huge hotel. We owned three hundred and eighty feet of the Marine Parade and a hundred and eighty-six feet of the Hastings Street. And with the law change in 1990 when the industry was deregulated – of course I’d lost my father and still had my mother; the two elder boys had gone out in their own building business, and they’re still in the crane hire business. They don’t do building, but they’re in industrial rentals and cranes.
I carried on with the pub. The boys didn’t like the pub, they were both married when we started – I stayed on and virtually … my father died; my mother used to give me a hand, [and] my wife. But when the deregulation come [came] the writing was on the wall. We had a huge hotel with five bars – you gradually started to shut them because of the deregulation, and what saved us was the land it was sitting on. A developer come [came] along and offered … I put her on the market and he showed interest … who was a Hastings man, Graham Harding. And we come [came] to an arrangement and he bought the hotel, and within two months he’d cleared the site. And to this day there is [are] three motel units sitting on that site.
So a year before the hotel sold I had been a shareholder in a brewery that had been started and was called Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery. And it was owned by about ten of us, and the idea was to make and sell tap beer. It was all kegs then, although we used to use tanks but they gradually disappeared. And that was a difficult start – Tony Davies was the main person. When I was first approached I wasn’t interested because they didn’t have a known brewer, and my feeling was that to compete, you know, we had to have people with credibility, and it was going to be hard enough to take the two main brewers on anyway. But I enjoyed the challenge. And anyway, when Tony Davies retired – he was the manager of Leopard Breweries then … it would have been Lion … called Lion. And he retired and they put a trade restraint on him, and when he more or less said that he could help we talked him into it, and he become [became] the brewer, and the brewery set alight.
We had people who were not even in the industry as directors and board people, but in those days you had to have credibility and we needed names like … am I allowed to put someone else’s name in, or not?
So we formed the company called Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery. And one of the hardest decisions we had to make … we needed a brand, and this was just one of the problems of starting a brewery in those days because DB and Lion had all avenues covered. And while we didn’t disagree with what they did – they had to protect their business – but once they knew that we had Tony Davies as the brewer, Lion especially showed … and so did DB … showed a lot of opposition. And just to give you some of the problems – we never had a name; we had to get a name. And when you wish to register a name you put in five at a time, and if any of them are taken they write back and say “No, you can’t use those”. And we put in the third lot of five before we got a name. Now a lot of the names we never even knew were out there, but Lion and DB had registered those names to stop anyone using them, because you needed a name with credibility. And when you took DB and Lion on – a lot of people wouldn’t have done it – but probably the fact that we had prominent people who probably had a lazy $50,000 – it was more like people like me and Tony that … the fun of the challenge. So after the third entry we got the name ‘Mates’, and that’s how the brewery started off and it was called Mates Brewery for a long time. At our peak we were brewing and selling over a million litres a year. The shareholders for three years in a row got eighteen per cent on their money – we were doing very well.
But then the change came … packaged beer, take home beer … we weren’t in packaged beer and that was the reason to shift to Meeanee. Now Meeanee was a cidery which was failing, and we come [came] in, shifted the brewery into the cidery, and we paid rent which helped the cidery. And over three years we took over the cider making as well. Now that was in about 2007 … ‘06, and we introduced packaged beer. And while it was probably the right thing to do, it was the hardest thing to do. We hadn’t been in packaged, and Greg, who was the CEO – he was employed probably six or seven years before that, and it was new to me as well. But you know, I was always fairly comfortable and you know, there was nothing you couldn’t do. But packaged beer – it was a big difference in the factor of the margins, for a start. The other thing was tap beer, you virtually got an order every week, and once someone put your beer on you’re in fifty-litre kegs, which is roughly twelve dozen of beer to compare with what you’d sell.
But when we got into packaged it was probably the right thing to do but the profit just disappeared. So we had to look at ways of trying to get it right – I think to this day we only do about seven hundred thousand litres. I must say that when we were doing the million we were probably fourth or fifth biggest litreage in New Zealand, so that’s how successful we were. But the packaging took us apart a bit.
And six months after we were in Meeanee we built the Filter Room, which was virtually a retail outlet for us. There was [were] eighteen products on tap. The packaged beer was part of that, because you had to have that for people to take home. But we had decided … and we probably had a little bit of a difference with our landlords … and three years ago I made an offer to take it over myself. All the shareholders were happy to sell, and I had to get seventy-two per cent to take over, which I did. And there was only one shareholder who I didn’t want to be involved with who was a guy in Wellington – I wasn’t impressed with him, and I had to get seventy-two per cent to get his shares.
So we did that okay, and that got me more than interested. And probably I only wanted a job really … I only wanted something to do in the liquor industry. I’ve been in it since, and I’m still in it, probably over sixty years now, non-stop. I don’t think anyone would have ever done sixty years in the industry non-stop. And when I made an offer to take over the whole place, the landlords wouldn’t sell. And I said to them “Well you’ll have to buy me out”, because I just didn’t want – it wasn’t pleasant, it was … I only go to work if I enjoy it. And anyway, they bought me out a… lot loss figure than I wanted, and they put a condition on it that I worked for them for two years, and they put a trade restraint on me. From my time I finish there’s a trade restraint. Not that that worries me, I’m eighty next year, so I wasn’t interested in starting again, but I did want something to do. And you know I just work for them now, they pay me well to visit customers – I don’t do anything out of town.
And to this day they have introduced a middle man who runs it, the owners don’t actually physically have anything to do with it, although they sit on the Board. And the guy Stephen – he is the in-between man, because there was a bit of controversy between us and the owners and that was the only way it could be fixed. And that’s how it is run to this day.
Once again the market has changed to a ‘take-home’ market now, and we felt that – we were in the packaged beer, we would have had to go into it. But the drink-drive, and you know, four years ago when it was reduced from .08 to .05 – that really hurt on-premise consumption, and that’s meant that we really had to push for off sales. Eighty percent of all liquor in New Zealand is sold off licensed premises.
There are a hundred and sixty-five breweries that pay excise, but there are others – there’s a lot more than that who have their beer made by a brewer, so the excise is paid for them. But some editorials say there’s over two hundred; some say there’s nearly three hundred; but legally you’ve got to pay excise. If you pay excise you are obviously selling it. If you’re not paying excise you shouldn’t be selling it. Customs believe that anyone that makes more than two [hundred] and fifty kegs a week must be selling it; however, there’s been nothing of it. But the craft beer industry are still making beer. The problem’s going to be – where are you going to sell it? Supermarkets will get full of beers, and if you get back to the hundred and sixty-five breweries that pay excise and they all had five brands each, you can imagine how many bottles that gets on the shelf. So I do think that that will probably come to an end, and I think that some breweries, if they stay little and operate out of their garage, they’ll probably exist still. But once you get bigger and you need a bigger premise and you start paying rent – you know, the writing is on the wall for some – it’s got to be. And I think it’s probably like anything, everyone gets into it but there’s not room for everybody, and DB and Lion and Independent, they’re smart people. You don’t take them lightly. They have a lot invested in the industry and they know a lot more than we do, and while it’s a bit of a challenge and good fun, if it doesn’t last the fun soon disappears.
And the latest events are that DB and Lion and Independent have bought small craft breweries and developed their brand, and that’s covered them because they have trade-tied outlets and they needed another beer, because some of their trade-tied outlets wanted craft beers as you call it. I don’t know even to this day what you … it’s just a name given – all beer is made by a craftsman if you like, and in fact in our day, probably a brewer was a real brewer because every brew had to be the same. A small brewery today, it doesn’t have to be because no one knows what it’s supposed to taste like anyway. But in my earlier days, you know, I would never have got into brewing if you didn’t have a brewer with credibility.
So while the brewery has been a success, I think the changes … the drink-drive … is the single biggest inroad into it. Clubs are the hardest hit – RSAs, you see you can’t have a Club unless you have members, and RSAs are the hardest hit because a lot of their good customers were regulars and that was their life. They went to the Club, met their friends, and let me tell you this, that the beer is secondary, company is first. It’s the company that brings the people in, and the moment you lose your friend or he doesn’t come any more, the Club could lose two other customers. And RSAs have really been hurt. In each provincial town I think you’ll only see … there’ll only be one RSA. Cosmopolitan Clubs may last a bit longer because they attract a different person. You can’t expect younger people to understand what an RSA is and young people go where young people are. Restaurants and bars, that’s where they go.
Just a bit of history – before we were deregulated in 1990 … well it was actually ‘89 … the Sale of Liquor Bill changed, where it was deregulated. There weren’t six thousand liquor licences in New Zealand, there was about eight [thousand] or something. Now there is [are] twenty-three thousand liquor licences. Cafes, bars, little restaurants, they get an on-licence – all those are counted, but they all break it up so you’re delivering to five times the amount of people, all with less purchases, so the business now is – like, a little off [from] everybody.
We’ve had that deregulation for a long time and the first casualties will be Clubs. Clubs were big consumers of tap beer – they had some of the best beer reticulation systems around. One of the problems they do have now, all that gear is all old; they’re selling a lot less; it costs a lot of money to update it; so that’s another problem they have because they have less customers. And of course in 2001 when Helen [Clark] introduced the ‘No Smoking’, that was the second to last nail in the coffin because while a lot of us don’t smoke, a lot of beer drinkers did, and especially RSA people – they weren’t going to stop smoking at seventy-five years of age. And so they took it out on the Club, and then they put in smoking rooms, but you know, that’s all of the past. In fact a lot of people never even had a beer ‘til they had a smoke, or the moment they had a beer they’d light the fag, and that was their enjoyment time. And when they introduced smoking rooms – you’d be in your [?school?] and two people would disappear, they’d go out for a smoke. And seeing there was no smoking, when they came back you could smell the smoke and it was worse than it was before for the non-smoker, so he endorsed it and agreed there shouldn’t be smoking. And of course some Clubs had built on you know, $100,000 worth of building which to this day is worth nothing.
But no one was to know that it was going to get to this bad, and of course anyone that was in the industry … and of course Clubs still think, you know, ‘we’ll be right next year’. But we’ve been saying that for fifteen years now, and there’s a change and people just have to accept the change.
As far as the government goes, their excise they collect – providing they collect it it doesn’t make any difference to them. Roughly, if you buy a jug of beer or a litre of beer today in a Club and it costs you $10, $5 of that is tax. It’s not so much on take-home liquor, because you get more in the carton but you’ve got to drink it at home. Beer in liquor stores and supermarkets can be … it’s cheaper than it was fifteen years ago, and the best deal at the moment is 15 bottles for $19 and I’ve never seen that since – I’ve looked up old prices. But competition has done that and the consumer is the winner. The real problem that we have is that the volume drinker – the problem with it being cheaper, it’s not the fact that’s it’s cheaper, it’s the fact he gets more beer for $20. And roughly, the statistics show that fifty per cent of consumption is drunk by fifteen per cent of the people, and if you haven’t got a beer that’s in that market, you’re working – you can’t compete, you have to be dearer. But that’s, the volume drinker – if you’re looking at a return, you’ve got to have a take-home product in that price range, and there’s only three that can really do that and that’s the three main companies.
Craft beer drinkers are people that will try this one today and another one tomorrow. They are not volume drinkers, and they may even have it with a glass of wine … two glasses of wine, 330ml of beer suits a lot of people. But the fact that beer is so cheap now, people probably … it’s probably helped the craft beer, because there’s probably ones that don’t want to drink that. And that’s probably the market that Hawke’s Bay Independent Brewery – it’s called Independent [Hawke’s Bay] Brewing Company now – because independent doesn’t mean much, so we took the Independent out, it was too big a mouthful. But in our day it worked, but we call ourselves Hawke’s Bay Brewing Company. We are trying to get into the take-home market, but we are a hell of a lot dearer than … in fact their cheapest beer, we would be double that. So there are people that do drink for the enjoyment, but unfortunately there are the people who drink because it’s an addiction, and drinking at home helps to create that. You pay a lot more on premise but it’s the company you keep that you really go for, and we are finding that people don’t go into the hotels or into the Club after work like they used to – they might one night a week, and that reflects in sales. But the take home market is huge.
Basil, how many breweries in Hawke’s Bay?
Ten. Yes, what you’ve got to look at is that it depends how much it costs them to open. Now like young Chris at Eskdale … Zeelandt … well Chris – he built his brewery but his parents own the property, so his rent is according, you know. And his brother produces wine at the other end, but he’s got a lovely little brewery there. He does the brewing and he does quite well.
But then there’s others – once you start paying rent, and if you’ve borrowed money to make your brewery – your pushin’ her uphill – it’s very competitive. But you know, young Matt Smith at Hastings here … Brave … you know, Matt – he started off in his garage, and he sells a bit of beer at supermarkets and he’s a nice young fellow. He’s bought a shop in Hastings and shows his beers – you can have something to eat, and you know, that’s probably what you do. But the difference is Matt is paying rent for that and that’s got to reflect in what you make. Volume is still the name of the game, because there are so many craft beer brewers that you only get a little bit of the market, and supermarkets can’t handle all brands. So it’s hospitality – the retailers … there would be very few retailers in Napier that make a lot of money. They’re open seven days a week, they work sixty to eighty hours a week. The only reason they do make money probably, is because they do that. But you know, it’s just so competitive now and the customer makes his choice where he wants to go.
You know, if you had a pub up until 1990 – see we were regulated – you couldn’t get a liquor licence. If you didn’t build accommodation you couldn’t get a liquor licence. And brewers weren’t interested in doing accommodation, they were only interested in selling beer. But I can tell you all the hotels that were built before 1990 were probably brewery-backed, but the way you got a liquor licence, you’d present to the Liquor Commission that you would put accommodation up and you’d get support for that. But just to give you an idea, if you had a good pub, you know, you only had to open your doors in those days. But George, my father – his idea was to do the pub up, but he didn’t – he rebuilt it. And we only started off with thirty-five feet of land on Marine Parade and Hastings Street – that’s all we had, and it was a bloody old wooden building. But George did it up in the meantime, and then he rebuilt. And we started on the Parade and we borrowed £15,000 off Leopard Brewery … we bought it for £25,000, we borrowed £15,000 … and we had a trade-tie with Leopard – they put the tanks in and away we went. Well when I sold the pub in 1995 we didn’t owe a cent. In fact in 1980 we would have been debt free. Now we bought all that land on the Parade, built a whole new pub, and we’d paid it off. And then in about ‘77 or ‘78 we went to Leopard and said “Look, there’s a request for different beers”. And they owned the tanks, and George Chamberlain was the manager of Leopard Breweries then. And we said to George “Look, we want to put DB on, there’s a big move for DB”. And of course George said “Well you know, we own the tanks”. And we said “We know you do, George, but we’ll buy the tanks. But we’re not going to take your beer out, but we’ll still buy the tanks.” So I’ve still got the price there of what George Chamberlain wrote so we paid off the tanks, which meant that we could have what we liked. You’ve got to remember, in those days you’d only give guys three choices. People think of lagers and all that – we never had lagers on tap. Lagers on tap were much later. You had a bottle, but you didn’t have it on tap. It was like stout – everyone tried stouts, half ‘n half, but that was never … people drunk [drank] brown beer – that’s what they drunk, [drank] and they drunk [drank] jugs of it. And they took home flagons of it. Remember it was 2000 before Sunday opening came, and everyone from the pub … the take-home people … they were that used to flagons that they took flagons home. And although it declined in time and to this day there wouldn’t be twenty flagons sold – you can buy a flagon, but packaged beer has become so cheap if you like, that tap beer is no longer an advantage to save money. But the volume drinker stuck to his flagons.
But the Vic Hotel was the only hotel – and I’ve got a photo of it, it’s got Lion … there’s three taps, Lion, DB and Mates. So we sold the three beers, but the point that I’m making is this, that there were some publicans that didn’t make it. Publicans that had been in the business for a long time. They may not have ended up owning their hotel, and probably the rents they paid accordingly, but you knew your competition; you knew that there wasn’t a pub going to be next door. The liquor licence before 1990 was worth one-third of your asset because it was the licence that people wanted.
Jim just mentioned today that the Ahuriri, which became the Ahuriri Tavern … which was the Roundhouse or whatever you like … that licence Leopard got, but it was the Ahuriri Hotel … it was an old hotel and they owned that, and they shifted the licence to the Ahuriri, and that’s how they were allowed to build a tavern – because they shifted the licence. And where the old Ahuriri Hotel is today is where the new brewery has started up – B Studios it’s called, and it’s owned by a local man, Simon Gilbertson. And Ray McKimm … through helping each other they built this massive brewery. It’s capable of doing nine thousand bottles an hour. It can make any beer, it’s the smartest brewery, but strangely enough it’s on the same site that was the Ahuriri Hotel. So that’s a bit of history. The Ahuriri Tavern still operates as a tavern, although there’s been motels built alongside it.
Now the difference between a hotel and a tavern?
The taverns were introduced probably by 1965, ‘66 … yeah. It was introduced to try to get people to build accommodation, so if you had accommodation you didn’t pay tavern tax, but if you had a tavern only the government taxed you, and that money that the tax brought in was put into a fund that people who wanted to build accommodation could borrow at a reduced rate. Accommodation – that’s how the government organisation started. Jim, what did they call that? The government-built accommodation houses – Tokaanu, and all big accommodation houses …
Oh, Tourist Houses.
Tourist Hotel Corporation, yeah. So the tavern tax was introduced because the profit was in the liquor, and it certainly was up until 1990.
Basil, that’s extremely interesting, that history of the brewing in Hawke’s Bay. Perhaps we might get on to your personal life, and your position as President of the Hotel Association? And then also you were tied up in the LVA Golf … Licensed Victuallers’ Golf Association too, and did a sterling job there. So could we hear a little bit about those times? And we might throw in the end your pastime of duck shooting, which you were very successful at.
[Chuckles] Yes well, Jim, the changes and the reasons for the change … and often, even with this interview it is so hard to grab hold of unless you tell the whole story. People don’t realise that liquor has been a political football for a long time. In fact, you know, a lot of people don’t remember that up until about 1987 I think, when Holyoake was still Prime Minister, we used to have the triennial poll. And when you went to vote for government there was a poll there that you voted for liquor. And the liquor read, ‘for continuance, state control or prohibition.’ And that had been still running since the war … First World War … and people don’t realise that prohibition nearly took over in New Zealand, and that’s why that poll continued. In fact it was the solders in UK in the first war when their votes came back, that actually got continuance. But I can tell you this – it got very close, and at that stage it just about disappeared. And there was the Women’s League … ‘cause it was only men that went to the pub in those days. Women’s Leagues – they run [ran] protests and so on, but liquor controlled was okay. And that’s why it is controlled, except now it’s probably … no, I think I’ll put that another way … it was controlled and probably over-controlled, but we went from one extreme to the other. And Geoff Palmer, who was the Prime Minister of New Zealand in ‘89 – he didn’t even want to be, I mean that was at the time when Labour couldn’t get satisfied with the right leader – but I was involved with HANZ [Hotel Association of New Zealand] probably from about 1972 ‘til the pub closed. And then the name was changed to HANZ. And now it’s the Hospitality Association … I think they go New Zealand Hospitality … whatever, now.
But I was on the Board of HANZ – the first board that was introduced. We had a management committee, but then we changed to a Board, and I was on that Board for the last two years of being in the industry. But everything’s been political – like I’ve been in the government building, I’ve been in – what’s the name of their bar? Because we used to shout for the politicians, and we used to have a party every year for them – our industry was very close. But what really happened was the whole industry had it tied up. We had the brewers, the wholesalers and the retailers, and we were thick together, we stuck together. And we had – tap beer was the only beer that went direct to retailers. We had the wholesalers who handled the packaged products, and of course all the spirits. So there’s really a lot involved, how it worked, but we were an industry that stuck together and we were strong. In fact I think our industry would have been the strongest employer service organisation there was. And HANZ certainly was. And really, you know, if someone bought a pub in Napier or leased it most likely, he would be approached by myself and two other people, and we would go to see him and we would tell him that you know, the reason that we have a good business is because we do this and that.
And we were like a compulsory unionism. So you know, it worked both ways in those days. You know, people don’t realise that every year there was a wage increase. We sat with the unions, they were one side of the table and we were the other, and we negotiated awards. There were strikes – I mean, brewery strikes – we went through all that. That’s all gone, so that’s probably the good part about it, but could I just say that when the government introduced the legislation deregulating the industry, HANZ spent $660,000 – and this was in 1987, which I don’t know what that would be worth today – but we spent that much money to fight the change. And I was in the room when Geoff Palmer said “A licence will be easy to get, but easy to lose”. But it took fifteen years before those laws were really policed. And we tried to do a deal with the government of the day to say that we didn’t mind the deregulation, but we didn’t want it wholesale from the next day. So virtually what happened, when the hands went up in the conscience vote, and I won’t go into that unless you know a bit about it. A liquor law is always done under a conscience vote. It was, and it was our job to go to every politician we knew in our area to speak against it and why and so on. And our deal with them was that we didn’t mind the deregulation provided it had the same sort of control that they had – in other words, up the ante for the population and allow two more there, and two more there. But anyway, Geoff wasn’t interested. He said “No, it’s going to be easy to get but easy to lose.”
And it’s just gone on as I mentioned before, it went from six thousand licences to this day to twenty-four thousand. They haven’t hurt the brewers, the brewers are better off than they were then, because they’re smart people. They realised that, I mean they were the manufacturers and they had the brand. In those days, I mean if you didn’t have Speights on, or Tui – I mean people would come in and they would only drink where their beer was. They would settle for a beer if they were out of town, but areas … like Waikato Draught is still the strongest draught beer name in New Zealand, that still has the pull of people. I mean you’ve got Speights and all that, but you know, Speights was a South Island name that Lion bought up and it was a nice name; DB Draught, well that went to Tui; and Lion has always been the leader, and in leverage – I mean sixty per cent of Auckland’s business is better than sixty per cent of Hawke’s Bay’s business. But together they’ve made changes and they’re smart people.
And probably in some way I think that I’m glad to be out of it. I only really bought it for a job but I loved the challenge and it was easy for me. Some people might think … but you know, it’s all about people. And if you know people and get on with people, it opens the door. And once you open the door you’ve got a show. Some supermarket manager’s tell me “Bas, I’ve already seen five liquor travellers today”, and that’s how it is. I believe that supermarkets sell sixty per cent of take-home beer. I also believe that to five years ago, sixty per cent of beer bought in supermarkets was bought by women. And that bit I believe, because five or six years ago … going back to there … man was master of the home; he only drank one beer and he would say “No, no – I’ll get my own beer.” But when she came home and said how much it was, the change happened, and now when the lady of the house does the shopping she has bought the beer as well. And that’s one of the comments that we do make as far as supermarkets selling liquor – we think it was done without a lot of thought. In fact laws that were brought in in … 2000, beer in supermarkets … only wine was brought in in 1990, and then in 2000 Jenny Shipley introduced eighteen year old drinking; open on Sundays; and beer in supermarkets. Alcohol was always on the top shelf. It was treated with respect and I think that’s what we’ve lost. When kids see their mother bring beer out in the same trolley as food, it loses its value. And I’ve got to tell you this – that liquor is a drug. It’s a legal drug – that’s all it is, and it should have been treated with respect. And it’s for sale on every corner, and that alone cheapens the product. If you could control drugs like we control beer, I suppose that would be okay, but you know, we have problems with drugs, and beer on every sale [corner] – it’s cheapened the product – it’s no different to anything else. And we do believe that it has been a mistake.
Could I just tell you this – that the rules that supermarkets have to adhere to don’t do anything. For instance, if you check out at a supermarket you shouldn’t be able to see liquor. Well that’s never been policed. If you get a new licence or a new building, then it is policed. But you know, what we think is that if you give someone a licence to sell then if you’re going to have certain rules it should be for everyone. But once you put it in supermarkets it probably helps the consumption. And you know, when I said to you before, you know fifty per cent of consumption is consumed by fifteen per cent of the people. And if politicians don’t think we’ve got a problem, just have a look at that. And how do you stop it – you don’t.
Muldoon once said price will control consumption. But you know, the excise could go up, they could collect more. Our brewery pays $2,000 a day excise depending on how much liquor you sell. So we’re just one brewery, but every brewery has to pay on volume, so much a litre. So you know, the revenue … I suppose it helps to control it a bit, but the hardest thing they’ve got is controlling twenty-three thousand outlets. And I think if young people … my grandkids … I mean liquor is nothing. In my day you probably saw your father, your parents drinking it, but today it’s just accepted, because it comes out in the same basket as the groceries, so why should young people think there’s anything wrong?
I’ll just tell you, when I had my first beer I was working for my father and I was serving my time. And my father was a great concrete man – every job that was tendered and there was a lot of concrete in it, he would tender for that. And when you had a big pour and you finished the pour … and of course it was all done by hand, barrow and shovel. You had a mixer but you had to put the ingredients into the hopper and then mix it and [it] had to be tested. And when you finished a day’s pour you were … bloody thirst, and the old man’d take us to the pub. And we were apprentice boys, and he would get us a glass of beer and say “Sit in the corner”. Now I know we were under twenty-one, but listen, don’t worry – if you behaved and the publicans knew a bit of that went on, but that’s how you were taught. When you were in a pub you were taught, if you couldn’t handle it, you didn’t get it. And when George used to give us a glass of beer, he’d say “Listen lad, you’ve done a good job today – that’s your reward”. And you got a glass of beer and then you were told to go outside and wait, you know. Now that’s how we were brought up with alcohol, you know, so probably a lot of that was a good thing. I still have a beer every day but it’s far nicer with company – it’s not so much fun on your own.
Was it a five ounce glass? [Chuckle]
No, Jim – it was probably an eight ounce. And seeing you’ve brought that up Jim, that was something people don’t realise, that we only had an eight, a seven and a five when I was a young fellow, before Norman Kirk introduced a twelve ounce, so he was there in ‘72. Well there was no glass, and then the handles come [came] in, but we had jugs and people would buy a jug and drink out of a five or … and so now you buy a glass, because you don’t want to pay – a jug is a litre. In fact if you’re ever measuring anything with price, the only vessel you can use is a jug because it’s a true litre, and glasses today don’t have a stamp on it [them]. You don’t know what glass – a tall glass looks big. But they’re not drinking so much either, but if you drink a jug you know you’ve drunk a litre of beer. If you had three glasses of beer you wouldn’t know whether you’d drunk over a jug or not. Because I still drink and drive a bit – but I’m allowed to drink and drive, remember that – providing I’m not over. But if you have a jug you can control your consumption, and when you’ve had the jug you know that’s it, if you’re going to drive. If you want to have two jugs you’ve got to make arrangements, and whether we like it or not, that’s the way it is. But it’s really hurt on premise drinking.
Now let’s get on to some of your personal life … the golf which you’ve travelled all over, you and I went to Westport once …
And I can always remember looking in the hotel across the road.
Yes – we got into one though, didn’t we?
Yes, we did later on, and we had a good time in all the golf tournaments around.
Yes, we did … we did, Jim, yeah. Well Jim, I probably first met you when we played squash. I remember you playing squash, and my wife Jan, she played squash too. We were a family of three, and that’s something that I might say that probably helps everything, and your marriage and your friendship, and – Jan and I both played squash. When we finished playing squash we both played golf. Golf was the greatest game I ever played, and I’d still be playing but Jan had to give up physically because she couldn’t swing. And it could be selfish, golf, and so when you both played you both went … you both went to tournaments. And when Jim was talking about the hospitality industry – we had trade bowls and trade golf. And it was closed to outsiders for many years, but as the numbers dwindled you were allowed to bring a guest. But you held a North Island tournament – we had the New Zealand Golf which I must say were sponsored generously by the two main brewers, and you can’t forget that, but mind you we were their best customers. But they were generous, and that made the tournaments. The New Zealand one year was held in the South, the next year in the North, and I probably played golf for twenty-five years I suppose, and I probably … from the time I first went I probably didn’t miss one. Jim probably went to most of the New Zealand ones, but it was the Liquor Industry Golf, we called it – it wasn’t an LVA golf, it was the Liquor Industry and we were all in it. And I played … I finished probably in 1997, ‘98. I would’ve continued to play but I really loved work, and when we shifted to Meeanee, that’s probably the time I give [gave] up. It suited me to give up because the industry appealed to me, especially the retail. And when we opened the Filter Room, well I virtually looked after that and that was part of my life that I really enjoyed. But it was demanding; you were open seven days, and the golf sort of became second, but it was easy because Jan never played … had given it up. And really, my own reason for the brewing and all that is that retail – I only got out of that because I knew it was going to be too tough – but the manufacturing I thought, you know, that’ll be good. So I wanted something to do and I didn’t really want to lose my job, so owning the brewery was quite convenient – and enjoyment.
Now your duck shooting …
You’re a crack shot I understand … I heard.
Well … Jim, I missed a few. [Chuckle] But Jim, this will be my sixtieth licence, duck shooting licence. The place where I shoot is on family farms and of course my place has always been there. My best friend was the owner Jock, and in the earlier days with duck shooting was that you couldn’t go shooting unless you had somewhere to go, and of course once you got on to a property to shoot, well you were only there [as] long as he owned the property. Well I was lucky that when Jock … I lost my friend Jock three years ago, and I’d been going there for fifty-seven years. In fact it was my father-in-law that introduced me to duck shooting and in my spare time I go up to the farm and build maimais, in fact I’m in the throes of building a new one at the moment. And I wish my life away just waiting for the next season which is six months away.
But duck hunting we call it – the only difference between duck hunting and fish hunting is one [is] flying and the other’s swimming. We can’t please everybody – we do know that people don’t like it, but I put a lot into it and I put a lot back into it. I haven’t this year or last year, but I buy ducks off a producer, Geoff Niblett, and I release them back. I enjoy that much as well, but you know you can’t please everybody. But certainly I’m looking forward to my sixtieth licence, and I’ll be nearly eighty, Jim, when I buy it. So that was Jock, and we often said, “how long do you think we’ll go for?” And Jock was an old seasoned farmer, I mean he was rough as guts, you know – I mean we’d go anywhere, we’d get wet, the weather didn’t worry us. We had a hut for every night of the week. People don’t believe me but we had seven duck huts, and when the season started we would alternate from hut to hut, so there was a lot of maintenance to do so out of season we had plenty to do as well. I loved the farm, I loved the wilderness and I still … out of season I go up and I take my lunch and sit in the hut. It’s just nice to be out there.
Can we mention Jock’s surname?
Jock Grant. Yeah, Jock Grant, yeah – his son owns the farm now … Rodney. And he’s got two other sons that help – Rodney bought the family farm, one boy works on it, the other boy – he’s a machine operator, he goes and works for people, diggers and sowing and cutting and all that. So Craig’s forty-seven; Rodney’s fifty-four, but you know, I’ve known them since I picked them up from school to take them home. So Tutira is a place for me … Tutira Lake. I show a lot of interest in … they’ve had problems, I’ve watched it for years. I’ve had an up to date on it from the Grants ever since I’ve been going there. We believe that duck shooting in Tutira should be the greatest because of the lake, if it was made a sanctuary. You’re allowed no motor boats on it; it’s been treated; it’s been taken for granted really. And of course as you see now … I mean as a kid you know, younger than before I was shooting, people from Napier would go there for picnics at Lake Tutira. But it’s just one that’s got away on them, and it probably hasn’t helped the duck shooting.
Basil, can we get back to when you married Jan and how you met her and … just briefly?
Well I’ll tell you in two or three lines. My wife Jan worked at Chard’s Beauty Salon, and next door was Bullivant & Merrick’s. And my father was in at Bullivant & Merrick’s, and unbeknown[st] to me – I didn’t know the Jan that worked at Chard’s next door – it was her father that owned Bullivant & Merrick’s.
This was Chard’s.
Chard’s Beauty Salon. Thirty five girls worked in that salon … thirty-five girls. It was the biggest thing around. Mr and Mrs Chard … Nancy Chard and Colin Chard … very nice, but they employed 3thirty-five girls – I mean, it was huge. And while George was in ordering paper or paint, I see this girl through – the door was open – and I see this girl and she’s got a lemon dress on, and I thought ‘Hell! She looks quite nice, that girl’, but I didn’t know her name. So when we went back to the pub I said to Freda McRae who used to own the pub – she stayed and worked for us – I said “Freda, you don’t know the girl that … she looks like the receptionist down at Chard’s?” And Freda McRae said “Oh yes”, she said, “that’s Janet Merrick”. And I said, “Is it?” That afternoon I rung [rang] and asked to speak to Janet and that’s how it ended up. Four years later we were married. That’s right, so I was twenty-three and Jan was twenty-one, I suppose.
Which church, were you married in a church?
The Catholic Church. Jan was a Catholic. I wasn’t worried about religion, I didn’t have one but I didn’t mind if anyone else had one. My father – he was the old school – my father never went to the Church for the wedding but he was certainly there for the fun after. But George was one of those guys that … Catholic and Protestant, they were like bloody chalk and cheese. But there was no animosity. I never got to church, Jim, but my kids were brought up … Darren, my eldest son, he was an altar boy. I let Jan do that and I didn’t see anything wrong with that. They don’t practise it now; I don’t; Jan probably doesn’t either. But I’ve kept myself busy and I don’t really mind what you do as long as you don’t mind what I do, you know? So that works out.
Have you travelled overseas at all?
Yes … yes, Jim. Well firstly, Jim, when I was eighteen I left the old man building, and he’d bought the pub then. And I left, I went to Australia for a year and I worked from Townsville to Sydney. I cut cane in McKay in Queensland for two months. I cut cane – I wanted to have a go at it. You had to manage the first week. If you could get through the first week you were right. The first week was the hardest. But you cut with a knife, and it was all back-breaking work. And you lived in a hut. I worked with three Italians that could hardly speak English. The only reason I got a cut was because they wanted me to speak English so they could learn English, because the Italians did all the cane cutting in Queensland. And I went from there, carpentering, to where I worked in the Cha Cha coffee lounge in Surfers Paradise. I made coffee there, that was when espresso machines were first introduced. They weren’t in New Zealand then I don’t think.
Well anyway, we went to Surfers quite a few times after that. My sister – she shifted to Australia, only to Surfers and Twin Towns. But then in 2003 we did a trip for eight weeks, did England … UK … America – I had a look all around there and I was a bit lucky, I was with people that had kids over there, especially in UK. And then I had a friend who used to come to New Zealand every six months for the summer, and he ended up having a room at the Victoria Hotel. His name was John Lewis … a real English guy, a Tory to the end. He was a Maggie Thatcher worshipper, and he used to wind people up and loved a brandy or a whisky – real English guy. I got to know him well and he stayed at the Vic for years. And then when we went over of course, he showed us around and England I think was a terrific place – I loved it. I just loved the country and the age of everything. Everything we’ve got here, come [came] from there. You know, it’s just … all the sayings, all the quick one-liners … all come from over there. And our parents, you know – we haven’t invented … we’ve improved on a lot but we haven’t invented much. Everything was started for us, all we’ve done is improved. But they didn’t know any different.
And then three, four years later we went back there again to a wedding, and made a trip of it. And now Jan and I probably go to Surfers. I don’t know whether you’d remember Steve Rickard?
Yeah, well see his name was Merv Batt. And … see I was a wrestler – that’s where I established my first sport, and I wrestled ‘til I was about sixteen. But Merv Batt was my trainer and he was a Napier man; well he was actually my mentor – he was ten years old than I. And I didn’t have any trouble with the wrestling, but what actually happened, while I was in Australia I wrestled professionally in McKay. And after boxing matches they used to cover the ring with mattresses and put a cloth over it. And there was a couple of wrestlers in McKay, and after the boxing they used to have the wrestling and of course it was professional, freestyle. And of course a lot of it was worked out and it was a crowd-pleaser, you know. I had I think about five fights there, while I was there, and I got paid for it. And I got £23 … no, sorry – no, that’s how much I earned as a carpenter, £23 … I got £32. £32 was a week and a half’s wages.
Each match. But you see you were up there with – the Italians had a lot of money … the cane cutters. I worked there for two months and I averaged £54 a week for two months. And so £54 was like double the wage you would work in a carpentry job with Saturday morning, you know.
And anyway, when I come [came] back to New Zealand, Merv had shifted to Wellington then. And anyway I went to the wrestling and I got caught with what I said – I got into a trap, I didn’t realise. I was a certified amateur wrestler in New Zealand, and trainer, ‘cause when Merv left I took over the Police Youth Club. And what happened was, a person come [came] to the wrestling this night of training, and he happened to say to me, “Oh, they believe you did some wrestling in Australia?” And I said “Yes I did”. And he said “Oh yeah, which club were you?” “Oh”, I said “No, no – it wasn’t a club”, I said “it was just an arranged wrestling – there was a couple of wrestlers there, a pro wrestling”. And he said “What – did you take money for it?” And I said “Oh yeah”, I said “hell yeah – they offered and it was £30 [quid]”. And he said “Oh – you’ve realised that spoils your amateur status, have you?” “Well no, but”, I said “no one knows”. “Yeah, but”, he said, “you know ..?” So I lost, I couldn’t wrestle amateur again.
And of course I rung [rang] Merv, and said to Merv … “Oh, Bas, you shouldn’t have said that”. And I said “Well – I got sucked in.” He said “You should’ve said no, you just did it for fun, and then they wouldn’t have …” He said “The fact that you’ve said …” Now I was only – I was young, you know. Well, I was eighteen. And of course they put three years on me, I couldn’t wrestle … my wrestling. Jim, when I was fifteen I was thirteen stone four [pounds] fighting weight. In other words I had to be below thirteen-four, and I had to keep my weight so you were better at the top of your weight than at the bottom, because the weight difference was an advantage for you because you could be fighting a man who’s in the same … what do we call the weights? You know, the weights went from bantam … there up and …
Paper weight and they went right through, yep.
That’s right. So you tried to wrestle at the top of your weight even if you had to starve the day before to weigh in. And you always weighed in a day before you had to fight. I mean we used to do weights – God, it was like … Rex White had a gym in Napier, and he was a weightlifter and we used to go there and train. But you know, it was real training … I mean as hard as you could train. And as I say I was thirteen-four at fifteen years of age, and I was fighting guys thirty years of age because my weight – I put the weight on through weightlifting, repetition and all that, which you had to have. But of course I didn’t probably have the strength, like even at fifteen like a guy at thirty. I remember going to the Invercargill Champs, [Championships] and a Monaghan which was a well-known Invercargill name – I had to fight him. Nice guy, thirty-two years of age. I went thirteen minutes with him before he pinned me. But I was good for my weight – I was strong, but you couldn’t fight … fifteen, you still didn’t have the strength of a man. See, when you’re twenty, that’s when you’re strong. Once you hit eighteen and twenty, up into your early twenties I mean – that’s the best time of your athletic life. And you had to train too.
So that gets back to your original question of going overseas, so I used to go over and see Merv. And as Merv got crook I used to go and see him quite often. Jan doesn’t like aeroplanes, which doesn’t help, whereas I’m the opposite. If anyone asks me to go for a fly I’d go tomorrow. So that sort of cushioned it a bit, because … like it must be awful for people that don’t like flying. I mean her ears go, and she gets nervous and you know, even business class where it’s more relaxed, Jan – I mean she’d go and see Corinne again which we will do, but Merv died about three year[s] ago too, and of course that stopped us going. Why we went to Surfers – it wasn’t far and you sort of flew out of Napier and within a few hours you were in Coolangatta – ‘cause we used to land at Coolangatta. And that was over, you know, but a day before you had to come home, Jan’d start … on about the bloody plane, and it’s probably – when everyone else is having a lot of fun you think twice. But if I said to Jan you know, “We’ll go over and see my sister”, she’d say “yes”. But we would do it the quickest way we could. So Jim, probably places that I would have probably loved to’ve gone to, I probably haven’t mainly because of that. But what I can tell you – there’s not many places in New Zealand I haven’t been to because of Hotel Conferences for twenty years. The conference was held in a different town every year, until you went back again, you know?
So you know you’ve seen a few things. But travel is – once again Jim, it’s company … if you’ve got good company … tours I think are bloody good, but you need a couple you know to go with, I think. I don’t think I’d like to go on a twenty day tour. Cruising – Jan doesn’t like bloody ships either, and I’m not that fussed with ships ‘cause you get bloody seasick. But you know everyone does what they want -I mean look at the people that travel now on cruise ships. But they’d be people who don’t like aeroplanes wouldn’t they.
So what else would you like to tell us – anything? You’ve opened my eyes, as well.
And you know, Jim, what I think is that – you know, I couldn’t do it without my wife, Jan. I mean you take the years I was in the pub – I mean the only time she had to shift in, when – like we had managers at one stage – Jan didn’t like it but she was bloody good when she was in there. But you know – the hours we worked! And even when we were shut on Sundays you still had Sunday morning sessions, and you still had accommodation. We had accommodation for twenty-four people. George built all the units. We were one of the first to have all our rooms fully self-contained – everyone had a toilet, whereas in the old pub you had community toilets. And earlier, before that, you shared a room with people you didn’t know – and accommodation.
So I’ve got three family – Flower, that’s my eldest daughter, she’s fifty-two … fifty-three I think; then I have Darren, you know, he’s very successful. He owns Gemco – him and his partner, John Sarten – they own Gemco between them which is a construction company. He’s done very well. And in fact I was out with him last night at the Masonic in Napier for his birthday – I think he was fifty two, so it’s him that’s fifty-two. Then I have my youngest son, Steve – he was a bit later than the rest, he’s ten years younger than the oldest.
You can either adapt yourself to read a book or something Jim, but some people can’t. Like, Jim I don’t watch … I watch rugby on TV. My wife is the TV fan – we have Sky and the taping, but apart from an aircraft investigation, I’m interested in that. But anything that’s not factual I’m not interested. I don’t watch a film. And I only read a book – I love to read books about prominent people – the dueller and the airmen, you know, because they’re true. And probably that’s why I like going to work. If I can go to work and do a day’s work – if I haven’t done much, I’ve just mowed the lawn – and firstly I’ve earned my beer which is important, and the best beer is the first one. The second one is with someone else and then after that your thirst is fixed isn’t it.
Jim, you know when you get older, if you’re left on your own I think that could be … none of us deserve that, but it can happen. And I suppose now Jan and I, we talk about … one’s going to go before the other. And you’ve got great-grandkids, I’ve got a great-granddaughter, and probably when I didn’t have the time so much – I’ve got a lot of time now – and you enjoy that, but you’ve got to accept that one day that’s not going to be, is it? And I think to myself that if I can get my sixtieth duck shooting licence that would do, but I know if I get my sixtieth I’ll want to get my sixty-first. I try to carry on, but now and again when you hear or read a bit of news, how unlucky some parents are, you just think ‘well …’ I don’t think anyone gets through life unscathed in some way or other. Every family’s got a story to tell. I mean I had a granddaughter who got involved in drugs and we had to go into bat, and we think that we’ve made it. Firstly we wish she hadn’t, but then on the good side we look and think ‘well – we may’ve helped her get out of it.’ So you’ve got to reward yourself for that.
But Jim, if you talk to people, if you go out … like, golf was a great … the most social game you could have. You get to know people – you don’t play that same four, pair every week – and you meet people, and once you start talking you find that we’ve all got our problems. But you always sort of think ‘well, I’m luckier than him’. And I don’t think that’ll ever change, Jim, will it?
I’ve only got two grandsons – one is ten and he’s a good bugger, he comes and gives me a hand with my duck … he comes and he paints, and helps me, and I’m trying to get him into duck shooting, you know? But there’s one deal, he’s got to leave his gadget at home. Those damn phones, you know, the kids – you know they’re allowed them but they’ve got to hand them in at the school to the teacher. He’s a good boy, he goes to Hereworth here, and we’re glad he gets a good education. But I try to get him out into the wild[erness] – the bit I know, the bit that … now, his father is a hunter as well. Jan and I often just think, you know, they can’t go anywhere without their phone. I mean kids of ten with a phone that will tell them anything. And you know, all the kids have got it and they talk to each other from one place to the other. And that’s, Jim, how it is. And I think ‘well, I don’t have to put up with it forever’.
But you see Jim, I have a phone, right? And all my business people are on that phone, and I had to buy a bigger bugger that I could make the writing bigger, because if you rung [rang] me … and this is mostly for business probably … but if you rung [rang] your name comes up, right? And I say “hello Jim, how are you?” Right? Now in business first names are important, and in my business it’s a little off a lot of people. And I’ve got to remember first names because that’s all I need, and it gets my foot in the door. But I don’t use my phone for anything else, it’s purely a contact. I don’t email – Jan does, and emails and pays accounts and all that. I write a cheque still, and Jim, I don’t email. If you don’t answer your phone, and you say “ring back”, I will leave a message, but if someone wants to talk business over the phone I say “Look – I’ll make a time to come and see you.” I like to talk to people; I like to know who I’m talking to, because what it does, it helps to keep business as well.
But it’s nice to go somewhere and you know people Jim, isn’t it? You know that. In our industry, Jim, everyone was a friend. A lot of business we did was in the pub. You didn’t need a paper back in those early days because everyone come [came] into the pub at night and everyone knew the news – you got it all, you know? And once you got used to that you miss it and that’s what I miss now. When I call at a place, it’s no use calling at five o’clock because there’s no one there to have a drink with. So to have a drink now with someone, Jim, I’ve got to ring up and say to Dave or whatsaname, “Look, what about we go down to the Taradale Club?” “Okay”. And that’s the fun. I don’t want to be on my own, and I think that’s what young ones are missing out on.
The other thing I think, Jim, is that sport is the only thing that will save the young kids today. We’ve got to get them into sport because that’s the only time they actually bodily – and get to know people. Young Jackson – I go to every bloody rugby game he’s into, and he’s quite heavy for his age, he’ll only ever be a forward, but I said to him you know, “You should really be playing number 8, ‘cause you’re always last to get there.” But at least he’s playing. And Jim, it’s sport. I often think about … another pet of mine is the money from gaming. You know, millions of dollars, and a lot of that money goes to professional sport. And I believe that if a professional sport can’t exist on its own income – if they can’t sell themselves – or they should put a limit, because all these little Maori kids that we’ve got at Maraenui, they’re the ones you’ve got to help otherwise my kids are going to have to help them when they get to my [age]. See whether we like it or not, Jim, that’s how it is. You can’t hurt people that have got nothing to lose. You can’t hurt them. You know the bloody gangs and all that crap we had in our day and all that, I mean – they had nothing to lose. I mean, if they went to jail it was a holiday for them.
And I think there’s ten thousand people in jail in New Zealand Jim – ten thousand! You see people say “no, no – it’s an eye for an eye”, but that was how it used to be. That won’t work, because we’re paying for him to be there. So that means that the money is paying for him when it should go to the little kids at Maraenui. So all that gaming should be …
I saw where the Hawke’s Bay – I’m a rugby supporter, I love it – but I saw where the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union, per head of population, received more money from gaming trusts than any other rugby union in New Zealand, per head of population. Now Jim, every rugby player’s got two men looking after him. I mean in our day … and we kept fit, didn’t we? I mean look at Colin Meads, he was a great man of [for] that, but look at the money that Colin give [gave] away. I mean Colin knew what had to be done.
Jim, I had Meeanee – I forgot to tell you, but I had Meeanee for three years, and I only went back into it because I was doing nothing. And a young fellow – I knew his parents; his son was in the Army in the UK and he’d learnt cooking and been in the Army and did the bar and all that, and when he come back here he had a few bob. And he wanted to get into a pub, and I knew his parents well. And his parents approached me and told me the story, you know? And so I met the boy, and he’s a nice enough lad. And the Meeanee was up for lease, but it was an old Leopard Brewery lease where you bought everything but you had to sell it back to the owner, and they had the right … so if you built it up or anything you got nothing for it. But I said to young Richard, that this is how you start, and it’s not a bad pub. But they were in the days of after-hours and Sunday closing, all right? And so I said to Richard, “Look, I don’t want to work at night or anything, but” I said … oh, there was the finance. He didn’t have enough money; I had enough money so what we did was, he put $60,000 in, I put $60,000 in and then I loaned the company, Molyneux & Diack, the rest of the money and they paid me interest on the money, and it was for three years. And I said to Richard, “Now, I will do holidays for you”, you know, “and all that if you’re away, but I’m not going to be here every night in fact.” So I said “I’ll do the wages, the GST and the gaming, and pay … like GST included the accounts”, which we did. We were only there a year and a bit, and Jenny [Shipley] introduced beer in supermarkets. And the after-hours … the Sunday sales after-hours … you could take on a poor Sunday, $2,000, but you could take on a holiday weekend 4 or $5,000 all in, but it was a twenty-five per cent markup, it wasn’t at 15 per cent like it is today. And of course that was massive. And the first Sunday that supermarkets got – because they were ready to go, you know – which is another thing. Why have a conscience vote when you already told them – like, it’s like a guy running a raffle – he knows who’s going to win it, and that’s what a conscience vote is in Parliament. You only want one more, and only two-thirds of the politicians vote – I mean, we challenged them about their conscience vote – it’s not even a … you know you’re going to win it.
But anyway, the first Sunday, Jim, that supermarkets – it come [came] in on the Monday; it was voted on the Thursday in Parliament, and it was in on the Monday. And on that Sunday it was – I think it would have been in November or the first week in December – our off-sales dropped to $620 [bucks], all right? Now we’d normally say take $2,000. Well the first thing that hurt was that you didn’t sell many flagons, and of course flagons were still in then and of course flagons were tap beer, so your margin was good. Okay. The third week we took $300. So what happened … the revenue from the Meeanee went from there to here.
So after Christmas and all that I said to young Richard, I said “I don’t think two of us … there’s not a living here for two. You can renew the lease if you want to, but” I said “look, you should know enough then – I probably don’t want to stay in,” but I said “you’ll make good money, but you’ll have to do more. That’ll do me”, you know. But as it happened he didn’t renew it either. And of course it was the Bolt family that owned the Meeanee, but Kitty had long gone and Doris and Bas had both died. So the daughter owned it, which was Doris’s and Basil’s daughter, and she inherited it. And when we got out … I got out because I said to – I forget her name now – that “when we first leased it, through no fault of yours, but the law changed. You had nothing to do with it; either [neither] did I. But it’s changed the income and it’s not worth that amount of money, and I want a reduction.” And I said to Richard that you know, “if you got it reduced you could handle it”, and he said “Right, we’ll see how we go.” But she wouldn’t bloody drop the lease … she wouldn’t drop it. And I showed her the figures, and I didn’t tell her I wasn’t going to go in. I said “You realise you’re going to lose two good tenants?” “Oh yeah – no, no”, she said, “it’s worth it”. But I said, “It’s not.” I said “If it’s not worth less now, you got too much for it then”, you know. But anyway, I don’t know whether she didn’t like me or not – I don’t know, but she wouldn’t … And she ran it for three months and then put it on the market and sold the freehold.
So the best days of the pubs were finished. And at the moment, Jim, the people that run the pub live there, and that’s the rent because they don’t make enough to pay any rent, so they use it as a place to live. And that’s the son of the guy that owns it, and you probably know him, but I’ve forgotten his name.
But Jim, pubs … Tikokino is open, but all the country pubs around it are gone. Now the lady at Tiko, she seems to have something there, I don’t know, but I hear good words about it. It’s on the longest straight; it’s on Highway 50. You’re doing a hundred ks [kilometres] when you go past, but she must stop quite a bit of traffic, still operates. But the likes of … Puketapu’s all right; Bay View, but there’s no other pubs. I mean Ormondville – I think that’s gone. But I’ve never done a trip round there and I’ve intended to, but you see one time you could have a beer in each pub. Now you’ve got to go down and drink bloody coffee.
I used to do all that run right out to Pongaroa and Herbertville …
You see you’d know all them, and a lot of them were members of the Hawke’s Bay Hotel Association when it was called that. Jim, the ones that are still there, it’s a home for them and it’s job for them. Now …
It’s a hobby for them.
But Jim, everyone’s got to have a job. And I just think like some of the little brewers, it’s been a lot of fun, but all they’re going to end up with is maybe a job. Because if you don’t do volume, how do you pay the bills? Especially if you’re paying rent. And Jim, it’s the same as the little cafe bars – a lot of them, I mean there are successful ones, but it’s food that attracts them, not the liquor.
Well the coffee I think is … someone told me the other day it costs about a dollar for a cup of coffee, to make, with all your overheads as well, and you’re selling it for five [dollars].
Well four’s [$4] the cheapest. And Jim, to make coffee – the worst thing about coffee is that it takes a long time to make. I mean, the best coffee places like those in town where someone is on that machine and she doesn’t stop – that’s how you make money making bloody coffee. And of course with the price of milk … what they’ve got to be careful of … but if you do volume, you’re right. But if you only do one now and again, that milk heat up, cold, heat up – that night you’ve got to tip it out. But Jim, I could serve ten people with a beer by the time she served one coffee. [Chuckles]
Oh, well – this has been very interesting, Basil – I thank you very much. I’ve learned a lot from your talk, and I’ve had all my life in the liquor industry as well. But however, we’re always learning, and I really enjoyed that.
Yes, Jim, and I’ve enjoyed it too. Thanks, Jim.
Okay – thank you.
Original digital file
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- Basil George Diack
Interviewer: Jim Newbigin