Beaumont, John Geoffrey Interview

Today is the 13th of October 2015 and I’m interviewing John and Jean Beaumont on their life and times in the Havelock North village, John as a carpenter and then later where he grew to fame as probably one of the first swimming coaches in Hawke’s Bay. John would you like to tell us something about your family?

Well I was born in Havelock North in 1934 in October.  Joseph and Agnes Beaumont were my mother and father, and had four sisters and a brother, plus two of the children before I was born, died of …

Jean:  You had six sisters.

John:  Yeah, I had six sisters, that’s right, and just the two boys.  And when I was growing up my brother was away at the War and he was away for five years, and so I was brought up in a household of females.  Then I went to the Havelock Primary School and stayed at the Havelock Primary School for all my primary school education, and went to Hastings High School.

Well, just before you go on to the high school, did you play any sport or do anything special at Havelock Primary?

Oh yeah, I was playing rugby and cricket, in the Ross Shield for Hastings Schools, which we won in that year, 1949, and then the same year I captained the first Hawke’s Bay Primary School cricket team to play against Hereworth.  Ed Singleton was the coach and the selector for our team.  It was an amazing situation where it was so different to playing the games like we did down on the local domain. We went up to Hereworth and we thought we were at Lords and we even stopped for afternoon tea which was quite a highlight for all of us.  And also when we were at the High School, the whole school did a lot of swimming, and I learnt to swim when I was about eight.  And of course growing up in Havelock in those days we had the facilities of quite a nice swimming pool for the times, and we also had the tennis courts beside the swimming pool. The Domain was our centre of creation.

We lived in a house which was 41 Havelock Road [later referred to as 41 Napier Road] which my Mum and Dad had bought. It was a big, big house which used to be the original Police Station in Havelock, and we used to spend most of our time either in the summer swimming or playing on the Domain and that sort of thing.

Do you remember the Domain the springtime?  They didn’t have mowers like they have today, and there was all this grass in the field and the kids used to wind this up and make clubs out of it and beat hell out of one another.

One thing of the enjoyable things you know, my sisters all mucked in and we used to have games of scrag on a Sunday … we’d go swimming on a Sunday, and then have a game of scrag in the afternoon which was playing basically rugby, but the girls used to play, and you know – boys and girls seemed to be of one gender in those days – they used to knock us round, and we used to tackle them as if – yeah, and it used to be an enjoyable time.

My parents … I was very fortunate, I had a fantastic home life and my parents were absolutely great to us, and we always had a lot of people coming into the house and a lot of activity going on. And my Dad, I think it was 1929 they moved to our place, and Dad arrived from England quite a number of years before, and he went farming up in the Thames area.  And he came over with his sister and her man, who was a Professor at the Victoria University, and then after I think five years, Dad went back to England to Shropshire where they were born and brought Mum over, and it was a ten week trip across on the boat.  And they went to Wellington for a while, and then they came up to Hawke’s Bay and they went to Copeland Road in Hastings, and was [were] there for a while. Then they went to Guthrie Road.  And after Guthrie Road they came to the big house on Napier Road which was 41 Napier Road.

The earthquake was in ’30 … ’31, and that created quite a lot of problems for them.  They had to camp outside for some time.  And Dad did a lot of work on … going around with a group of people round Havelock making sure they were all right, but it used to be a big worry about the earthquake for some time afterwards.

Anyway Dad was quite politically oriented, and he was one of the founders of the first Labour Party in Havelock North, and of course he made very good friends with the Town Clerk of that time, Mr Anderson.  And anyway, Dad and lots and lots of other people couldn’t get jobs because of the Depression, and he used to bike from Havelock out to where the Hastings Airport is now, all through metal roads to do some forestry work out there.  And then he got a job supervising some of the unemployment gangs – mainly with the help of Mr Anderson – to make the Domain, ’cause that all collapsed and they had [to make] the Domain out of what was left.  And then after that he became the first sexton of the Havelock Cemetery, and he used to dig these graves … they had the hard clay up there … all by himself.  But he had Mr Anderson, who was a good friend, and … yeah.   And while that was going on Mum was bringing up all her siblings. [Children]

So you were at primary school and you’ve taken part in various sports.  Then you went onto High School?

Went on to Hastings High School ’50 – ’52, two years at high school.  By this time when I went to High School, I’d been very fortunate – I’d been picked as a cricketer, and I got some coaching from two English professionals who were out here, Jim Parks and Maurice Tremlett.  And when I got to High School … oh, while I was playing primary school, myself and a boy from Mangateretere were the only two primary school cricketers that had scored centuries on a Saturday morning.  So I had a little bit of a reputation at cricket and when I got there I made the First XI – because I started in summer – the First XI in the Hastings High School, and I played in that for two years.

But in those days when you went to primary school, the first two weeks was what they called ‘Barracks’ – was the Army training, and … couldn’t see much future in that really, but anyway I went.  After two years, my Dad and Mum were getting very old, they had a team talk and felt that I should do something about getting into the trades and I was offered a job by Archie Toop as an apprentice.  So I went in as an apprentice with Archie Toop, and Johnny Pankhurst was the son of the local postmaster, and he was the joiner at the factory, so I did a joinery or carpentering apprenticeship which I enjoyed – I really enjoyed it.  And I did that for … it used to be five years, not hours in those days … and so I did that.

At the same time as doing that, I also was helping to learn to swim up at the Havelock swimming pool, and we had the older members that had come back from the War, Harold Christie and Peter Foote the dentist.  And I was helping to coach the swimming then.  And then the group that I had – all of a sudden I discovered that I had a very, very talented swimmer called John Palmer, and Rickie Lowe, and I had a group of boys training with me, ’cause I didn’t know any better – I just trained them like they trained me at rugby, and trained them hard.  And there used to be a lot of complaints about how hard I trained, and how I made them swim in cold water.  But anyway, they developed so good that when we went away to the Champs, the two older professional coaches in the country basically took me under their wing and helped me along.  And that’s how I got into the competitive side of it, which saw me have a lifelong interest in teaching people to swim.

And while you were at your trade with Archie Toop were you still playing sport?

Yes, I played junior rugby for Havelock and then I played senior rugby and senior cricket right from the time … and I made the Under 21 Hawke’s Bay team to go in a tournament up in Wanganui.  And that year I got the … oh gee, it’s skiting, isn’t it? … the Ransford Bat for the best Under 21 cricketer in Hawke’s Bay.  Sounds skiting, doesn’t it – this?

No, it isn’t – it’s fact.

At the same time as that I was in the Scouts.  Prior to that I started the Cubs and stayed in the Cubs, and then I went to the Scouts.  And when I got to the Scouts the Scoutmaster was a guy called Stacey Golder.  Now, Stacey Golder – he had the joinery factory which was in the old Foresters’ Lodge Building, right in the middle of Havelock opposite the Cenotaph on Te Mata Road. We had very few in the Scouts at that stage and I and Bob Frater and one or two of the other local guys, we were the oldest of the Scouts at about eleven.  And Stacey was our Scoutmaster and he was the most interesting character, which I learnt a lot from.  Stacey – at the end of the Scout night we would sit on the floor around the stage, and Stacey would sit up on the stage and tell us these stories about prisoner of war camps that he was at.  Now as I grew up and that, I started to wonder whether he ever was, but just recently his sole apprentice, Maurice Wiggins – Maurice had told me that he was a prisoner of war.  And he used to be so imaginative that he’d tell these stories and he’d act the part.  None of us had TV in those days and it used to be our night’s theatrical entertainment.   But he also was a dag.  When we all started to go to High School we used to have to line up outside of his shop to catch the bus to go to High School, and on a frosty morning we’d all be lined up there, and all of a sudden his doors on the joinery factory on a frosty morning, would be thrown open and then out the door came Maurice Wiggins. And in those days you could run right round the Cenotaph, and Stacey would be coming after him with a little tomahawk or something and they’d be yelling and screaming.  And it was only just a week or two ago that I learnt that Stacey used to get Maurice and say “I’ll tell you when to go”, and then Maurice had to fling open the doors.

Oh, it was an act was it?

It was entertainment – oh – and to get ‘em warm, they reckoned.  Yeah.  But that’s the imagination he had.

And then when I went on to become a Scoutmaster I used to take the kids up to the Te Mata Park and have a bonfire up there … a camp fire … and we used to sing songs and all the rest and have a lovely time.  But Stacey had then left us and become a Commissioner of Scouts in Hastings.  And he organised with me that he was going to play this game where he made himself … he called himself the Green Archer.  And while we were sitting there around these … all of a sudden an arrow would land amongst us, and on a note:  ‘Catch me if you can’.  And all this sort of thing, and we all got up – ‘cause I knew it was happening …

But the kids didn’t.

… and oh, it was great fun, and it was so sad when that all finished. And then … just thinking about the Scouts … because I worked for Archie Toop, and there was a baker in Havelock who was the Chairman of our Scout Group, Win Warnes – Win Warnes used to have the bakery just opposite the Havelock Primary School and Win Warnes decided we needed a home – the Scouts – so him [he] and a group of us built the Scout Hut, which Archie Toop was very generous with, with everything. I spent a huge amount of time working on it and we finished the Scout Hut and it’s still there, and the Scouts flourished.  And then I did that until I got married and then I had to stop.

Well just before we go onto that next step, what was the village like at that stage?

The village was … there was one butcher’s shop, Learmonth’s on the corner of Joll Road.  It still had all the six roads I think coming in.  There was a baker;  there was a chemist shop down where it is now just down Middle Road;  there was also the blacksmith, Bob Given, and the Town Hall which … there was an empty section between that and the Town Hall;  and the Town Hall, where there used to be a lot of social activities in the hall itself, and it was also the office of the Borough Council. When I was growing up there was the Havelock North Trading Company, and there was a barber, and there was the shop where Te Aute and Middle Road – there was a shop right on the corner there, Glennie’s, and then it became Bourgeois, and we had the Post Office.

And of course across the road you had Harold Bush, because the Postmaster and Harold Bush used to meet for the odd whisky in his shop.  

Charlie Pankhurst.

Jean:  Reg Newrick.

John:  I worked in the school holidays with Harold Bush, it was an entertainment.  And Dukes, Crawfords … Crawfords had a bookshop?


Gee, that name’s come back.

Yes, they had a son called Corrin.

That’s right.

Big – he was a school teacher I think in the end.

Jean:  You used to go and get the Sports Post.

John:  Oh that was a bit later, when I was playing senior rugby and Reg Newrick had the dairy in Havelock.

Yes, he took it over from Crawfords didn’t he?

Yeah, after the War.

And every Sunday night I used to take his car into Hastings to Mrs – oh, what was her name?  Anyway, they were opposite the railway station – and pick up the … ‘7 O’Clock’ was it?  What was the Sunday paper?  ‘7 O’Clock’ I think it was, but anyway I used to pick these … pile of papers, take it out and then all the people in Havelock would be lined up waiting for it, yeah.  Yeah, used to do that.  And I think we only had one school at that stage when I was growing up.

Joe Nimon’s bus – the old buses he had then?

Yes, old buses and yes … the story about Joe Nimon was that when I first got on the bus – I was going to High School – and anyway old Joe had said something and I didn’t hear it, and I went down the back of the bus, and one of the kids sitting in the back grabbed my hat off my head … cap.  And I reached out and he put his head back and broke the glass.  Anyway, I owned up to doing it to Joe, and Joe said to me that he wouldn’t make me pay for it – because I didn’t even think about insurance – he wouldn’t make me pay for it but he would send me an account once I started work.  Now – three years later that’s exactly what he did.  And I had to pay it – my father made me pay it.

Isn’t that old fashioned eh?

Jean:  Absolutely.

John:  But he most probably got the thing fixed up by the insurance company.

And then … you were established then, you were helping to build houses and make joinery, and playing sport and then along came Jean.

Along came Jean.

So where did your family come from Jean?

My grandparents came from Scotland and settled in Riwaka in Nelson, and my mother was one of fourteen children.  My father was born in Hope in Nelson and I don’t know anything about his parents really, they were dead before I was …   We lived in Redwood Valley in Nelson and Dad was the manager of an experimental fruit research station which was run by the DSIR in those days, and they did experiments on new varieties of apples and other fruits, and on diseases and things.

And there was only two in our family. I went to Appleby School which was a little country school.  I don’t think the roll ever reached more than thirty-five.  And I had to walk, right from when I was five, two miles on a very dusty gravel road which all of the children did.  And then when I became old enough to go to College we went on the bus right into Nelson which was sixteen miles from where  …

Appleby was in the centre of the apple growing area wasn’t it?

Yes, it was. I liked school. I was very happy at school and went to College for two years, and then Dad had the option of a transfer because a nursery was being … two nurseries in New Zealand, one in Alexandra, South Otago and one in Havelock North.  So Dad went off to suss them all out and he chose Havelock North.  So our family moved to Havelock North in 1950 I think, and I went to the same school as John who had just left the year before, I think.  I wasn’t there at the same time as him anyway.  I went to the co-ed high school on Karamu Road, biked in most days. Sometimes went on the bus.

Did you play any sport at all?

I wasn’t good at sport, no – I didn’t play much except I played at bit of badminton.  John played badminton too.  And I played a bit of table tennis, and I swam a little bit and I also played a little bit of tennis, but nothing competitive, it was just really social.  And I went to High School until I was sixteen and then I left and went nursing after a little while of working in offices in Queen Street in Hastings for accountants, I then went nursing. And all the while I was living down Goddards Lane where the research station used to be, and often walking to the shops.   And I walked right past John’s house, and he’d quite often be loafing around on his verandah … no – that’s probably not true, he wasn’t loafing around … he never loafed around, he didn’t hardly have time to breathe from what he was doing.

So what was your family name then?


Robins, so your father worked with Dr McKenzie, when he was there?

Don McKenzie, yes.

John:  He was in charge of setting up the orchard.

Jean:  Yes, and they were doing the same thing, they were having experiments with apples and … I saw quite a bit of Dr McKenzie.  So I met John really just casually, at dances and – we used to go to dances most Saturday nights, or football club socials, where the ladies took a plate and the men brought beer.

And then the ladies all got in the supper room and the men stood around the end of the hall.

That’s right, and almost the same thing happened at dances.  We used to bike – my girlfriend and I – quite safely every Saturday night from Havelock into the Premier.   I used to love those dances. There was the great big light hanging from the ceiling.

The one that spun and put the sparkles …

All the sparkles and dots and things all over the room.  And the girls used to be at this end and the boys would all congregate by the door as if they were ready to take fright and run out down the street … [chuckle]

Safety in numbers.

Yes.  And we did the Gay Gordons and the Military Two Step and all those old dances, and I think John and I went to a few dances together didn’t we?

John:  Think we met first at Fernhill, the first time.

Jean:  No I don’t think it was, sorry, but I’m not sure.

Well there was a hall in every little community wasn’t there?

Yes, there was.

And sometimes there were dances during the week you could go to.

There were, and there were some in the Havelock Town Hall.

That Town Hall to us seemed quite big then, but it didn’t hold many people did it?  It was only quite a small room.

It was a very small room and even smaller was the one at the swimming baths, where we also had a few dances, and a piano playing.

John:  But they used to be great.  I mean as you said before, the men used to take a flagon, the ladies used to take cooking, and we were away.

So then obviously you became engaged and were married.

Jean:  Yes.

John:  We were married in 1957.

Jean:  Yes, we were.  And we built the little sleepout out there and lived in it while John built the house in his … very little spare time – he didn’t have much spare time. But his friends helped him and he built this house.  Colin Shanley helped him.

John:  Colin Shanley.

Jean:  And Tony McQuade, who’s just passed away.  That was what happened in those days, people used to come and help you. [Speaking together]

John:  But they didn’t do a lot – they just … they just came when they wanted to have a drink or something.  And it’s amazing where we got the time to do things.  But I built – we were going to buy a section up Joll Road, and my father talked me out of it because it was a shady sort of a section, and he said that he’d heard that McDuff, the publican, had this land for sale.  And anyway, Roy Learmonth had bought where the Police Station is, and I bought this section, and the rest of it was just lucerne and hardly any houses that way, except for the pub area, and the pub had a big bit of property there.  And yes, we built that and we lived out there and it was great. I mean I used to go to rugby practice on a Thursday night …

[Chuckle]  Across the fence.

Yeah, and it had been known for them to come back, two or three of the players, and sit on the … out there.  There was a curtain across the bed – Jean would be in bed sleeping – we’d be there listening to the cricket on the radio from England.

Jean:  Yes, I was still working then so I had shift hours, so I … it was quite hard.

As a nurse?

Yes, nursing, at Memorial Hospital.

John:  But you know, those days that we would go and help each other to pour concrete drives, build a garage or something … and you know, all a guy had to go was put a flagon on, and we’d all sit round afterwards and – we did that all around here.

It’d be very hard to find someone today, if you asked someone, you were going to do a job, they’d think of reasons why they were too busy.

Yeah.  We used to help each other out.  And the good thing about it is the kids grew up … all the families used to look after each other.  And that’s the sad thing we find about this development here.  All the history that we have … associations with different groups, and seeing them make their way … has gone.

There’s only a few of us probably left in the village that can name, you know … it was just like a map in your mind, wasn’t it?


So then you were married and you had how many children?

Jean:  We’ve got six children.

Are they all local still?

Only Paul, the one you met’s in Hawke’s Bay.  We’ve got one in Sydney and two in Wellington, one in Hamilton, one in Auckland.

Oh, they’re well spread out. Paul’s stayed reasonably close to home hasn’t he?  So then you are a young married couple with children and then one day you embarked on this developing your swimming coaching.  

Yes, John was about twenty-three, were you?  Little bit more?

John:  Swimming coaching had gone … I was doing all the sports I’ve talked about, I was running the Scouts, and also by this time I had a group of swimmers going pretty well in the pool.  And anyway, I had no intentions of … although I didn’t know much about professional coaches or anything else.  But then when I got married I had to make some decisions, so I dropped the Scouts because I had to build this place.  And then the Council opened up the pool and … when I say open up, they’d done a few small additions to it.  And then the custodian of the pool retired, so I decided that I would take that job on as long as they’d let me coach, which they did.  And so I became a professional swimming coach.  I had to sit some exams but I was well guided in what I should do and I started coaching up in the Havelock pool.  But then I found that what I was doing, I was working six months of the year carpentering, and doing swimming.  And I had this arrangement with Ernie Wiggins that I’d go back in winter.

Anyway I soon found that, you know, the season wasn’t long enough to be able to … outdoor it was as cold as billy-o.  So I started thinking about, and had seen some backyard pools up in Auckland that people were doing some teaching in, but not on a sort of a public … they were privately doing it.  And I thought about building a swimming pool.  So I was talking to Colin Shanley, and Colin drew some plans up and I was very happy with the fact that he did that, but it wasn’t quite what I really wanted.  And then I was playing cricket with the Town Clerk – the chap Field … his Christian name’s gone

Jean:  Peter.

John:  Peter Field, and he said to me that the Council were opening up this area down here for a commercial area.  Anyway, I went and had a look at it, but I really wanted to build the pool on Crosses Road and Napier Road corner, because my Dad had often talked about canoes on the Thames River and that sort of thing, and I just thought it would be good to have the pool up by the road and slope it down and all.   That was something that could development do.  [Development could do]

So – but when I looked into it and with Peter Field’s help the – it was owned by the Harbour Board, it was a landing place for a barge or a boat, and you could only get a hundred-year lease.  And in those days you couldn’t get money lent to you on a hundred … so that was out.  Then Peter came to me one day and said “look, we’re having a bit of trouble getting started with selling these sections – what say we sell one to you a bit cheaper.  Would you take it?”  So I was able to get that one right on the corner.  And Blue Moon had built a factory, they had built their factory just opposite the garage and so we got that section.  And then, I had Colin’s plans, and one of my swimming Dads was Sam Payne, the accountant, and I changed my accountant – well I didn’t have one really then – and I was talking to him, and he was really enthusiastic about that.  So he gathered twelve of the local doctors, who all said that they would form a company and I would put the section in and what else I could afford, which wasn’t very much.  And John Lobb was one who wasn’t a doctor, he was a family friend, and he drew the plans up and I bought the section.  But all the doctors with Sam and Devine – Stuart Devine – did it for me too.  And I was so lucky with those guys.  They worked out an agreement that these guys would put only quite a little bit under today’s money really, into this company, but nobody could sell it unless they offered it back to me.  So they all agreed because I had a lot of their kids in swim …  So away we went, and it became the first privately owned pool in the country.  It was a real success, and it was opened in 1968 from memory, was that right?  And remember it was only a twenty-yard pool.

During that time I was asked if I would become President of the New Zealand Professional Swimming Coaches Association, which I did.  And then we changed it to New Zealand Swimming Coaches, and during that time I had two or three trips away as coach of the New Zealand team. I had to stop doing those sort of things because they didn’t pay once you … all the time before in preparation … only paid your way when … and there was no money, so having a family and that, I had to stop.   And also the most exciting thing I guess from a swimming coach’s professional point of view was the fact that we got two girls out of our team in Havelock to go to the Olympic Games, and one of them made the final in two events and that was a highlight coming from a small pool.

Their names were? 

Carmel Clark and the other girl was Anna Doig – she was from Kapiti, but she used to come up and do all her training here because… yeah.  But then prior to that, we had Johnny Palmer who became fastest boy in the Southern Hemisphere for a short period of time, and thousands and thousands of kids have gone through, and I mean that.  I mean, we were open from ’68 and we retired …

Jean:  2008 … forty years.

John:  The wonderful thing from my point of view is that we had many generations of kids we’ve had an input to, and that was exciting.  And Jean eventually stopped working at the hospital and came and worked at the pool.

Jean:  John had two bypass operations in that time.  After the second one I left my job at the hospital and helped out at the pool – took Aquacise classes, and did the banking and books and the bookings and … a lot of sitting in the office.

When you think of those thousands and thousands of children you taught and families you were involved [with], those families today are taking their children to pools to teach their children to swim.  But what a wonderful infectious thing to create.

You imagine you and just your wife – she was a good swimmer, bloody good swimmer – and all they had was cold water to train.

But there were no other options, were there?

No. No and they got on and did it.  No, it’s been a nice lifestyle.  But you know, eventually quite early really, the pool returned to me – I bought them all out.  But you know I have just a little antidote [anecdote] … you’ll know this guy.  I was in the Havelock pub one night and this was before the pool was built, and Alf Lloyd, he wandered up to me.  And Alf used to walk past our place time after time and saw me growing up, and he came up to me in the pub and said “John I’d like to put some money into your pool”, which he did.  And then just prior to him dying I got a message to say that he had donated that money to me – didn’t want it back.  And Jim Durand, did the same thing you know – it was nice.

It was only a small village even in the sixties, but everyone knew everybody.

Yeah, well you know, going back to growing up when I was playing senior rugby – I was about eighteen … seventeen and a half – eighteen, and we tried – us young guys of the team – tried to get into the Happy Tav on a Saturday night when it closed at six o’clock.  And Sandy Coombes … they looked after you, and I mean you know – I was quite old then – I was nearly old enough to do it, you know.

So what did you do in your spare time?  You know …

Jean:  Didn’t have any.

Did you go away for holidays?  Because the pattern of a swimming coach was early mornings all the time wasn’t it?  There was no let up.

Yeah, but you see – I get asked this question quite a bit – but what people don’t realise is that we had to teach a generation – the first generation of it – to swim in the winter.  And you know, the first three years I started to wonder whether, from a family point of view, if I’d done the right thing.   Because we, you know – local people didn’t swim in the winter, and it was rather hard.  So you know, I used to go over at five o’clock in the morning Monday to Friday – six o’clock on a Saturday – and often not come home till half past nine.  And that went on for years, until I was able to employ some people.  Now when I did employ them, every one of them was earning more than I was, and I mean that quite sincerely.  But I guess I had a passion, not just for swimming but for children.

Who were some of those coaches that you did have working with you, ’cause they were notable in the village too, weren’t they?  Some of them.

Well, yeah.  I had Janice Durand was one of the first ones, then Marlene Ellis.  I didn’t have any males because you couldn’t pay them enough.  And later on I had a large number of kids who were in their last years of high school.  I would train them so that when they went to varsity they could get a job with my friends in Auckland and Wellington.  And you know – I had one mother in here last night who came to see us you know, and become life friends.  Not many … oh, I had the girl Fall.  Jean started off one block Aquacise here.  Nobody else ever did it, and she had her own Aquacise class which went for ages, and is still going over there now.  And I had Susie Kircott, who did the babies.  We started baby swimming off, not that I was ever very happy about doing that – I was a bit concerned that it wasn’t good, but I was wrong … got talked into doing it.  And you know we had large men’s keep fit class, Dunkerley and all those.

It’s amazing.  Lots of people have ideas but they don’t take them beyond being ideas.  You took it to its fullest extent, and you must sit back at times and think ‘wow!  What a thing we did!’

Yes, well I’ve always been able to set goals.  And I mean I did it at the expense of a large loss in social life, because I was really social with the rugby and the cricket and that.  And you know, I joined the Havelock Club when I was twenty-three, when it just first started, and I used to go there.  But you know … all those sorts of things, I kept my membership.  Oh, and during my growing up time I was also in the Foresters’ Lodge – I became one of their youngest chief rangers.  Talking like this it makes me just … can’t believe I did so much.

There were no distractions were there?  There wasn’t … television is probably the worst thing we’ve ever had for taking people away from the family.

Yeah, but you know … and going to the dances like Jean’s talked about, we used to bike home at midnight.  And you know, when the Havelock Swimming Club used to have their carnivals and I’d be working up there, we’d sent our kids home at nine o’clock at night, they’d walk home, and they’d walk home with a group of others. You never had any …

And all this has finished up that we’re very contented.  And also we got an award from the Government.

And so now it’s retirement for Jean and John on the estate.  In fact when you look at your life, you moved from Napier Road, you worked at Archie Toop’s in Te Mata Road, John Lobb who was part of your swimming pool but did the plans, lived just up in the corner by your father’s house, you’ve built the pool not far …

We talk about this all the time.

You’ve really kept a very tight-knit circle.  John, your family home in Napier Road was probably the most substantial home in that whole length of Napier Road. What was it like growing up in that home?

I was, as I said before, the youngest in a big family, and when I grew up some of my older sisters had gone out and were working in other people’s homes as housekeepers and what-have-you, and doing domestic duties, and there weren’t so many home on a regular basis.  There was myself, Mum and Dad and four of my sisters, and I would … they tell me that I was very well spoilt … but I always remember the comfort.  I had the most loving mother that could be possible.  But we did have a family that encompassed a lot of other people.  There always seemed to be people coming in.  For instance, I remember the nights after rugby where some of the boys from Waimarama would come over and Mum would always have the wood stove going, and we used to sit round, open the door and put our cold, wet feet in the oven while she made us soup or something.  She was well liked, and on the day of her funeral the Minister remarked on just how many young people had come to her funeral.  And that was sort of testimony to the sort of mother she was.  My father was – prior to me, the girls thought he was quite tough on his discipline, but I can never remember being smacked by my father or anything like that.  But he used to moralise about what was right and what was wrong and he taught me to have this code, which I still have – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’.  And I’ve always tried to live by that because I think it’s the important thing.

Also the fact of sort of having an open home – we’ve developed that in our own home, where we’ve always had lots of people staying this us, and not just family.  Living on Napier Road my best friend was Les Olsen across the road, and we used to have lots of opportunities to build huts.  We used to build huts and we would play lots of games, we were always playing games.  And then across the road, over by where the Scout hut is now, there used to be a poplar plantation which was really substantial, and we used to have tracks through there and huts that we used to hide away, and it used to be making up games and playing, and it was just a lovely environment now I look back at it.  I think at the time you don’t … obviously don’t appreciate it as much as what you do when you look back on it.

And it used to be the fact that we all had our jobs to do.  As soon as I was old enough I learnt to milk a couple of cows, separate the milk and do lots of little jobs – nothing too onerous I don’t suppose.  My Dad … as the kids grew up, and he did it with me … whatever our wages were he would take – in my case he’d take ten shillings out of my wages – never charge us any board but used to bank it for us, and that was a big start in sort of having some money to put towards a section and that when we… oh, and he used to be a great believer in his early stage of democrat socialist policies, but as he got older he became a bit more liberal.  But he had great values and in his own way did a lot for Havelock.

Jean, how long were you nursing and what area did you nurse in?

Jean:  I think I graduated in 1957, and I worked about four years or so and then I had about twelve years off when the children were young.  Then I went back to night duty.  Altogether I was there about twenty-five years, and I worked till I was sixty.

Any particular ward?

In an obstetric ward.

You were prompting John about something.

I was because I thought he might like to tell about the time – the only time his mother gave him a hiding.

John:  Oh yes. The only violence [chuckle] that was ever shown to me by my mother was that we had a lady who was unfortunately an alcoholic, who lived beside us.  And she and her … I don’t know what relation Les was but Les stayed with them while his father was in the Air Force.  And they had a great big fir tree outside the house, and this lady really thought that I was a pretty cool kid by all accounts, but I used to be scared of her because she was always a bit tiddly.  And anyway one day we were all sitting around the fir tree, a few of us boys, and we had matches and we were lighting the fir on the tree and then stomping it out, but the thing took off and burnt down, burnt the tree.  And when the fire brigade came and my mother found out that I was one of the guilty she got me and she smacked my bottom all the way down this long hall, [chuckle] and that’s the only time I’ve seen any violence towards me by my mother.  [Chuckle]

Did the fir tree ever grow again?

Well it never ever got fir back on. [chuckle] No, the top part was all right, yeah.

No you mentioned Les Olsen – is Les still alive?

Yes.  He lives in Auckland.

‘Cause when he went away from here he joined the Air Force didn’t he?

That’s right.  Les and his wife Laurel – Les went to Singapore when the Air Force had a base there.   And we went over there and saw them – well we were on our way – and we haven’t seen a lot of them since they’ve come back.  Les has been in Auckland and became a Scout Commissioner, and Laurel is not particularly well.  Les has been retired some time.

It’s interesting you say he was a Scout Commissioner, it’s amazing how many people have been involved in Scouts and different communities around the place.  Yes, I was talking to a chap yesterday Noel Sutherland, he was a District Conservator.  He used to live in Selwyn Road.

His wife was a school teacher.

That’s right, Margaret.   After Margaret died he moved, and … a bit lonely but he’s ninety-six.   Really a nice man. 

Oh hell yes, and Margaret was lovely.

All right well that sounds pretty good.  And thank you both for your input, it’s an interesting story.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • John Geoffrey Beaumont
  • Jean Beaumont

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