Begley, Douglas Guerin (Doug) Interview
Today is the 10th of October 2016, and today I’m interviewing Doug Begley of Havelock North on the life and times of his family. Doug would you like to tell us something about your family, thank you.
Thank you Frank. Well our Begley family originates from Ireland, from County Kerry in a little place called Ballynabuck, which is only about six or seven houses I gather. And there were five Begley boys and one girl. Four of the boys came to New Zealand. I think they all came at the same time on the ‘City of Auckland’ in 1878, and the ‘City of Auckland’ was famous because it was wrecked at Otaki on the 22nd of October. There was no loss of life. It was an error I gather, from the Captain, and they grounded at about nine o’clock at night and they were forced to stay on board. And with the help of the Maoris everybody got off the next day, and were duly transported to Napier which was the intended destination. So incidentally – I digress – but that ‘City of Auckland’ – Selwyn, my brother, he found out years later that there was the dresser out of the Captain’s cabin, it was at the Maori Marae and Selwyn went to the Marae and bought it off them – this was in probably the late 1980s, – it was a real mess but he got it restored and Moira his wife, they still have that cabinet …
… from the Captain’s cabin of the ‘City of Auckland’ . So, it was their introduction to New Zealand.
They got to Napier, as I say, and my grandfather worked for William Nelson most of his early life. He met his wife, my grandmother – she arrived in New Zealand in 1878 in Napier on the ‘May Queen’ with her brother. She was Ellen Guerin and her brother was Mick Guerin. The Guerins later became well-known in Hawke’s Bay too. Mick married a Taranaki girl and then settled for farming in Dannevirke, and their descendants – Jack Guerin was well-known out at Maraekakaho.
So my grandparents were married in 1885 at the Meeanee Church and my grandmother had worked – I gather that when they’d arrived, they’d go up to a hostel on the hill at Bluff Hill there. Various farmers would come in and look for domestics and what-have-you. Initially she went to a place in Taradale … I often wonder whether it was where the EIT is, you know, that Station? Later she went to the Beamishes out at Whanawhana, and then Waimarama Station before she married my grandfather. And, as I say, they worked for Nelsons and actually their first home was on the corner of Lawn Road and Mangateretere / Waimarama Road. As you drive down Lawn Road it was on the left-hand side, and there used to be a well standing there that we always knew – was all that remained.
It was on the right hand side going or coming?
Going down, if you were going down Lawn Road after you’ve gone over the intersection on the left-hand side.
Yes, yes, and he was working of course for Nelson. And grandfather’s claim to fame in terms of his time with Nelson was that it was always said that he planted Poplar Avenue … well that was a tremendous avenue between Elwood Road and the Pakowhai Bridge. And we have two lovely photos of Poplar Avenue, coloured photos, and Oak Avenue, because they were the two avenues of Hawke’s Bay – but of course poplars don’t last.
So then eventually grandfather went to, or bought a property on the corner of Riverslea Road and Algernon Road – I presume they built the house there and that’s where they farmed. And that area is where the Begleys … we all have associations there. As I say Grandfather had the dairy farm there. That’s where my father was born. Ultimately my father farmed at the other end of Algernon Road at the end of Norton Road, and I was born there. And then I married Dorothy and moved … and our first property was in the middle in Algernon Road, and our two boys were born there. Selwyn took over to the end of Norton Road farm and most of his family were born there.
You remember Jack McKeown used to be down ..?
Yeah, well I was Jack’s neighbour.
But that was where the farm … it was on the river side of Algernon Road?
No, the farm was on the other side of Algernon Road, the dairy farm. There were five acres which were Algernon Road, the river side – there were two blocks which were rehab blocks of five acres, and I bought one of them in 1954 and that was when I was a neighbour of Jack McKeown. And – I digress, but our neighbours as Jack McKeown – when we went later to Te Aute Road, Jack came out to Crystall Road – we were neighbours there. Jack and Elaine went to Whakatane and Rotorua; Jack died and then Elaine came back to Havelock and was our neighbour here.
Reverting to Dad’s family – Dad was the youngest of seven, so that was five boys and two girls. Jack was the eldest, there’s Thomas, Patrick, Joe and Dan and the girls were May and Gertrude. The oldest brother John (Jack as he was known) – he finished up farming at Putorino, but then he died suddenly, just dropped dead of heart … comparatively young age perhaps early fifties. Michael (although he was also known as Jim because his father was Michael), he died in the flu epidemic. Patrick lived in Whanganui was married with two young small children, and he was drowned in the Whanganui River. He was actually a champion swimmer, and going out in this launch and the bar it just went nose in and went straight down. And while he was a champion swimmer, when the bodies were found – there was an elderly man on board and he couldn’t have been able to swim – and his body was found with his arms round Patrick’s neck and so clearly dragged him down. He was a fireman and his funeral probably was quite a big funeral. He was a very popular man and on the fire engine, you know, through the streets of Whanganui. Thomas died of some illness and he left four children, the eldest was about fourteen or fifteen. So that left Joe and Dan. Joe was in Waipuk [Waipukurau] and he died of a heart attack in about 1953 I think – he was probably about fifty-three in age I guess.
Dad was born in 1902. His sisters, the eldest sister was May, that’s May Evans – Lorna Ward was her daughter. And his other sister Gertrude – she was a nurse and she had a Convalescent Home in Oriental Bay in Wellington. And … Convalescent Home – I guess it’s sort of like aged care. It was quite a large house, it’s on Oriental Bay opposite where the Rotunda is – the original house is still there. Everything else has sort of gone, and high rise beside it. But she used to have – probably had about twelve or so patients in there. My memories of going and staying there – she was a delightful person and they were characters. There was … some of them were mental patients and they did their own thing.
We had wonderful holidays there and …
‘Course it’s on the seaside too which made it even more … in a city.
Yeah. Couple of memories there – I can remember being there in January 1940 and the harbour was – you know, you’d often get it full of fog and it was fogged up about half way across. And I was out there early in the morning so I was about eight, and out of the fog appeared this huge battleship and it was the ‘Ramillies’. And it had two destroyers on either side of it and it was coming in to refuel to take the first troops away to the War. We knew that it was close because, you know, the final leave had been cancelled and the troops were around but you didn’t know where. But the ‘Ramillies’ of course was the only battleship that the British had at that stage – the Hood of course – and that was special. Actually it was strange because a chap a couple of doors down the road here, he had a newspaper account of the departure of the troops to that war and he gave it to me and it was dated 4th February 1940. I thought ‘4th February, I’d never be in Wellington on the 4th of February’, but in point of fact everything was reported a month late and it was the 4th of January they’d sailed, which tied in.
Of course. Was that for security reasons?
Yeah, yeah. You know they had to arrive, because they were … gone.
Another memory of being at Auntie Gert’s was special, was Admiral Bird – one of his expeditions. And he’d just come back from the Antarctic – no, he was heading down – and you know along where the Freyberg Pool is?
There’s a little wharf there and his ship was there, and went down and were able to go over it and it was jam packed with all these, you know, sledges and there were dogs, lots of dogs, and also he had a [an] aircraft with folded up wings he was going to use down there. It wasn’t a very big ship but it’s sort of engraved in your memory, and – hey, that’s a bit of history you know.
So yeah, Auntie Gert was very special and when she sold it was about 1946 or 47. That was a time when – hard to believe now – but you know, there was price control on what you could sell property for. There was a name for it … I can’t think. So she could not sell that property for more than a given price, but of course, everything you got around. I have visions of out in the kitchen Dad counting this cash which had come under the counter. It had been bought by Brendan family who owned the Cambridge Hotel at the time. But you know you sold a house in Oriental Bay for so much, and you sold a pen for £1500 or something like that – and Dad counting this money out.
So, when she … she did other things for a couple of years and then she came to Hastings and she bought the Begley Buildings, which Granny had built. Granny died in 1936 but Grandpa, while he’d been a Director of the Dairy Company and clearly was quite … he wasn’t really a business man, so she had the estate tied up – he couldn’t do a thing with it, and it was in trust for ten years and Dad was the sole trustee. And that property on the corner, and also the one next door which was Cohen’s, it had Begley Buildings on it in little print, but that was later taken out. So that couldn’t be sold for ten years and by that time Auntie Gert … she bought it and she lived there ’til she died. So that was Dad’s sisters. Where do we go from there? Dad.
Okay. He went to St Joseph’s of course, as they all did and then he left there, probably about fourteen I think, and he went to Te Mahanga – the Douglases – as a ploughman. And I digress again because he was there for … I don’t know how long, but years later my eldest son when he was married he rented a cottage on the property, and the stables where Dad as a ploughman would have had the horses, was still there. And then he moved to Tunanui, to Sir Andrew Russell, and that was a big thing in Dad’s life in the sense that he was there for a number of years – or for a period anyway, couldn’t have been too many years – and then he came back and he ran the family farm on the corner of Riverslea Road. And then at the age of … well he’d had to have been twenty-one, bought his first bit of land which was the piece at the end of Norton Road. Well obviously he didn’t have too much money, or very little at that stage, and Sir Andrew Russell backed him and guaranteed him to get in there and that was pretty special and indicative of probably the type of man he was. And Dad always stayed in limited contact with him at times and he was always very proud of what Dad had achieved. And actually they both died within a month of each other in 1960, except Sir Andrew was ninety-two and Dad was fifty-eight.
Well Dad bought that property so he’d have to be dairy farming in his own right to be a Director of the Dairy Factory, and he was elected in 1923 when he was twenty-one. And he got very involved with the dairy industry and – national conferences and that he would be the delegate there – yeah, very involved. And then in 1930 he was elected Chairman and actually he was elected on the day Selwyn his first child, first son, was born. So it was always a clear … the date was locked into the memory. And then he was Chairman right through ’til he died in 1960.
So that led on into Dad’s involvement in the dairy industry. The dairy industry of course – at that time the manufacturing was all co-operative, the distribution wasn’t, and that was sort of where Dad came in. And there was a company formed – dairy companies through the Whanganui, Manawatu, Hawke’s Bay area formed a company to organise marketing and to have a little more control and uniform selling to the merchants, because the merchants would play one factory across each other. There was a dairy factory every few miles down the road wasn’t there?
So that was an outfit called the Dominion Producers’ Agency and it worked for a while until the Government, in 1936 Regulations – they took over all control of marketing of butter and dairy produce and what-have-you. And they instituted the Internal Marketing Division. So Dad had been on as Director of this Dominion Producers’ Agency from its inception, and then when this Marketing Regulations came in, he was Chairman at the time, he was Chairman in ’36 – the ground was cut from underneath him so it went into recess.
So then Dad pursued the establishing a Farm Products in Hawke’s Bay to take over the marketing and they persuaded the Government to let them do it, in the sense that they wouldn’t … they closed the IMD in terms of dairying in this area, and they would not allow any other merchant in there. So that enabled the dairy companies from Woodville to Wairoa, there’s Woodville, Ormondville, Norsewood, Dannevirke, Heretaunga, I think, Wairoa and they were the shareholders in the first Farm Products, Hawke’s Bay. And another shareholder in there was the PMA – Pig Marketing Association – which was a co-operative in terms of pig marketing, and that was the Kiwi Bacon Company at that stage, and they manufactured all the Kiwi products, so they became a shareholder as a like-minded co-operative. And so that was Farm Products established in 1937 and later the poultry people got together because egg marketing was controlled by Regulation, and they formed their co-operative and became shareholders in there so Farm Products became butter distributors, egg marketing and flour milling and that sort of thing. And that prototype was followed throughout – other people saw it, other areas, and they came in and Dad was involved in establishing Gisborne, Whanganui, Manawatu, Wairarapa, Nelson, Marlborough, Westland, Oamaru, Christchurch. Christchurch was just eggs and Kiwi Bacon. And I think that’s about it. There were about fourteen of them. And Dad was involved in every one of them and that was one of the things that … sort of our life, Dad always on the go and he’d be travelling a lot, and it was always a sore point with Mum. She’d say, you know “if they want things why don’t they come to you rather than you have to go to them?” But Dad was very forceful – he was a brilliant speaker and he could carry a meeting. We would go – as kids, we would go to meetings and conferences and that and always it was a real source of pride – Dad could get up there and he’d carry people, whereas if somebody came over and got their ideas and tried to sell them, they couldn’t do it. So it made it – our life was different but it was fascinating, because we would travel a lot with Dad when he was going to things and once all the companies were established they had annual conferences and if it was in school holidays, well we’d go too, and it was great.
There were memories of – it was during the War of course, and petrol restrictions, but Dad got other allowances because of his work. Interesting – I can remember, I still have a letter there somewhere from some Government Policing Department, “your car has been seen in Wellington – please explain”, because you shouldn’t be there, you shouldn’t have enough petrol to get there. And you know things were … well you would know – travel was bad, you couldn’t get around in the War years, but we could and so we got around a lot of the country. I can remember once going to Taranaki to the Rennet Company, Casein Factory, Midhurst, and it was a day when the first Lancaster bomber was coming to New Zealand and it was due at Ohakea and we waited at Ohakea for it to come and it didn’t, and we carried onto Whanganui. And we were staying in Whanganui that night and apparently the flight had been delayed and the next day it was coming. And Selwyn and I, my brother, we climbed up you know, the tower on Durie Hill, and stood up there and watched this first Lancaster bomber come to New Zealand, and two little Kittyhawks had flown out from Ohakea to meet it – but they just looked like little tiny things tucked under the wings of this Lancaster bomber.
Carrying on with Dad’s involvement … digressing totally – but in New Guinea there was Chinese dealers and what-have-you in this small town; they’d buy any sort of scrap no questions asked, and this Chinaman, he bought a bronze propeller – very valuable. But he had a little charter boat which he used to run around the islands and what-have-you – next time he went to take it out it didn’t have any propeller on it – he’d bought his own propeller off some crafty native. Yeah. [Chuckle] Anyway, that’s by the by.
Also in the dairy industry at the time that Dad – 1932 it was – they established – and you’d be familiar with this – the Dairy Industry Insurance Agency.
Well, Dad was the original Chairman of that, it was established in 1932 and then that later became … they formed the Primary Industries Insurance and that eventually disappeared into FMG.
So Dad was the, as I say the original Chairman of the Dairy Industry Insurance Agency and that carried on, and it was about 1951 they first started to try and form their own company. And of course they were dealing with Lumley’s in England, and Dad put a lot of work into that. And it fell over, and then eventually they got it established in 1957 and he was the first Chairman of that, but he retired after a couple of years. It’s another sort of entity which I can look with pride. And FMG – I still take my insurance with the FMG, and Dad had a part in it.
And then the other big thing was marketing of dairy produce – or everything in Wellington was … largely the New Zealand Dairy Company supplied, and other dairy companies supplied the produce but it was all distributed by various merchants. And then the Government came in with the IMD and they formed a company with combined merchants and the Government – it was Combined Distributors or something it was called. So the dairy companies wanted control of that and eventually they persuaded the Government to buy the merchants out, and then they sold that to form Farm Products Wellington. And the Government were shareholders in that, and then the dairy companies – all the dairy companies in the Farm Products group – they were the other shareholders and through this, Dominion Producers’ Agency, so that was resurrected. Dad was Chairman of that. He was also Chairman and Managing Director of Farm Products Wellington. So that continued as a partnership between the Government and the dairy companies until 1953 I think it was. They were always pressuring the Government to sell out and they eventually did, and so Farm Products Wellington – the distribution in Wellington – was totally owned by the dairy farmers. And all these Dairy Farm Products companies were then brought under the umbrella of this DPA, Dominion Producers.
So Dad’s next thing that he wanted – they had wanted a real headquarters in Wellington and a building, so along Thorndon Quay they bought this property and I think they operated from a small premises there. But anyway, they wanted to build a new building and Dad was – Dad’s health was getting shot at this stage – he was pretty buggered – and this was the one thing he wanted to complete. And it was built, and it was as they were near finishing, or it was getting on in the process – as a tribute to Dad they asked Peter McIntyre to paint a portrait of Dad and that was to hang in the Boardroom. So this was 1960 that the building was being completed. And Dad had been very ill and actually we sort of said “well he may not come through.” And the painting had been done and they packed it up and sent it through – I can remember going down to Newman’s and picking it up and we brought it home – I was married of course at the time – Dorothy and I, we unpacked it and we took it to Royston Hospital and Dad saw the painting. So that was very good.
But he survived and the painting was sent back. And then of course it was October that year and the building was to be opened, and … there was this unveiling of the portrait … was to be the thing. And ‘course Dad – he was still not well, but you know, determined – it was his baby and it was being completed. And of course on the way to Wellington there was a traffic accident. Mum lost … on the Himatangi Straight before Foxton … I think she must have clipped the edge of the road and lost control, spun it around. Dad was lying – he wasn’t well as I say – and he was lying on the back seat – he was thrown out of the car. Actually it spun around, and in all that miles of Himatangi Straight – I don’t know whether you are familiar with it – there was one car on the other side of the road parked – they hit that. Dad was thrown out and we got the ring at six o’clock at night from Mum’s relatives in Palmerston that they’d had the accident, and Mum was with them and Dad was in hospital. He was okay but he had a bad cut on his leg, and when we got the call he was going into theatre to have it sewn up. Long and short of it – when they went up to see Dad at the hospital they were greeted that he’d died on the operating table.
And so yeah. We went down there. It was a real – yeah, it was … the long and short of it … Dad should never have been given an anaesthetic.
In the condition he was in.
Yeah. The inquest said it was due to the anaesthetic. They should have been aware of his condition because they had all his medication.
Of course today, that would never have happened because … and he probably wouldn’t have had a lot of the conditions he had because the drugs of today would have prolonged his life anyway.
Yeah. But his condition was such that his doctor said, you know – he wouldn’t have seen Christmas probably, so it was good. And Dad – I could never imagine him – he always had to be doing things, so he would have been …
But the next day we were down there and of course, we’d … hadn’t given it any thought at all and the Police turned up and interviewed Mum and they sort of said “well perhaps you should have a lawyer present.” “What?” And they were thinking of charging her for dangerous driving. And you know, there was nobody else involved. But boy, that – we didn’t know what to do. So we said “well, okay” – we shuffled the policeman out and said “well you know, could we leave this for a while, and could Mum be interviewed at home?” And they agreed to that.
But I was dead scared actually … a little bit of corruption … Dad – the smaller areas of Police control in those days and the Hawke’s Bay one …
That’s right, yes.
… the Head of Police at the time – Mum and Dad knew him. I remember going … I went to see him at Napier and I said well you know, “please – Mum’s – we don’t want a case, it’s not going to serve any purpose.” He said “oh well, you know, it’s not in their control, it’s the Manawatu Division”. And he said “often these things, there’s guilt and they can be …”, he said “I don’t know.” I said “well you know, if you can block it”. And fortunately he did. He rang me up a few weeks later and he said you know, “go and see him.” He said “I didn’t like it, but I managed to block it”. And what that would have done to Mum I don’t … you know.
Yes, I can imagine, yes.
So that was sort of Dad’s life.
But – he was also, with all these other things, he was involved in so many … there were so many Boards and Regulations. The Wheat Board – I remember he was on the National Wheat Board, he was on the National Egg Board, he’d be … and it was always a source of pride I guess, as far as I was concerned anyway – they were all Government appointees to that Board, but Dad was appointed by both Governments, which I felt was a measure of his respect.
At a local level too I often think of Dad’s achievements, but his ability to … I’ve told my sons about it because his ability to cut through the rubbish and get to the nitty gritty of things was quite amazing. I don’t know whether you recall the Gas Company in Hastings was owned by the Napier Gas Company, and then they closed it – they said they were going to close it. Would you have gone to that meeting?
Well there was a chap Mason, he was a lawyer in Napier and he had trusts that he was involved with that had a lot of gas so he was interested and he convened this meeting, and he asked Dad to attend, or if he could come. But Dad would … he’d probably spend three weeks … three weeks of the month he would be in Wellington on business for one thing or another and he said “well I don’t know whether I’ll be here or not”. So anyway in point of fact he was coming back from Wellington the night of the meeting and I can remember Mr Mason came round and said you know, “would Dad get there?” And Mum’s just sort of put a meal in front of Dad and he wouldn’t be there for the meeting – the beginning of it. So we went and Dad came later, and it was in the Assembly Hall in Hastings and it was a packed hall, because gas was a big thing. Napier said “right, well we’re closing it.” And Mr Mason spoke, the mayor – it’d be Ron Giorgi at that time I think, and I remember Alec Kirkpatrick was Deputy Mayor and they all spoke, and Syd Jones the MP. A lot of hand wringing to say well they shouldn’t … Napier shouldn’t close it … we’ll stop them … and the Government should do something, but there was nothing sort of concrete. Dad arrived, and he was the last one asked to speak, and he got up and he sort of “right well – forget about Napier, they can close it and what-have-you – we have to do something. And if the Government – sure, the Government, we can get them involved, but we have to do it.” He said, “if you would agree – all the people here – that you’ll move a motion for form a company, co-operative company – people that are here tonight, you sign up … take £5 of shares. You won’t have to be called on that, but just your commitment”. Sent out for clip boards and what-have-you, passed the thing around – they got everybody signed up. The company was formed, Dad went to Wellington – Jack Watts was the Minister of Industries – he knew him well, and Mason went with him and they made a deputation. Later in the week Dad went and saw Jack and he said “yeah, we’ll do it.” They gave them something I think like about £25–26,000. Once the company was established that enabled it, they switched from gas to oil, modernised it and then, you know, later on it was taken over the … And you know, to me until Dad got up nobody was offering a concrete solution, and he cut through all the chaff and – bang! And so that was the only time Dad was sort of involved in local politics, although as a result of that he did a couple of terms on the Power Board, because that took over the gas thing.
Yes, that’s right.
So yeah I was very fortunate and it was a good, a great life growing up. I sort of hark back – a thought that comes to mind, the instances … as I say Dad had to travel a lot and he used to fly if he could, charter a Tiger Moth or something, and I can remember one time he got a plane, just to go over for the day to … and it wasn’t a Tiger Moth, it was a little Oster … to Taranaki. And we went out to Bridge Pa, he was due to be back at late in the evening. It was getting late and darker and darker and it wasn’t very good weather and what-have-you. And then this little Oster appeared, it landed and it transpired … I don’t know who the pilot was, but I can still see him – he was all in a jacket and tie and what-have-you and just like a man off the street. And they’d come back and they’d got to Ashhurst and the cloud base was low, so they finished up – flew through the Manawatu Gorge at road level and got through, which of course is very illegal. And yet, later … there are wires across there which this guy said he didn’t know. I don’t know might be two or three years later, Dad was going to Wellington for something and – d’you remember Mort van der Pump?
Yes I do.
He was a wonderful pilot, topdressing. You could always tell if Mort was flying because he tossed that plane around a whole lot better.
Now your Lorna? She was telling me about Mort van der Pump flying up their farm at …
Wonderful character. I always think when you talk flying, as I say, you see somebody top dressing – you could tell it was Mort. And it’s the same way with Paul Wolff with the helicopter. You could always tell if it was him flying. They were just …
Had different habits.
Yeah, and expertise.
But anyway, so Dad was going down to Wellington and it was probably a Piper or Cessna or something and there was room, so Mum was going along too. And she often used to talk about … they got to Woodville and there was a sort of cloud base and they couldn’t get through. They stooged around there for a while. He said “oh we’ll find a pocket in the clouds”, and the next thing Mum said “I didn’t know what was happening” – they just dived. He saw a pocket and they went through the Gorge at road level, but the way Mum used to talk about it – it was all right for Mort and Dad in the front – they knew what was happening and she didn’t have a clue. [Chuckle] And another one that he used quite often, Bill Taken, Bill King’s pilot.
Yes, I went to school with his brother’s son.
OK well Bill – RAF guy – he’d come home on extended leave and he often used to fly Dad around in a Tiger Moth and always when he’d be – they’d go over those Taupo hills he’d be looking for his … any sign of his brother who disappeared there.
So there we go. It was an interesting childhood and … very grateful. I suppose everybody’s father’s the greatest and mother’s the greatest and what-have-you, but I think I was very fortunate. And Dad was very good – I don’t ever remember – say as kids, he wasn’t a sort of kick a football around person – you were treated older than you were, and that was always appreciated. But I think, you know, again the era … different day and age in terms of staff and that sort of thing. The way people were treated was different that day and age. But there was a chap, Fred Ebbett – brilliant mechanic – and – did you know Fred?
We knew him as Darky Ebbett.
[Chuckle] Well Fred, you know – he could fix anything and you know he was invaluable at the dairy company.
He was the spare driver, he only drove … you know, somehow drivers were sick or … oh, we all knew Fred. And then the Timms …
Oh, Billy Timms, yeah – Johnny Nelson …
Yes, they were all part of it you know. And the Co-operative Dairy Company – it was made up of all these dairy farmers.
That’s true. Paul Christiansen?
Yes, that’s right.
Just when I talked of Fred Ebbett, I always think – it wouldn’t happen in this day and age, but old Fred – he liked his tipple, but he could repair a vehicle sober or [chuckle] otherwise. But I can remember one time Fred got into an accident on Pakowhai Road, two o’clock in the morning. Police picked him up, he was drunk in charge, and down the Police … “you’ve got a phone call.” So who does he ring? Dad. You know, the Chairman of the company that he works for – and Dad gets out of bed and goes down and rescues old Fred. In this day and age …
It wouldn’t happen today.
No, no. Don’t know whether it’s relevant – well, it’s not relevant, but it’s a story that comes to mind when you talk … the cream collector drivers were Paul Christiansen – he had the Tutira run, remember Paul?
Did you ever know Marius, his father?
He used to do a bit of catering, and he was a character and a great patron of the Stortford Lodge Hotel. [Chuckle] And he had raspberries at … down by Wall Road there, just before you go up to Wall Road. So it was Christmas or near Christmas, and ‘course Dad’s cousin, Jack Guerin out at Mangatahi, well we used to go out there a lot and they used to have a Christmas party for all the Mangatahi kids and Maraekakaho, and there had to be a Father Christmas. So this year they asked Dad to be Father Christmas, and Dad said “oh, this is pretty good”, you know, so he had his Father Christmas suit and what-have-you. So, going out and it’s after six o’clock – ‘cause it’s daylight saving – long summer evenings, and Marius Christiansen must have come home from the pub, and Dad just saw him drive into his place in Maraekakaho Road. “Oh, I’ll go in and see old Marius.” So [chuckle] Marius is just walking in, we all drive in, and of course Dad’s driving in his Father Christmas suit. And old Marius turns round and … the look on his face! I reckon he was swearing himself off drink for life, you know – here was Father Christmas driving in. He was yeah, a wonderful character, old Marius.
Well, they were identities those days because people stayed in particular jobs forever and a day, because there was a loyalty, and they worked hard and their bosses would never sack them.
Yeah. And you know, men were appreciated. Peter Bridgeman – old Peter, he was a character.
He certainly was.
A builder. But you know there was Billy Connelly was, and … chap Ron Martin, he was a plasterer. He had three different trades – key man. Every Friday old Peter would come into Farm Products there and – “oh, give us, you know, ten pounds of sausages, and ham and chicken, and a bit of bacon and what-have-you”, and that’d be passed on to the employees … something he could do for them – an attitude.
So when you left school, what did you do?
Well there’s an interesting story – what did I do? I went into the Seminary.
Oh, of course you did.
You were the chosen one.
Well I probably was influenced because of Silverstream. I really enjoyed Silverstream, because it’s a – well it was a different day and age as we talked before, you know – you were restricted, you went there, it was solely a boarding school. There was a large Taranaki element, the South Islanders – every area had an identity, and you were there in … you know, you didn’t get out. The term was thirteen weeks. You had one free weekend a term, so you got on with guys and friendships … they remain forever. I just a few weeks ago I went to a friend’s funeral in Taupo. And yeah … but you have contacts … I still sort of you know, keep in touch from all those years ago.
So from Silverstream you went straight into the Seminary?
Where was the Seminary?
Over at Greenmeadows here.
Oh, of course, yes.
Just reminds me here – Dad had a lot of you know, Government influence and what-have-you, and I can remember two or three times that old … particularly Holyoake, would come to see Dad. And actually, my last night before I was going into the Seminary … we were looking forward to it. And Dad got a ring from Holyoake – “could he come and see Dad?” And my last night, which I’d been looking forward to, was entertaining his chauffeur, while Holyoake and Dad solved some problems in the lounge. And he said “do you mind if my chauffeur comes in?” “Yes”, says Mum. So [chuckle] we had to – he was a nice enough guy, but it wasn’t my plan for the last night at home before I went into the Seminary.
So I did three and half years there which I found invaluable. It probably enabled me to grow up a lot. I was very young, I was only seventeen I guess, when I went in there and twenty-one when I came out. But the teaching and … yeah, I look to … much of my life has benefits there.
Then I went to Farm Products, but only lasted there a little while because Selwyn, my brother, he was back on the farm at the end of Norton Road and he needed help, so I was with Selwyn for three years. What happened then? That probably took me through to ‘bout ’55. It was probably at that period with Dad’s help I bought the five acres in Algernon Road which had been a rehab property. A guy had set it up as a nursery or all sorts of – he had loganberries and blackcurrants and it was all … just been neglected, and I cleaned it out and planted asparagus there.
But then I went into Farm Products and was there until Dad died, and I left six months after Dad died. I won’t go into that too much, but it was not a good scene. Interesting – as I said before, Dad was a very powerful character and after he was gone it was amazing how sort of – everybody thought Dan Begley was the greatest … now they were sort of coming out of the shadow, and they said “well, I didn’t agree with that, and I didn’t agree with this, that and the other”, and there were a whole lot of very … well there was a major problem anyway, and the long and short of it – I left.
Well, in the meantime I got married – that’s pretty important. And that was Dorothy Ryan. She’d been born in Hastings. Dorothy had an interesting life because her father was a Policeman. He’d also been – he went ashore in Gallipoli on the first day and he was on Gallipoli through ‘til the end of July, and was billeted off. And he must have been really sick because a lot of them of course, they took them to Egypt and then regurgitated them and sent them to the Western Front. But he wasn’t, he was repatriated home and discharged. Oh, and of course it transpired Dorothy’s grandfather had been best man for my grandparents’ wedding in Meeanee in 1885.
But she was born here and went to Wellington where her father was the sole Policeman at the Thorndon Police Station. Hard to imagine it – you know you’d have a Police Station at Thorndon … And actually, after we were married and Farm Products was still being built, we went down to Wellington for something or other and we went and had a look at the building in progress. And across the road was where the old Thorndon Police Station house was still there. Dorothy showed me where she used to climb up on a box and look over and see the trains going by because it was right by the train lines on Thorndon Quay there. That was so strange. And then of course she’d just started school at St Mary’s in Hill Street but then her father moved to Porangahau and she grew up all the rest of her life in Porangahau.
Did they have a Policeman at Porangahau?
Yes, and strangely I saw in – you know the Tribune – how they have the ‘Hundred Years Ago’ – there was a little item about the going out to tender for erection of a Police Station and Police Constable’s house in Porangahau in 1914. But Dorothy went there in 1936, and she had lovely stories of … being a Policeman’s daughter wasn’t necessarily good but it wasn’t necessarily bad because she could sort of bribe other kids for things … “I’ll let you have a look at the jail house” … because they had a little jail house that would take one customer. So then she moved into Waipuk [Waipukurau] when she was working, and then he retired in 1950 and they came to … and Dorothy and I met in ’58, married in ’59. So yes,
So was he related to the local Ryans that were ..?
No. No. His father was – well he was born in Opotiki, and he had been … I think – I don’t know whether the family lived down the West Coast, but he had spent a lot of time down the West Coast, one of a large family. Although, interesting – I do have photos of him when he was married and Dorothy was born. He was a Police Constable here, but he was always the Mounted Constable. They had a mounted policeman. There were people … “oh, yes, Mr Ryan – he was the Mounted Constable”, which you wouldn’t think of in this day and age. And at the races there’s a photo; there would always be a Mounted Constable at the races – keep everything under control.
After I left Farm Products in 1961 I was looking for … well I thought I’d get a bit more land. I wanted to plant some peaches and … funny how things work out, how your life could go. I spent quite a few weeks – I applied for a couple of jobs and I didn’t get them so I was out of work. And Bill Whitlock – Dad had a lot to do with him, and I’d sort of known him through Farm Products, he was always very interested in things, and he rang me up and he said he knew I was looking … out of work. Went and saw him and he offered me a job at the Tribune which … he said he was offering me a real opportunity which I was very grateful for, but I mean it was totally out of my … and if I took it I would have to be you know … it wasn’t sort of here and disappear, I had to make a commitment to him and okay – he would give me opportunities. Like I say, I appreciated it but I explained that I was really looking for land, seeing an opportunity, and my aunt – Auntie Gert – had said that she would back me because you know, I had just a few acres. I said “well, give me a week to think about it”, and he said “oh yeah, that’s fine.”
And I’d been looking around, I couldn’t find anything. I really wanted bare dirt, ’cause peaches were the things we were planting then. There was a chap Ian Russell – well Ian’s father Jack Russell, had been manager of Farm Products Whanganui. And Ian had just come over here at that time and he’d sort of started with Murray Roberts as a real estate agent, and I’d been round everybody, and I thought “oh, I’d better go and see Ian”. And he’d only just started a couple of months in the job, and he said “well, yeah – thanks very much, but … don’t know of anything.” I had an appointment to see Bill Whitlock on the Friday, and the Thursday night it was probably about six o’clock or something like that, and Ian Russell arrived down with a chap – I think it was the chap Turley – Max Turley? I think he was out Te Awanga way. So he said “I think I’ve got a property for you”, but he said “it’s not bare land. It’s just down the road”, and it was Slades’ orchard which is at the bottom. And they’d just sold … he said “it’s not on the market yet, but it’s for sale and we’ll be selling it.” They had sold him a house and said “do you have something else?” And he said “well I’ve got the orchard to sell, and what-have-you”. So he said “what do you want for it?” And they’d told them, so they’d come down and they said “there’s this orchard there. And they said the price and I thought ‘sounds all right, and I could probably stretch to it, but it really wasn’t what I wanted”. But being so close it would tie in everything. So I said “well you know, can you get an option on it?” But I said “don’t say the name, can you get an unnamed option on it?” Because it was one of the strange things. The Slades had been there when we were kids and Mum and Mrs Slade were very good friends … looking forward to when Selwyn comes back to the farm and all the rest of it. But I don’t know, for whatever reason something fell out, and when Selwyn went back there they just ignored it. And even the years I was there, the Slades would go by in the car and she wouldn’t – you’d be out on the roadside and she’d totally ignore you, wouldn’t wave or do anything, you know. So I thought ‘well I don’t think they’re going to be very pleased to get me in’. That’s why I said to Ian “can I get a – you know, a blind option?” So they did, and came back and I signed it, and … “we’d better go and have a look at the property”, and we go down there and he drove, I went in his car, and he drove in and … ‘course they recognised the car and came out, and I stepped out of the car and Mrs Slade, she was on the terrace of this bungalow and she took steps back. “Not you!” And it was so clear they wouldn’t have had a bar of it. So yeah – we finished up on the orchard.
She finally relinquished?
Well, Artie was all right but she …
But she was the boss.
Very strong woman. She taught me at Sunday School.
Oh did she, oh well – there you go. When I was with Selwyn on the farm you know you’d hear – they had big bell out and it would go at exactly ten o’clock, exactly twelve o’clock, and Artie was …
Well I also knew that all the Slades in Havelock were related – there was the Slades in Te Mata / Mangateretere Road, then the Slades that lived in Te Aute Road – the sons I went to school with were Colin and Ken and Donald – and of course then there was Artie with John and Donald.
So was it Artie’s brother?
Yes they were all brothers, they were all Slades. And they all lived in Havelock but none of them talked. So you were not the odd man out.
[Chuckle] Well that’s interesting.
They didn’t talk to their rellies either.
Gosh. Yeah well I have memories of – there was a house, the original house there which as I say, I bulldozed into a hole. And Artie never threw anything out. Artie said as long as he produced good fruit he was happy, and they stayed on in the house for … oh, well I think we bought it at the end of the season and they didn’t move out ‘til probably October – that’s right, it was Dad’s anniversary. So I sort of got a bit of – I pruned with them and got a feeling for it. But it was a bungalow which they had built themselves, or he had, and that was interesting because we did alterations before we moved in and we wanted to change the kitchen, and to knock a hole in this concrete wall. And Artie had mixed all the concrete himself and … ‘course we backed onto the Karamu, and there was shingle down there and that was his builders’ mix …
Yes, yes, yes.
… and through it, his reinforcing was the wire, you know – for the fruit boxes. And after we’d moved in we found the real problem – for foundations, the old kerosene tins? So he’d put a kerosene tin there and work over across, ’cause the ground sloped so he just dug them in. And on one side of the house he had the full width and on the other he only had about this much. And where it was just a foot or so of clearance, that was where all the kitchen, bathroom and everything … so to change anything you had to tear the floorboards up. And then, even worse – once oh, two or three years later, looking after Mum’s cat … she was away and the cat disappeared. And the long and short of it, Selwyn … he had asparagus then which we fronted onto and he must have hit this cat with a discs and it must have been injured and it went under the house. And we found this smell and it was right over in the lowest part – I had to climb under – I had this long stake and rigged up a tackle to hook onto the poor cat and drag it out, and I got stuff all over my face – smelled dreadful. So Artie – boy, did I curse him, and his house that he had built.
So how long did you stay?
We were there until ’68. Just to divert there – like I say, old Artie – he never threw anything out and there was all this rubbish and … bulldozed this great big hole and pushed everything in. So we’d been there probably a couple of years and a guy came to me and he said he had a friend down South who was a vintage car fanatic and he was wanting to restore an Ariel Johnson 1902 or something or other, but he was short of a front axle and he’d tracked it down that there was a front axle on our property.
Not in the dump?
And I said “well you know, it’s probably disappeared in there.” But then I remembered there was a trailer that was half overgrown down in the creek. I said “well go and have a look at that, that might be it.” So he went down, and he came back – “no that’s a … something Studebaker or what-have-you.” He said “I’m sure it’s definitely come here.” And – well I don’t remember bulldozing an axle”. And then I remember “Oh, I have seen some rusting stuff down in the creek there”. Back he goes down and – it was it. And I dragged it out and we put it on the rail … put it on the train and it was sent off down. A couple of years later there was a vintage car rally here and one of the stars was this Ariel Johnson and you know, this … the axle from our property – it was never my axle, but [chuckle] and … amazing you know, the dedication of people.
So yeah, we stayed there ’til 1968 and it was only fourteen acres and Artie was … he’d never replace a tree. If a tree came out he let the branches, you know – he had the old four leader trees, you know, they just spread out – hundreds of props we used to have … this thing. I can remember I had Cox’s Orange and we had a hundred and twenty-five trees and if the area was fully planted that would have taken well over two hundred and fifty, you know – you only have fifty per cent of the ground. And it backed onto the creek, so the effective acres were nothing like fifteen and it was long driveway, so that’s why we – when Te Aute Road came up I thought ‘well, we’ll go out there’. And we sold the Algernon Road block of asparagus and house, and then we bought out at Te Aute Road, so we were always planning to move out then.
So to backtrack … when we got married we were planning to go down south for our honeymoon. And I had a friend who I’d gone through Silverstream with and the Seminary, and he was a priest in Fiji – Jack O’Neill – and Jack said “well you know, Fiji’s cheap accommodation, and – why not come over and you can have a look – I’ll show you around.” Long and short of it – we cancelled and switched to go to Fiji, and we had a wonderful … it was a wonderful experience. We did Blue Lagoon Cruise when it was just a launch that carried ten people, and you know – Fiji like everything was different then. So yeah, we liked it and we went in 1966 we took the boys back and caught up with Jack again, he was in a different area.
We always said, “well it’d be neat to go and do something”, but we didn’t have skills, so we’d as I say, bought Te Aute Road and we were planning to sell the orchard and move out there. We were on holiday at Stanmore Bay, January 1968, and Dorothy saw this article in the Catholic paper where they wanted a family for a plantation in New Guinea. And she said to me,” did you see that?” And I said “no.” She said “oh – didn’t know whether to draw it to your attention or not” but [chuckle] the long and short of it – we said “yeah, we could do this if we sold the place” – tie in well. In the meantime I’d switched to – from peaches to sort of … decided to do asparagus and we’d planted half of it and we had the … growing the plants to plant the rest of it and asparagus needs time. All good.
So we came home and there was an organisation in Auckland that we had to apply to, so we filled in the application and we got a reply saying yes, we’ll be interviewed, and that’ll be it, it’ll be followed up. That was early beginning of February end of January. We never heard anything – we had said well we’ll only be able to go if we sold the property and it was on the market and we had various ones interested, came and looked but nothing sort of happened.
And May came around – at one stage we did have a place at Acacia Bay at Taupo and Barry Sweet had designed the house for us, and I’d actually contacted Barry Sweet and said “well you know, we are thinking of – we plan to move out to Te Aute Road and start getting some plans”, because Barry was a hard man to nail down, and he actually came. So there was this chap … anyway, he had come a couple of times looking at the orchard and he – George Richardson, he was married to Harold Armstrong’s daughter. So George had come a couple of times and he said … he was interested he said, “but I’ll bring my accountant.” So they came out this day and they went around the orchard and … having a look and we left them to it. And they came back and he said “we’ll take the place.” So it was afternoon and Dorothy said “well you know, come and have a cup of tea”, so we’re sitting round the table just talking about things and the phone went, and it’s the Post Office. They said “we’ve got a reply paid cable for Begley from such and such a place”. I said “I don’t think it’s for us, it doesn’t mean anything to me, but” I said “what’s the name on it?” And they told me and – no, that didn’t mean anything, and then they said “well it’s something about Mission Service”. And I said “well, yeah, it probably is us. And it said: “Were we still interested, and when would we be available?” And George is sitting around the table – I couldn’t say anything to Dorothy, and eventually they went and I told her about it. In the meantime the Post Office rang back – “What’s your reply?” and I had to say “oh”, [chuckle] “tie ho”. So the long and short of it – it was the one thing that made it possible and it happened then. So we sent a reply back and we said “right – yeah, we’re interested and we’ll be available in a month”. And the cable wasn’t … the organisation in Auckland that we’d applied through we were expecting to be interviewed – they were the most hopeless outfit, and they had apparently got about seventeen or eighteen applications and they’d sent them over to the Bishop and said “you know, there will be more coming”. And he heard nothing, and he got fed up and looked through them and – I suppose we were the only one with trees, [chuckle] and he sent the cable. And that was May – we didn’t get up there until mid-July, but there we went.
That’s great and so what were you doing there?
Well that was a … it was a Mission that was staffed by American Diocese, and they had bought these two commercial plantations to fund their schools and hospitals. And it was on an island called New Hanover which is just – you’ve got Rabaul at the end of New Britain, and then above that there’s a long new island and then New Hanover is just off the end of that. It’s about – I think they say about a hundred and twenty miles around the island. It was all bush. There were these two plantations – we were sort of in the middle of the island, or middle of one coast, the south coast – and there were two other commercial plantations, one at either end. There were two Mission Stations, one on either side of the island and that was it, it was all bush.
So what grew in the plantations?
Oh, coconuts and cocoa. And the two plantations were six miles apart and on the coast but going back into rugged bush. The one that we were living on it had been operated intermittently. The other one had another New Zealand family on it, or English family, but through New Zealand.
And so we went up there and it was – our one was a beautiful idyllic spot, a little bay and sandy beach and palm trees and a river flowing through. It was about nine hundred acres – it had been planted originally by a German back in about the early twenties. Lots of it had been lost with the War so it had to be retrieved. And the Mission Station was about two and half hours by copra boat. We had a copra boat which brought supplies, took the copra in – that was about twelve hours to the main town which was Kavieng at the top of New Island – that was the centre of the Diocese.
So the people were wonderful people. They were – they’d had European contact for a long while, but there was no European influence. The villages were solely native, there was no roading, there was nothing. We had no power, no – yeah, there was nothing. I took up a chainsaw, and that was the only bit of machinery you had. Boats and that would go by and we had the copra boat for supplies, but they would go on the reef periodically and it’d be out of action. There were times … I think the longest we went was sort of – probably about five months without seeing another European. So it was a great life for family.
The Diocese had another plantation down near Rabaul, and the other family, after we’d been there a few months, they went and looked after that so we had to manage them both, so it was … you were fit, walking around hills and bush.
This intrigues me, how did you harvest the coconuts?
They fall, you don’t send anybody up a tree. And a coconut – until it falls it’s not mature, and the drinking coconut is an immature coconut.
Do they go to a factory?
Well, yeah, the copra is the dried coconut meat …
… but I don’t know whether there’d be too much in Fiji, they probably just go to market and use them for …
Oh no, there’s lots of coconut trees in …
Yeah, but you know – to make copra you need an awful lot and copra – the market has disappeared for it.
What I consider was lots of trees was not like nine hundred acres of cocoa and coconut.
But the people up there, and I’m sure they would in Fiji too, use them a lot for cooking. You’ll see them – they’ll split a nut and get a knife, get stuck into something, or even just sitting on it, and they scrape it and that’s for immediate cooking of an evening. Cocoa is more complicated, but copra you’re just harvesting the nuts.
Interesting piece of trivia – I’m following in famous footsteps as manager of the plantation because one of them was managed by Errol Flynn, the actor.
He went up there in the early gold days and he went on the Government service for a period and was stationed in Rabaul, and that didn’t work out so he decided to be a plantation manger and he spent about twelve months managing one of these plantations. Then he went to mainland New Guinea and he got into strife – he was liable to go up for a murder charge, and he got out of New Guinea. You read about it in his book. So yeah, the plantation that he – he’d sort of say as a plantation manager “no problem, just get the boss boy – carry on.” [Chuckle]
And so for you was it a hands-on role?
Supervising. And they relied on you, they gave you credit which you didn’t deserve. There was no reason for the people to work because their gardens were good, the fishing was good …
They had no rates or anything …
They had to pay $5 a year for rates.
So did this turn over hundreds of tons, thousands of tons?
Oh, no, we’d do about a hundred and sixty tons of copra when we went. Historically yeah – the cocoa was valuable – at one stage we were up to about $2,500 a ton of cocoa. It was good money, but there were big mechanised plantations that would turn out you know, real … they’d turn out in a month what we’d do in a year. It was good.
Yeah, it was a special life and it was a little window of opportunity, because we came back in ’71. ’75 of course, they had Independence. And even before Independence they had quite a bit of self-government, and a plantation manager after – well one family went after us, but then after them a European wouldn’t be able to get a permit to go in because .. okay, it was a job which a local person could do. And it was good because we had to adjust to their life – as I say, while they had European contact they hadn’t had any European influence.
And the sad thing is – Warren, he went back, took his – Warren’s my eldest son, he took his son and later his daughter back there in about 2000 and the plantation was not operating, the house had disappeared. But he hired a banana boat you know, and went out there, and as I say we had a river there … and went into the river and the first guy he met was one of our ex-workers who remembered him. And he said the people were absolutely blown away and they were so good to him. You know there were kids that he’d played with as kids, there were men who had been young men on the plantation and now they were old men, and yeah.
What an experience for a family.
It was because you know, you had to work together. We’d run a trade store. We were responsible for all the health and … for our plantation workers, but then your villagers would come to you too. Mind you, they were frustrating. We had two girls from the Mission to sort of help in the house, because Dorothy had to do the teaching, all the correspondence for the kids, and if I was away she had to look after the trade store. They were good, they weren’t great, but even the girls who were supposedly sophisticated in terms of health, they’d revert to the other. So if you had a pain in the leg, what you’d do – you’d just score it, cut it. They’d go and do that, and then come … “well, you know – can you fix this up?” [Chuckle] And a headache – you’d get fire embers and burn … but they had other you know – probably leaves and things which were good medication.
Like I say I go on forever.
So you’ve come back now to Te Aute Road.
Yeah. So Te Aute Road – yeah that was good. We came back and we were able to build a house. We did think actually of staying up there, but they treated you with such respect you could get illusions of grandeur. And also the education – it wouldn’t have mattered because the boys … Warren was getting close to secondary school, but it was still Australian Government then and they paid to your choice of school in Australia.
But anyway we came back and built at Te Aute Road, that was 1972 we moved in, the end of 1972. And asparagus, it was good. While we’d been away Alan Reid had looked after it. Initially Selwyn was going to but then he was busy, so it worked in well – Alan did the early cuts and got a percentage. And so, life was good, asparagus was only – I used to claim that I was the only person in New Zealand, and I think I was, that was totally asparagus. Asparagus … everybody had a bit of orchard or a bit of something else. So I was the only really lazy guy. [Chuckle] You had four mad months and then you had the rest of the year yourself. And, you’d appreciate you know – the thing was, we were lucky that we bought that land as pastoral land, and you couldn’t buy horticultural land and grow asparagus could you?
No – no you couldn’t.
So we were on a different cost level. But you know it was great. At the end of the season you knew exactly what you want, you’re never going to pay out a penny apart from doing the firm, until you’re harvesting. And there’s not many crops … after you climb … you pick all your apple trees and then start pruning and thinning.
I know, it’s … So those were happy days then?
Oh yes. And we had the two boys, Warren and David. They both went to Silverstream which they enjoyed but I wonder about, because it was a different college then. There were weekday boarders and you know, there were very little true boarders that would be there at the weekend. And that was the big thing about Silverstream, I felt – as far as I was concerned, you – because you were there for thirteen weeks, and you’re there with guys all the time you had to adjust – you accepted people, you had your friends and the ones that you weren’t so friendly, but you adjust. You learnt a lot.
So nothing much changed after that. We supplied asparagus to Mt Maunganui, Reckitt & Colman – they had a factory up there, Gale’s Asparagus. And their sole suppliers were Selwyn and I initially. We covered their whole thing, and then Bill Robson – he came in on it. So it was good you could go and negotiate your own deals. Selwyn’s asparagus … very light ground there, and sometimes you get those westerly winds and of course asparagus starts to bend. [Chuckle] And I remember listening to radio talk back, and something must have come up about asparagus, or food or what-have-you, and somebody rings – “I’ve opened a tin of Gale’s asparagus and I know why that’s called Gale’s, because all the asparagus … [laughter]
[Laughter] I ring up Selwyn – “your fault, your fault!”
And then of course we decided to go into export. Actually initially Reckitt & Colman – they wanted to go into a big way, and they wanted to buy land down here, and of course companies couldn’t buy land in those days so we said “would you go in with us fifty/fifty?”. And so they were looking – there was a big … hundred acres in Crystall Road came up for sale, and I remember the Managing Director came down and we were going to the auction, and the auction was cancelled just … couple of hours before it was due to happen and it was broken up – I think John Paynter bought some of it, or certainly grew trees on part of it. So they dropped out of interest then, they were sort of blocked and nothing else came up.
And then they decided they’d like to export asparagus. Okay. And then they dropped out of that and that sort of sparked me into going into it, which was good, but ultimately bad. And of course it was the export incentive period, and that was encouraging – The Rural Bank – we got a loan to … suspensory loans …you had all those sorts of things going for you. And our asparagus production was going down, and taking the land out of that, so it seemed a good scheme and it worked well for about six years until, as I say, the Inland Revenue came in and reassessed us. And so that put a cat among the pigeons, and we eventually said “we’ll challenge it in Court”, but it took six years to get to Court and then they withdrew. And then we had another session with the Ombudsman because they were very slow in paying out money which they owed in terms of the withdrawing from the case. And we had five of six years with the Ombudsman before they found in our favour. But of course in the meantime we had been badly hit financially, and we sold. Went to Waipuk [Waipukurau] because we could get better value there, and it was good because as I say Dorothy had grown up there and I had lots of friends there and it was a nice community, we really enjoyed it.
And then we were only there six months when Dorothy had a fall and died. And that was – I don’t know why … I still don’t know why she died because it – we’d never, in thirty years of marriage, been to a doctor for illness, so we didn’t have a doctor and you didn’t really think doctors. But she had the fall and we thought she was just sore, but then – it was the Sunday and then she had … on the Monday night breathing and that was bad, and got the doctor the next morning, rang a doctor, Ian Fleming, who we knew personally, he came and she was sent to hospital with … found to have three broken ribs and punctured lung at some stage must have – subsequent to the fall. They drained the quantity of blood and gave her a transfusion. She was fine, and that was Tuesday – Wednesday, well, they said “she’ll be out by the weekend, but you know, as soon as the drainage comes out she can be home, but she’ll be painful for a while.” And the Thursday I came up and got Mum to take her back to see her, and we were at home just having lunch waiting for the time for visiting, and the hospital rang and Dorothy had died. And she had – the doctor had come to just check on her and check the drainage and he checked the drainage and she said “I think I’m going to pass out”, and she lost consciousness and they couldn’t revive her. Unreal.
Yes, some things we can never understand.
So you know, as I mentioned, Mum went to visit Dad and gets greeted by his dying. In 1936 her mother had died, and they’d been on holiday – her and her father and mother in Palmerston, and her mother had caught pneumonia and she was in Palmerston Hospital but doing okay, but they went up to visit her that night – they were greeted she’d died. So Mum’s mother, husband and daughter-in-law were all … died …
Yes, that must have been a tragedy within the family.
But we had had a wonderful – incredibly wonderful life because with all the time … New Guinea had really sparked our interest in other cultures and what-have-you and we had used the time to travel, and we’d done so many interesting things – we’d trekked in the Himalayas, and up in the Karakorums, and gorillas in Rwanda and … yeah. And if you know, you said you’re going to leave all these things ’til you were older it would never have happened. So.
Now boys – Warren he followed in horticulture. He had a nursery in Crystall Road and he was always interested in flying and he kept the flying up after he was married, when “you know, you really can’t afford that”. But of course when he got hit in the downturn and everything went, well he had flying as a background, and been a commercial pilot. And he flew with Eagle Air then Mt Cook and then he spent a couple of years – two or three years in India flying, then in Australia, Fiji and back in New Guinea, flying. He flies ATRs although he retired last year – he’s fifty-six – and so he’s on a different track now. He had two children initially and then his marriage broke up and he has another little girl. And his son is a chef; his daughter trained as a cancer radiation therapist. Damien his son is a chef – he did time on the luxury yachts in the Mediterranean. Came back and now they have two restaurants in Christchurch. So if you want to eat Italian you go and eat at Tutto Bene in Christchurch. So Warren’s involved with that now.
David’s – he’s the one that’s had the chequered career in the family. He went off at sixteen and a half too, as an apprentice aircraft engineer with Air New Zealand, qualified there. It was a bad time with Air New Zealand [cuckoo clock in background] – they weren’t employing them as engineers. He went into the office side of it and did quite well on cargo. Went to a couple of conferences overseas for Air New Zealand, and then he gave that away and went to the Stock Exchange. And quite often if you see library footage of the ’87 crash, they use bits that show David on the floor among – you know in the old days of the stock exchange, running around bidding. And invariably, or quite often a bit will come up and I can see David there. So then he went to the States for a while and came back, went back into Air New Zealand as an engineer, and then he surprised us all by deciding to – out of the blue – join the Jesuits. He did eight years in Australia with the Jesuits, left them, married a girl who had been chef for the Jesuits for many years, [chuckle] and he did a Masters in IT work. So he finished up at the ANZ Head Office in Melbourne until they decided to outsource things and now he’s with Ericsson’s. And David, he lives in outer Melbourne.
David is on the fringe of so many things – bits of history in the sense that he was at Air New Zealand – his first year was Erebus, and that totally changed Air New Zealand. He went to the Stock Exchange – we had the stock market collapse. The boys once – when Dorothy and I … in 1982 we went on an extended trip overseas, and Warren had done an exchange in the States on horticulture – he was doing horticulture there in Washington State, and Warren and David turned up in London because David as Air New Zealand had to travel one way to get the concessions. And they decided to surprise us … turn up in London, which they did and it was lovely. We had our – it was our wedding anniversary, so they turned up out of the blue – great. We carried on into Africa, to Rwanda, and they flew home a few days later and they were on the British Airways plane that flew into the volcanic ash and lost all its engines. So David and Warren were on that flight – we could have lost our family. We knew nothing. We heard about it six weeks later – we were in Malawi in Africa, and we had this tour. We were only going to spend a few days in Malawi and it was so nice – we said “oh well, nice meal and nice music and nice wine, and well – we might not get back here. We’ll stay another week.” So we could change our booking, we rang home and that’s when we found about this – that the boys had been on this plane that we’d never heard of.
And then, where he lives – they’ve got a property out of Melbourne, he has a couple of hours commute each day. But Black Saturday fires when … they were twenty minutes – if the wind hadn’t changed … if it had gone twenty minutes later, their place would have gone. I say David’s bad news – don’t get involved with David!
But it’s interesting, that … it was flight BA009, the flight – they kept in touch at a Club – they used to meet up periodically – they used to call it ‘The Gaunggung Gliding Club’ because it was Mt Gaunggung. And then it sort of dropped out because that’s 1982, it’s a long time ago, and just after the anniversary last year, David googled Eric Moody, the captain of the flight. And he got a reply from him, and … so there were quite a lot of emails went through and David had patched Warren and myself into the email, so Eric Moody when he was replying – he replied to David one time and he said “I’ve patched your brother and your father in because … save you doing it.” And we had lots of conversations and … a really nice guy, an incredibly nice guy. It’s part of history and … but interesting, David would say at the time they weren’t too bothered. He said his concern was – he thought they were coming down in the sea, and he said there’s no way there’s enough rafts on a 747 to take everybody. And they were just behind the business class, and when the masks came down the oxygen wasn’t working initially, and there was a guy in the business class who had a … he sort of had a bit of a turn. One of the hostesses asked Warren and David to go and sort of watch him and encourage him to breathe even though he’s not getting anything out of it, and try and calm him down. I’ve got a couple of photos of the plane which when they eventually landed at Jakarta.
It landed under power didn’t it?
Oh yes, yes. They got … three of the engines might have come back and then they lost another one. But they landed – when they landed in Jakarta they had no vision because everything had been sandblasted. But he’d done the four engine failure in the simulator just the month before which was pretty fortuitous.
So then you turned a new page in your life, didn’t you?
Yes, well it’s one of the strange things how things work out because in 1985 I was on the Parish Council – I was Chairman of the Parish Council in Hastings here, and we’d had a new Parish Priest come in. I knew him, but he’d been installed the previous week and Dorothy and I had been over in Taranaki. So we always used to duck out of church at the side and go and park in the school yard at St Joseph’s – so the Sunday we got back Dorothy said “oh we’d better go out the front and see Father Cody and make ourselves known” – Phil Cody – “and welcome him”. So we did, and we were talking there and the crowds sort of dispersed, and he said “do you know Kathy Hall?” And we said “no”, and he said “well I’ll introduce you because she’s just lost her mother and she doesn’t know any people”. And so we were introduced to Kathy, and Dorothy said “well you know – if you feel like coming out for a chat or anything just pop out”. Lo and behold Kathy rang and said “could I come out?” And so we were good friends for four years. And so Kathy was a good friend, and actually, there’s probably a photo there. There’s a photo somewhere taken of Dorothy – Kathy called in this night unexpectedly as she was coming back from somewhere in Whanganui, and just talking, she took a photo of Dorothy and I, and its the last photo, its just about three weeks before Dorothy died. And then our last party … our last night at Te Aute Road we had a bunch of friends in for an evening, final party and meal – not many, there was about a dozen or fifteen, and Kathy and Dorothy are side by side. So I have a small photo of Dorothy and Kathy side by side which I always carry in my wallet.
Isn’t that neat? Sometimes you think things just are inevitable, that things just …
… none of us can track where life movements are. Well that’s lovely, and so you have been married how ..?
Twenty-three years next month. And it’s very nice because – well Warren knew Kathy better than David did, but the boys were very accepting. and for Warren’s two children, Aubrey and Damien – well Aubrey was only five coming up to, no four when Dorothy died and Damien was two years younger, so they know nothing. But Kathy has been their grandmother, and she’s Kathy to them but always introduced as ‘my grandmother.’ And Kathy says “I’m not, I’m your step-grandmother”, but as far as they are concerned, they are … you’re grandmother.
And do you still do any walking or ..?
Oh, I …
Oh, yes, yes.
You don’t get into the hills or anything like that.
No. I was never one for walking the hills.
But what about in Nepal, and that sort of thing?
Well that was just one off.
Well that was different!
I always – just to go backwards – when Nepal was one of the things, Dorothy always liked Nepal, but I was always interested in mountains, and actually – George Lowe? Charlie Jackson was secretary of the Dairy Company – well his wife was George’s sister.
So she would have been Reuben’s sister?
I interviewed Reuben oh … a few months ago.
No well, we’re sort of interested in the expedition prior to Everest and when George – during the Everest thing – well he was a great letter writer, his letters since his death have been published. But – can’t think of Charlie Jackson’s wife’s name – but she always used to pass the letters on, so we sort of read them. And then when they came back from Everest and they did a couple of lectures in Auckland and then they came down here and they did two nights here. So the second night we were invited around to Jacksons’ for a meal – myself, there was Mum and Dad and Bill Whitlock and his wife, and Harry Poppelwell and Jan Poppelwell, and Hillary and George. And we’d sit around the table and talk when they’d just come back. And that was so … yeah – was a real highlight, yeah. [Speaking together]
Wonderful. Well you see there’s another family connection isn’t there? The Jacksons and the Lowes – and then you go to the Lowes, that goes to the Mardons – dozens of them.
Yeah, well the Mardons – Percy Mardon … his sister was Ellie Mardon and she was a great friend of Mum’s, so in our growing up days Ellie Mardon was Auntie Ellie.
It’s actually wonderful really, when you look at all these associations. And this is why this history that we’re recording is about family and people rather than about stats and dates – because it has the humorous side, it has the sad side, but we hope that it ends up about people.
Well I think we’ve just about…
Yeah. Well one last sort of thing when you mention the Mardons – Warren, his first wife Naomi – they met on Mardons’ orchard … peered through a tree at each other. [Chuckle]
You’re joking! It’s amazing.
All right, well I’m going to end this now, and thank you very much Doug for sharing this with us.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper