Bernard (Bernie) Rashley Meredith Interview

Today is the 19th day of February 2018. Today I have the pleasure of interviewing Bernie Meredith of Napier. Bernie’s specialities in life were as a builder, real estate, he was a [an] entrepreneur in the hospitality industry. Bernie, would you like to tell us about the life and times of your family?

[Background traffic noise]

[Chuckle] You got a week? [Chuckle]

Well, I went to school first in Ruataniwha, Central Hawke’s Bay. You probably know where that is, and the school I went to is now demolished, but that’s just by the by. And I went from there to the Waipawa District High School, and in the meantime my parents both died when I was twelve years old. We lived on a farm half way between Onga Onga and Waipawa, known as Roto Parera. [Spells] And my father had one interest in life apart from farming and that was he had a racehorse and he called it Roto Parera too, and it never won a race. But still never fear, that was his success.

The education from Waipawa District High School graduated to the – when my parents died they both died when I was twelve within a year of one another. It was tragic but however, we got by, and I was sent to Napier Boys’ High School as a border in 1942. Yeah, and my grandfather and grandmother both died a year later, so we had nobody. We had four funerals within two years.

And there was an accountant in Waipawa called Mitchell … Freddie Mitchell … and he was the accountant for Williams & Kettle, and they set up a trust to make sure that I was looked after … blah, blah, blah … [clock chiming] together with – I’m one of a family of four. My sister Joy was the youngest, then there was Mervyn, he was next, and then there was me and there was Jim, who was the oldest. They’re all dead now, except me. But my mother died when she was forty-one years of age of what was known then as a aplastic anaemia. It was a blood complaint. It’s now called lupus, and it’s a terrible disease. But a very strange thing, and this could be an insert – my mother died when she was forty-one years of age at midnight on the 31st of July. My sister, when she was forty-one, 31st July, she died of the same disease – at midnight. Yeah. It was terrible but however.

Who brought you up as a family after your mother ..?

Grandparents.

But they didn’t live for very long did they?

No, they lived for another two years – that’s why I was looked after by the trustees under the guidance of stiff-shirted English accountant [chuckle] – foul chap. [Chuckle] But then Mitchell, old Freddie Mitchell – he wasn’t a bad bloke, but one little fine point – I do remember that I was signed on as an apprentice to Robert Holt & Sons as a joiner in the joinery factory by my Grandfather before he died. And he gave me a motto and I’ve always stuck to it, and that was “If you think you’re the best, be the best”.

So anyway I stuck to that all the way and I did turn out to be fairly good – I topped all the exams because I was diligent.

So you were living in Napier at that stage, were you?

I was boarding with these people from Waipawa, and they lived at – they’re all dead now – lived at 67 Nelson Crescent [sirens] – I boarded there and when that ran out I moved over the road to 76 Nelson Crescent, and I became friendly with the Mott family. And I joined Napier High School Old Boys, and that’s when my life really started. I got a taste of being in one organisation, then another, then another, then another, then another. Just incidentally in passing, while I think of it, I got twelve life memberships of different organisations. [Chuckle]

That’s recognition of effort.

Due diligence.

But you played rugby?

Yeah … oh yes.

What position did you play?

On the side of the scrum. And there’s one highlight I always remember, it was the final of the Junior – that’s the one below Senior – and we played before a full house at McLean Park. And incidentally, that Junior team hadn’t lost a game for four years. And there was a bloke by the name … oh, I suppose it’s all right, he’s dead now … his name was Ernie Bell – they called him Ding Dong, actually – of course they would, wouldn’t they? And on the final, we won it, and walking up the side of the park on the grandstand side in front of the … now called the Harris Stand … and he came over and got me by the collar and pulled me backwards, and said “if you ever get offside like that again I’ll order you off the paddock for life”. And he gave me a clip across the face. So I up and smacked him and I dropped him. And it was the biggest round of applause I’ve ever had. [Laugh] But I had to give up rugby because I developed rheumatic fever, and that weakens the old ticker. But right now I keep good health.

Well obviously, you know, your love of rugby kept you involved for a lifetime really?

Oh yes. We built … wasn’t my idea, but we … I put a big input because I was a tradesman, we built Hawkeye, and there’s a photograph of him up there on the shelf. And I looked after him for seventeen and a half years, bloody thing. But however – but he was the best ticket to all rugby parks in New Zealand. I’d have him on the tow ball, and you’d pull up at the gate and the gates’d open and the car load of you could go in.

Straight in.

But I had one highlight of it – one highlight, and I’ll always remember it. We were going to Auckland – it’s a double-banger, this one – we were going to Auckland and it started to rain like hell and there was a northerly blowing. And between Taupo, then Wairakei there’s a bit of a rise, and we come to the top of the rise and a gust of wind hit us – just about detached Hawkeye off the tow ball – its wings broke lose and they went up like … thirty-one-foot wing span. And there was a woman coming the other way in the car and she wondered what the hell had hit her, and she finished up in the middle of the golf course.

Then when we got to Auckland we had written to – I was chairman of the Hawkeye Supporters Club at this stage, and we’d written to Auckland and asked them if we could get them to look after the bird overnight. And they said “yes, certainly”, you know, “so when you get to Auckland come and see us”. So we got to Auckland, I went in and knocked on the Police Station about one o’clock in the morning after we got there and … just shows how if you haven’t done the publicity it doesn’t work. I said “I’ve got this bird here called Hawkeye”. “Oh”, he said “bring the cage in and put it on the counter!” [Laughter] That’s absolutely true. Yeah, yeah. So I had to park him down on the Station Hotel carpark and I had to stay up all night and look after him. Well everybody had never seen a thing like that.

No, he was the only one.

Then I decided that ’cause I was caretaking him and looking after him and doing repairs and so on, and so forth, that he must go in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest rugby mascot in the World, and that was one of the biggest jobs I ever took on. They demanded that we survey it. So we got a surveyor and we made the appointment, made a big public effort of it, and I got hold of the Lowe Walker helicopter and we towed old Hawkeye out to the … round about where Marineland was … and we picked him up underneath the helicopter and flew him down to the Sound Shell. [Chuckle] We taught him how to fly, you see. Yeah, and we landed him there and the surveyors are there and all the big wigs from …

[Chuckle] Well he’s in very good order – he’s been repainted, he’s been re-engineered, he looks just like the day you built him.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, well he … well he’s fifty-eight years old now.

Anyway, we took him to Taranaki on his first visit out of Napier and then he was on a trailer ‘cause you know, he didn’t have his own wheels yet. And I had a big photograph of Kelvin Tremain and we carried it round the park with a case of apples, and we had a bit of a parade in town and we threw the apples out off the back of the truck. And then we walked round the park in front of the bank in Taranaki … anyway it had a bank, and I’ll bet you every one of those apples came back down and met us again. [Chuckle] They threw ‘em. And we got beaten. And on the way home from Taranaki … this is what publicity does … on the way home from Taranaki, on every lamp post, every street road sign, there was a dead magpie hanging there. You can generate all sorts of things, can’t you? Yeah.

Just going back, what was it like growing up in Waipawa as a young man, you know – parents had gone?

Yeah, well I grew up – remember I was twelve when both parents died, and we used to have a driveway down onto the farm off the main highway – it was a mile – and we used to have to walk down there and catch the bus into town to go to school, Waipawa Primary School. And times are tough and I used to go to school bare feet. The bloody frost – it was lovely. Yeah. I don’t know whether I’m repeating myself now, but when I went to Waipawa District High School after finishing at the Primary School in Waipawa … went to the District High School, and the headmistress was a Miss MacDonell. And she was very, very thorough in the ways she had and the standards she had and that, and so she sent a memo to my grandparents where I was boarding at the time – “do you want your grandson taught the facts of life?” She said “yes, certainly”. And there was thirteen went and I was the only boy. Yeah. But the Headmistress – she was down-to-earth and she had photographs and God knows what else, and the whole gambit [gamut] I was taught. In that instance I was taught to respect the female of the species, and I did for the rest of my life, and I still do.

When you think … most of us got our knowledge from behind the bike sheds.

Yeah, that’s right. Well I didn’t touch anybody – never ever.

Our folks were dairy farmers so I was very conversant with life.

Talking about that, we had seventy cows too. And one day my father said to me when this cow was having trouble calving, he says “I’ll teach you how to get it out”. So I had to strip my arm … and when I had my armful and I’d just got hold of the front legs of the calf to pull it out, the cow shit itself.

It’s good background knowledge.

Oh yes, you learn a lot.

So then you did your apprenticeship and how many years did you work as a builder then.

Oh I started the day I came out of my time, and I stayed building for oh, fifteen years, and I had – by the time I gave up I had got hepatitis B, and I had to give it up. And I said to my accountant “I’m going to sell it.” He said “you’ll never sell it”, because I had a hundred and fifty men working for me. I had wrought iron people, reinforcing, I had a joinery factory, and I had a truck doing my own carrying, I had a plumber – two plumbers, and an electrician and four painters.

And I had a hundred and seventy-five jokers roughly, and a joinery factory with twelve people. But anyway I said “I’ll sell it.” He said “no, you can’t sell it.” I said “yes I will.” Two days later I’d sold it, that’s how I learnt to sell.

Who did you sell it to?

I sold it to the staff. Logical thing, and they all bought it, and I lent ‘em the money … two years interest free as long as they had my accountant do their books. And I got all my money out. And during the course of the time I had that … I’ve got a photograph of the first … the very first industrial building that was built in the Onekawa light industrial area, and that was at No 7 Dunlop Road, and that was my joinery factory. I was the first one in there. Yeah. I’ve never – never … if that gets in the paper and it might, or wherever you want to put it, it’s …

It goes on the website forever.

Yeah, well that’s all right. Anyway, I duly sold it and I sold it to Pat Magill. Yeah. And he converted it to a carpet factory. But

So during the period had you married your first wife.

Oh at some stage, but it didn’t last five minutes.

No. You had no children?

Oh, four.

You had four with her?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I tried to make it work.

Yes. What were their names?

There’s Craig, he’s in America now, he’s sixty. There’s Janet, she’s living in Auckland, Waiheke Island. There’s Pamela, she’s a school teacher/headmistress in Australia, and there’s Glenys who is here, and she’s one of the head ladies in Hawke’s Bay Healthcare with a branch called Ideas, and she looks after what used to be IHC.

Once you’d sold your building business, then you went to sell real estate?

I was selling real estate right from the day, because the success in building was being able to sell the house. Now, just a little interjection here, winding it back to when I first left, W M Angus approached me to go and work for them, and I said “no, I’m going to start on my own”, and I did. He said “well Bernie, don’t get too big – soon as you get five people you’ll have to knock off yourself and employ staff to run it”. So I followed that. He said “but you’ll never make any money out of building – you’ll make money out of selling what you build.” And I did.

And that’s how most of the people do it today.

Yeah. And you know how they started open homes, when I … I took a whole street from the Housing Corporation – Shackleton Street, yeah, that was the one … and I took the whole street, they were all empty sections, from the Housing Corp as a group housing scheme. And you could build any house you liked and sell it, which I did, but they couldn’t be more than £2,700 including the section. So I’ve got all these things and I got big-headed about it, and I had five or six houses going at once, and I thought ‘Christ – how am I going to sell these?’ That’s how I learnt to sell. So I ran the first … the very first … open home in Hawke’s Bay, then it spread nationwide of course. But I ran a street of open homes at various stages of building – “come and see how we build them.” And I had to call the Traffic Department to control the traffic. [Chuckle] Yeah.

So then you moved into real estate full time, so how long were you doing that before you became involved in the Top Hat?

I did it all at once. 1961 I [speaking together] started the Top Hat, and the story’s there, but there’s a little caption about that. Prior to that … the War Memorial Hall.

Yes.

At the time I was Chairman of the Napier Development Association, and they built the Memorial Hall and since … I was very upset at what they did recently, ’cause I supervised the building of it, employed Guy Natusch, and anyway, the Council said “we want a ballroom”, and that’s the only stipulation they made. So they got their ballroom, and then they said “we’ll put a rental on it and we can run … publicly let it”. And it didn’t work. So they came back to Uncle Bernie at Napier Development and said “what can you do with it?” I said “oh, we’ll run a Saturday night dance there, no trouble”. So I got a band going and we started a Saturday night dance. I ran that for seven and a half years and didn’t earn a penny for myself. I said “we’ll have nothing to do with the finances”. I said “the Council will staff the [?] change, and staff the doors, and supply the ticket sellers and everything. And – you can believe this or believe it not – every Saturday at ten o’clock I’d close the place down and have two minutes silence.

Because it was a memorial?

Yeah. And that’s the thing that upset me more than anything when they removed the title.

Now you made a comment the other day, how much money you raised by letting the War Memorial Hall.

I didn’t let it, I ran the dances. About two million.

But it went into the coffers of the …

The City Council … I made them bring the change, ticket sellers, and door keepers.

Right. So, well obviously because you were so successful at that, at some stage you must have decided to have a look at the Top Hat?

No. Wally Atherfold called me to a meeting – he was Deputy Mayor at the time. He said “Bernie you’ve done too much for Napier, you should’ve been getting paid”. He says “the wife and I have just bought the old Gaiety Theatre”. And this is absolute gospel truth. He says “we’re going to put another floor through it and Mrs Atherfold wants you to have the first choice to turn it to a ballroom up there”. I said “Wally, I ain’t got any money, you know that, I did all that work for nothing” . He says “you don’t need money. Give us £2”, which I did, and he says “we’ve got a deal. Now,” he says “I’ll lend you the money to do it up, so put whatever you want to in”. And if you have a look at that there, there’s a photograph in there just inside, there’s the ballroom before it was opened. And he did it. It cost me £48,000 and I paid it back in one year. In there there’s a photograph of the millionth customer going through it.

It was a happy place.

Oh! Wonderful place.

In the winter there was a ball there every Saturday night.

Every Friday night – yeah, and the public dance on Saturday night. Yeah, and one of the biggest thrills I got – every musician of any consequence in New Zealand wanted to play there – put a tick in the box. And that was part of the reason for the success of it. One day I got a call from London – Acker Bilk – you’ve heard of him?

Yes, sure have.

“You Bernie Meredith?” [Coughing] I said “yes”. He says “I want to come and play at Top Hat”. Oowhh!

And he came, and he played.

No. He came and played, but he organised a tour of New Zealand at the same time. 1963 he did that.

So how long did you run the Top Hat?

Twelve years.

That’s quite a long time.

Oh, it’s got a cycle, ballrooms and dances and nightclubs all have a cycle.

‘Course the only other competition you had was old Jimmy O’Brien down at …

Cabana, yeah.

And the Premier in Hastings and the Majestic in Napier.

I closed all those.

The Premier hung on ‘cause that – it was the biggest one in Hastings and that kept going for a long, long time.

Yeah, yeah. Well, look at the clientele. In there it’s got the strict rules, which I’d say were the success of the place. The lady that prepared that is on the back. Jill – she did it. First hand.

Well that wasn’t done that long ago, was it?

That would be done in …

Your ninetieth birthday.

Oh that was done for my ninetieth birthday, yeah.

How did you come to the name Top Hat?

It was bloody logic – just logical.

But it was perfect wasn’t it?

Point of difference. Dance de luxe … I didn’t like that.

Be happy, be gay … [speaking together]

You wouldn’t get away with that today.

… couldn’t say [chuckle]. So then during this period your first marriage came to an end, and then you married your second wife, Joan.

Yeah.

And where were you living at that stage?

I’ll tell you why the first wedding failed first. She was a … I met her, Merle, at Napier Skating Club. And that bloke Freddie Mitchell I told you about, he used to run my finances. I got 16/11d [sixteen shillings and elevenpence] a week wages from Robert Holt & Sons as an apprentice, and he used to make me take it all to him when I got it, and he was the accountant at Williams & Kettle in Browning Street, and he’d give me back threepence for my pocket money. And she used to go skating – I went roller skating because it was the only thing I could afford to go – it cost me 3d [threepence] to go there.

And I got involved with that place and I dreamt up the sunken roller skating rink, and this … Dalton just demolished it, and that was a personality with me. He said “I’ll win.” And he said that the reason why he closed it was there wasn’t sufficient business acumen to keep it going within the thing. And it was him getting at me. I’m a life member of Napier Skating Club. And he said business acumen – having just closed Marineland. Couldn’t run it. If ever there was an opportunity to make a world feature, that was it. And do you know how that started? A mate of mine caught a shark, it was alive on the deck of his boat. So I rang Peter Tait and I said “look, the only salt water is the swimming pool – can we stick the shark in there for a day or two?” He said “Yeah, that’ll be right.” And Marineland grew from that.

That’s what Peter Tait was like, wasn’t it?

Yeah, and I helped him direct it.

Isn’t that amazing. So coming back – at some stage you became the real estate man.

Century 21. Yeah.

Gold jackets.

Yeah … they weren’t bad. In that picture – there’s a picture of the band, they adopted that colour. Anyway – point of difference. Honesty, point of difference, and do your best.

And so how many years did you continue as a real estate ..?

Fifty-one years.

That would have to be – you would have been the oldest company, wouldn’t you?

Oh no, no, no, no.

‘Cause you’ve been retired for …

Oh, five years, that’s all.

You covered all of Napier area, didn’t you?

All of Hawke’s Bay. I’m the only one – I was successful – the only one that took on the Century 21 franchise. You had to buy that. The owners of Century 21 franchise came to me and said “Bernie, we’ll give you $12,000 to join us”. [Chuckle] So I got twelve grand. That’s absolutely true.

And were you Century 21 right to the end?

Century 21 Meredith Real Estate. It wasn’t for fifty-one – I picked that right, did that for twenty years, ‘cause Century 21 didn’t come until the twentieth [twenty-first] century.

Yes and … d’you remember … prices of real estate doubled?

Yeah, well – it doubled because Paviour Smith I think had something to do with … you remember him? I think he was one of the ones that was responsible for putting the commission rates up and that’s when the prices started to go up. They got greedy, and I think I’ve told you – my view is that the women that entered real estate used to buy a black bag first, then a black car, then a black short skirt, and start work at ten o’clock. And they’d sell one property every three months and that was pocket money because commissions went so high.

Any grandchildren?

Oh yes, and some great-grandchildren.

Yes, well at some stage I’ll get a list of those.

Now you made the remark that you’d been made life member of many organisations.

Yeah, every one.

Okay, let’s have a list of them and tell us your involvement.

Well I virtually started Hawkeye, and I’ve got some gold medals in there. Hawkeye, Napier High School Old Boys’ Rugby Club, Napier Development Association – ‘course it’s gone now. I’d have to sit down and write it out – about a dozen. I engineered Marist Rugby Club, had got back a lot of money, and Napier High School Old Boys had the players but no money, so we amalgamated – it’s now Old Boys Marist. I didn’t want Old Boys Marist … certainly didn’t want Marist Old Boys … I wanted a new name.

So your last wife, how long has she ..?

Oh, she’s dead now. But I divorced her – that marriage lasted twelve years.

That was your second wife?

No my first wife. She’s dead, the first one, too.

They’re both dead?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Joanie … it was about the time I left home, and Joanie came and asked me for a job as a doorkeeper at the Top Hat – Cashier. The first night at Top Hat – it’s in there I think – first night at Top Hat I made a big Top Hat … six-foot-wide top hat … and that was the ticket seller, she had to sit in the Top Hat. Point of difference.

Very vivacious.

Oh yeah, yes, she was.

Was she a redhead?

No.

So I suppose now that you’re confined really, do you still go to any rugby matches?

Oh, I can’t climb up steps.

Cricket? Do you watch?

I watch the cricket a lot – I watch all sports.

Did you watch it last night, the cricket? 

Yes.

It was quite exciting. It’s an entertainment. 

Yeah, but you see they should never have played Wheeler.

I prefer test cricket played somewhere …  

It’ll die.

It will die.

Yeah.

People don’t have time any more.

People go to the grandstand to have someone they can elbow next door. But the Wellington Sevens in rugby that was ruined by greed within the management of the Rugby Union.

Absolutely.

Yeah. They thought it was good fun.

And let’s hope that they don’t do the same thing in …

Well they started to. They didn’t make grog available ‘til after the afternoon or something. Is that right?

That’s right, yes.

So what else? You must have had some really good bands besides Ernie Rouse at the Top Hat?

Oh yeah. My first wife, when I left – she kept the Visitors’ Book, and destroyed it – that’s the historical book.

One artist I remember, and her name’s in there in the Top Hat – Alison Durbin. I used to pick all these artists up at the airport, take them back to the airport and fly them out.

So anything else? What other things are highlights of your life?

There’s one real good one which … they still talk about it. I organised the street parades before every Ranfurly Shield match when we had it. And Pinetree Meads … King Country were coming, so we said “right, Pinetree – we’ll fix you”. So we had a huge parade that time and I got hold of a pine tree in a planter box big enough, and it was about twenty feet high and we put a cradle on the bottom of it and stood it on the back of a truck, and drove it up Emerson Street. And right outside the hotel where the Hawke’s Bay team was staying some blokes dressed up as bushmen jumped on the back of the truck. I stopped it … chainsawed it out, [makes sound] and it broke a window in … Blythe’s window. [Laugh]

Wonder if that was the match that Bob Boston was refereeing, ‘cause he was a first class referee wasn’t he?

Yeah, yeah.

I think he said Pinetree was mouthing him, he said “any more, and you’re on the bus”. And he said Pinetree never said another word during the game. [Chuckle]

Talking of referees, I used to be at every rugby match. And Nick Paxie was a referee, but he always played in a curtain [raiser], and never refereed a senior match. This day we were playing Marist Old Boys and Nick was a little dour, and it was 3-0 (nil) to High School Old Boys. And right on full time Blair Furlong drop kicked a goal and made it 3-3 (all). We held the Shield of course, and they didn’t take it off us, so we were still … virtually became the Shield holders. And Nick Paxie jumped … he was the referee, and he jumped for joy, and held his hand up. [Chuckle]

Incidentally, here’s something you won’t know. Nick Paxie never did a day’s work in his life. He used to hold up a parking meter outside the shop, twelve hours a day … never did any work, never peeled a spud. And when he died he had the biggest funeral ever held in St John’s Cathedral. Yeah.

I used to go there once a year for a meal and I got to know them quite well. One of them, the one who was out the back working – I got to know him quite well. The one who was out the front …

That was Nick, he was a screw loose.

Oh was he?

Yeah. But Arthur was an accountant at … qualified accountant, and he was very wealthy, and he was Secretary-Chairman of the Napier Thirty Thousand Club which he finally ran into the ground. He got sick of it and he couldn’t stop the thing. But yeah.

No, it’s a lovely old city. It’s amazing you know, Hastings and Napier are so close together, and yet they’re so far apart.

Now there was the other Paxie in Emerson Street, and that was a first class café, that one. And Bill Paxie was the owner. He was a cousin of the Paxies. [Clock chimes] And he used to do a bit of singing and he was known as Buddy Collins. And he had a physical discrepancy, or … might be a better word … he had one arm longer than the other. And every time he used to sing he used the short arm to hold the microphone with, and it was the opposite one to what – normal people use their right hand – he always used his left hand. That was the reason. And I knew it and I never told anybody, ‘cause he was a bloody good singer. Yeah – Buddy Collins.

Isn’t it funny how you forget these names. I hadn’t heard Alison Durban’s name mentioned for a while either.

Yeah, there’s another one. Who was – Jock Eddy, who was his girlfriend?  She was well-known but she was a very good dancer, and I used to employ her to do a floor show sometimes, up at the Top Hat. And it was getting a bit stale, it wanted a bit of oomph put into it. So we got her to do this dance, and she’d dance her way onto the stage, then go behind a screen and throw her bra out over the top. And the crowd went “Woo-oo!” And the bloody screen fell over, and there was Sybil with a pair of pants on, shorts. [Laughter]

So your cup almost overfloweth with what you’ve done in Hawke’s Bay, and Napier.

Yeah. There’s one thing that I’m particularly proud of … I’ve got some pictures. In about 1958-’59-’60 – that period, there used to be seven-a-side rugby started … school kids on Saturday morning. And there was one team from Napier High School Old Boys and one team from Napier Intermediate, and a bloke by the name of Denzel Drummond was the headmaster at the Napier Intermediate. And Bruce Hawkins and I used to pick the seven-a-side team for Napier High School Old Boys – we got seven. And I said to myself “for Christ’s sake, there must be more kids than fourteen want to play rugby on Saturday mornings”. So I did a bit of research and went round all the Clubs, and they thought ‘what a bloody good idea – we’ll all get seven-a-side, ‘cause it’ll build the Club up’. And it did.

And anyway, we approached Rugby, and they said “well if you want to do something, do it, but it won’t work … will not work.” I said “well, we’ll see.” So there was a bloke, Ted Nepia, he was headmaster at the Hastings Street School there where the RSA is now. And Ted said “well if you want to hold a meeting we’ll make the school available.” So I got all the clubs in Napier and Hastings to come along to this meeting just as a discussion, to see if we could do it. So we decided at that meeting to take it a stage further and we’d ask the Rugby Union for their official – ‘cause we had to do it under their umbrella – and they said “yeah, that’s all right.” So we sent out notices to everybody and then called a meeting, and we held it. And we decided we would form what was known as the Hawke’s Bay Junior Rugby under the jurisdiction of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union. So we decided to have a weigh-in. What do you think we had to do? They made everybody hold the weigh-in on the same day. Why? To stop changing Clubs. Yeah.

How many kids do you think we got in the whole of Hastings and Napier in one day? Just under three thousand. But you see it gets down to one thing – the ability to read opportunities.

And I ran the draw for Napier and Hastings, and I had to get parks and prices – what a colossal job that was – for twelve years. Ted Carpenter? Anyway, he was a school teacher at the Boys’ High School. They climbed onto the bandwagon too, the High Schools. Tom Carpenter. And he used to help me with the draw. What a colossal job – fifty-odd teams …

I can imagine.

to organise on a Saturday morning and allocate parks and …

So were there any other sports which you took up for your own leisure? Did you ever play golf or bowls?

Oh yeah, yeah – well getting back to when I got 16/11d [sixteen shillings and elevenpence] – this is absolutely true – Freddie Mitchell gave me 3d [threepence] and I used to go roller skating. And I became a life member, and I designed and built the sunken skating rink. Anyway, I went roller skating because I only had 3d [threepence] a week, enough for roller skating. That’s true.

And little Joanie, she had one daughter, and she owns the … did until recently … the salon over the road. Her name’s Philippa, and she took up skating of course and so on and so forth, and she became a member of the New Zealand Roller Skating team, went to Australia. And she should have won it that year, but she got some disease and she couldn’t – she had to be flown back to New Zealand. And I felt so much for her, I went down … Sydney … main street and I saw a [an] Easter bunny – it was Easter – in the window. Bigger than she was, so I bought the [deleted]. Sequel to that was I had to buy a ticket on the aeroplane … to pay an airfare to get him home.

So golf, did you play golf?

No.

Bowls?

Only twice I played bowls, and I was unbeatable, so I gave it up. That was in Waipawa.

Did you ever run across any of the Bibbys in Waipawa? 

Yes.

I’ve got a dear old friend in Havelock, Geoff Bibby.

There’s a Bibby Street in Waipawa.

Yes. Talking about the road that you lived on, I did a – I interviewed some people from Onga Onga, and of course that’s down at the end of your road.

 Yeah. There’s the old farmhouse, up there. [Shows photo] 

Anyway, six or seven brothers came out from England on a boat, they were all ship’s carpenters, electrical people, those sorts of trades – the Cole brothers. And they were asked if they would come to Onga Onga and build all the houses and all the shops there, which they did. And some of the shops still have Cole Bros [Brothers] … But some of the homes they built are beautiful old …

Oh yes, well there’s one bloke living, Harley Cole. He lives over here in George’s Drive.

Yes, he’s one of them.

He married my sister.

It’s a small world, isn’t it?

Oh yeah. Well when I started building I had a workshop down Te Awa Avenue and … used to be Schofield’s Plumbing. And I took it on as my workshop and I didn’t like it, so my Grandfather said to me, “here’s £500 and it won’t be yours”. He says “I’ve put it in my will because you’ve only got one sister, and she’s going to get my whole estate when I die”. So he did a mortgage in her name for the property I built in Dunlop Road.

Anyway, what I was going to tell you was – as time went by my sister died, and then it was shown in her estate, and Harley got it. In the meantime I had paid it back, and this little … took me to the Supreme Court to get £500 out of me. Yeah, he did, and so all I did – and I’m a bugger to keep things – I had my original Post Office savings book that I used to use … you know, the old Post Office … I’ve still got it, and it’s got the entry for £500 in, £400, then for £140 for the two repayments. I only had it for three or four months. And he maintained that when Joy died, that she never got it, and he tried to sue me again for it. And his children wouldn’t talk to me until I had to prove to them that I’d paid it back.

And you got it back all right?

Oh, I didn’t have to do anything, because I’d done it.

When we came to Napier High School they never taught us anything about Napier history – couldn’t believe it. I’ve learnt more about Napier history in the last three or four years talking to people who’ve lived here all their lives than I ever knew.

I’ve got a photograph there, early 1860, of Hastings Street in Napier and it shows the Boys’ High School grounds under water.

Yes, well it is all under water, isn’t it?

Yeah, and this is the … this stream here is the old …

Tutaekuri.

Tutaekuri, yes.

Is there anything else you can think of in the meantime?

If you’re running out of …

Not running out of time, no.

They’re very valuable to me. [Talking about photos lent]

Original digital file

MeredithBR2028_Final_May18.ogg

Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

2028/45129

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