Calvin John Appleby Interview
Today is the 5th of February 2018. I’m interviewing Calvin Appleby, a retired engineer from Hastings. Calvin, would you like to tell me about your family in Hawke’s Bay?
I don’t know where to start! My earliest memories would be when I was very young, maybe only four, and being taken to Cornwall Park by my Nana Appleby who we called Nana A – two nanas, Nana A and Nana B – and I imagine we were taken by taxi. And it was just my brother Owen and myself, and my memory is of being on the little swings … baby swings they were called I think. They were just behind the kiosk building and at the time the lady who was looking after that kiosk where they used to sell ice creams and so forth, was a rather tall stern looking lady who I later found out was my Dad’s Aunty. And she chatted with my Nana while I was having a swing. That’s one of the early memories. And another one is with that same Nana Appleby – I’d been there and my brother Owen and I were round in Lascelles Street at her place, and we were taken for a ride in Mr John Drury’s car. Now John Drury – I think he was a solicitor or something in Hastings …
He was an accountant.
… accountant, yeah, and lived just across the road. And he had a rather flash car – might have been a – I just remember it as being a black car. And we were taken through to the Napier wharves – you know, the fishing area – probably the Iron Pot, and my memory of that is these boats with nets hanging from the masts. I actually used to have nightmares about that. In my nightmares those boats were sort of scary, and the nets were green, and somehow or other it was scary, and yeah, that worried me for quite while. To me now, I would say they were fishing nets hung up to dry or for repair or something.
They could’ve been too, yes. Yes, Mr John Drury was a very stern man, but he was a very kind man.
Yes. Well, he was just a neighbour that lived in the brick house across the road from my nana. That’s two of the earliest ones – where’s my bullet points? I also remember my high chair. I just remember that it was mine. [Chuckle] I suppose [cough] I was perhaps two, or three, or four or something there I just remember that was my high chair … could be that that was because it was still hanging around several years later and I just remembered that it was mine. But somehow it seems to be personalised to me. Okay.
Moving on – first day at school?
Well no – at this point could we just go back to your grandparents? Where did your grandparents come from? Where did they come to in New Zealand? What did they do when they came here? And we’ll pick up school when we’ve dealt with them.
Yeah, okay. Well my grandmother – born in New Zealand? Yeah. She was Julia Fleming, one of I think, four girls – I’d have to go through my genealogy to prove all this – I’ve got records of it, I just haven’t got it all crystal clear in memory. Not sure why she was in Hawke’s Bay, or Hastings, except that she has a sister in Takapau who was married to … some people there, so it might have been up in this area for that reason. I remember her just as a gentle old lady, and from my time with her, which’d be probably during the war from 1940s or something – you know, perhaps ’42 or something because we lived in Pepper Street and they lived in Lascelles Street. It was just a little walk round the corner, and my brother and I went there quite often on our trikes or whatever. And yeah, I remember she used to like us combing her hair. She’d sit in a chair and we’d brush or comb her hair, or do her toenails. [Chuckle] And she just liked that.
My grandfather – he’s Godfrey and he was born in Canterbury, probably on a farm at Annat, just out of Christchurch. One of four boys … lost their Mum very early and the dad remarried, and I think there might have been some strife there – you know, between the boys, ’cause they were very young. And their dad was involved in all sorts of business – I’m going back to great-grandfather now. And so he was a land agent and he worked for an accountants’ office for twenty-odd years and so forth; he was involved with the Council, he was a councillor and so forth. So you can imagine, these four boys perhaps got up to mischief or had a bit of a free rein, or rebelled – I’m not too sure. But they all pretty well … two especially, there was four boys: Arthur, who like his father – good singer and actually won a medal, went to London to study music but then got involved with drink; Leonard, who was a photographer – quite a renowned one – he’s recognised as starting a new photography system and being involved in that, and had a studio in Australia, in Sydney, so he was probably … the only okay; then there’s Hubert who came up to Hawke’s Bay … Hubert and Godfrey, my grandfather. And I think they were sent to Hawke’s Bay, away from Canterbury, because of their drinking behaviour or other behaviour – I don’t know, but they were more or less pushed out of the family in some sort of disgrace, I think – or disapproval at least. So … and there was sort of silence from my parents about those sort of subjects. And also, that Aunty Eva that I mentioned … my dad’s Aunty Eva that was at Cornwall Park … well I remember we visited her some other time, and there’d be sort of hush-hush chatting going on. She’d lost her husband very early in the piece, and I think as far as she was concerned it was good riddance to … whereas my Nana Appleby, when we went round to her place, quite often my grandfather would be way down in the big shed down the back of the property, and he’s recovering from his drinking bouts.
So what did he do?
He was a labourer – worked for the Council as a labourer. I don’t know anything other than that, the only work I know of. He was a retired man when I knew him. And … yeah.
And then your father?
My father was the only son, and he wanted to go into the grocery trade. He was Godfrey Eric, but he was known as Eric – yeah, my dad – and he wanted to go in the grocery trade. He actually … he left Christchurch … well they came up from Christchurch when he was about nine and went to Hastings Central School for three years, and did all right there – had pass marks or whatever. And then went over to Billy Lynch, who had a grocery shop where old Tommo’s was. Billy Lynch. Well he wanted to go there and he got himself a job there to work there, but my grandfather took him away from there to give him a job in the Leopard Brewery. Well surprise, surprise, eh? So there’s a little connection there. So he worked for the D H Newbigin, Leopard Brewery and my Dad worked there for forty or maybe forty-plus years, and he was the second-in-charge really, of the soft drink side of it.
See, a lot of us didn’t even know that Leopard made soft drinks, ‘causes most of us only thought of Watson …
Oh yeah – C J Watson, yeah.
… and there was another one that used to sell it in those stone jars down Frederick Street.
Oh yeah! Yeah, yeah – Barden’s … W Barden & Sons, yeah. And they had a truck with open sides on it with these things stacked up. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah – no, Dad worked there and actually I think the soft drink business was bigger than the beer business – yeah, yeah. And Joe Bell was the Number One in the soft drink department, and then Dad. Ossie Edwards was another one – if you’ve interviewed Alan Edwards at all ..? Well his father was Ossie Edwards, and he also worked there a long, long time.
They tended to stay a while, didn’t they?
So your mother – she was a local?
No. My mum was born in England. They come from Northamptonshire, in a little town called Rowston. Her dad was a shoemaker … ultimately came to Hastings and had Burfield’s shoe shop. Her mother was sick – she had … oh, they used to call it consumption in those days, but it’s TB. And so my mum being the eldest girl, was frequently home from school looking after her mum, and so her life as a young girl – and this would be from when she was ten or twelve, or something like that, was to get the breakfast for her dad and her oldest brother who went off to work – or to school, and then to look after her younger brother, which [who] is my Uncle Dick … Richard … and my Aunty Betty, who was the youngest girl and she would’ve just been a baby. And so my mum was looking after the household in this little house with no hot water, just one tap over a sink bench inside. As she got older she used to try to raise extra money by buying fish and making fish and chips and selling it out through the front window to the workers coming from the shoe factories – ‘cause Rowston’s full of shoe factories – chock-a-block. And so she was trying to supplement the income that way, but it got to a point where there was so little work – and I’m talking about the 1920s – yeah, 1920s, yeah – it got to the point where they decided they’d emigrate to New Zealand.
Now my grandfather, we called him Grampy … Grampy Burfield, the shoemaker … he had a brother, Bill, who was also a shoemaker and he had a business he’d started up in Auckland – he’d come out here. And he’d written and said “come on out if you can, because this is much better, it’s healthier”, and he actually sent some money for them to come out – to help them to pay to come out. And the intention was that my two grandparents, Henry Francis Burfield and his wife Eva – oh, I should know this all off by heart. Rose Eva, yeah … yeah, for them and the kids to come out. Now at this time there was only three children were going to come because the eldest one had joined the Army in England, and he went to India, and I think he was involved with the Black and Tans in Ireland as well, and I’m not sure which one was first. So those three kids and the mum and dad were going to come out, but the mother was so sick she was back into Wellingborough Hospital … Convalescent Home it’s called, and she wasn’t able to come even though they had a ship ready to go, and you know … and she actually wrote a letter, and I’ve got a copy of it, where she said “you go – take the kids, they’ll be good – I’ll be all right.” So she stayed and really said goodbye to her kids, and her youngest was the five year old Aunty Betty … say goodbye to that.
Amazing, isn’t it?
Yeah. So, I thought it was a hugely courageous thing to do.
So they came out on a boat out to New Zealand in 1923. And … yes, they all came down to Hastings, and I’m not sure where my Grandad worked for a start-off, or whether he started up a business straight away – I’m not too sure just how much time there was. But my mum went working as a servant girl, and she was at Waiterenui with the McFarlane … out there on – corner of Raukawa and … yeah. Yeah, so she worked for Billy McFarlane there, as a housekeeper/cook. Effie Little was the cook, and Effie Little was … if you’ve ever … Hugh Little that was the builder? Hugh G Little?
Yes, yes. Yes.
Yeah, well Effie was his wife. So Mum and Effie worked together and when Effie had her half day off Mum was the cook, you know, on that day sort of thing, and that’s where they worked. My dad met my mum at a dance here in Hastings, at the Drill Hall it might have been – courted her, biked out to Waiterenui on my Mum’s half day off, you know, that she had. Then they got married in 1928 and they lived in Beresford Street in a rented home for just a few months, and then decided to buy the section at 315 Pepper Street and built the house, built by Cameron … what was his name? Hughie Cameron’s dad – he was a builder, and built quite a few houses. They’re still standing, most of them – they’re all good homes. So they built this little two bedroom home there and that’s where us four boys were all raised. First one was Ian, born in 1929, then Owen 1935, then me in 1936, and my youngest brother Len, in 1942.
And so you were in Hastings West, and that was not only your school but that was your swimming club as well, wasn’t it?
Yes – well, went to Hastings West School when I was five, so probably 1940 or 1941 – it’s be 1941. Had a bit of … not a happy time. Couple of occasions – you want to hear about that?
I remember the first day I was there – very first day – everyone went out and I was in the play shed outside, and I wet myself. They didn’t tell you where there were toilets or even that there were any – no instructions at all. And I don’t know how that happened but I was only a little kid, and I remember the bell rang and everyone ran away, and I was sort of sitting there, embarrassed, and then my eldest brother came and took me home. That’s what … I can remember that. [Chuckle]
At that time it’s pleasing to see an older brother.
Yeah. Yeah. Another little memory I have, was I was in Primer 2 or 3, and I’d just finished a primer book and I was due to get another one the next day. Well on that next day my teacher was away, and so our class, which was probably about thirty or thirty-five kids … they were big … was to be lumped together with the head primary teacher’s class, and then they were going to be sitting in their little chairs – tables and chairs or whatever, and we’d be sitting on the mat. Well, the teacher went out to the corridor to the cupboard to get some books or something, so I went out to see her and I remember saying to her: “Please Miss, I need to get a new book.” She grabbed me, it might have been by the shoulder or it could have been by the ear, and marched me into the classroom and announced to everybody: “This boy has been rude”, and I was told to stand in the corner. I had no idea in what way I’d been rude. It certainly was not something in my family you’d ever do – you were never rude, we were all very polite.
But you said “Please Miss …”
I worked it out later, that – one, she’d be annoyed that suddenly she’s got two classes you know, so she’d be … bit unhappy about that. The other thing is, I think she was Mrs McKay, and I called her Miss. That’s the only thing I can think of. It scarred me, because here I am at eighty-one – I still remember it, crystal clear. I actually mentioned it to her at a school reunion. [Chuckle]
And what did she ..?
She didn’t want to know – she just dismissed it. “Well, things happen,” you know – moved on. So … that’s the only thing I can think of.
Yeah, I … because you didn’t know what she meant.
No. No, I had no idea. I just knew I was standing in a corner, shamed. [Chuckle]
Yes. So then you went through primary school …
Primary school … now another little thing that happened – being war time of course, it might have been Standard 1 or … I can’t remember, Standard 1 or Standard 2, we actually had six teachers in the year, and I think one of them certainly was Mrs Bark, who wasn’t a teacher just simply somebody’s mother, and that might have happened two or three times. I remember one of them was a Dutch lady who … the very first day she was in a bright yellow dress and she said “Good morning, I’m Miss Blomfeldt”, and wrote her name on the blackboard. But I don’t think she was there long, maybe a week or a fortnight perhaps, but I don’t think we had her for very long, so I don’t know what happened there. But I think that didn’t help.
Standard 3 my teacher was George Lowe, the Everest … photographer, and well-known person in this community, and good teacher. We were in a cloakroom, and jammed in – thirty kids. We were in a terrible mess, with one aisle down the middle and you had to sort of climb over the chairs to get in so the one against the wall had to be the first one in, sort of thing. [Chuckle] So we were there, and it was good teaching and I remember him teaching us to write. And another little scar happened there. On our storybooks where you wrote, you know, ‘What I Did During the Holidays’, or these little essay things you did you know, and I’d come down the page with one line left at the bottom of the page. And we weren’t allowed to waste paper – it was war time. But I worked out that for my next story, there was no point in putting it on the bottom … the heading of it on the bottom line, because there’s a wide margin at the top of the next page and it doesn’t reduce any lines. So I started there. And I was sent to the Headmaster for wasting paper, for which I got three on each hand – yeah, three straps on each hand.
Isn’t it incredible!
So that was that. I had good teachers there – Mr Scott we thought was great, and then for two years I had George Warren, so that’d be Standard 5 and Standard 6. And he was good, called him Garibaldi ‘cause he was slightly bald, but he was a good teacher. His son was in our class for the second year I think and he liked singing and we all sang a lot in the class, sort of … we were the top singing class.
Now at that stage while you were at primary school, obviously you had the Hastings West swimming baths across the road …
Oh, well on the same property – but it was when I was in Standard 6 I think, perhaps the beginning of Standard 6 – the headmaster came in, and that would be Mr Short, and announced they were thinking of starting a swimming club … “would anybody be interested in going swimming, and races?” ‘Course thirty kids put their hands up, and so they were having them the next Saturday. So I turned up – and heaps did, half the school or maybe more than that turned up on the Saturday, and we had these races. Gradually the others dropped out, but I stayed on and I think we had that for two Saturdays and then they changed to a Monday evening and it was Monday evening from then on. And it was the Hastings West Swimming Club, and I joined at first opportunity and swam there competitively all that time, right up until I was married. You know, I was Club Captain for years. I did a lot of coaching – we used to take ‘Learn to Swim’ classes on a Saturday morning, and sometimes Saturday and Sunday mornings. Sometimes there’d be … once or twice we had over a hundred kids turn up, and there was only my brother and I.
And did you play water polo there too?
Yeah … yeah. Played water polo later on and was in the Hawke’s Bay team with members from – I think one from Havelock and … like, would be Robbie Frater or something. Yeah – others were mostly from Heretaunga Club. Tiny Drummond and Denzil … Denzil Bousfield, yeah.
So swimming obviously played a large part in your sporting activities. Did you play another other sports?
Ultimately I did. After I did my apprenticeship I then was able to go and play rugby. I couldn’t do it before because I had night classes. We had night classes for three years, so after those first three years of my apprenticeship, then I was able to go to rugby practices on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and I played for Hastings. Yeah.
You mentioned your apprenticeship, did you start with Nelson’s?
Yeah. I wrote to them and applied for an apprenticeship and I started there in 1953, yeah. And it was a ten-thousand-hour contract.
And that was quite intense, wasn’t it?
Yeah, you had to pass an exam which they called First Qualifying, and then Second Qualifying and then Trade Certificate – those were the three – and I passed them but not brilliantly. I don’t think I did very well in exams, it was just not my scene.
Something we spoke about earlier Calvin, and that was the breadth of training you had at Tomoana. They taught you all sorts of engineering not just fitting and turning, which must have been a great benefit.
Yeah, yeah – well all the pipe work and so forth, you know, and because you’re handling all sorts of different materials, you’ve got potable water and non-potable. And you’re working … constantly working with other tradesmen, you know, the carpenters, plumbers, sheet metal workers, electricians, you know? And painters and plasterers and all that, and so you’re observing and being involved in all their skills as well. And so you pick up a lot, let alone the fact the factory has a thousand permanent workers, and maybe fifteen hundred in the season, and there’s a wealth of information there. And you know, pretty well anyone – if you want to know a little bit of advice about anything at all – growing tomatoes or something, there’s somebody there that’s an expert. [Chuckle]
I had a nephew, Patrick Bawden, who also did his time at Tomoana under you guys.
Is he Ralph Bawden’s family? From Te Awai?
His father was Ralph – yeah, he was Ralph.
When I first started at Tomoana there was no welding. You know, it was crossed off on my list of tasks that they were obliged to teach me. And welding and gas cutting was out because they had three guys and that was their job and they just wanted to protect their job …
… and they weren’t willing to share with anybody. It caused huge delays because you’d get three or four fitters who had something that needed to be welded or in some way treated, and you had queue up and wait for these guys. And they worked at their own pace, and it was just a hassle ‘til years later … be when they did the extension around about 1967. They got an extra electric welding plant up on the top floor because they couldn’t afford to have the hold-ups of waiting for a welder to come from the fitting shop. And so there was some urgency about it so they got that up there.
Well then the next thing, all us fitters were going upstairs and borrowing that welder and [chuckle] … and “you’re taking our job!” And you’re thinking ‘well I’m not going to queue up down there, I’m going to go and get the thing done and get on with the job.’ So that’s how I self taught myself electric welding. It was a rubbishy machine, and you’d get electrocuted touching the damn thing, it was leaking juice everywhere. It really was. And I mean lightening bolt thing along it, and you didn’t want to stand in water and you’re in a freezing works water everywhere – it really was – and I mean, lightning bolts [?] along it, you know, and you didn’t want to stand in the water or anything like that – and you were in the freezing works – there was water everywhere! Yeah.
So that was the beginning of it and you know, after a little while they had to relent. And of course … well, old Jack Timms retired and sort of moved on, and then everybody was welding. And then of course they got arc welding to do the stainless-steel and the aluminium. The first lot of aluminium they bought in – never had aluminium anywhere in Tomoana – and I got the job of making a big massive conveyor … conveyor and table [?] combination thing. And all the joints were riveted – they were all mitred corners and riveted with little L brackets … massive. Probably still existing … except it got burnt in the fire. But yeah, so that was it. And they were so precious because the aluminium was three times the price of steel. Every night I had to go to the steel rack where it was stored and write out an inventory of what’s there in the … they were worried about it being pinched. Yeah, so that’s how it was sort of measured.
And of course there was a huge error done with that, with the drawings – I was working off drawings. And I know the quarters of beef, when they bring them on the rail and they had to lift them off the hook and drop [bangs table] them onto these tables and then bone them out, and then throw the meat onto the top conveyor and the bones onto the bottom one, or the other way round – can’t remember. And that was the idea. Well, I remember the guy Harding, somebody Harding, who was a boner up there, and he was [an] aggressive sort of a guy, and … bit of smart arse really. But he came and told me, you know – “these won’t be wide enough”, you know. The carcasses … quarter of beef is you know, a metre and half or something, and these things … they were going to smash. And I looked, and I thought ‘yeah, they’re going to … it’s not going to be good at all’. So when my chief engineer, Keith Alexander, came up as he did – he used to do a round of everybody, every day he’d go around and look at every fitter, and sometimes twice. And he’d come up and this … Earl Harding his name was … Earl Harding went up to him and then started laying the law down, you know … big man … “Oh, these are no blimmin’ good – you engineers don’t know what you’re doing”, sort of thing, you know, and really embarrassed Keith Alexander. And so when he moved on Keith Alexander went over and he hauled out his tape measure and he measured this area they were concerned about, and he came over to me and he says “you’ve made a blue!” And he was bright red and he was as angry as anything, ‘cause he’d just been embarrassed by a freezing worker. “You’ve made a blue!” And he said “these things are so … whatever”, which they are. And I just went over and I had a measurement of it, and I went over to the drawing and I said “well I’m assuming that the drawing’s correct.” And he went “huh!” Went away. And I never saw him again. [Chuckle] He never came visiting me on his morning rounds ever again. [Chuckle] So … you know, not my fault – I made it according to the drawing. [Chuckle] So I remember that [chuckle] little episode.
So did you go to CMT while you were ..?
This is before you were married?
Yeah, yeah. [Chuckle] Another drama. Eighteen years old … and a few months; go down to Linton in a train; eventually given barracks and gear and equipment and what-have-you, and started being a soldier. And then one day with some others my name was called out – I was to get into my Number 1 battledress and report to the CO. I thought ‘oh, what have I done?’ It was you know, 1100 hours, or whatever the hell it was, and so I went over to this CO’s office and we’re all waiting outside – there was sixteen of us I think. Yes, so I think there was sixteen of us and nobody knew why we were there – thought we might be on charge for something you know. We’ve passed an officer and didn’t salute or something – who knows? We didn’t clean our boots properly. Anyway, eventually a Corporal marched us into a room and gave us a form to fill out, and it was all about name and address and whether you’ve had any diseases, what your hobbies are or something. I think I wrote down stamp collecting and swimming or something like that. And we had no idea what it was about until the Corporal come in and said “right. We’re taking you one at a time in to see the Commanding Officer, and you’ll be quick-marched in there, you’ll do a left turn, right turn and then you’ll salute the Officer and then that’s it.” So anyway, “Appleby” … first one up of course, being A … “left right, left right, left right!” [Chuckle] Into the … “halt! Right turn!” Yeah. “Salute the Officer!” Salute the officer, and here’s this guy all covered in brass and red braid and all the rest of it, you know – scary looking character to me. And he had my form I guess, in front of him, and asked me one or two questions – I can’t remember the sequence of it all. But he eventually said “are you keen? Are you keen?” And I thought ‘keen … what?’ Yeah, and he said “well you’ve been selected”. And I thought ‘for what?’ You know, and he said “you’ll go to Duntroon for three months and come out as a Second Lieutenant.” I didn’t know where Duntroon was – I thought it might be down in Dunedin way somewhere, but [chuckle] I didn’t know. And I could remember a Second Lieutenant we had … he was [a] pommie chap, he was quite nice … quite good. But I was thinking, ‘I’m in the middle of an apprenticeship – I’ve signed a contract for five years – I can’t do anything. And I’ve got to ask Mum and Dad as well.’ [Chuckle] So I guess I didn’t show a great deal of enthusiasm. Anyway that was it – “left right, left right” out of the room, and the next guy’s coming. And then when the Corporal came in we said “what’s this about?” We asked the Corporal, and he said “it’s Territorial Officer Selection Board”. That’s what the guy in braid first said. “You’ve been selected for TOSB course, that’s what it was, and I had no idea what a TOSB was, you know? Frisbee? TOSB? No. [Chuckle] So it turned out that TOSB … Territorial Officer Selection Board. Yeah. It’s pathetic really.
And sometime later, and I can’t remember if it was just a day or two or a week – whatever, but we were down doing the confidence course … climbing under wire netting and it’s pouring with rain, and mud everywhere, and I was told I had to go to see the – what did they call the chief? Not the CO, he was the – it was Officer Commanding or something, or CIC or something – whatever he was he was the next rank up anyway, so he’s in charge of the whole camp. And there’s eight of us there, so the sixteen had been reduced to eight. And we stood outside there in the rain with those silly blimmin’ cape things on, dripping wet, covered in mud from this confidence course, [chuckle] and eventually four guys were named and they went inside and us other four were told to go back to our units, so I guess I wasn’t selected. [Chuckle] So that was the end of it.
I can see the dilemma you were in …
I didn’t know what he was talking about, initially.
Well this is the strange thing, you know, communication you’d think would be number one in the Army, wouldn’t you?
But you know, you fill out a form of what you’d be interested in, you know – artillery and engineers or something or other – what do they do? Put you in the infantry. [Chuckle]
And did you enjoy your time in CMT?
I did actually. I was a good soldier, and you know …
You were in the ASC weren’t you?
Yeah, ASC, yeah.
I enjoyed it too. I loved the discipline and …
Well they had a little short fellow from Gisborne that got into trouble, and then stole a rifle and headed to the hills and all that sort of business. Yeah – and ones that they bullied – I remember the Corporal. Remember Corporal … there was a pommie Corporal, a little fat fellow, and he was a real bully type person. And we were doing the confidence course where you had to leap over the blimmin’ fence, run along and jump and grab it and pull yourself up. And we’re all in line and we’re saying “you do it, Corporal”. “Come on Corporal, you do it”. So nobody’s mouth was moving, and the whole chorus was all saying “go on, Corporal, show us how to do it”. And he had a go and he almost failed – he was just so near to falling off that fence on the wrong side. And he stopped bullying for a while – yeah.
So you came through unscathed. After you’d finished camp you came back to Hastings?
Back to my apprenticeship, and started playing rugby for Hastings Club out here in Akina Park with Jack Cook … was the coach. Played for them for two years? Or three years … or two years I think, and then got promoted to the senior side and played for the seniors for six years until 1960-something or other, and I hurt my knee.
What position were you playing?
I was playing front row prop, tight head side. [Chuckle] Where all the work’s done.
But how did you get in, because you’re not thick enough?
[Chuckle] No. Well, probably didn’t have brains enough to get into a different position. Pat McKeown was our captain. He played loose head. And the Libby boys – Dick Libby was the hooker. We had a powerful scrum – we out-scrummed everybody. Celtic occasionally would equal us, ‘cause they had a guy who used to be a loose head prop facing me – Owen Cooper – he was a policeman. And he was about as wide as he was tall, and man! He took some shifting. Most people couldn’t push me back. Another guy who was also a Cooper was Gus Cooper – he played for MAC. I think it might have been K-u-p-a.
No – they came from Whakatu.
Yeah, yeah. And he was also a policeman. But he had an accident, or something happened – I used to see him walking the streets, he had to go early retirement ‘cause he got … I don’t know whether it was … something anyway, in the Police Force, or whether it was a medical thing. But yeah, I used to see him sometimes. But he was tough – he was a hard man to move in a scrum.
So you were still swimming though, weren’t you, while you were playing rugby?
Oh yeah. In the winter I was playing rugby; in the summer I was swimming and I was over at the swimming baths every day. Seven days a week I’d be there, you know, either as … rostering to look after the pool and that sort of thing, like … ‘cause we used to open it you see, especially on the weekend, and every night. It was open every night to the public, so I was often there. I was club captain as well so I was at every meeting and very often [the] team manager with swim teams went away to the Hawke’s Bay Champs, you know, in Gisborne or Napier.
And so then while you were a young man and doing your apprenticeship and completed your CMT, you met Christine. Where did you meet Christine?
That was quite a few years later. I had a big time there with sort of not many girlfriends, or next to none. In fact my mum used to – for Blossom Parades, because greater Hastings wanted accommodation – so she … ‘cause we’d moved into a different house by this time, we were in Burnett Street. And we had a big home there, and she said “well, there’s a spare bedroom there”, so she opened the house for some people and we had a couple of girls come from Auckland. And Mum thought it was the best thing out for us four boys to just have a girl in the house. Yes, so I sort of communicated with one girl from Auckland there for a long time, and [it was] sort of a bit of a love affair in a way, but it was pretty light – it was mostly letter writing. Occasionally she’d come down for the Highland Games or something, and so … sort of a girlfriend. We went to the concert and you know, did things like that, but she was only here for a weekend and that sort of thing.
But after that, because I’d finished all the night school I thought ‘right … what am I going to do now?’ So I went over the Boys’ High School here and I think the first year I went to a gardening class. I just thought it was interesting, the horticultural class or whatever they called it, and went to that. And then another year I went to a pottery class. I went to a carpentry class once, made those bookshelves that are up there. [Chuckle] Yeah, every winter I’d just go [to] something, and then because I couldn’t find … ‘oh, I’ve done this and I’ve done that’, and the only thing that was sort of available to me was a choral group that Phil Wynyard was going to run. And I thought ‘oh that’ll do, I can sit in the back of a choir and sing – nobody’ll notice me’. So I went along to this choral group and there were seven people. [Chuckle] Nowhere to hide. [Chuckle] And I couldn’t read music and they had little song sheets in front of them you know, and I made droning noises in the background and [chuckle] not much else.
But I committed myself to the thing, and what I used to do was come home, and my brother played … Owen especially … played piano accordion, so I’d get him to play the tune on his piano accordion, even if it was the wrong key, but play the tune so I’d get the feel of it, the rhythm of it and then I’d go along the next week and be able to sing these songs. And yeah, it was quite good and I quite enjoyed that. And we used to sing all sorts of little things, and then at the end of the year we’d go around the Old Folks’ Homes like Eversley and what-have-you and sing for the people there, you know – evenings, and you know, Christmas time and that. Yeah. And I went there for … I think it might’ve been a second year I went along to that again.
And I’d thought to myself, ‘it’s time I got myself a proper girlfriend or even get married – it’s time I did something about this’ – ‘cause you know, I was twenty-seven I think. Yeah, yeah – on the shelf and starting to panic. [Chuckle] Yeah – so anyway, this lady was there – she seemed to be a regular one and very quiet, and she just went off with somebody else. So I caught up with her on the way home and asked her if she’d like to go to the pictures with me. [Chuckle] And she said yes. That was the start of it.
So you were married ..?
Yeah, so we got married. That would be 1964 … yeah, about the winter of 1964, something like that … and we got married a year later in 1965, and we got married here in Hastings. Her mother had died years before and there was just her dad and a younger sister at home in Patea. She had a sister here where she was living here in Hastings.
So just coming back to Christine, she came from Patea …
Mmm. One of six … seven kids.
And her father worked ..?
He wasn’t working then, he was retired, but he had been working in the office at the Patea Freezing Works, and before that he was with a shipping company,
‘Cause in Patea there wasn’t much to do except freezing works and shipping companies.
Yeah, that’s right, that was pretty well it. If you didn’t work at the freezing works you didn’t work anywhere.
And so you got married in ‘65, and how many children?
Well, I’ve got three. Sonia was the first born and she was born in 1966, so about fifteen months after we were married, and at the time I had a boarding house up the road here in Willow Place. I’d bought that and I was living there – in fact my brothers were living there as well. Three of us, Owen, Len and myself were living there, and I was running the boarding house and working at Tomoana, and playing rugby and swimming, and courting Christine. [Chuckle] And … yes. And then Len got married in about April ‘65 and so he moved over Napier way – lived in various places over there. And Owen was still there, and I said to him when I was leaving, I said “well I’m going off for my honeymoon”, you know, after this wedding, “and when I come back you’ve got to be gone.” [Laugh] And so he went to live with my mum, ‘cause he wasn’t married. And so yeah – came back, and Christine and I lived in the boarding house and carried on running that for two years.
How many rooms did you have?
There were two flats and nine single rooms. It’s now the backpackers’ there, just opposite the Oak and Elm Road old store. And it was a rat hole of a place, and half the guys when I took it over were alcoholics, and difficult to squeeze the money out of them and all that sort of thing. It was not a good place to be, and I was keen to get out of it and I eventually sold it. I had one buyer from Paraparam [Paraparaumu] that showed a bit of interest, and then came back and showed interest again and I quickly sold it. And then because he had nothing organised he couldn’t come up here until the August or something. I said “well I’ve got nowhere to stay, so I’ll stay here and manage the place for you for the next six months for free rent. And I’ll collect the rent of everybody else and put it in your bank”, which is what I did. I was probably a mug, but anyway just doing the honest thing. And so I was pleased to get out of that. While we were there during that six months and Christine and I were married and we were living there, and we built this place here.
Oh, so you’ve been here ..?
So 1967 in August ‘67 we moved into here … with Christine, and Sonia was just a baby.
D’you back onto the park?
Ooh yeah. I’ve a hundred and forty feet along there. Yeah.
So you didn’t have to get in a vehicle to go to rugby practise?
No, no – well I’d more or less finished with rugby then ‘cause I’d had a couple of injuries to the knees and what-have-you. So yeah – out in the park, the kids and I out there playing cricket or … all sorts of things.
And you didn’t have to mow it?
So then you had your children. Their names, and where are they now?
Okay, well the first one was Sonia May, born in ‘66. Then in ‘69 we had twins, Carolyn and Jillian. And having twins knocked the hell out of my wife physically. She got very, very big with the pregnancy and it did a lot of damage to her insides. She got through that all right – she was very depressed, she had that … you know, she was depressed for ten, fifteen years or something, it was a real struggle with it, yeah.
When I first met Christine she was a ledger keeper with H H Campbell. She had worked in a bank over in Patea but when she shifted over to Hastings she worked for H H Campbell, and worked there until we got married. And she left just a day or two before. When we came back from our honeymoon – we went to Norfolk Island for our honeymoon, ‘cause it was mid winter – we got married on 31st July. And we had a week or ten days in Norfolk Island, came back, and I talked to Jeff Bloor actually and got her a job in the office at Tomoana. So she worked at Tomoana for the next year or eighteen months or whatever it was, until she was well on into her first pregnancy and then she left. And she never worked again after that for an employer. She became mother to first Sonia, and then ultimately Carolyn and Jillian when they came along three years later. Yeah.
Now this one that was just here a minute ago, that was ..?
That’s Jillian. Yeah, she was last born of the twins, by ten minutes or whatever it was.
Where are they at the moment?
Well the oldest one is Sonia, and she’s married to Kelvin Main and they are in Te Puna, just north of Tauranga, and they’re on a property which has an orchard but that’s not really their income. They both now – he’s got his own IT company and he does IT work for schools all round the Bay of Plenty area and he’s running his own business. And Sonia has just recently left … she was HT manager for The Warehouse, New Zealand wide. Well, she was Human Resources really – HR I should have said – yeah. Human Resources for New Zealand, so she used to fly to Christchurch and all over the show. And so she was with them for a long time.
They have two boys who are fourteen, nearly fifteen. Very bright lads, and they’re identical twins, and that’s Christopher and Daniel. Yeah, yeah. They go to Tauranga Boys’ College.
Now, second daughter is Carolyn, and she got a degree at Massey in food technology, with honours, and worked initially for Arnott’s biscuit people for about a year I think, and maybe one or two other places, then went to England. And she worked for a Diageo over there for a long, long time – other places first, but then ultimately Diageo she was with them a long time. And they’ve just had a restructure and she’s left them, and so now she’s contracting. She self contracts, and she’s now living with her partner, Susan. They got married three years ago, 2014 I think, yeah. So they’re living in a place called Wivenhoe, just near Colchester. That’s pretty well her. Currently she’s in Egypt on holiday.
And the third one is Jillian, who got her degree in education with extras, and has been teaching many places – six and a half years I think in England, and in New Zealand, Auckland quite a few, some in Hawke’s Bay on and off. Not married.
Were any of the kids swimmers?
They can all swim well. None of them went into competitive sport really. They did at high school, you know … like Carolyn and Jillian were both in the soccer team … Karamu High School soccer team. Yeah, but nothing after school really for any of them.
There’s more children?
No, no – that’s it, just the three girls.
So you must have seen some major changes as an engineer – would you just like to develop how you saw the changes and within the company over those years?
When I first started there was a lot of machinery in different parts of it, like cooperage and then the offal department, and in our own workshop, which were overhead shafts operating several machines with flat belt drives and fast and loose pulleys which is very old style. And gradually they went out and you got individual motors. The old motors – some of them were great big motors this round – big Cromptons with an open cage on them. And they were DC motors … starting up machinery. Some of them were still in existence when I left in ‘93, still being used. But most of it went back to more independent motors, you know, and then even they got more sophisticated and individual to the machine and what-have-you. So that was one change that I saw.
The other thing was the material. When I first went there it was either steel or galvanised iron. There was nothing else, and then they changed gradually they brought in the aluminium, or duralumin really, when I first built that conveyor. And then they started using duralumin – sheet duralumin – for trays that they were putting offal product on, you know … the likes of kidneys and so forth … bit cleaner than the old galvanised things, which were terrible things. And that lasted for a few years, then it went on to stainless-steel, which was much, much better in every way. Once of course they got stainless-steel and duralumin, that went right through the Works, and everything – so pipe work and all sorts – a lot of food products – they were either in stainless-steel troughs or stainless-steel chutes and so forth. So there was a lot of welding and so on of all that material to be done. Yeah, so that was that.
And it was a complete change for Tomoana. And even … like, I’ve got a bit of a history with the locomotive because that used to be … there’s been so much money spent on it. The problem with Tomoana Freezing Works was it was run from London, from England. The owners were Vestys and they were reluctant to spend money, and so the management here had to get the okay from London for every penny that they spent, and they’d spent more than what they were allowed on the locomotive over the years. So they must have told London that it didn’t exist any more, that they didn’t have that locomotive. Because whenever they had any of the Vestys especially, coming to visit which they did sort of once a year, and they were going to give them a tour round the Works, they’d hide the locomotive. Yeah. They’d be told, you know … “take it way back by the scour, ‘cause we’re going to be going up and looking at the freezers”, or something or other. And then when they were going to look at the freezers or going to look at the scour, they’d shift it into another little area so it was hidden. And so trying to get bits to repair it was almost impossible.
Well, how did you repair it?
Well, it was a regular thing – once or twice a year you’d have to change the brake shoes on it. But the thing had so much slop in all the bearings that it used to slide sideways as it was coming down the track, and backwards and forwards as well. It was clickety-clunk, clickety-clunk all the way. Ken Jenks, another fitter, had the job one Saturday morning of changing the brake shoes and I went over to give him a hand, ‘cause you needed somebody down in the pit underneath it, somebody outside driving a pin out. And so we did that, and while he was poking around with a big screwdriver getting rid of all the coal dust and oil and stuff that was poked around it, he could see that the bearing was moving … ‘oh, well hang on, that shouldn’t move – that’s got a twenty ton locomotive sitting on top of that bearing’. So it needed further investigation – we realised then that the axle had worn right through the bearing, so the brass bearing is in halves. That meant we had to … ‘let’s have a look at its brother on the other side’, and what-have-you. So we ultimately then dropped the three axles out into the pit – we had to raise the locomotive up to do this. The whole locomotive was jacked up on big wooden blocks and we dropped these axles out, and they were sent off to Woburn to have new axles turned and new tyres put on the wheels. And that was going to be months. And it was winter time, and I said to my boss “well while it’s away shall I carry on working on it and tidying things up?” And so we did, and so I made big false plates to take up all this slack so I could bring the wheels back to their proper centres, which was … I think was fifty-two and a quarter inches. [Chuckles] So I had to put a plate five-eights of an inch thick on one, and three-quarters of an inch thick on another, in the horn where the bearings slide up and down, just to take up all the slop.
I did all that, and there was a spare set of linkage in an old shed which I knew about, and so I went and got that and that all had brand new bearings, or renewed bearings, on it and so I managed to get all that on. Did up all the linkage, and we did the boiler of course, had an inspection and all the tubes cleaned; the firebox we replaced bits and pieces in there. And I just went from one job to another over a period probably four or five months – I can’t remember – until we overhauled the whole machine and it got a paint job and everything.
And then a funny thing happened, because there hadn’t been a locomotive on any of the railway lines for six months with this thing being laid up. They’d been using a tractor to push wagons up and down and what-have-you. So when we got it going, we lit up the fire – you know, over a two day period slowly warmed the whole machine up and then took it down the track towards where the scour was … down there, just to try it out. And I re-adjusted the valve timing on it just to sort of get it exactly right – it was going good but not quite right. So I did a bit of re-adjustment on it and then I thought ‘right – we’ll take it back over the pit’, so we started coming up the railway line.
Meanwhile there were … some plumbers were busy working over these railway lines – they had trestles and planks up and leads running across the railway lines, and they were up busy doing ducting and what-have-you, and didn’t hear the train coming because now it was so quiet, [chuckle] it didn’t clickety-clank any more. And we got up within about three metres – I was standing on the footplate at the front of it – got within about three metres of these people and stopped. And Harry Metrick, who was the loco driver, pulled the whistle – whooo! And these poor guys nearly died … [chuckle] ‘cause they suddenly realised the train’s coming. [Chuckles] It was just by tightening up everything you know – getting all the slack out of it, stopped it from all that clickety-clank. It was a shame in a way, but because it was a coal-firing thing and burnt carbonettes, and it was in such beautiful condition – the boiler was in beautiful condition because it had never had any rubbishy things through the fire at all. And because it was emitting smoke and that was a … soot was a problem for the product that the company’s producing, so it went to MOTAT. [Museum of Technology and Transport]
How did it go? On a truck I suppose.
I’ve no idea how they got it there – no idea. They tended not to tell you, you know – you’d suddenly find … “what happened to the locomotive?” And they said “oh that went to Auckland three months ago”, or something – you had no idea. Maybe it went by rail.
You’ve seen it since then, have you?
I saw it at MOTAT when the whole family were up there on holiday in Auckland, and that would be when the twins were about ten or twelve, so that’d be around about ‘81 … 1981 – it was at MOTAT, but since then I’ve heard it’s gone to the steam museum which I think’s at Tokomaru.
And that was a shunting engine?
It was a shunting engine. It’s a Bagnall – a Bagnall … it’s on the back of that photograph actually. They call it an 060, and that means it has no bogey wheels at the front, and it has six wheels, and then it has none at the back. [Looking at photograph] See that footplate in the front of it, goes right across? I put one of those front and back of it because it used to have a little plate about that wide for your shunter to stand on. Man! If you ever slipped on that and you’ve got hobnail boots on … you know, and the thing’s moving and you jump on there to go and change points and all that sort of thing … if you slip there your legs [are] underneath the wheels – yeah. So I put a great big safety plate across it.
So your job obviously was much more than doing the engine. At some stage you must have been an administrating engineer.
Yeah, I looked after departments at different times – the whole rendering area one time, I looked after that for – it was while the previous guy was away. I think he might have been sick or something and I looked after that for perhaps twelve months or something. And another time I was the fitter in charge of the bottom floor which was all the pelts and the hide department, and all that. So you’re just the … sort of the fitter on site, and you had your own little wee workshop and you did all the maintenance in that thing, and some of it was regular almost daily things, like sharpening machines or something like that. And other than that it was just maintaining stuff, or maybe even, you know, fitting of new stuff, pumps or something.
Tomoana killing floors had all been redone, hadn’t they – just before closure?
Oh yeah. Well, there was – I came out of my apprenticeship in 1957, and I think it was around about 1956 or ‘57 they did an extension to the main building – four storeys high, and that first extension I think was five bays. Now each bay was sixteen foot, so that’s a lot of extension. And they made all the chains longer, and all the … what used to be the cooling floor had to be moved down and rebuilt, and so there was a lot of work and we did a lot of overtime there rebuilding all that. And then there was [were] new things started – like there was a boning room – never used to do any boning before that. All the meat went away as either whole carcasses, or quarters or halves, and all in mutton bags and gone. Now they’re boning it out and sending it in frozen cartons of packs of individual sections of the meat, you know. Yeah, so there was a lot of work there and a lot of overtime, and of course once you alter the killing floor you alter everything else underneath, because everything was dropped from the killing floor down chutes to … you know, the skins and all that sort of thing, and the offal – all that was all extended and altered and expanded.
And the commitment that Tomoana had to taking on apprentices – they must have trained hundreds of engineers.
I don’t know about hundreds, but certainly a lot – there was pretty well one a year, because Brian Cousins was before me, then Roddy Ward, then me, then Morrie Brain, then Bill Walsh and Ben Walsh, Terry Lamont, Eric Hemingway. I’m trying to think you see, and now I’m getting to the time when I was away doing other departments.
Oh, I thought they’d have more apprentices than one a year.
Pretty well one a year. It got a bit confused later on because with the change of Government and alteration of the apprenticeship system, they then started doing adult apprenticeships. And so some people who were working there as labourers or fitters mates might have decided to do that.
But I suppose at any time you had five apprentices in the pipeline?
Yeah. And pretty well, especially in the early days, once I was a fitter I had an apprentice with me most times, so I was regarded as … I now think back and think that they must have regarded me as a good trainer of apprentices, because you know, I very often had the new boy or whatever.
There was some great jobs – we rebuilt a scour, which – I loved that job. And they had an old scour there and they built the new scour twice as wide, and they just built it up over the top of the old one. The old one carried on working and then we started building the new one in there. And that all came as big castings and boxes of machinery really, to be assembled.
So now there were some social sides of Tomoana too, and I mentioned to you earlier about the Tomoana Players – who were they, and what did they do?
In the winter time they’d get some people who were interested and they’d put on a play – just amateur productions – and they got very good. And costumes and things had been made up, stage equipment and what-have-you, scenery was painted – we had painter, and you know one or two of them would be a bit artistic and so they’d make the scenery. Carpenters especially were very heavily involved with that because there wasn’t a lot of work for them during the winter, so it was an employment thing for them. And it was a community project really and they’d put on those plays at the Municipal Theatre in Hastings, and they’d run for a week in Hastings, and another week in Napier, and go down to Dannevirke and Waipukurau.
So where did they practise?
Usually, most of the practises were done in the wool room, because you had a big area there, you know, and it could be sort of semi-emptied, and that’d give them an area. And I can remember bits of pieces being made for it in our workshop or in the carpenters shop. I can only think of … I think he was Peter Plummer. [He] was a labourer in the pelt department and I think they got him involved – very reluctant, a shy sort of guy, but he was involved in one of them. Also as stage hands, I know Ken Jenks was a stage hand.
I used to belong to Toastmasters, and he was one of the originals. There was Ken Jenks, and there was two or three others from Tomoana there too, who used to come along.
He was an interesting guy, Ken – he was a good neighbour and he was a knowledgeable fellow. He served his apprenticeship in the railway workshops in Wellington, wherever it is – Naenae or somewhere. And when he came up here, I know when he was first married he and his wife had the Tip Top Dairy in Heretaunga Street. Yeah. And then he come [came] to Tomoana as a fitter and ultimately he went and sat the exams and become [became] an engineer with the engine room. Then he had an aneurysm, and it slowed him down of course.
Tomoana Players – I’ve never heard of them.
Yeah, well you can imagine that electricians were involved of course, ‘cause there was lighting to be dealt with and all that sort of thing, you know.
‘Cause you had everyone there.
Yeah, yeah – all those sorts of skills were there. And Ralph Spence was a fitter at Tomoana, and his brother is Hector who was the theatre manager. Yeah. So you know, there’s all those sort of connections. One of the guys who was a leading light was Dick – little short fellow, worked in the office at Tomoana – Richard … Dick somebody. God, I hadn’t thought of him for a long time. But he was up to here with theatre as well. So they used to put on these little plays like … [The] Mousetrap – that sort of thing, you know. The theatres’d be full – you had to make bookings. Yeah. So you can imagine if you’re running four or five nights in the Municipal Theatre – that’s a fair few people.
Now the Tomoana Fire Brigade. You were never part of that?
Never part of the fire brigade … no particular reason. Yeah, it was there and they took it pretty seriously, you know. They did their fire brigade work, they had practises and that sort of thing on weekends and after work. They had fires to practise on. So it’s also quite good because later on, probably about the mid-eighties onwards, there was a bit more concern about safety and so on, and so the fire brigade could be part of our training of how to deal with a fire, you know – whether you used wet sacks or a water hose, or whether you used a fire extinguisher, foam extinguisher or whatever. So we had people on hand for doing that. Yeah, Lou Stewart would’ve been part of that. And they had – you know, there’s guys there that were in that fire brigade for years, they got their twenty-five year service medal and all that. Yeah. And they went with competitions amongst the three works – Patea, Kaiti and Tomoana, so there was annual competitions.
Were you at Tomoana until it closed?
No. It got around to 1993, and rather suddenly they had already more or less closed the carpenters’ shop. Pretty well all the carpenters had already been made redundant, and about half the electricians and all of the plumbers and sheet metal workers, and some in the fitting shop, so you know the axe was hovering. And they come to us one day and said they were intending to reduce it further, so a whole list of people … they said “a list of names will be printed and hung on your noticeboard, and those people are being made redundant. And they will be made redundant unless somebody there wants to stay and somebody wants to swap with them.”
And so my name wasn’t on the list … I was not to be made redundant, but I looked at the people who were and these are people who I’ve worked with for twenty years or more. They’d been good people, reliable … don’t need the boss standing over their shoulder … they do the job. And I looked at some of the ones that were left and I thought ‘yes – you spend half your time in the boss’s office with your bum on the corner of a desk’, sort of thing ‘and I don’t particularly want to work with you.’ [Chuckle] You know, I just sort of thought the good people were being pushed out and these others were being kept, and I thought ‘they’re not my people.’
And so I went and … just really to make an enquiry … I went and saw Peter Worth – was my senior – he was the foreman of the maintenance department. And I really was just asking how possible was that I could swap with somebody, and he said “no, you can’t go – we need you for the tier tunnel”, and all this … you know, just an area that I used to look after. And then he said “well why do you want to leave?” And I said “well, I’ve been here forty years”. I had no other reason – even that wasn’t really a reason – I was just making an enquiry. He said “oh, we’ll see what we can do.” He came back about an hour later and said “yep – you can finish up.” And that was a bit of a shock. I didn’t know that was on the line. I thought I was just making an enquiry, but he’d actually organised it – “yes, it can happen.” And I said “is that definite?” And he said “well … give you half an hour to think about it.”
So I went and rung up Christine and told her what had happened. You know … didn’t know what to do. I thought ‘what am I going to do?’ I was a bit annoyed, because the Government had changed the retirement age from sixty to sixty-five – they did it in a hurry, and I had no warning of it. And I thought ‘I’ve got another eighteen months or so to go and then I can retire’. And suddenly it was five years plus eighteen months. And I thought ‘man! Have I got to put up with this for that long!’ And so you know, that enquiry was made. Anyway, I rang up and I went and chatted with one or two – Brian Steele was one of the guys I spoke to – you know Brian? Carpenter, and chatted with him and one or two others, and ‘course they couldn’t advise me or anything. And I thought ‘oh, what the hell – I’ll do it. Change is …’ you know. And so I took redundancy, and that was on a Friday. I came home … I finished work at two-thirty I think, was my finishing time … I came home, told Christine what I’d done and I got a phone call from Stewart Bricklebank, the Chief Engineer to say “yes, and it’ll take a day to organise the payments”, and all that sort of thing, “work out holiday pay”, and blah, blah, blah. “You can come in on Monday to pick up your gear.” And I said “well I’ve still got machinery in bits”, and … you know, I said “I’ll come in tomorrow, Saturday”, ‘cause we always worked Saturday morning … said “I’ll come in tomorrow and I’ll tidy all that up, I’ll finish it off,.” And they said “no, no – no, you’ve finished.” I said “but there’s some bits that are in my drawer … that are locked up in my drawer – bearings and things like that belong to the machine.” “Doesn’t matter – you’ve finished.” So when I went there on the Monday morning I had to go the watchman’s office at the gate, and I had to get a visitor’s pass and be escorted on, like a thief.
So much for loyalty, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah – so much for loyalty. Didn’t trust me even to go there. And so I was escorted onto the property. And then the watchman, because he knew me – that was Graham Eagle – he asked me what I’m going to do. I said “well I’ve got gear in that workshop there, got gear in that one and I’ve got some in the main workshop. So”, I said “I’ve got to get it all together.” So I went and got some of it sort of sorted out a little bit, and I went and saw him and I says “can I bring my car in and just load it all into my car, ‘cause”, I said “there’s all my tools, and” … you know. I said “you know – you can check my car when I drive out.” He said “yeah, go for it.” So I drove my car in and I just loaded up the car with all my tools and then I stopped at the gate on my way out. And I never saw anybody, there was no “well, good luck”, hand shake – nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not from any of the guys, nowhere. I was in absolute – they were all out on their jobs you know, and of course they weren’t in my area really and of course we were working shift work at that time. So I didn’t really have the opportunity to go round anybody or say anything, so I just simply packed up all my gear and stopped at the watchman’s box and said, “well that’s all my gear in there”, and I don’t think he even bothered looking you know. So you know – that was it. [Chuckle] And I’ve never regretted it.
And so what did you do on Monday?
Well the first thing was … just trying to think of the timing. My brother had died just a few weeks before I think, ‘bout three weeks before.
This is Owen?
This was Owen. And I was still organising – I was acting as his executive [executor] and I was still organising, gathering up his gear and getting rid of it, and tidying up all those loose ends and writing letters to insurance companies and things like that. So I think I did that for a few days or a week or something. And I had to go and register with the unemployment people, and I was not allowed to work.
Because of your redundancy?
Because you had to have ten weeks’ stand down. And then you then had to use up all your unused holidays, and I had four weeks a year, I had and I hadn’t taken the previous years yet, so I had maybe four, five weeks of that. I also had some unused holidays for long service – like every ten years you got a bonus two years, so I had about ten or twelve weeks of unused holiday pay. And then on top of that your sickness allowance of five days a year – I had fourteen days of that that had accrued. So I finished work in May … about 14th of May or something, and by law I wasn’t allowed to start work until the 23rd of December. [Chuckle] Two days before Christmas.
So I just had a think about it. And I used to mow the lady’s lawns across the road, and then I mowed the ones next door, [chuckle] and I mowed three people’s lawns including my own, and I started doing just odd jobs. And eventually after some weeks … I had an injury … that was at the end of that. Might’ve been something … maybe that was when I slipped. I slipped on the back door step – the concrete got sweaty – that’s what it … I can’t remember. But I was … yes, it must’ve been that, ‘cause I remember sitting outside in the sun trying to get well, ‘cause I wasn’t able to do much. I’m losing that one – I’d have to research that to find out just the sequence of events.
But I eventually got this redundancy money and then I made some enquiries. I went to Williams & Kettle and talked about things there. And I went and bought some cattle and farmed them on Mick Donovan’s place out on the Waimarama Road. And he had land but no money for stock. I had some money for stock, no land, so we did a fifty/fifty deal. So I went and bought some cattle and put them on his place, and I used to go out there every now and again. He thought I was a farmer.
Oh, did he?
[Chuckle] I was as green as. I didn’t know one end of a cow from the other. But yeah – so I did that, and that ran for a while but then we ran into problems trying to sell the cattle off – the market fell over and America put the squeeze, and we landed up – stuff which was going to sell off at eighteen months or two years old we hung on ‘til they were two and half, nearly three years old – they were like bloody elephants. And eventually I got rid of them, so I said “let’s cut and run”, and do that. So I did a bit of that for four years.
And meanwhile I went and worked for … I went to Age Concern, and I volunteered to work for them. And when I went to these … most of them were old ladies on their own, had a property, and I just did cash jobs for them. I said “look, we can fill out a form and do [the] proper employment thing and I’ll pay tax, but that’s going to be $15 an hour. Or I’ll do it for $10 an hour”, you know, so that’s what I did. It was actually cheaper than that, I think it was $9 an hour. So I did that.
I also went and worked for [chuckle] a firm just a bit before Christmas when I was allowed to, or within a week of it, and did detailing on cars. And I went and did that, and – it was a funny sort of firm. I looked at it and I thought, ‘I could buy this bloody place and run this a hell of a lot better than that’. So that’s what I was thinking, ‘I’ll bloody take this place over’. And I was just learning the thing. I was only there for about a week or something, and of course if you declared – and I had to declare that money – so I was working there for about $3 an hour because they took the money off me. And I told the boss – came home one lunchtime and wrote out a bit of a graph – I said “well that’s how much money I’m earning, and this is what they take off – for every dollar I earn they take off seventy cents, so I’m working for 3thirty cents in the dollar. You give me ten dollars, I’m getting three dollars of it and they’re getting seven.” He didn’t believe it, and I said “well, that’s what it is.” Anyway, I worked there for a little while and they ran out of work, and he rang me up and said “oh, we’ve got nothing in for tomorrow at all … no vehicles at all.” I said “oh well, I’ll see you on Monday then.” And on the Monday the firm changed hands. So one of the other people had …
Hopped in, yeah.
Yeah, so I didn’t do it.
So then it was Christmas time, and Sonia and my son-in-law – they had a place at Ruamahanga Bay, right up the Thames coast there – they had a two storeyed house and they were going to paint it. So I went up there at Christmas time, Christine and I. Christine came home again and I stayed on to help paint this place, two storeyed place, on scaffolding. And then I was just coming down a ladder one part of it, and the ladder went – like that – and down I went on the concrete. Lucky I didn’t kill myself … didn’t hit the back of my head, you know, or whatever. And the ladder was an aluminium one and it just simply warped and twisted, and went like that. And even though I was careful – always careful on ladders – you know, put your foot on the top and then move it to one side and put the other foot there, and keep it balanced. And that’s what I was doing … did exactly that, and it just did a wobble and away it went. Anyway, down I went. And I sat there for two days – I went and had an x-ray – I was taken into Thames Hospital and they x-rayed me and said “nothing broken, but you’re badly bruised.” So I sat there for two days and thought ‘right – I’m going home.’ So Christine must’ve come home in a bus or something – I don’t know. So I left a note for Sonia and Kelvin and said “I’m on my way”, and I drove home – took me nine hours because I was so swollen … I was right out here. And I stopped everywhere and I just drove carefully, ‘cause I was on my own, I could hardly move my hand. I had to do the steering wheel like that … and got home, and I went to see Ernie Boyes, the physiotherapist – well, my doctor and then Ernie Boyes. And I was being treated by him for six months. When I first went there he said, and I was black from about there right down.
Gosh … given yourself a crack!
Yeah. And he said “what’s happened,” he said “all your insides has gone zhoozh … like that, inside, and its all bruised.” He said “it’s full of jelly”. Yeah, all in there. And it’s all just blood and …
So I think that was why I was sitting outside in the sun. That was when I did all the cattle business. And then I went – I was coming home from Ernie Boyes … walking home … and I called into Central School and saw the headmaster – I said “I used to teach swimming, but I’m not allowed to work for a while yet ‘cause I’ve had this injury, but I could teach swimming if that’s any help to you,” you know. Grabbed me by the hand, “come on” – took me straight in to the swimming pool. [Chuckle] I said “well I might be a pervert of something”, you know – “you don’t know … mightn’t want to be playing round with kids”, and he took no notice – this is John Lightfoot. So I volunteered teaching kids there for a fair while, then I went and did the same at Clive and they gave me that tortoise because of it – koha, you know.
Then later on of course you lost Christine in the 2000s?
Yeah. Lost her in 2010, and it was her heart. She’d had – you know, been down to Palmerston, to them, and had the radiation and all that for her cancer, and then … it was very sudden. We’d actually been up to the hospital, to Villa 6 there, for her check, which she did every three months or something, and the doctor there just said “well you’re fine – you’ve no more got cancer than I have”, you know, “but we can’t take you off the medication because if it ever comes back, we’ve lost all that chance.” She said you know – they had a new system and she used to inject initially with Interferon, and then they’d got onto this Gleevec which was so much better. And they said “as far as we can see you’re as good as gold.”
So we went and visited a cousin of mine who was in hospital and then came home. Picked up a few groceries on the way, come down, sitting down in those two chairs, had a cup of coffee and a chat. It was a very pleasant chat. Christine was not an easy person, she was a little bit difficult, but we had a nice easy chat there for a little while. She went to bed that night and I must have got up to the toilet – we slept in different rooms – and she was up and about, and I said to her “what’s the trouble?” And she said “oh, I can’t seem to get to sleep”, so she tucked herself up on the lazy boy in the lounge you know. And so I made sure she was comfortable with the duvet all wrapped round her, and I said “well …” She said “you go to bed, I’ll be all right.” So I went to bed and then I got up a little while later – I thought ‘I’ll go and see her again’. And I sat with her for a fair while, and then she said “I think I’m going to be sick.” So I come and got a bowl, a basin and a towel or something, and she had a bit of a spew into the basin. And [I] felt her forehead, and I said “you’re all sweaty there”, I said “I think I’ll get the ambulance.” So I rang for the ambulance and they said “is your wife in pain?” And I said “I don’t think so”. They said “well just ask her.” So I went to ask her – she was actually on the toilet – and I said “are you in pain?” She said “no, not really.” So I came back to the phone, said “no, she said not really.” They said “when was the last time she had pain?” So I went to the toilet, and I said “they want to know when was the last time you had pain?” No answer. And I opened the door, and she was unconscious, on the toilet. And so I came back and I said “she’s unconscious”. And they said “get her on the floor, quickly”. So I went back to the toilet and started laying her on the floor, and I’d just got her down onto the floor and they walked in, the ambulance people, and they gave her … you know, three quarters of an hour they spent trying to get her heart going again, and it didn’t work – she’d died. Two o’clock in the morning or something.
You’d been to the hospital and they said “you’ve got nothing wrong with you” – how?
It was a shock to me. It was awful.
And so you’ve got your family, I guess.
Mmm. Yeah, so just sort of lived on my own for a little while, and then – I’m in this Bird Club, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned that. Hastings Bird Club.
[Chuckle] No. Two-legged ones. [Chuckle]
Oh really! Tell me something about that.
I joined the … it was called the Hastings Canary and Caged Bird Club and I joined them in 1962, I think it was, and was with them for a few years and then pulled out when I got married in 1965 – you know, I mean I was busy courting a lady, and birds were way down. Plus, I’d moved from at home where I had a little aviary, and built an aviary in my mum’s place, and now I was living at the boarding house place, so no aviary, no birds. So I stopped, and yeah, rejoined them about 1974 I think, after the kids were all born. I breed breeding budgies, and I show them, and then I became a judge, and so I travel around the country judging budgies at budgie shows, and what-have-you.
Do you still do that?
Still do that. And I‘ve got cockatiels as well, because once I became a judge, if you’re judging somewhere you can’t take your own birds, so I take cockatiels.
I can’t hear any birds round here. You talked about two-legged birds – I wasn’t expecting to hear about …
You have a feeder next door for wild birds?
Yeah, yeah. So I’ve been a member of the Caged Bird Club all … I joined again in 1973-’74, and I’ve been a member there. And I was President for fourteen years, then I wasn’t, and then I am again. Just shelved it just last year.
Yes. Now what haven’t you told me about?
Ohh, I haven’t mentioned … I’ve got Tomoana Players written down here, but also I went to – my brother and I especially … Ian, my eldest brother and I, but Owen as well … we used to go to the wrestling matches. They were at the Municipal Theatre. Loved all that, and we went to pretty well all the musical comedy, you know – the old Musical Comedy Company, when they put on ‘Salad Days’ and ‘Rosemarie’, and Rita … whatever it was … ‘Rio Rita’, and all those. Went to all of those.
Just thinking back to Jack Claybourne …
Yeah, yeah. Hobo, Bearcat White, Dick Raines … yeah.
Do you remember Ian Robson?
Oh, yeah. Two Ian Robsons.
Eric King …
Yep. Pinky King.
Pinky Taylor was his proper name … Eric Taylor. Yes, the two Ian Robsons – one used to work for Hawke’s Bay Farmers.
The other one played rugby for Hastings, Ian Robson.
What else have you got there?
Okay. Well just talking about films, it just reminded me that just to raise money – because my dad worked at the brewery in the soft drink thing, but you know, it’d be one of the lowest paid jobs around – and there was four boys at home. So my mum used to clean the dentist rooms on the corner of King and Queen Street, that green … So she used to clean them every evening. So you know, Mum and Dad’d hop on their bike and go down there – us boys’d be at home, and our job was to do the dishes and get baby Len off to bed. And then on a Saturday afternoon they’d go down there and they gave all those rooms – the dentist rooms and the waiting room and all that – they’d give it a more thorough clean. So it got – when I was about high school age [I] used to go and help Mum. Instead of Mum and Dad going, Dad would stay home and I’d go with Mum and we’d go like hell and sweep these floors, and go round with the polisher and then follow that up with a dry mop and all that sort of thing, and jump on our bikes and go to the pictures. So Mum and I often went to the pictures.
After cleaning …
Yeah. We’d go like heck to get – you know, to get it all done.
‘Cause you had a choice of four theatres those days, didn’t you?
Yeah, well there was the Cosy, the Regent and the State. I only remember the three.
[Speaking together] And the Municipal.
And the Municipal, but only at the weekends. Yeah, the House of Hits – they used to play sort of re-runs, yeah. So you know, there was that – I just remember that – it was a good time with my mum. And we liked the same sort of films, whatever it was – Stewart Grainger or somebody.
Oh, and another thing I’ve just got here – when I was a kid we had a big garden at home. Dad didn’t like gardening but he did have a big garden – he had a big vegie garden. But I used to grow lettuces. I’d plant seed and then prick them out, and do them up in bundles of twenty-five and take them down to Redgraves, and they’d give me threepence a bundle or something or other and sell them for sixpence or whatever it was. Yeah, I used to do that. They’d ring up and tell me how many bundles they’d want, and I’d be out there at five o’clock in the morning, you know, [?] all this before I went to school. I was only ‘bout twelve … used to do that.
Another time I remember somebody came knocking at our door – they wanted somebody to go gardening. And so there was a couple of girls lived next door – Kerry Hughes was the eldest one – Kerry and Owen and I … this guy’d pick us up and take us out to do gardening out at Pakowhai. It was a Mr Arnott. Yeah. And it was just – if you go over the old Pakowhai Bridge and you’re on the Farndon Road – it’s just on the right-hand side. I think there’s a monument back there somewhere … just a wee bit beyond the monument I think … just there he had a paddock and he was growing vegetables, and we used to go there gardening. And he and his wife or partner, they lived in a caravan on that property. Fairly innocent, but I suspected … and Mr Hughes next door come [came] and spoke to my mum and dad and we didn’t go gardening there any more, because I think he was interested in the girl … you know, there was a little bit of hanky panky going on – or it wasn’t going but it might, so it was a little bit risky. So perhaps Mr Arnott had a reputation. So I remember doing a bit of that.
Going to the Highland Games of course. I was in the Boys’ Brigade of course, joined that. Joined Life Boys … you weren’t allowed to join Life Boys ‘til you were ten years old, so I might have only been nine, but because Owen was ten and he was going, I went as well. So I was in Life Boys for two or three years I think, ‘til you were twelve, and then you go to Boys’ Brigade.
Yes, I interviewed a lady who used to run Boys’ Brigade in Hastings.
The lady from the Herald-Tribune?
Tribune, that’s it.
What the hell was her name? Martha ..? [Melva] Yeah, she came along later. So I was there, Boys’ Brigade. Oh, I could tell you that story too. It was sort of expected that you’d go to Sunday School or Bible Class or something and if you did you got a tick. I don’t know that it mattered too much, [chuckle] but we felt that we ought to go to Sunday School. So my brother and I would get dressed up to go to Sunday School and would sometimes go and sometimes not. We never fitted in because we were sort of ‘one-off occasionally’, you know. I mean I was brought up with the Church of England, you know. I remember as a little kid I was in the … I can remember singing in a choir … I’ve forgotten to tell you about that. We used to sing – Billy Wills and my brother Owen and myself – we picked it. And we used to go to Mrs Drake – Reverend Drake was the Minister …
Bill Wills the chemist?
No, I don’t think so. Billy Wills, he was a blonde-haired guy – never came across him again … might have been him. Same age as me. Yeah, shortish?
Well the three of us used to go over to Mrs Drake’s place and she’d play the piano – she had a lovely grand piano there, in the lounge in the Manse, and she’d play that and we’d learn to sing. Yeah, so yeah, we used to go there and I can remember standing up singing ‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away’, and ‘Over the Seas there are Little Brown Children’. You wouldn’t sing that any more.
No, you certainly wouldn’t.
But I would have been eight or nine, And then I joined the Life Boys and then the Boys’ Brigade, and sort of felt obliged to go to Sunday School or Bible Class. And we’d sometimes go – we might go for the eleven o’clock service or something you know, but often we didn’t. We’d go to Cornwall Park and see all the birds and wander around Cornwall Park, or we’d just stay in town and look at all the shop windows. And one of the memories of that … war time of course … was in Hunt’s window – Hunt’s the drapers. They had that corner shop on the corner of King Street I think, and Heretaunga … was the shop with the tower. And in the window they had a great big map of the world and they had on it little flags – British, German flags – and arrows, and I was intrigued looking at this map seeing all these sort of … where troop movements were and all that – not understanding it very much, but there it was.
And of course at that time, as little kid at Hastings West, they used to have a siren would go and that was the air raid warning and we used to have to go down to McIntyres – Mr McIntyre – now he was a local identity, he was on the Council I think, and he lived about three doors down from Hastings West School towards Maraekakaho Road. And in his property – big cypress trees – the branches come way down low and each class had a tree to go under, and we’d hide under there with our dog tags on and a piece of rubber in our mouth.
Yeah – you know, like an ordinary rubber that you use for … well a bit like that, but it was round, about the size of my thumb and … sort of brownish colour, and you had to put that between your teeth. This was somehow to stop you from biting your tongue with the shock of a shell bursting or something.
Oh, right … okay.
There was some sort of theory – yeah, yeah. Well I’ve actually asked people about it and they can’t really remember it, but I can. We all had a piece of rubber, and we had these dog tags, you know, on a shoelace thing around your … black tag. I went down to Te Papa and had a look when they did the first World War thing, you know – and Jillian was actually an Officer down there – to see if they still had those dog tags, and they had them. And now … don’t know what it would’ve had on it, but it would’ve had my name – I don’t think there was a number. Might’ve had an age, and maybe Hastings West School or something. I remember that they were black, and they had painted white printing on them.
We didn’t have any of that in Havelock.
No … no. Well they had that at Hastings West.
Maybe they felt that Hastings West was a place that the Germans would come after.
[Chuckle] For some reason or other, yeah. So we used to do that, and I’ve only just found out that not the whole school went there. The senior school went into the paddock next door on the other side where there are a whole lot of willow trees and stuff. So I’ve only recently found out that, that the seniors went there and the juniors went there – ‘cause I’d’ve been only a junior – I’d just be just Primer 3 or 4 or something. I don’t know whether that was when the Japanese were sort of out in the bay.
Well it could’ve been, because they were certainly around.
So that was 1944, ‘45 or something, wasn’t it? It was fairly late in the piece. So let’s say ‘44, so I would be eight, or coming up to eight, yeah.
Yeah, so … Highland Games … used to go to the Highland Games. And of course as Boys’ Brigade people we were runner boys for the Highland Games. We would act as runners, you know … going backwards and forwards doing things.
My first holiday … real holiday … ten years old, and the whole family jumped on a train in Hastings and we went down to Wanganui.
Oh, that would have been quite exciting.
It was, because in Wanganui my Aunty Betty and another Aunty … so there was Dick and Ryllis, and Betty and Frank … and they were the two and they had a private hotel, Parkville Private Hotel in Wanganui. And they had that, so for the school holidays I went down there for eight or ten days … with my cousins there of course … cousins from two families, you know. So it was a wonderful holiday for me. And one of the exciting things for us – we all went to the Wanganui Museum, and I found that so fascinating, so interesting, that for the next three days my brother Ian and I went to the Wanganui Museum – for three whole days. I couldn’t get enough of it, just looking at things. [Speaking together] And I’ve been there since and it’s nothing compared to what it was. They’ve reduced it to nothing. It was recognised as one of the best museums [in the] southern hemisphere.
You know the drawers with butterflies in them?
They had twenty, thirty drawers … something like that. And one of the things that fascinated me – they had little displays of bird catching devices that the Maoris made. And they had pits and they had all different things, and so they had it all in miniature. So they had these little twigs set on all over and that sort of thing – you’re looking at these and thinking ‘what happens here?’ Aah, if a bird lands on there it does this, and you know … And they had about six or eight of these different displays, they’ve all gone. They had a sunfish there on a wall – thing’d be the size of that window, and that’s not there. And I can remember another thing which intrigued me … this is the memory when I’m ten years old … they had a sailing boat with all the details of sails and strings, made out of kauri gum. All the ropes and everything – it was about that high, and it was sitting on this floor ,this massive thing – it was beautifully done. My memory of it is that it was beautifully done – if I saw it now I would maybe have a different opinion, I don’t know. But my memory of it was being absolutely intrigued that they did this with kauri gum. Yeah.
So what else have you got in your memory?
Right. [Chuckle] I’d go fishing, especially my brother Ian … my eldest brother Ian and I.
What sort of fishing did you do?
Well mostly – they’ve always fished for snapper with a throw line from the beach. So we used to go wherever we could and catch some herring – sometimes at Tucker’s Wool Wash, just off the bank there, but very often just down at Waitangi, fishing in the Tutaekuri River … catch a couple of herrings and then bait them up on our throw lines, throw them out – hundred yards long line – tie them up to a stick and back down to a bag of shingle, and either sit and watch them for a while, or we’d wander down to the mouth with our rods, and we’d bait cast for kahawai, and then come back to the lines that were out there and pull them in and see if we’ve caught anything. Catch gurnard, snapper – all that sort of thing. Waste of time now.
I think there’s fish still caught at …
Yeah, you still catch some kahawai and what-have-you. My brother and I one day caught eighty-seven kahawai. On the Saturday we caught twenty; on the Sunday we caught eighty-seven. [Chuckle]
Well my brother, he got friendly with … this is Ian … got to know a lady who worked in Pippo’s Restaurant, and take in a dozen kahawai and she’d smoke them and we’d get a couple already smoked for us. They can have the rest, and we’d get a couple of smoked kahawai, and they were as good as smoked trout. This day we caught eighty-seven – we’d caught twenty the day before, and we’d gone round some of the neighbours and some of them didn’t want them, you know. You’d end up with … Mum had … “oh, what am I going to do with all this fish?” She’d do fishcakes or something and try to use them up.
But then we went out this next day – I remember on that particular day Mum said “well if you’re going fishing again tomorrow, you’ve got to go and pick the redcurrants and the blackcurrants, and the loganberries or something first.” So it would’ve been this sort of time of the year. So we’re out there … there was no daylight saving; we were probably out there at four o’clock in the morning, picking the bloody … all this; did all these jobs; went and cut ourselves a lunch and off we went out to Waitangi there. And we’re casting away – well the fish had come into the mouth so thick that you’d almost catch one every strike, you know, and we caught heaps and all the other people did as well. And it got to … I don’t know, five in the evening or six in the evening, or something like that, and we decided “let’s pack it in”, you know. And so we bundled all … what we had together, and “bloody hell! We’ve got a hell of a heap here! We can’t take all them home.” And the beach was absolutely littered with fish, ‘cause most of the people had done – you know, they’d caught a dozen and they’d taken four or five home and left the big old ones on the beach. So we put all the big ones into heaps on the beach – just sort of tidied the beach up as much as we could. And then our own ones – “well, what are we going to do?” So we decided we’d leave all the big ones ‘cause we can’t do much with them, and we gutted forty of the smaller, tastier ones and put them in our haversacks and a sugar bag that we always carried … yeah, yeah. My brother had an old truck, a Chev truck. I know I can remember I was getting cold, ‘cause it was nine o’clock at night by the time we’d done all this. A lady come [came] and took our photograph, and we had this heap of fish. It was nearly dark and she took our photo and then posted it to us, you know, a week or so later. And we had eighty-seven, and our rods were still in [??]. I said “I wonder if they’re still there?” It was bloody dark, and I said to my brother, “well let’s … we’ll have three casts each and see if we get one.” So – first cast – we caught another nine – we were just taking them off and letting them go again. So we caught another nine – “come on, let’s go home”. Yeah.
See, talking about connections and things – I mentioned Alec Lewis, and my mum and dad knew Alec Lewis. He was at my mum and dad’s wedding, and his wife, Maisie, my mum and dad knew. And Bill Jones – worked at Tourist with Wally Stevens, and Wally Stevens was a friend of our family’s, and he was a motor mechanic, worked for Tourist Motors I think, or the other one that was up the southern end of town … Monarch Motors, wasn’t it?
The Jones’ boys.
Yeah. Christine’s health, you know – that was just a drama, she was never well. The children knocked the hell out of her, and she had all this depression for years, which I had to take on the chin a fair bit. Then probably the last eight or ten years there was a bit of a change in her, and she started to appreciate me. She had a rough childhood – like, her father used to beat his … her mum up, and she witnessed that. And other members of her family sort of denied it – it was the only way they could cope with it. But I know her eldest brother stepped in between his dad and his mum, you know, to save her. But she was being kicked on the floor and all that. He was just a horrible … but you know, big man in the community, on the hospital board, you know … and when he died the bloody – they closed the shops in Patea and everyone stood outside. Yeah. So – big man in the community, so long as nobody finds out. Yeah.
The only other thing I can tell you is Christine and I went over to England ‘cause Carolyn was over there. And I think Jillian was there … yeah, Jillian was there as well. Jillian had gone over there and she was school teaching, and so we went over there in July 2002. And … bit of a surprise for Christine, because she didn’t think it was ever going to happen, or ever possible. We just were in town one time and talking about it, and I said “well let’s go and find out what it would cost”. So we went into House of Travel and made some enquiries, and I said “well – make it a booking and be done with it”, you know, “we’ll go”. And so we went over there for three weeks or something … yeah.
Well that’s … that was great.
And while we were there we did a quick trip over to Paris for three days, I think, and then we were going to go to Rome, but you couldn’t go from Paris to Rome easily – there was no plane, there was … so we flew back to London and went to bed, and got up at four o’clock or two o’clock in the morning or something and flew to [chuckle] to Rome and we had five days in Rome. Yeah, so we did that. So that was good. And I had to manage … ‘cause Christine was injecting at the time, and so I had to get her Interferon, you know, when we stopped in Singapore, ‘cause we stopped there for two nights or whatever it was. And she couldn’t cope with too much you see, so we’d do one thing in the morning and then nothing in the afternoon – it was like that. And ‘course this Interferon had to be kept in a refrigerator, you know, so I had to speak to these foreigners … [chuckle] “refrigerator – not frozen, no. Refrigerator.” [Chuckle] Yeah, so you know, help her with all that.
But we did that trip, and then we went again in 2005, I think … went over again, and had a much more relaxed … just looked around London and … yeah. Lots of photographs, two albums full of photographs of all that. So did all that.
One time in 2002 – ‘cause with my swimming, in 1988 I went to Brisbane – Masters Swimming World Games – with a whole lot from Hastings and Napier, we all went over there. We stayed in South Beach which is far too far away – it was a two-hour bloody bus ride to the thing, which is far too much. But anyway, that’s where we landed up and did the swimming thing, and then Christine came over after the swimming had finished. Everyone else was staying on for another week’s holiday in Brisbane. I flew down to Sydney, met up with Christine and we had a week in Sydney. Exhausting. Absolutely … I was tired, I was still tired from all the swimming, let alone all the travel. I was absolutely flaked out, and she wanted to walk around shops and all this sort of thing. [Chuckle] But we did go to Taronga Park Zoo which was probably the best of the thing, and then we came home.
So there was that trip, and then in 2002 the World Masters Games were in Christchurch at QEII Park, and I’ve never been to Christchurch … never been to the South Island. So we flew from Napier down there and just as I was packing my bag I said to Christine , “oh – my great-grandfather came from down here”, you know, “have we got any records of that?” Well we had a marriage certificate I think it was which must’ve come from Dad, I suppose, but we knew nothing about that family, absolutely nothing except maybe that that was my dad’s family and they had a property at a place called Annat – that’s where he was born. That’s all we knew. There were uncles … there was an Uncle Arthur, Leonard and Hubert … but he knew nothing of them. There was never ever Christmas cards or phone calls or … nothing, absolutely no connection whatsoever. They were some sort of remote people that – we knew they were related and that’s it. I thought ‘oh – I’ll take this marriage certificate with me – I might be able to find a grave site or something’. I didn’t know anything about genealogy at that time.
So I rang up from the motel on a day that I didn’t have any swimming, on this particular Thursday – everyone else had gone off. And I rang up trying to get in touch with this little church – St Cuthbert’s or whatever it was. Got no answer, no answer, and the motel keeper “So go across the road because there’s a church outfit over there and they might know, and I think it’s a Presbyterian College, I think”. And so I went over there into an office … great big office …
Knox College was it?
Well I don’t know – might’ve been, I’ve no idea. Yeah, well maybe it was – is that in Bealey Ave?
Well that’s what it’d be. They had an office that was as long as this thing here, with a great long counter on it. And I went in there – “can I help you?’ And I said “oh, I’ve got this marriage certificate and I was just trying to get hold of this St Cuthbert’s” or whatever, and she said “oh,” she said … it’s an Anglican church, but she said “they’re actually closed. They open occasionally for an odd wedding or something, but basically it’s closed.” She said “what’re you after?” And I said “oh, just trying to see if there’s any relation”. She said “go to the Library – they’ve got it all there”.
So I went that Library – I think I went that very day – yeah, I walked to the Library, upstairs, got guided by this person or that, and there was a whole wall as big as that with little drawers. They were about so long. And in those drawers are cards, and each card is either a birth, a baptism, a marriage or a death from all the churches, all around Canterbury. And they’re all alphabetical. So I just go to Appleby, haul out the drawer and I go through there, and – oh, here’s some Applebys – and there’s about ten or fifteen cards or something, so I took them out and the only bit of paper I’ve got is the back cover of my registration form for the swimming, you know? And I can recognise – there’s Leonard Appleby, and I thought ‘yeah, that’s my dad’s uncle – I’m pretty sure that is’. And then there was a Betty, and there was a John, and there was other … and I just wrote down whatever it had on these cards – born, or married or whatever. And an old guy came along, so he’d be a Friend of the Library sort of person … volunteer. “What’re you up to, sir?” And I said “oh, I’m just trying to find relations to this guy – this Arthur Appleby I have”, ‘cause this marriage certificate’s sitting on the desk. “Oh – oh yes”. So he went away, and came back and opened up a book, big as that. Encyclopedia of New Zealand – there’s three volumes – opened it up and there was a photograph of my great-grandfather … that I had. I thought ‘that’s my great-grandfather’. In this photograph. And it’s like a … bit like an obituary, and all these things. And there’s photographs of all sorts of people – it just tells you. And it just says ‘Mr Appleby came to New Zealand from Burton-on-Trent’ – now that was news to me – ‘in 1867. He took up employment with Mr Clark in the land agent’s office and worked for him for twenty-one years’, or something. ‘Mr Appleby was Secretary of the local tennis club, and he was President of the Horticultural Society, and Mr Appleby was a member of the Council for nine years and responsible for the West Ward’, or something. All this … it’s all news. My dad would never’ve known that about his grandfather. Yeah. So all that was new, and that started me.
And then this old guy says “oh, we might be able to find a bit more”. So he went away, and he came back with another book which is called a ‘McDonald Index’. And evidently the Government of the day did an index of the whole of the Canterbury area – I think there intention was to do it every five years of who owns what land. Maybe it was going to go New Zealand wide, but never got off the ground, and there’s just this one-off. And sure enough, you go down there … ‘Arthur Appleby, Methven, twenty-six acres’; somewhere else, you know, ‘two hundred and eighteen acres’; somewhere else … and he’s got about six or eight properties. And then there’s the value of it, you know, ‘£2,500’, [chuckle] or whatever it was. I thought ‘this guy’s bought land up all over the show’. And he worked in a land agent’s office, yeah – so he had first dibs. And I found out that he lived at 218 I think it was – what the hell’s the name of it? It’s an Irish name. Anyway, a street – I thought ‘well I’ve been on the bus going to QEII for my swimming – we’ve crossed that’.
Well the following Saturday I had swimming in the morning, and then the afternoon I had nothing – thought ‘I’m going to go and find this bloomin’ house’. So I went right into the middle of town – Christchurch sort of comes into the spokes of a wheel – found this bloomin’ street, and I thought ‘I’ll keep walking here ‘til I find 218.’ I thought ‘might be a bloody garage, or a bank or anything by now’. So kept on walking – there’s actually no 218, but there’s numbers close. I thought ‘hmm – it’s been re-numbered somehow’. You know, one big property divided into two. But there was this old house which is now a boarding house … bed and breakfast-type place. So I thought ‘well, I’ll take a photograph’. So … lot of shrubbery on the front, so I went onto the lawn, I was going to take a photograph … thought ‘oh, I better go and tell them who I am or they might think I’m the police’ or something. Knocked on the door; out comes this little Oriental person, perhaps Filipino or something, looked about sixteen, but probably twenty-six. And I said “oh, I’m sorry – I think my great-grandfather lived here – I’m just wondering if I can take a photograph.” “Come in”, she said. I thought ‘oh, she’s misunderstood me’. And I said “no, I just want to take a photograph”. “No, no – come in – please, please – you come in, please”. So she was quite insistent, so I went inside. She sat me down in this great big lounge, and I’m looking at this house and the scotia round the ceiling. It’s all plaster ceiling, and that normally might be like, ivy leaves, or little rosebuds or tulips or something like that, all the way round. Sheaves of wheat, bunches of grapes, pears, pomegranates … all sorts of things in this. I thought ‘well whoever owned this was interested in horticulture, and had money because this looks like a one-off they’ve had specially made.’ Guess whose great-grandfather was President of the Horticultural Society, [chuckle] you know? And I’m thinking ‘this is … everything says to me that this is my great-grandfather’s place’, and I’m sitting here and this lady bought me a cup of tea; rung up her brother who was away playing cricket or something, and they wanted to interview me ‘cause they were interested ‘cause they wanted to put a plaque on the wall to say a little bit of the history of the house. Yeah.
Been there two or three times – I’ve got a …
So it was?
Yeah. Almost a hundred per cent sure.
Isn’t it amazing?
Went out the back and there were sheds there with timber that thick, and I could tell by the saw cuts on them that this’d been cut with a big saw, out in the forest probably, with a big breaking-down saw or something. And it was original timber, it’d be bloody totara or something, you know, or kauri, and the boards were this wide. And this is for the sheds – I thought ‘now what would these sheds have been?’ They would’ve been stables in those times – you know, we’re talking about 1912, somewhere round about there. They would’ve been stables, and he would’ve had, not a quarter acre, he would’ve had two acres, and that’s why the Post Office number’s different. I went and made enquiries about that and the Council couldn’t really enlighten me.
So that started me on genealogy. I walked away from that place and thought ‘I’ve just sat down, probably in the dining room of my great-grandfather’s place.’ [Chuckle] I’ve done the same with another one – will I keep going?
Oh God, it’s after twelve!
When I went to England the girls, Carolyn and Jillian and Christine and I, went to Deal because my great-grandfather on the other side of the family – this is the Thompsons. Anyway, we went to Deal, and in Deal there’s a conserved [conservation] area of old houses. And one of those houses … 19 Something-or-other Street – God, I used to know it off by heart – there’s Golden Street, Silver Street and whatever else this other one is … and number 19 is where my great-grandfather lived. And these houses were built around about 1620 by the Dutch. And I knocked on the door – no answer. Kept on knocking … people behind me in the house next door, and the streets are narrow. There’s a little footpath this wide, so the streets are just wide enough for a little carriage … horse and carriage to go up and down, and you don’t step out of your door without checking left and right first because you’ve got this little narrow … And the guy behind me said “I think there’s an old chap lives in there”, he says, “but he goes off to work every morning. A little green car comes and picks him up – he’s an architect and he works in Canterbury.” This guy’s ninety-three, and he’s working in Canterbury which is half an hour, three quarters of an hour drive. Anyway, so I left a note in the letterbox to say who I was and that I’d call on him the next morning at seven o’clock – which I did. Went down there, knocked on the door – nothing happened. Kept on knocking – nothing. I’m looking … I though ‘oh – bloody window on that upstairs window’s open’.
Anyway, eventually this rather tidy gentleman – tall, thin, hair combed, tie on, shirt and nice tie – looking down the street for his car … and I went over and spoke to him. I said “I left a note for you – did you ..?” “Oh, I saw that”, he said – wasn’t terribly interested. He said “I’m just waiting for my car to come”. Anyway, I said “look”, I said, “I know you don’t know who I am, but” I said “could I just step in your doorway and out again? Just so that I can say that I’ve been inside my great-grandfather’s house.” And I thought he might say “no”, which he was entitled to. And he said “oh, all right”, so he went back inside his house and sat down in a room about half the size of this. Flagstones on the floor … big squares about – like this – of stones … and a mat over some of it. And I said “could I take a photograph?” “Oh, yeah”. So I took photographs all round, everywhere [chuckle] inside this place. And he was looking out for his car, and of course eventually his car come [came] and away he went. But I’ve been inside that great-grandfather’s house as well – that’s the Thompson … yeah.
The only thing I haven’t … well you know about the Tomoana trees? I tried to save them – when the Council want submissions to have gateways, or buildings, or something protected – whatever – so I put in a submission to have the Tomoana trees rescued, because … think I started to tell you that and got diverted. Surprise. ‘Cause I was doing the research to find out who owned them. But the Council had already decided to put the arterial route through from Pakowhai Road through to come up through Kenilworth Road, and they were going to bowl some of those trees – that’s why I was trying to get them protected to try to prevent that from happening. But we had no proof – nothing. And they said “we can’t do it, because the Council has already decided to put in the arterial route, so that decision’s made. So protections are next – you’ll have to wait two years”, or whatever it is.
Then they decided not to do the arterial route so I put in a submission with you know, paper by the miles there, and we went to Council meetings and all the rest of it. And I put in a submission then – “now that the arterial route’s not going ahead can I have those trees protected?” And so we got the Council to agree in principle, and we’ve since spoken to Lowe Corporation and Wattie’s, and done all that, and it’s an ongoing thing … and done all the research for that.
At the same time I put in one for the gum tree at Boys’ High School, so that’s a protected tree because I asked for it to be. So I’ve done that.
The only other thing is I had a bit of a dispute with the people in … not my Bird Club, but some people who were in it and have since left, and good riddance to them. They got very personal at times, and I though ‘I don’t need this’, and so I was going to leave the Bird Club after all those years, but they left.
But in the meantime I went out to Keirunga and started doing a bit of artwork out there. Never done it before in my life, and seemed to be reasonably successful, and I play around with a bit of … [speaking together]
Oh, that’s great, and you’re certainly prepared to try your hand at other things.
Yeah – so have a go. Yeah.
All right – well I think we’ve probably got a good picture of your life.
I’ve just realised – didn’t mention the Choral Society I joined – the Hastings Choral Society, with Kath Barry – when that first started Christine and I joined that. And I think the first thing we did was …
Is Kath Barry still alive?
No, I think she died.
So you know, that was good fun, and I learnt a lot there. And once again … can’t read music. Have a little bit of an idea although the notes were a wee bit higher than … [chuckle] but I had a piano here and used to practise my little bits on that. Stand alongside Peter Price or John Doig, you know? Yeah – I’ve got an invitation up there to go to his ninetieth birthday, yeah.
He’s a good guy, Peter.
Yeah, yeah. So I was in that, and then Christine pulled out of that and I carried on there. Jillian was in it for a while when she was home for twelve months or something, so she came as well.
All right – well look, I think that will give us a pretty good insight into who Calvin Appleby is. And I thank you for the opportunity, because this is Hawke’s Bay history. Okay.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Calvin John Appleby
- Christine Lynne Appleby