Carran, Allan Keith (Keith) Interview
Today is the 29th of October 2018. I’m interviewing Keith Carran about the life and times of his family. Keith, thank you.
I was born in Taumarunui. The reason my parents were in Taumarunui is because my grandfather was a loco [locomotive] driver, and Taumarunui was in those days a centre of the railway in New Zealand. My background is quite cosmopolitan, in that the Carrans came from the Isle of Man, and my grandmother on that side came from Scotland; whereas on my mother’s side my grandfather was Croatian and my grandmother came from Norway. So I’m quite a mixture of cultures.
My parents, Allan and Olga Carran, were quite industrious people, and they had six children in total over quite a long period of time, living throughout in Taumarunui. In fact the house that my mother lived in for some sixty or so years, my father built himself, personally. My parents were quite poor in those days, and they saved up a stick or two of timber at a time and put that to the house progressively, over quite a long period of time. So he was quite handy builder in his time, my father – he built three launches that I can remember, as well as countless kayaks for children; he was a specialist in dolls’ houses – he used to build walk-in dolls’ houses, and maybe he built … oh, eight or ten of these, which were auctioned for charity. He also built two, three baches at various seaside locations, so over the years he was quite industrious as a builder, as well as at the same time building up his business; initially as a very small grocer in a building which was only about maybe twenty feet by twenty feet. And over a period of time he built that business into a major supermarket in Taumarunui. He was quite entrepreneurial in that in the early days after the war, he realised that packaging was probably a thing of the future because in those days when you went to your grocer everything was in bulk – flour and sugar and so forth was all in great big bags and had to be weighed out.
And that was my first experience of Hawke’s Bay; when I came here just after the war with my father in his old car. He came over here to a place in Caroline Road in Hastings that was making sweets. I remember particularly they made blackballs; blackballs are an old-fashioned type of sweet, and during the war there was no sugar so sweets were very scarce. So we came over here in Dad’s old car, and the Taupo road in those days was atrocious; it was pumice the whole way, and by the time we got there I looked like a snowman. And we used to have countless punctures in the old tyres in those days on the bad road; and stoppages while the motor boiled, and we had to clamber down the bank and get water out of the creek to fill the radiator after waiting half an hour or so for the motor to cool. So that was quite an adventure to come over here and pick up the blackballs. And then we took those back to Taumarunui where we then packaged them into little cellophane bags, and Dad distributed those up round the Waikato, no doubt at a profit.
In the same vein, in those days biscuits were sort of loose in tins; and again, if you wanted a biscuit from your grocer’s shop they had to be taken out of the tins and put into paper bags. Dad conceived the idea of packing these in cellophane; again, the packaging as I mentioned, was fairly unknown in those days. And we as children, after school used to go up to the shop; and we used to … for want of a better term … ‘butter’ the biscuits and stack them in a row on a device that Dad invented, and then put them into the cellophane package. We also did that with tea; we had his own brand of tea called Cherry Grove, and after school at nights we packaged up tea into packages, much the same as the tea packages we know today. Yes, so he was quite ahead of his time in realising that packaging was the way to go in the grocery business.
Keith, Taumarunui those days was a railway town, and also it was a big timber and farming industry?
Yes, Taumarunui unfortunately these days has fallen on reasonably hard times, but in that, when I was young there it was a thriving expanding town. It had a meat works nearby, and they had a factory just out of Taumarunui that made boxes among other things; a timber mill; in Taumarunui of course there was a big railway industry. It was reasonably isolated because the roads were very poor, and the rail was the centre of activity to a large extent. When the train arrived you’d be on the main trunk line; this was a big event in Taumarunui. When I was young, quite often we used to go down and greet the passengers on the express as it went through in the middle of the night.
My parents were quite activity in community service as well. My father spent many years on the Council in Taumarunui, and he was involved in practically every money-raising activity – things like swimming pools and churches and so forth he was heavily involved with. My mother also was very active in community service; she was a Girl Guide Commissioner for the Waikato/King Country area.
My first exposure to fishing was with my father and his friends when I was quite young … maybe six, seven, eight. We used to go over to Waihi on the southern end of Lake Taupo, where he and his friends would row a boat up and down the lake … what’s called harling, trolling for fish. And the fishing was very good in those days; they quite often caught ten or more fish in a day, and they would be you know, quite big fish – six, seven, eight pounds was quite common. So that was a great adventure for me to go with my father in those days, fishing over there; and that’s probably where I developed my own interest in fishing.
You used to speak about a river you used to fly fish ..?
Yes. It was obviously very dear to you, this river, because it always used to come up in your conversation that when you were young you used to go there.
At that time in Taumarunui ,the area was surrounded by thick bush, and Waimiha was one of the outlying little townships. It was a sawmilling town; there was a sawmill and maybe ten or so houses. And that was on a river called the Waimiha, strangely enough, which fed into the Ongarue River and turned [in]to the Wanganui River. And my father and his friends used to fish this by floating down on tractor inner tubes. And the technique they used was … well, by today’s standards fairly brutal … in that they used wetas. And I was actually the weta boy, and I had to go and prise open old manuka and get out wetas and put them in matchboxes so that Dad and his friends could stick them onto trip double hooks that were used. And yes, they caught a lot of fish floating down through the bush … through the thick bush. You couldn’t cast or anything, because the bush was overhanging; so floating down on tubes was how it was fished. And it was quite common to come home at night with a sugar sack full of trout. Again, the trout were all taken in those days because as I mentioned, we weren’t all that well off; and trout was a valuable source of income … of food … for the family, and was often exchanged with other people for venison or pork or something that other sportsmen had caught. An exchange of venison and so forth was quite common. We had a lot of venison at home, and Dad didn’t actually shoot venison but later on my brother, Colin, became quite a hunter; and he earned a lot of money to go to university by shooting deer and so on.
I did all my schooling in Taumarunui; went to Taumarunui High School where I got School C [Certificate] and UE, [University Entrance] and then set off to Auckland University. I was there for two or three years, and during that time I qualified with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, and also qualified as a Member of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries, and an Associate of the New Zealand Society of Accountants, which was the start of my career.
It must have been quite an experience to move from Taumarunui to Auckland?
Yes. My parents, as I mentioned, came from fairly humble backgrounds, so to them a son going to university was quite special, and I was quite fortunate to have their support, and what little money they had helped me a lot.
Having said that, while I was at university I was actually paying my own way, because I was working full time as well as studying. And these days people of course go full time to university, but then it was quite common to have to work your way through university. I actually qualified in three years for the Society of Accountants, and I was actually too young to be admitted at the time I finished my university training. So I had to wait before I could be admitted and start up as a chartered accountant.
I’ll carry on with family; in 1962 I married Pat – Taylor, she was – who I’d known throughout my school years; and we of course married in Taumarunui. We had three children – Susan, who is now fifty-four; she lives in London and has two children, Findlay and Ella. Scott, who’s now fifty-one; he’s got three girls, and he’s currently living in Auckland. And Grant, who lives on Waiheke Island is forty-eight; he’s got three boys, Jasper, Remy and Hugo. Scott’s girls are Leanna, Jade and Amilie. All three of my children have university degrees, which [is] something that made me quite proud of them.
In 1992 I remarried, to Dianne who I’d known for many years. Dianne also has three children, Peter, Joanne and Simon. Between us we’ve got now six children and fifteen grandchildren, so children and grandchildren take up a lot of our time.
I’ve now lived in Havelock North for some fifty years. Dianne of course was born here, and she’s been here for seventy-eight years. We built a house – our house that we currently live in [in] Hikanui Drive, now twenty-five years ago, so we’ve been here in this house all that time.
As a young man growing up in Havelock North I was very heavily involved in community service. I was involved in Jaycees, an organisation now defunct; but in those days I was always very active in community service affairs. And through Jaycees I became involved with Greater Hastings, the organisation that runs [ran] the Blossom Festival, the Highland Games and was responsible for Fantasyland. In fact I was on the committee of Fantasyland and we raised lots of money to build that community facility. One of my … highlights of my career, you might say, when I was on Greater Hastings, was I was asked to be a judge of the Blossom Queen, so for a number of years I was one of the judges of all the young beauties in Hastings. In Havelock North I was also pretty heavily involved in fundraising for such community facilities as St Columba’s Church, the library, and the community centre.
Perhaps now talking about my career as a chartered accountant – I began my accountancy career initially with a scholarship to the Auckland Hospital Board, where I was being trained to be a house manager. I didn’t enjoy that very much, and after a short period I … at great sacrifice to my salary, I might say … I left that scholarship ,and went and started in chartered accountancy, which I pursued for some fifty, sixty years.
One memory that does come back to me from my time at the Hospital Board was my early exposure to primitive computers. The Hospital Board had a Power Somers … I guess we could call it a computer; it was actually a card sorting machine. But it was extremely large … it would fill a house, the size of it; and it operated by sorting punch cards. And my involvement was to feed these punch cards … we had thousands of them with statistics about the hospital, accidents, and patients, etcetera … to sort them out for statistical information. These cards used to rocket around this machine at a large pace, being separated at various gates in the same way a farmer might separate sheep down a race. And we used to have some very spectacular accidents when the cards missed the gates or the machine broke down, and we would have thousands of these cards being spilled all over the place. It was quite a primitive sort of exercise, but that was really the beginning of what we now know as computers.
I was working with a firm there called Rawnsley, Rogers & Ryan while I was studying at the university. And when I’d finished university I left that firm and went to Hamilton – 1961 this was – to a firm called Gilling, Fisher & Day, where I was an audit partner; a branch of chartered accountancy which I’ve not really followed since. But I spent a couple of years doing audit work in Hamilton. One of the instances I can remember there was auditing the Waikato Breweries, and on one occasion there they had a beer label that they were phasing out and they were selling off beer at ridiculously low prices to staff and the audit – outside auditors qualified as staff – so I was able to supply the flat I was in in those days with very cheap beer for quite some time.
You can still go to the Waikato and ask for a swamp water and they’ll give you Waikato Draught.
[Chuckle] Oh, okay.
Yep. Oh no, it’s well known.
Yes. We had an instance there where we uncovered a theft by one of the staff, and it was quite sad really, in that this staff member’s daughter was getting married and he didn’t have enough money to give her a wedding. So he decided to try and take some money from the brewery, which we discovered. It was my first exposure to that sort of side of our profession. Unfortunately we’ve had quite a few instances over the years of similar nature.
In 1963 I went with my wife at the time, Pat, on a big OE [overseas experience] to Europe. That was quite a little adventure in those days – took six weeks, I think it was, on the boat to get to England. There was very little communication back home, so if you sent something … postcard … home it took another six weeks to get back so parents and friends didn’t have a lot of knowledge of what you were doing or what was happening; which made my mother fairly anxious at the time. We were working in London to pay for our time over there, and I remember a couple of events or instances of interest. Thinking back, we sort of took any work that was going, and one of the jobs that I had was as a school teacher – something I hadn’t done – and I got the job because probably nobody else in the UK [United Kingdom] wanted it. It was down at Brixton. Brixton was where the prison was in London; it was a very poor area, and it was quite a dangerous job being a teacher in the school there. We used to have security guard in the room with the teacher and it was well needed because all the pupils carried flick knives and the like, and carved the desks up at every opportunity. [Chuckle] However, I became quite a friend of the pupils I was teaching because I realised after a while that I wasn’t going to be teaching these children maths or any of the prescribed education that they were meant to be learning, because they just wouldn’t participate. So I decided that if I could teach them anything it would be a win; so I used to tell them about my adventures in New Zealand, and let them talk about their own interests, and generally do what they wanted; took up the role as a babysitter, because I figured I was only there filling in. But it was quite an experience all the same.
Another job I took there was a temporary job where it was advertised as a relieving job at a receivership. So when I went for the interview they said had I done any receivership work, and I said, “Oh yes, [of] course I have.” I made out I was very experienced in receiverships, but in actual fact back in New Zealand the only receivership I’d done was winding up a small milkbar-dairy. So on the first day I went out to the receivership job and I found that it was a huge industrial business, and I think on the second or third day I had to address the staff, and the staff was two hundred people, which [chuckle] … given my limited experience at the time, was quite a challenge.
You obviously got through it all right?
We actually did quite well because New Zealanders generally in the UK are renowned for their industry and hard work. And we did quite well on the receivership in comparison with the English accountants who we were relieving, because of our work ethic.
Another job I had there which was interesting was audit work at a casino. And because we were unknown temporary staff our job was to go to the casino at night and feed in, or lose on the tables, gambling chips. And these gambling chips were identified in some way which I didn’t really have much knowledge of, but the idea was that we fed the chips in and the regular audit staff looked to see at the other end whether they were coming out [of] the system or not. So that was quite an interesting job.
In between working in the UK, we also embarked on an expedition throughout Europe. We … in typical New Zealand style we bought a second-hand van, and we equipped this for our travels around Europe by buying a chest of drawers which we wired into the van behind the front seat, and a mattress which we rolled up in the back; and that was our bed and our seat. And that was it, and off we went. We spent several months touring around Europe, through Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal, etcetera; yeah, it was good fun. I can remember that our policy was … ‘cause we kept missing turn-offs … we developed this policy that every road we were on [was] the right road. So if we made a mistake and missed a turn-off, we worked on the basis that that was fate and that we were meant to be going on that road. And that was how we staggered around Europe.
And one instance there, we were in Spain and we didn’t really intend to go to Portugal but we got by mistake on a back country road that led into Portugal, and we came to this outstation in the mountains where the Portuguese border control were. We actually did quite well because the Portuguese had decided they were going to give gifts to all the visitors to Portugal – little bottles of port and the like. And this remote border control that we ended up at on this back country road, hadn’t had many visitors, so it had a big supply of all these gifts they wanted to give away; so we became the owners of quite a few small bottles of port, and grapes and the like. They let us in to Portugal without visas, but we found the problem was when we tried to get out of Portugal because they wanted to know how we’d got in without having a visa. That was one little incident we remember.
We freedom camped right throughout Europe, and I can remember waking up on the beach in the middle of the night in Spain with the Guardia Civil prowling around the van wanting to know who we were, what we were doing, and whether we had any illegal arms, etcetera. So we had a good time travelling around Europe, freedom camping, along with a lot of other New Zealanders we met along the way.
So anyhow, we went back to England; and [of] course England … the weather in London was atrocious! So when we eventually decided to leave England and go back to New Zealand, weather was very much on our mind, and this was really how we ended up in Hawke’s Bay, because when we came back we were looking for somewhere where it was nice and sunny and warm. And so we decided it was either Nelson or Hawke’s Bay or Tauranga, and at that time Hawke’s Bay was quite prosperous; still is quite prosperous, but it was very prosperous at that particular time; this was in perhaps 1965 or thereabouts.
So we selected Hawke’s Bay because of the weather and its apparent prosperity and future prospects for being in business. I got a job here with a firm called Bayliss, Howard & Woodham; that was in 1961. That firm morphed through various names – [?] & Stewart, Coopers & Lybrand, and eventually PricewaterhouseCoopers, which is now known as PWC. Initially I was an accountant and small business advisor, but over the years I developed my career more into financial advisory work, financial planning; and more towards the end of my career, as an investment advisor.
During my time with the national firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the more interesting activities I became involved in on a national basis, was in the early computerisation of the firm. Back in the 1980s the firm recognised that computers maybe had a place to play in business and accounting. They were largely unknown at the time, and I was asked to lead the firm’s development of investigation into what place computers could play in the business, in accounting. And as a result of that I went at the firm’s behest, on a tour of the United States; [background interference] visiting Pricewaterhouse firms in the States and in Australia and the UK, to find out what they were doing and what they knew about computers, which turned out to be very little. In actual fact, we in Australasia were probably ahead of our counterparts over there in exploring this new era of business and accounting.
As a result of that experience we decided that we would set up our own computer structure, and so that became my responsibility in the firm. At that time we had little knowledge of the computing power that was to develop, and probably today’s mobile phone has got more computing power than most of the computers we had any exposure to at that time. However, we embarked on introducing computers to the firm, and initially this was on what’s known as mainframe computers. These were fairly large and clumsy machines; but we had them located in three locations throughout New Zealand, and the various offices – Coopers & Lybrand it was at the time – packaged the information and sent it off to these computer centres where it was processed and sent back. So I spent quite a lot of my life at that time getting these computers set up, organising the training of staff, and generally encouraging our partners and staff throughout the country to embroil themselves in the world’s computers, and learning how to use them to advantage.
I remember, Keith, you showed me your computer system in Hastings not long after you put it in, and it was as big as this room, or bigger. Couldn’t believe how huge it was!
Well of course it takes me back to what I said before about the original Power Somers machine in the Auckland Hospital, which was as big as a house. The ones we used initially – the mainframe ones – were probably as big as a room. And now as I say, the computers are as big as a suitcase. In fact recently I was in the Hawke’s Bay PWC office in Napier, and the staff there now have … well, two, sometimes three computer screens on their desk, and not a piece of paper to be seen in the office. So there’s certainly been a tremendous evolution of computers. And of course with the cloud now – in some respects the cloud as it’s referred to is a reversion to mainframe computers, because when you supposedly send your information into the cloud, in actual fact it’s going onto a mainframe computer in another country, where all the information is regurgitated when you need it.
Keith, you spent some time with process growers, grape growers; you did a lot of work with those organisations, didn’t you?
Yes. Well in Hawke’s Bay I suppose it was fairly natural that one would become involved with the vegetable industry, which I specialised in which you might say, for a number of years. I developed for the Vegetable Growers’ Federation, a sort of costing system to cost out what it cost to grow various crops, and this information was used for the annual battle with the processors, Wattie’s and Heinz and the like. The way the system worked in those days is that every year the growers would get their committee together and go to Wattie’s and negotiate the price that they’d receive for growing various crops like green beans and peas and the like. That was [chuckle] quite humorous fairly often, because the growers always wanted twice as much as the processors were prepared to pay. But unfortunately the growers were price takers and inevitably their aspirations were thwarted by the more powerful processing organisations. That costing system was eventually taken up on a national basis by the Vegetable [Growers’] Federation. I think now, these days, a much more cooperative type approach is taken to the growing of the crops.
And in the same vein I was involved in the wine industry; for a number of years was involved in the same manner representing the grape growers and their negotiations with winemakers. Unfortunately at that time, it wasn’t very healthy for making of good wine because [phone rings in background] it was very much a [an] adversary-type process and ‘we and they’ sort of situation where the growers wanted the most for the least, and the winemakers of course wanted quality so they could make good wine. The grape growers and winemakers these days work very closely together, recognising their mutual interest in producing a good product. [Phone conversation continues in background]
But fortunately, my whole life wasn’t devoted to grinding out a living in accountancy. We did have time for some recreational pursuits during that time. One of the things that I was particularly interested in was travelling, and I did quite a lot of travelling in my early days with my children. When they were at quite a young age, we embarked on quite an adventure to South America. [I] think Mark at the time was about seven, and Susan, the oldest, would’ve been maybe twelve, or something like that. So we went on our own cognisance to Peru and up to Machu Picchu, and then along the Andes to Bolivia, down to Argentina, and then to Brazil; and then to the United States and home. So that was quite a trek with three young children, but it was quite character building for them I’m sure.
One of the highlights of that trip I remember, was the trip along the Andes. [Of] course the height there made it very difficult to breathe, and there was quite a lot of political problems in those South American countries. We got to a place in the Andes called Ayacucho, and it was attacked by rebels while we were there. And we were stuck in this town for a few days while war sort of raged around us, which was a little bit concerning. We only got out of there eventually by getting a flight on an army aircraft. I remember it particularly, because it was so difficult to breathe; we were in a hotel and we were on about the third floor, and it was actually quite an exercise to climb up the stairs because of the shortage of oxygen.
On that trip we also went to Carnival in Rio [de Janeiro]. Rio can be a fairly lawless sort of place. We’d been told this good idea before we went of using dog chains to tie our luggage together; when we were sort of in airports with the children we’d have quite a few suitcases, so threading a dog chain through the handles and clipping it together was one way of stopping people from running off with the children’s baggage while we were waiting around. We also used it when we were on buses where they put luggage on the roof. I would climb up on the roof and put the dog chain through our baggage to stop the locals from throwing off the bags when they went through their village, which was a common practice. I also used to have the dog chain round my waist clipped to the bag which carried our supplies of cameras and guide books etcetera. And I remember an instance where we were on the tram that goes up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio, and while I was on this open-sided tram some of the local ruffians … criminals … grabbed hold of my bag, you know – I was on the tram – and tried to pull it off, but unfortunately it was tied around my waist by the dog chain, and so when the bag went off the tram so did I; and I rolled down the street head over heels. And eventually the chain broke and they escaped with my camera, etcetera. That was the least of my worries, because by this time I’d been sort of cut up rather a bit and ended up in hospital. I recall that the Police rounded up a whole lot of these youths and had a line-up, and asked me to pick out which ones were the guilty parties. But of course I wasn’t able to remember, so I couldn’t ping any of them. But yeah … so fortunately I wasn’t too badly hurt in that process.
On another adventure we had we went on a bike trip to China as a family. We went into the south of China, and spent about … nearly a month, biking. There weren’t many tourists that time we were there, and tourists on bikes was [were] fairly unknown. The bikes we had there were from Taiwan, and they were quite revolutionary in China at the time because they had gears. The Chinese had millions of bikes, and they were all old … I think they were English Raleigh bikes … and they were very heavy-framed, which they needed to be for the work they put them to. But they didn’t have any gears, and of course very thick tyres. Our bikes had gears, and had narrow tyres. Those narrow tyres were a little bit of a disaster because the tyres used to fall into the ruts made by the carts that the Chinese used; and once you got both wheels in the rut you couldn’t balance, and the next thing you’d crash over.
But because we were foreigners, which was fairly unknown at the time, and we had these flash bikes, when we called into a Chinese village we were like the circus coming to town, and we used to literally thousands of people gathering around to look at us and our bikes. And they wanted to sort of touch us, and it was actually a little bit intimidating. But however, we successfully biked through the southern part of China, round the Guangzhou area, and then we flew to Beijing and then we went to – Shihuang, I think it’s called – where the Terracotta Warriors were, which was a marvellous site; and through Shanghai on the way home. So that was another adventure we had as a family group.
Later on, again in the travel vein, we went with just Susan on this occasion to Russia; on a trip through Russia. Again, foreigners were not fairly common at the time and we weren’t allowed to just tour around Russia on our own; we had to have our own – Intourist they were called – Intourist guides. There was some sort of foul-up with the organisation in Russia of which group we were meant to be with, and when we got there we found that the three of us were the group; and we had a forty-seater bus and a driver and an Intourist guide all to ourselves. We were meant to be looking at Russian icons; we didn’t have much idea what icons were, but it just happened to be the tour that we signed up for. So off we went up into the northern part of Russia, mostly looking at nondescript Russian paintings which were in freezing old buildings. Anyhow, it wasn’t something that we knew a lot about, but we certainly saw some unexpected parts of Russia, although we were fairly well protected and governed by the Intourist guide who wouldn’t let us really see the real Russia … or we weren’t supposed to see the real Russia. What we did see was a lot of uncouth behaviour and drunkenness and the like, and terrible, terrible food.
Subsequent to that we’ve had many trips to Europe. At one stage all the children were living in Europe and so we frequently went over there to see them, and went on trips to places like Portugal and Italy where we rented houses and had holidays together which was very good; and we had a lot of enjoyment together.
Another activity we engaged in when the children were young is tramping. We used to tramp quite a lot in those days, mainly with our friends Frank and Kaye Cooper and their children, Craig, Garth and Melissa; and with Ed and Diane Gilmour and their children, Peter, Joanne and Simon. We went on quite a few of the well known tramps such as Milford Track; the Routeburn Track I remember going on, as well as around Waikaremoana; and on Rua’s Track which went from Waikaremoana to Gisborne; and on the Whakatane Track, which was from Waikaremoana down the river to Whakatane; as well as of course, going around the lake itself.
Yes, we had quite a lot of adventures on those trips. I remember that I used to have a pack which had an empty frame; was meant to fill it up with fuel for your cooking burner. It had a little tap. But we found a use for that by filling it up with various forms of alcohol, and it became quite a tradition of our tramps that at the highest point of the tramp we would drain out the inside of my frame of the alcohol, and sit at the highest point of the tramp and share it around the parents and the children. [Of] course it would only be a cupful or so, but that was quite a highlight of our trip. And another tradition we had was that we always had a fruitcake at the end of each trip. The children of course would be exhausted, and dragging their feet by this stage, but the thing that kept them going was they knew that when we got back to the car there’d be a huge big fruit cake waiting for them to devour.
One other incident that comes to mind was on Rua’s Track when we were in the middle of the Ureweras. We came across some deerstalkers who were professionals; they were hunting deer professionally. They asked us if we’d like some venison for our dinner that night and we said that we did, so they promptly gave us a leg of venison. And we built a fire and tried to cook this leg; well of course it was near impossible – it would’ve taken about, you know, six or eight or ten hours to cook it properly. And we’d got stones to build a fire out of the river, but these were the wrong type of stones and when they heated up they kept exploding, and showered everybody with rocks.
Yes … remember that.
And we sat round for some hours trying to cook this leg of venison from raw, without much success and ended up eating some instant mince.
In fact it was raining at the time while we were trying to cook, and it was as cold as hell.
Yeah. So the children weren’t very impressed with that outing.
We also in those days did a lot of camping. And we had some fairly basic pole tents which were not entirely waterproof to say the least, and very susceptible to water coming in underneath the floor. But nevertheless we camped. One was able to freedom camp pretty much without restriction at that time, and we camped on various beaches … Coopers Beach, Whitianga, Opotiki, East Coast, Nelson, Lake Wanaka, Lake Hawea … virtually all round New Zealand we camped, on various holidays. Again, there always seemed to be some sort of drama on those trips with trailers breaking down, cars breaking down, medical emergencies; and even I think, I remember on one occasion a pohutukawa tree catching on fire when we were camped underneath it, which caused some consternation. That was I think up somewhere near Opotiki.
Quite often this camping was associated with waterskiing, which was another one of our family activities that we enjoyed. At that time I had a small boat with an outboard, and we seemed to over the years teach every child in our family and everybody else’s family how to waterski. This was quite often at Lake Taupo at Kuratau, down the other end of the lake; also at Lake Tarawera; Lake Rotoiti; even on the Waikato River – I can remember waterskiing up the river on one occasion. But those were great outings we did as a family group.
And another one of my passions was skiing. I first was introduced to skiing when I was at school in Taumarunui, and we went on to the odd school trip up to Mt Ruapehu. [Phone ringing] Later on when my children were young we went up to Ruapehu, just for an outing sometime in the holidays, and tried out skiing. The children became quite enthusiastic about skiing, and as a result of their interest I resumed my interest in skiing; and we all became hooked on skiing. And so for some fifty years until just only last year, at seventy-eight I’ve stopped skiing. And every year over the last fifty years or so I’ve been with the children and my siblings who are also good skiers, on an annual expedition to the South Island. My three children are all excellent skiers, as are my granddaughters and a lot of our family. So we’ve skied all of the principal ski fields in the South Island – Cardrona, Mt Hutt, Coronet Peak, The Remarkables, Treble Cone – as well as a lot of the club fields like Porter Heights, and Roundhill, and Mt Dobson, and Craigieburn, and Rainbow. We enjoyed going to the smaller fields and testing ourselves out. Yes, there’ve been many adventures while we have been skiing. We’ve also skied in the Dolomites in Italy, and in Japan at Hokkaido Island. My son, Grant, was at university in Hokkaido, on Hokkaido Island; while he was there we went over there and skied with him. Grant is probably the best of our three children when it comes to skiing.
Over many years I’ve been interested in trout fly fishing. As I say, my interest probably began in my early days when my father introduced me to fishing. When I came to Hawke’s Bay I fished the various rivers; there’s excellent fishing … trout fishing … around the Hawke’s Bay area. Trout fishing’s taken me to many parts of New Zealand’s back country, quite often with my friends, Frank Cooper, Ed Gilmour, Mike Sandilands who’s unfortunately not with us now, and Jim McIvor; also our son, Simon, who’s a dedicated young fisherman. We’ve embarked on fly fishing trips to the King Country, Nelson, the West Coast, [Tongariro?] National Park, Taupō, Taumarunui, South Island hydro canals. Yes, there’s been many, many excuses for trips around the country to do some fishing. However, my favourite fishing destination has always been the Ruakituri River. For those who are not initiated it’s inland from Wairoa, backing up onto the Urewera National Park. Frank and Ed and I first discovered this fishing paradise about 1970. At that time it was largely unknown and very inaccessible. The last twenty or thirty ks [kilometres] of the road into the river was narrow, metalled and torturous. We had numerous issues over the years getting there and back; not the least was getting past the Marumaru pub [chuckle] which used to be one of our favourite watering holes on the way to the Ruakituri, which we found easy to get into and much harder to get out of. But we did at that time have the river to ourselves a lot of the time. It’s since of course been discovered, and extensively fished these days.
You might remember, Keith, originally it was very much a brown trout fishery, too – there weren’t so many rainbows; they were introduced later on.
Yes. The Rua [Ruakituri] had extensive brown trout, but the Acclimatisation Society in their wisdom decided that these fish were too hard for most people to catch, and they should put some rainbow trout in there which gave everybody a chance to catch a fish, as the rainbows are generally not as cunning as the brown trouts to develop. We fished this river for nearly fifty years, and to this day we still camp in exactly the same place. It’s ‘our place’, one might say, near the gate at Papuni Station, and if anybody was ever there when we went up the river, in ‘our place’, I think we’d be very offended. We’d probably asked them to move on, … hah! … ‘cause it’s where we’ve made our mark. Originally we used to erect our old pole tent there; now of course we have a camping van.
Fishing in the Ruakituri River’s still great, but in the early days it was superb. Fish of seven to eight pound were the norm, and above the Waitangi Falls which is a four or five hour tramp into the bush, the fishing was even better. I remember one instance in the early days when we were fishing at the Ruakituri when some wild pigs got into our tent while we were away, and chomped through everything we had including, unfortunately, our wine supply which we had in those days in …
So yes – we found that we had very little food and no wine left afterwards, so we borrowed some potatoes from Papuni Station, and had to seriously catch trout to keep on eating for a few days, because as I mentioned the road was fairly torturous [chuckle] and there’s no way to go out easily and get more supplies.
It was actually old Sam Stone who was the manager of the station at the time; he let out the tame pigs that came down and went into the tent. Oh, was it?
Yeah – and he probably knew what he was doing. And the other funny thing was, a fisherman walked past our tent, and he saw the tent jiggling and jumping all round the place and heard all this grunting, and he wondered what the hell we were doing in there! [Chuckle] But the pigs just went straight through the wall of the tent. The problem was when we went in the tarpaulin floor in the tent was covered with t-bone steak bones – you name it; I’ll never forget when we went into that tent and saw the mess! But Sam Stone gave us half a bag of onions as well; we had onions and potatoes and trout.
We became very friendly with one of the managers, Ray Crombie, and Ray very kindly let us drive through Papuni Station to the back gate, which – the station’s fairly large, so it’s actually eleven kilometres from the front gate to the back gate – and this was quite helpful because as I mentioned it’s a long walk in to the Waitangi Falls if you go across country. But because we were able to drive to the back gate we were able to access the area up around Waitangi Falls relatively easily. And so [a] couple of years there we did quite a bit of fishing up there, and we caught some really good … really top notch fish in the ten pound range and more. They were certainly great days fishing.
Some years prior to that we’d heard the reputation of the fish above the Waitangi Falls, and decided that we would walk up there through the bush. We’d been told there was a track there, but our instructions were … we mixed them up somehow or other. So the three of us set off with our packs to go fishing above the Falls where these monster fish were. So we went up over the tops through the bush; it was extremely hard going – we struggled away all day, and we were still going along the tops ‘cause that was the only way we could make progress. What we didn’t realise of course, is that we’d actually gone past the Waitangi Falls and we hadn’t realised. Eventually we thought we’d better get back down to the river. This was exceedingly difficult because of the steep country, and we actually had at one stage there to abseil down the faces to get down to the river. And when we got down to the river we had the belief that we still had to go upstream to get to the Falls; so we had great difficulty; we kept on going up, up, up the river. It was so steep we couldn’t find anywhere really, to pitch our pup tents, and eventually I think we pitched them on top of a rock, if I remember correctly. And the next day we gave up trying to go up this impossibly steep country to the river, and retreated back only to find – lo and behold! Here was the Waitangi Falls that [chuckle] that we’d shot past previously, ‘cause we were so high up in the bush. So yeah, that was quite an arduous adventure.
Fishing attracted us to the Ruakituri; but it is sitting on the riverbank with our mates, watching the sun go down at night over a glass or two or wine while waiting for the potatoes to boil, telling a few lies and solving the world’s problems which will stay in my mind forever.
Yes. Keith and I eventually bought a Landcruiser and had an insulated canopy with a double mattress in the back, and a cooker Keith made. That became our centrepoint for all our travelling, and that took the pig problem away, it gave us warmth during the night, and access to … it wasn’t only the Ruakituri, we went all over the place.
The only problem with that is that the three of us had to sleep in the back, and …
Be careful! [Chuckle]
… those of you who know Frank will know he snores rather a lot. [Chuckle]
Ed used to too.
Yeah, so it was like [a] musical event, sleeping in the van.
So that’s a snapshot of my life.
But of course you haven’t talked about close to home, fishing the Maraetotara, the Tukituki …
You make it sound as if I spend my whole life fishing, skiing, tramping. I should’ve also mentioned that I’ve spent countless hours working, long hours … forty, fifty and sixty hours in my job, as well as all these recreational interests.
And while you’ve retired, Keith, you still maintain an interest and are working for some clients I believe, even today at seventy-eight, seventy-nine?
Keeping the mind active.
One of the things that I really am pleased … is that some of these traits have passed on to my children. I know Susan, our eldest daughter, lives in England but she still does a lot of travelling and camping and is following in our footsteps. Scott and his girls are into tramping and camping, and they’re really good skiers. And Grant also is [of] course, quite a little builder; he’s built his own house up on Waiheke Island, all by himself. So it’s good to see that some of these attributes have passed on to the next generation.
Yes. Keith and Ed caught thousands of fish; they returned almost all of those fish, isn’t that correct? You very seldom ever took a fish.
Yes. Oh, it’s necessary I think to preserve the environment. Unfortunately it’s been fairly damaged over recent years by aggressive agriculture. Fortunately there’s been a new awakening, and people are much more environmentally aware now. Rivers which had deteriorated are hopefully going to be reinvigorated over the years ahead. And we can see this with a project that I’ve been a little bit involved in with the Maraetotara River near Havelock North, where the river is being fenced off from livestock, and a corridor of natives planted right down the river, which over time will restore the river and create a bird corridor. And that’s happening in other places as well, so long may it continue. Maybe fishing will be preserved for our successors.
Yes. Well thank you, Keith, and thank you for the contribution you’ve made, not only to Hawke’s Bay but our local fishery as well.
Keith is going to tell us things that he’s forgotten to tell us about. Keith?
One of my main interests over my time has been working in golf. I’ve played golf for some fifty years, and throughout most of that time I’ve been a member of the Hastings Golf Club. I played golf extensively around the world, and in fact at one stage I used to collect golf courses in the way that people collect stamps. For example, I played on the highest golf course in the world; the lowest golf course in the world; the easternmost golf course in the world; and the oldest golf course in the world, etcetera, etcetera. And at one stage I played on maybe three quarters of the top hundred golf courses in the world. Over the years I’ve played on the famous courses – St Andrew’s, Ballybunion, Royal County Down, Dornoch … you know … Royal Melbourne and so on. I’ve played on most of the courses in Australia and New Zealand. My wife, Dianne, is also a very good golfer, and together we’ve played around the world and had a lot of enjoyment together, playing in Hawaii and the US, Ireland and Scotland. It’s been a wonderful thing we’ve been able to do together.
Also for some twenty-five years we’ve been joined by a group of friends, Daniel and Marilyn Besley, Wayne and Kas Leadbetter, and Amal and Joyce [?]. Every year for a week we travel somewhere in the world and play golf, as well as have fun. We have a friendly competition which we call the Dula Dula – it’s named after a Fijian war club which is our trophy. Our outings with the Dula group have taken us to such exotic places as Fiji, Hawaii, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, Malaysia, and numerous places in Australia and New Zealand. So golf has been a very enjoyable recreation, and been great to share it with – for Dianne in particular – with other friends.
Yes, one other area you haven’t mentioned is you’ve always had an interest in fast horses and slow horses, haven’t you?
In the thoroughbred industry.
I do loosely follow racing, and in the past I’ve had an interest in racehorses and enjoyed it, but found it unfortunately an expensive hobby, far beyond my financial capabilities. But nevertheless I keep a loose interest in horse racing.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).
Commercial UsePlease contact us for information about using this material commercially.
Can you help?
The Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank relies on donations to make this material available. Please consider making a donation towards preserving our local history.
Visit our donations page for more information.
Format of the originalAudio recording
Interviewer: Frank Cooper