Chambers, Mason Robert & Brian (Bruno) Interview
Today is the 8th of February 2017. I’m interviewing Mason Chambers about the life and times of his family. Mason would you like to tell us starting back to your father and where he went to school?
Well he went to school at Wanganui and after Wanganui he went and did a sheep farming course at Lincoln. And after that he must have bought some land from his father – I’m not sure, you know, how he got the land, but he got Tauroa Station – I’m not sure how many acres it was originally but it was quite big – must have been about three thousand acres.
Bruno: I would think a little bit more, I would think probably nearer three and a half thousand acres. That was split up originally from the – the original block was eighteen thousand acres and that was split up between three sons into three farms of six thousand acres each and Maurice was the son of Mason Chambers and subsequently it was divided up.
Mason: Hugh Chambers was the son of John.
Bruno: Yeah. I would stick with the Tauroa Station.
So where Andy Orton was, that would have been part of it originally?
Bruno: That was part of Kopanga, that was separate. Anyway you go on, about your father and where you were born.
Mason: I’m not sure how old he was when he died.
Bruno: He was about 86, but you can start off … more about your life and where you grew up and what happened then.
Mason: All right, well I was born at – in Havelock, and we lived in a house called Arden which was Kopanga Road and it was designed by my uncle who married my mother’s sister who was a Batley from Moawhango.
And during the earthquake – well, I was seven the day of the earthquake – not the day, but about seven. And I’d just been for a walk up Kopanga Road and I was coming back and I went to get a glass of water from the refrigerator and the earthquake came. But the strange thing, before the earthquake came – and I was outside for a few minutes in the garden – all the sheep from a paddock called the Kaheka which was the nearest paddock to Havelock, started running up the hills. And we’d had a bit of dog worrying, and I was walking out of the kitchen with a glass of cold water, and there was a greenstone clock on the mantelpiece in the dining room which went up and down about three or four feet, and luckily never crashed to the ground. And then I walked outside and the sheep were all congregated on the top, and they had not been worried by a dog or anything like that, it would seem they had another sense. Very strange.
At that stage of course you realised there was an earthquake?
Yeah, well I walked outside trying not to spill my water and we had some earthenware pots – Italian pots, quite large ones, either side of the concrete steps going down to another lawn.
And then … my father was at an office in Hastings called Rainbow & Hobbs. He was supervising several properties round the country and he had a secretary there when he needed one. And as soon as the earthquake came he set off Arden, which it was called, and he got to the Havelock bridge and it had collapsed. And he climbed over it somehow and met somebody that ran him very kindly up to Arden House. And then he put up tents for us – ’cause we used to go camping up at Waikaremoana – and he put up tents. But my grandfather he had such confidence in WH Gummer, who married my mother’s sister – Oiroa Batley she was – and he said he was rocked to sleep by the tremors during the night in the top storey.
Bruno: That was at Tauroa which was the separate house, you know – also designed by Gummer.
Mason: Have you ever been to Tauroa?
Yes, I’ve been in the gardens but I haven’t been in the house, but it survived the earthquake didn’t it?
Bruno: It survived it pretty much unscathed.
It was an earlier house that was burnt down wasn’t it?
Yeah, Te Mata House – it burnt down. Oh, that came down in the earthquake rather, and that had just recently been finished by Bernard Chambers, and that crashed to the ground and was rebuilt by W H Gummer, so the three houses that were built for the family by Gummer. I remember Cath Chambers saying they had long lamps in Tauroa and apparently they swung so much that they smashed on the ceiling. They were hanging probably on [speaking together] one or two metre length cords, and that’s how much the earthquake rocked them.
‘Cause for those of us that weren’t here – can’t imagine the size of it and the side shift, you know – it was massive wasn’t it?
Mason: I think it was very clever of Bill Gummer to build a house that would withstand such unnatural movement, and nothing happened except the lights and a few cracks in the ceiling. My father had a very good workshop and he used to do a lot of plumbing on the farm. And he had a two gallon tin of glue, and he had a lot of benzine boxes, and I’ve got a few that had all the pots in, and they all came crashing onto the concrete floor from quite up high. And the tin of glue came up and glued a lot of plumbing gear to the floor just in the [?]. And the old man had to get a blow torch to …
Bruno: You went to school at Wanganui didn’t you Mase?
Bruno: Well first you went to school at Hereworth, and you used to ride a pony to school and tie it up outside – tell your story.
Mason: What’s that street opposite Hereworth on the left as you’re coming this way?
Mason: Guthrie Road. My aunt Mrs Nelson, she had a house on the corner with a paddock and I used to put my pony called Topsy, who was bred up at Mangaohane Station. And I used to ride down from there and always ride back much quicker than I went to school. It was only about half an hour’s ride if I went quick.
Certainly. So would you follow … which way would you go to school on your pony?
Well I came down Kopanga Road and then came down … the place where those old people … Keirunga. I turned to the right coming down the drive at the top, and came down that hill … Keirunga, and then across the bridge and then to Hereworth. But I mean there were no houses there. It’s amazing just in the last year or two what’s happened to Havelock.
So how many years did you spend at Wanganui then?
Oh four or five I think.
And that would have been different those days too, wouldn’t it – it’d be a really … very old time boarding school?
Yeah. Yes, I think it probably was. The Headmaster there was a fella called Frank Gilligan. Who was the head when you were there?
Bruno: Tom Wells.
Mason: Tom Wells, yeah.
Bruno: They named a house after Gilligan – Gilligan House. So then after school you came back here for – you went – well not quite straight off to the War, but you worked on … what happened after you left school?
Mason: I drove a tractor for Jim Lowry at … the place that Mark’s working at …
Omahaki, up on the Taihape Road. Jim Lowry gave me a job. I was too young to get in the Army, and it was driving a tractor. And I was camping with a bloke called Harold Fitch from Dunedin, a very nice fellow who was a better cook than me luckily. And he drove a big tractor and I drove a small one.
What sort of tractor would that have been those days?
I think he drove an International and I think I drove a Cletrac. I think you call it a Cletrac. But talking of tractors – they had a Maori fellow a few years later that was dragging a heavy roller across the Omahaki Stream and up quite a long hill up onto a ridge. And he must have gone to sleep or something – when he got off the tractor at the top, which was a crawler – I think a 22 Caterpillar – there was no roller behind him. And the pin had come out and it had come crashing down the hill and finished up – you’d think he would have felt it – and it was in the creek.
And so you then went off to war. Where did you go to when you went overseas?
Well I had trouble getting into the Army, ’cause they thought I might be too young, but anyway I got over that one. And there was a fellow called Tapper in Hastings who was our recruiting officer I think. Did you know Tapper – Dick Tapper?
I think later on he may have lost a leg overseas.
Was he the recruiting officer in Hastings?
Yes I think he was.
Well anyway, I found myself in the Army, and I was in Trentham Military Camp for two or three weeks. My stepmother came down to say goodbye and stayed at a hotel in Wellington, and I got very drunk the first night I went and had dinner with her – or the last night I had dinner with her. And then within a week or so I found myself on a ship called the Empress of Scotland, which was called the Empress of Japan but then when the War came they couldn’t have an inference of Japan. And I think there were about five thousand of us on that ship. And we went to Perth – didn’t go ashore, weren’t allowed to go ashore – but I hopped off the boat and just walked along the jetty, just to say I’d been ashore at Perth.
And then we went to Colombo. We had a lot of fun in Colombo because we all had different coloured meal tickets. And you know, we had blue, green and yellow, and I had a green ticket and we were allowed off with that lot that day and so on. And I wanted to go off again the next day, and I had a friend called Eric Tait who was a schoolmaster in Waipukurau, and Jack Bennett – he had a farm out of Waipukurau. And the three of us got together on the second day. We’d been off the first day and we wanted to go off again, because Jack was rather keen to see a chap who blew a flute and had a snake that came out of a basket. And Nigel Cotching, who was a friend of my brother Dudley – an Englishman – he actually knew it but he didn’t do anything about it. But three of us went off the ship down this long rope, which was a helluva height off the water. And they had all these little boats came round trying to sell you things like topees, and hot country clothing. And we went in a boat to one of these boats and I think we gave them a total of five akas which wasn’t very much. Akas is a funny word. And he dropped us off on the shore and it turned out to be a Royal Air Force high protection area. They had guards all around it because they had spare parts for aeroplanes and things.
Anyway we walked ashore and an officer came down and said “where the hell did you chaps come from?” We pointed to the ship. And anyway we got into town and the first thing we wanted to do was to see a chap – a snake charmer who blew a flute and the snake came out of the basket. And we’d arranged a price of ten akas for him to do it, and oh, it went on for about ten minutes – the snake came out of the basket which was about this big. And then we went to pay him and he said “oh no – twenty akas”. So Jack, who was a very good footballer and place kicker, he put his boot into the basket and … went the snake complete in the basket over a wall which was about eight feet high. And of course the Indian began to do his scone. Well, we evacuated the place very quickly.
So you didn’t pay anything?
Not a cent. And then the next day, that’s right, we got ashore, but oh – we’d got off the ship but we had to get back into it, but we didn’t have the right coloured meal ticket. So we went to town and the ship was very near the town, and I remember the hotel there that had a great big elephant in the entrance to the hotel – it was a very good hotel, forgotten the name of it. And then we got to the gangway going up and we thought ‘by God – it’s going to be tricky, because we’re going to go on the mat for going out for the second time’. And we watched the nurses coming aboard – they brought a lot of fruit and … they brought topees and so on, and we got three nurses that were carrying quite a lot of stuff. So they walked up without carrying anything and we carried the goods aboard the ship. And the bloke at the entrance to the ship said “oh, go ahead you blokes – don’t hold up the gang”, which is just what we wanted him to say. [Chuckle]
So that was our trip in Colombo. So a day and a half out of Colombo the Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and then a day or two later on they dropped another bomb on Nagasaki, which later on we were to go to. And we had six months in Egypt and six months in Japan.
Bruno: Didn’t you stay in Florence?
Mason: Yeah, we were in Italy. We were in Mardi camp for about six weeks. Then we were transporting Italian prisoners – hundreds of them – to Alexandria on the Mediterranean and they called for drivers for trucks. And again, the Army wanted to teach us to drive trucks their way. So I couldn’t drive, ’cause I’d got a job driving, which was rather fun. And we were transporting prisoners of war from Mardi Camp in Egypt, which is about sixteen miles out of Cairo, which had thousands of troops in during the War. And we had Bedford trucks.
And before that they used the trucks quite a lot for transporting national patriotic goods from New Zealand into Mardi Camp. They had these little squares that were sown up in bags with you know, chocolates, coffee and things we couldn’t buy readily. And the Arabs always tried to follow the last truck up and put a bloke on the bonnet. And this is going to hurt if I tell you the whole story, but I will.
They would put somebody on the bonnet and they’d come up to the last truck in the convoy, if there were five or six trucks – climb aboard and throw the parcels out. Well the driver couldn’t see, because it was right behind … and they – I believe it’s true, although I never actually saw it – but I drove a truck once or twice down there, and later on I was taking Italians to Alexandria and one of my friends dozed off – he’d drunk too much the night before. And he had about twenty people in the back of the truck, and he went to sleep. And he was tootling across the desert in the truck with all the Italians screaming their heads off. [Chuckle]
But to get back to the national patriotic goods – the people in the workshop thought they’d cure these blokes, and they sharpened up bayonets like a knife, and as the fingers came over the tailboard, they chopped them off. I mean it was pretty … but they didn’t chop many off ’cause they soon let go, and the message got around.
And then after quite a while in Mardi Camp we went to Florence, in a ship, to Bari first, in the southern part of Italy, and then up the coast in cattle wagons and then inland to Florence. When we got to Bari there were two blokes, they were very nice people, one was called Brodie and the other was called – forgotten his name – but they hadn’t ridden a horse for a long time. But they went for a walk from the military camp just along the public road, and they found a horse and they both hopped on the horse – it was a draught horse. And they went along the road further than the camp and they sold it to another Italian, and they got quite a lot of money. And they got very drunk. And I can see them now in the mess queue, which was quite a long queue – there were several hundred of us waiting to be fed, and these chaps went to sleep while they were waiting for the queue to … We covered them up with their notes that they had. Now in Italy they had Government money printed, and the 500 lira one or whatever, was a big one. And we had these fellows covered up with all these notes, made from the sale of a draught horse.
And anyway, we were in the train going up the coast, up the east coast, and we stopped at some little place in the middle of the night and went out and got a cup of tea, and we were in cattle wagons, and unfortunately the door didn’t shut and I’d slept near the door. But when I went back to the train my kitbag was stolen, because it was near the door. And it’s very difficult in the Army if you have anything stolen, because there were so many people hocking off things in Italy to make money. But anyway I got over that, and I got accepted and they believed me in the end. And a lot of friends lent me clothes.
I had six months in Italy and then we went to Japan. Landed at – very near Hiroshima. And then we went down to a place called Yamaguchi on the southern part, having gone through the area where the atomic bomb had blown up Hiroshima, and a day and a half later they …
So you were actually in the area where the bomb had blown up?
Yeah. The first thing they did was build a railway line, but there was nothing standing. I’ve got photographs here of – God knows where they are. It was flattened – I mean all the trees and everything, it was just desolate.
But obviously there wasn’t any fear of the danger of radioactivity then if you were there?
No, evidently not.
And it hasn’t worried you?
Bruno: So what were you doing in Japan, because you stayed there for about six months didn’t you?
Mason: Yeah we did. We had a battalion interpreter called Alan Kentwell who was an Australian, and he was a good friend of mine, and he used to interpret for us, because his mother was a Canadian and his father was an Australian. And I went and stayed with them at Toowoomba in Queensland after the War. And he was a chap in his … he was teaching Japanese at the University in Sydney and he was a very good friend. And we used to go round with him in a Jeep or walking with him as an interpreter – he’d gone to school in Japan before the War. He would come with us and we’d go with a policeman – I was a sergeant then – and we went round and we had to make details of any armaments that were made in Japan. One of the things we had to do was inspect the brothels with the doctor, another good friend of mine, who was a house surgeon I think, in Auckland. I’ve forgotten his name … he and Alan Kentwell, the interpreter. And we’d go round and line up the head person of the brothels. A place the size of Havelock would have about twenty brothels in it. Do you want me to go on and tell you what contraceptives they used?
Well – it was terrible, it was shocking, it was ghastly, but the contraceptives the prostitutes relied on was having gonorrhoea, which is a horrible venereal disease. And we had a very nice Brigadier from Nelson, a very fine man, and he posted on our routine orders which every soldier had to read every day, that anyone would be unwise to go to bed with any … in any brothel because of that. And what happens is the gonorrhoea closes up the fallopian tubes of the ladies which … they can’t conceive then. It’s a horrible story.
Bruno: One of the repercussions was that they would notify their wives at home if they were found out, so … as an extra deterrent.
It’s only if you’re in that situation at War in another country you become aware of these things, otherwise you’d never hear about them would you?
And so you spent six months in Japan and came back to New Zealand and were out of the Army at that stage I’d imagine. So what did you do – had you married before you went to War?
Mason: No, no – sometime after it.
So you came back and …
I think I went up and got a job working for a very nice fellow called Cecil Averill on Whanakino Station on the way to Kereru.
Was that Ted Averill’s father or ..?
Bruno: It was Hanson’s father wasn’t it – Cecil?
Mason: No, Hanson’s father was Roger Averill, and he farmed the cottage at Maraekakaho.
Bruno: So who was Cecil’s father?
Mason: It was a man called Smith, and his son went to the Air Force and never came back. So Cecil Averill – there were three Averill brothers, there was one at the cottage at Maraekakaho, there’s one on the farm called Etchells which he owned near Kereru, and then Cecil Averill who I worked for was looking after Whanakino for a man called Smith, I’ve forgotten which one. And I worked on several places for a year, and I would tell them that – you know I’m not going to stay there, but I’ll do about a year. And I did that on two or three places before I touched the State Advances Corporation for a loan and bought the farm from my father.
So that would have been in the late ’40s would it? And so then the excitement and the work started.
Yeah but I did … before I did that I had a stint in Australia for a few months. And I went over there and I had a letter of introduction to a fellow who had the biggest merino stud in the world, called G B S Falkiner. And he had a station five hundred miles west of Sydney called Haddon Rig, about seventy or eighty miles out of a town called Warren. Now he was a friend of my father’s and his sister married a fellow called Eric Nelson, who lived at a place called Paratai, on the side of Lawn Road. Her name was Enid and she gave me a letter to her brother George Falkiner, and I got to Sydney and he had an office in MacLeay Street in Sydney. And I went up there and there were two or three Englishmen all dolled to the hilt with top hats and spats and the whole works. And these pommies used to come down and try and get a job on Hatton Rig, George’s farm.
Just thinking, you know, because Michael Nelson who was the son …
He was painting in Sydney wasn’t he?
Yes, and he spent those last years I think in Melbourne.
They had a daughter who had trouble.
Yes, that’s right.
Ann wasn’t it?
That’s right, yes. And yet Eric was a very careful man.
He was a good farmer.
He was. But he was very careful. Good working for people like that.
Bruno: But you can – go on, ‘cause you worked for George.
Mason: No I didn’t work for George, not then. I went in there and he said “what are you doing tonight?” This is in 1948 – they were introducing the Holden motor car. And they had a great big room with stuffed kangaroos and whole lot of animals in pots and people by invitation only. And George said “hop in my chauffeur driven car”. And I got into this Buick and on every door knob it had ‘GBSF’ in gold. In the Buick, great big car.
I was having a bit of a splurge and staying in an expensive hotel, and I stayed at the Wentworth for two nights. And George said he was going out, and would I get dolled up and go back to the office with the chauffeur. And he would come to MacLeay Street in Sydney where they were showing. They had a big room and they had a doorman there. We got there and the doorman said to George Falkiner, “can I see your invitation please sir?” It was only by invitation. And George said “I left the … thing on my desk”. That was the joke. [Chuckle] And the bloke took a step back, and he said “you wouldn’t be interested in buying any of these cars would you?” “No”, George said “not at all. I’ve bought eight for my managers on every farm. New ones.” A truck or something. So he hopped in and I wasn’t far behind him. And then we looked at these things, and then he took me to a night club called MacLeay Reaches in MacLeay Street in Sydney. How well do you know Sydney?
I knew Sydney quite well – I don’t remember that one though.
Well George lived at the top of a large building with flats on, and he had a big flat on the top and it got a design award after the War for architecture – it was called MacLeay Reaches in MacLeay Street. But this was a big building and he had a – and Enid Nelson had a flat there too, and she lent me … I was able to stay there for a week or so and have a look round Sydney.
And then eventually after shooting kangaroos, breaking in horses, doing odd farm work on a number of farms for a year or so, when I came, George Falkiner said “if you’d like to go up to Hatton Rig come and see me when you come back”. So I did and I hopped on a train and went out to Warren, five hundred miles west of Sydney, and was met by his manager in a Jeep, and he took me out to the farm. Beautiful farm. The biggest merinos probably in the world.
Bruno: It was a Merino Stud wasn’t it?
Mason: Oh yes – yeah it was – huge. And they never used to sell any ewes in case somebody pinched the blood. And they used to knock them on the head – a bloke with a pickaxe, and they dug a big hole – he was so accurate he just kept them running through – and they killed them all after four or five hundred. But you can understand why he didn’t want the blood to get out. They were big sheep, and I worked in the yards. And when I woke up the first morning they had a brand new American Jeep with a rifle and a shotgun in it for me, and I’d never fired a gun or rifle but … I went all over the farm – it was huge. But I was there for a few days.
Bruno: Anyway, you came – how long after that did you come home? You went opal mining for wee bit didn’t you?
Mason: Oh yes, I did a bit of opal mining, horse breaking. I went to one place in Queensland and I said “look I only want a job for a month or two”, ‘cause I was thinking about coming home. And they gave me a lasso. Well, I’d never thrown a lasso. Well actually, that’s a lie – I had a dentist friend who used to charge around on a motorbike on my back lawn, called Bob Boot, and I tried to lasso many times. And anyway, I was given a lasso, and we had some Aboriginal chaps there and one of them was quite a bright fellow. And anyway I threw the lasso at a black mare, and it was a hopeless throw, it was far too low, but the mare put her head down and ran clean into it. And these chaps hopped off the rail that – they were watching the Kiwi who’d never … didn’t know how to throw a lasso – up to the posts in the middle, they let all the other horses out and left me there. They said “are you ready?” And I said “what for?” And they said “you’re going to ride the … thing aren’t you?” I said “oh yes, of course”. [Chuckle] And they plonked a saddle on it and a bridle, and I got on it and it bucked and bucked and bucked, but I hung on. But it blew itself up when they did the girth up, and eventually I hit the ground, over the horses head because – you won’t believe this – the saddle went clean over his head and dumped me on the ground. And it was the Englishman’s – the owner’s wife was English and it was just an ordinary hunting saddle. And you know, I heard afterwards that you can refuse any saddle – if you ride on the Station and you borrow one – and if you don’t like the look of it. Well they had a saddle called a Schneider Poley made in Queensland, and Wieneke – those were two names, and they had big pads. And you know, once you get on them you could ride much better a bucking horse.
But – this is an extraordinary story and you won’t believe it, but it’s true – after a day or two I broke this mare in. And I was told I had to go and see a drover who had three hundred cattle he was bringing, and I looked at the map and I didn’t know where the hell I was half the time, but luckily I found the drover and found the cattle. But when I got back there was a – I had a watch on – and the horse bucked and bucked and bucked, and we crashed through the gidgee and the mulga – that’s the low bush in Australia, like manuka here only different. And when I got back I suddenly looked at my wrist, and no watch. And we had a black tracker there, I think his name was Joe or Bill, and I said to him the next day “would you mind going and seeing if you could found my watch?” I never thought he would. And he said “yeah – give me half a crown” – two and sixpence. So I gave him half a crown and he was away for hours and d’you know, he came back with my watch. It was a watch that my godmother, Mrs Wild from Mokopeka … and it was an English – I think it was called a Worthington watch, or some name like that. Anyway he found the watch, can you believe it? And I was so pleased I gave him another half crown, that was – and he was ‘rapt. I think I might have overpaid him.
So then you eventually came back to New Zealand Mason, back to the farm.
Yeah. I raised a loan through the State Advances Corporation.
Was it fully stocked – the farm, when you bought it?
No. I think I borrowed some money from W&K as well, for the stock, ‘cause they were selling me the stock anyway.
So at some stage or other you met your wife – where did you meet her?
Well, no she was teaching at Woodford – she was the Games Mistress there. And I met her at a dance at the Aero Club. And she had a little round Morris car, it had a puncture and I changed the wheel for her.
That was Bridge Pa Aero Club?
Bruno: Well Barbara came out from Leicester. She was born the same year at Mason. Barbara Garner, and she decided that after the War she’d get out of England. I think London wasn’t looking too flash, and she had a choice between Canada and New Zealand, and New Zealand won the option. And I think … she was good friends with Barbara Anderson who was the writer … and Barbara was down in Hawke’s Bay – was she? Anyway, Barbara Garner came to Hawke’s Bay and started teaching at Woodford as the Games Mistress, or teaching Phys Ed there.
Mason: She was a good horsewoman and a good skier and good tennis player. And we used to go skiing occasionally at Ruapehu.
I don’t know, I’m a bit one track minded about the Australian trip – I eventually came home, and I’d done quite a lot of jobs there.
Bruno: You’re home now. Why don’t you stick with talking about getting home?
Bruno: ‘Cause you built a hut in the Hut Paddock didn’t you?
Mason: Yeah. I built a tent first.
Bruno: Well you had a tent first.
Mason: Kept blowing down, up there, on the ridge up there. I had a tent there, and old Ron Farley used to come and see me in a Jaguar car and there was just a rough track up there, and I had a motorbike in those days – an Army engine I bought from Shannon or somewhere between Palmerston and Wellington where they had an Army Store – was it Levin? Anyway I bought a motorbike for $50, and I went to Massey University for a bit and I enjoyed that and I used to come home on the weekend. And the motorbike had on the tank “Do not exceed seventy miles an hour”. It was a good Army motorbike, it was almost brand new. And going down the Te Aute Hill one night when it was pouring with rain, I got to the bottom and … something in front of me, a vision went across which was a man in a black coat, right in front of me. He couldn’t walk properly, and I missed him by that much. I was doing about eighty miles an hour, though I was only meant to do seventy. And I used to come home on Friday and go home on Sunday night. I enjoyed the motorbike.
But the story about the motorbike was I had it up, when I had a hut, and the local rabbiter who’d been fighting in the War in Africa – I saw him on my motorbike when I was coming back from town. And he was pushing it. And he’d pinched it from my hut – oh, well outside my hut. And he stole it, and he was pushing it and I said “well you can push it all the way back up the hill”. He was rather a character this bloke, and I said “you can have it for £100”. Next morning he arrived at some godforsaken hour, about six o’clock with £100 and he took the motorbike.
You mention Ralph Lowry, was he Robin’s father?
Yes. Robin. Oraka, no wait a minute …
Well they had Ngamahanga, they had Woodthorpe.
That’s right. And Omahaki. Ralph had Omahaki where my nephew Mark worked. Sorry – I got carried away a bit about Australia.
Bruno: No, we’re back in New Zealand now. Anyway, you married – so you married in about 1949 I think, or somewhere round there.
Bruno: Then you moved out of the hut that you had up there.
Mason: I had a hut about 20 feet by 12, with my saddlery and a chaff and everything, wasn’t much room for me. Oh, yeah and I got a very modern thing – I got the electricity in the hut because it was near the wires. But oh, it was a hell of a place – it used to blow like hell.
It’s unusual to put a hut up on the ridge though wasn’t it?
Bruno: Well – it was not – it was on that plateau just up there.
I can see the one you mean. It must whistle through the valley, the wind.
Yeah, well it does.
Where you are here now, you’re tucked right in aren’t you?
Mason: I can tell you a lot more stories about Australia.
Bruno: I think you should stick on New Zealand because this is more …
Bruno: More your life. We’re up to 1949.
And so who designed your home for you?
Mason: This one? Merrick Phillips. He worked for Davies, Phillips and Chaplin. And Davies had a son who was a very good friend of mine. And Eric Phillips used to love coming out to catch trout. And d’you know, I don’t think – but I can’t remember – but I don’t think he charged me a cent for the plans. He used to love this site, and … a very nice house.
And you know, nice homes like this don’t date do they?
Bruno: No, well the hallway – I mean that’s a little bit …
Well yes, but I mean that’s only an access way, isn’t it?
Mason: It’s got two bathrooms and four bedrooms. And this is a nice room, and then there’s a little, smaller dining room there which I use most of the time.
Bruno: Well you added onto it a couple of times, because originally it was very small wasn’t it?
Mason: I think we did that terrace.
Bruno: Mmm. And you did the end room down there, remember?
Mason: Yeah I think I did, yeah. I’d forgotten. Who did the building?
Bruno: Was it Bob Anderson?
Mason: No. Was Mackersey a builder?
Bruno: Yeah, but Mackersey did the addition.
Mason: He did that bit there.
Bruno: Shall I get you a whisky, will it help lubricate? Would you like one?
I’d love one thank you.
How do you have it?
Mason: Brian, I haven’t got any whisky.
Bruno: Oh, haven’t you got any whisky?
Mason: No, I haven’t got any. But we don’t mind if you go home and get one.
Bruno: Okay, I’ll shoot back and grab one.
So where does Bruno live?
Mason: He lives in – up the road, got a nice house there with a lot of native trees. His lady Rosanna has … we’ve all separated from our wives.
But I could tell you more stories about Australia but … somebody getting a bit down, and a bit – you don’t want repeated.
But yeah, I’ve had a good life, but I had to work very hard out here and Brian works like a beaver – really, he’s a very good worker.
But you’ve worked a lot for the community too haven’t you – Havelock?
Oh, yes, well I’m Chairman of Hawke’s Bay Forests. For a while I was Chairman of Te Mata Park for quite a number of years. Brian is now Chairman of Te Mata Park, and I can still take a lesson in business I suppose.
I’ve got a lot of things here. Did I give you any more papers?
No, just that one, you just gave me that one.
Look – this is all of the Mokopeka power scheme which unfortunately I … you take these.
Okay we can copy them but we return them.
Just have a quick look through and take out anything you don’t want.
Yes. I’ve had a good look round Mokopeka Power Station. I’d like to copy them because they are historical.
But you know I tried to save that thing but George Kerr who owns it in Sydney wasn’t interested.
Bruno: When you took it over.
Mason: Well the Upper Kaiwaka went from the Douglas Fir plantation which used to be there, down the road up to the Ortons’.
Bruno: So it was largely in just a few paddocks.
Mason: Wait a minute, the Upper Kaiwaka …
Bruno: The Lower Kaiwaka.
Mason: Then I call that the Old Yards. Do you still call it the Old Yards?
Mason: And then I was in the Hut Paddock and then I had the Gully, which were fenced. Well that did that side of the road. The Large Ads and the Little Ads. I don’t think we had Little Ads did we?
Bruno: No – well probably …
Mason: Well that skull was found in there – a complete skull with teeth, hidden in the limestone there.
Now you finished by talking about your late wife being a very good sportswoman, how you used to go skiing …
She was a very good horsewoman too. Very good tennis player, she was very wonderful woman really.
Bruno: In 1961 though, you separated and she went to live in Auckland and you stayed down here. When did you marry Philippa?
Mason: Oh much later.
Bruno: Probably about four or five years later.
Mason: It was.
Bruno: So Mason had three children to his first marriage.
Yes, so that was you ..?
And my older sister Anne and younger sister Merilyn.
And are they still in Havelock North?
Anne’s got horses just down the road here on a bit of land there; Merilyn lives in Auckland.
Bruno: Yeah, Helensville sorry, north of Auckland. But subsequently Mason married Philippa Chambers and had two more children, Jackie and Fiona, and they are both living in Hawke’s Bay.
So you started farming initially with Angus, and then you moved to Romneys, and then you moved to Perendales, didn’t you?
Mason: Yes, that’s probably about right.
Bruno: And you had a Perendale Stud here for a number of years.
Mason: Yeah, I didn’t do enough towards the stud – it was too time consuming.
So when you bought the Station in the early ’50s you would have picked up the big wool prices and those things to help?
The big wool … 1951 wasn’t it?
Yes, were you farming this at that stage?
I don’t think I got the very high prices. I think there was a strike on the wharf or something and I think the people that …[Speaking together]
Bruno: Waterfront strike.
Mason: … sold their wool and got it on a ship, they got paid and the others missed out. Well, I was with the ones that missed out.
Bruno: Nonetheless, the prices were pretty good for a few years after that.
Mason: Dudley, I remember he got his wool in … he got a lot more than I did for his wool. 1951 …
Bruno: £ a pound.
Mason: … my father went to England where he bought a Mark VII Jaguar for his wife and a Mark V for himself, and they were beautiful cars and they still are beautiful cars. But you know, lucky fellow.
So when you farmed this, did you have shepherds, staff on the farm to help you run it or did you run it on your own?
No I had a man here a lot of the time. No, it’s funny how one’s memory … I’ve told you a lot of things I hadn’t thought about for years.
That’s what I said, once you start talking it livens your memory up.
Yeah it does a bit. Well I’m not very good.
So, then you married Philippa and had two more children, they are living in Auckland or Helensville?
Bruno: No, Philippa’s two children live in Hawke’s Bay.
Her name was Philippa Chambers.
Mason: Her mother was married to Ian Gordon at Haupori … Haupori Station. There was Ian Gordon and Michael Gordon.
Yes, I know Michael. We’ve recently interviewed Michael and he’s got a lot of history of their family.
Is he alright up there?
Yes, I’ve known Michael for probably thirty, forty years.
He was doing something for the Courthouse.
Well he was the Clerk of the Napier Court. And you know, everyone has a niche in life and he found it when he went to the Court.
What was his wife’s maiden name?
[To Bruno] So anyway, coming back to your life. You went, I would imagine to Hereworth?
Bruno: No I didn’t. I went to live in Auckland with my mother as did my two sisters and we went to school up there until – well they had all their schooling in Auckland. And we started off at Stanley Bay Primary, and then I went to St Kentigern’s and they went to St Cuthbert’s, and subsequently I went to Wanganui Collegiate for four years. And then I raced back to have one last year of fun and games in Northcote Co-ed High School, which was far more fun than Wanganui was.
So when you left high school what did you do? Did you go to University?
I went initially to Massey for a year and then I went back to Auckland. And then I decided that after three years at University my University career was not going to be going down in highlights, so I decided to go overseas and travel over there for nearly four years.
I worked in Australia for most of a year, or nearly a year. I was fencing and building a deer farm … setting up a deer farm for a woman over in Victoria. I cut all the posts on site with a chain saw.
Gum trees? Goodness me.
So I’d walk around looking up at these gum trees for straight lengths of gum, ‘cause they’re not very straight – they were sort of like Murray River red gums, but you’d find … pop up a tree and then chop a limb off, or half a branch and then get a straight section of three or four metres and then I’d quarter it, or sometimes I’d put it into six or eight bits depending on the thickness.
Mason: How many wires in the fence?
Bruno: Oh I used a chain mesh at the bottom and then a just an ordinary …
Mason: How long were you working for that woman?
Bruno: Oh, six months.
Mason: And what were the deer?
Bruno: Well I never waited for the deer to come. I took off after I’d done the fencing and got the …
Mason: You worked very hard there.
Bruno: I think I’m still deaf from working there, I spent a lot of time on the chainsaw. But it was fun.
So after the four years you came back to New Zealand. Did you come back to the farm here?
Yeah pretty much. I mean I’d done a bit of work on the farm prior to going overseas. I used to … I sort of ran a hay gang for Gus Hyslop up at – Gus and Joanne when they were living up at Crownthorpe, and so I’d done quite a lot of practical work without having ever had the stock side too much indoctrinated into me. So I probably never considered myself particularly useful at stock farming. And subsequently in about 1986 I started – well I put in avocados to begin with, and they got completely decimated by the possums which were … possums love avocados. And at that time the possum population round here was extreme. The lines were coming down off the cliffs there – you could see them all leading to the avocado grove. And I put electric fences round but they still seemed to get through. So I gave up on them and moved into – I had a few Nashi to begin with, then I just thought to hell with these extraneous adventures, let’s just stick with apples and pears. And so I put in orchard of apples and pears, which about five years ago I pulled out, just prior to the price sort of picking up and everything going well for it. I pulled out about 8,000 trees.
Mason: Well that’s a lot.
That’s quite a big orchard.
Bruno: Yeah – not by today’s standard. So now I’m – and I’ve still got a few pear trees but I’m going to pull them out at the end of this season. It’s just not really worth it. I should be planted more stuff on the flats, but at this stage in life I think may be its easier to …
Send animals out to do the harvesting of the grass and put them on a truck and …
I mean – have I got the energy to start another venture I don’t know.
Mason: Have you got the irrigator going now?
Mason: What – we had 15 mm last night?
Bruno: Probably nearer 18 now.
Mason: We’ve had damned all today though.
It’ll only just settle the dust. It’s too early, we don’t want rain until autumn rains are close, ’cause all the seed strikes and dies again the first …
Bruno: Yeah. I mean it helps the stuff we’ve been irrigating, it helps the crops we’ve got in.
So what other crops do you grow on?
I’m just planting chicory and plantain and kale and stuff, sort of fodder crops. Yeah – I should be planting higher value stuff.
Well it depends what you’re comfortable with. You know, higher value crops sometimes need more input don’t they?
Well they do – got to be honest.
You’re better to take your profit at a level where – least input.
Yeah – I mean I’m quite comfortable – I’ve grown a lot of squash and so on over the years – well, previously. Yeah, I’m reasonably OK about … I’m quite good at observation, and that’s what it comes down to. Old Confucius saying – ‘best fertiliser is boss’ footprints’.
You both have lived by the river here. Do either of you fish the river?
Mason: No. Oh I have fished it but I’ve never caught anything. I didn’t do it … I didn’t have patience. When I was fishing I was thinking of all the things I should be doing. Did you ever catch a trout?
Bruno: Yeah, I’ve caught a few in here, but it’s usually because I’ve gone out with people who know how to do it and they’ve told me where to cast. I mean there’s some great fishing down here – fantastic fishing. It’s a pity … oh I mean it’s a pity the river has declined in health, and it’s declined in flow. Whether or not that’s strictly related to the increased irrigation takes I’m not sure, but it’s definitely made a difference. And I think the intensification of farming has probably impacted as well. It would be good to have the Waipukurau and Waipawa sewerage schemes cleaned up then you could eliminate that from the contamination issues.
[Reduced sound, noise on audio] Well, over the years the water table’s been lowered to be able to farm. And of course as it goes down, of course there’s less water available in the rivers, ’cause the rivers dropped as well.
Well I think they’re finding that out now – it’s pretty commonsensical really. But I mean that’s the case all over the world. People just keep putting lower wells down. It’s easy enough to deepen the well by another fifty feet.
And of course – I think in Australia, over allocation has run a lot of farms out of water there too.
Well the whole salination issue too, you know – they’ve over-irrigated and the salination of the cropping areas is quite serious. I mean – memories are short when it comes to weather. And you can look back at the rainfall records of say John Chambers – and he kept very accurate records for both Te Mata and Mokopeka. And you know – we’ve got those records from early … or late 1900s through to 1930. And boy – some of the years they had in that time were just as bad if not worse than anything I’ve experienced – down to 400mm a year or less, and … whereas we’re – you know – I don’t think I’ve had anything under about 600.
People used to talk about the dry summers, but we had dry summers every year, and we get wet winters followed by the most terrible dry summers. But yeah, it’s part of life I guess.
I would say the one thing that’s been different in the last ten years is we haven’t had a really wet winter. Really wet. And remember the years … we haven’t had the winters where, remember the years when you had to buy that little Ford tractor just to be able to feed out hay – you know, you just got stuck. Everything was absolutely sodden and that’s part of the problem, the ground water. I saw a spring – you know the spring at the top of the … I rode round the farm yesterday and had a good look ’cause I hadn’t been out there for a couple of weeks, and out the back … and the spring at the top of the hill …
Mason: Up here?
Bruno: At the top of Tikahika. Right up near the … down from the [?] tree – is completely dried up. And I’ve never ever seen that dry.
Mason: No, neither have I.
Bruno: I’ve never seen it dry, and it’s … just dry as a bone.
Mason: That’s in the Tikahika?
Bruno: The headwaters of the Tikahika.
Mason: Better go up and have a look at it one day in the tractor if you’re going up there.
Well you know the trouble they’re having in Havelock with the water down Brookvale Road – our farm was right across the road … bounded that, and then my uncle’s farm was either side of the wells, and the Mangateretere Stream used to wander down through our farm and when all the drainage was done [reduced sound, noises on audio] and when those wells were put in the Mangateretere Stream dropped. And of course when something goes down it opens up access for other things to happen.
Bruno: It is amazing they didn’t – I mean I think the chickens are coming home to roost.
I think that at the moment we’ve got a lot of infighting. The management once, as the Catchment Board – they had much better feeling for the environment.
Yeah. Well there’s very few of them – I mean … I’m not being categorical because there are a few that are quite good. But I completely agree with you, there’s a separation – ten degrees of separation between what’s common sense and common knowledge. And that’s you know – people who have lived on the land. And, I mean the staff who run the … and they come out with their shiny faces straight out of university and – they know it. But they really don’t. And there’s a complete – yeah – separation between the environment and …
And of course there are other people in the community have what’s known as experience. They’ve lived the changes.
Mason: Yeah. Plenty of them.
So coming back to … Bruno took over the farm, or started running the farm – did you retire, or have you never retired?
Mason: Oh, I retired. Did I retire? Suppose I did.
Bruno: We just phased you out gently. [Chuckle]
Phasing out, yes that’s a good word.
Yeah, he likes to stick his … you know … keep his head in – I mean the trees have grown up a bit much now and he can’t really see what’s going on round the place, so … He’s still got his Fergie Tractor which he … What about your Fergie? How long ago did you buy that Fergie?
Mason: 1950. I bought one in 1948 and – 18 horsepower, and then I bought this one which is 24 horsepower. It was brand new, I had it completely overhauled.
Mason: Oh no, that was a Maori fellow. A Maori Chief from Gisborne.
Bruno: No, sorry – where did you buy your Fergie then?
Mason: From Cyril Barclay.
Bruno: In Hastings. Well that had been done up like a brand new Fergie.
And it’s still going strong.
And it’s been completely repainted, it’s got all new stickers and …
Mason: Completely overhauled.
Bruno: And so Mason comes to visit us now – he’s not allowed to drive but he does drive the Fergie up to our place.
Mason: I’m not allowed to drive a car because I’ve lost the sight of this eye. I’ve got a Skoda that’s done 26,000.
Is it recoverable?
I don’t know.
Bruno: No, I think there’s a few other things missing too.
Mason: Well, nobody’s tested my reflexes. [Chuckle]
Bruno: Well – they wouldn’t want to.
Yes, so – well that’s interesting. Since your retirement you said you’ve had some management jobs. Have you still continued any of your management jobs or have you passed some of them over?
Bruno: He was Chairman of Te Mata Park for twenty plus years. He was Chairman of Hawke’s Bay Forest for a large number of years before that. He supervised – this is going back a bit – Mohakatino on the West Coast, and had a bit to do with Mangaohane when his father was away. Mangaohane, the big sheep station in the middle of … and no, you’ve abandoned all responsibility at this stage, you’re just back to …
Mason: I was looking after two properties on the West Coast, near Mokau. Mohakatino and Mangatoi. Yeah, well I’ll tell you a story about whitebait. There was a ranger happened to be going up the Mokau River – no, he walked up the Mokau River – and saw a rope hanging from a tree and he thought ‘oh well, it’ll be somebody starting the whitebait season before its due and he hauled on the rope and it was a case of Vat ’69 whisky.
Oh, you’re joking! Chilling in the river.
Bruno: No, I think it was a prohibition area.
Mason: And my father was the director of that place out at Pakipaki, Plix Products. And he was over there and I was over supervising Mohakatino and Mangatoi when he went to England for a bit. And he was up at Mohakatino Farm and he didn’t like the lavatory seat. And being a member of Plix Products the next time he went up there he brought them a brand new plastic seat, with a lid, the whole works. After that when he went back and thought to himself ‘thank God I’ll have a clean loo’. He walked into the house … in the living room this Maori fellow had it with a picture of his great grandmother on the wall. [Chuckle] And he had a circle in the ceiling to hold the lid up.
That’s a great story. [Chuckle]
Bruno: I’ve got to go, we’ve got people for dinner. Nice to meet you Frank.
All I was just going to say, Mason, is thank you for the interview.
Mason: Oh, that’s all right.
And if there’s anything else I need to …
Mason: Oh yes – come back.
… I can come back and we can do an addendum.
Mason: You can take any of those papers you want, take the whole lot.
We copy them and return them all.
Mason: I’m glad you were here Brian.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).
Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Mason Robert Chambers
- Brian Chambers