Clifton Station – Angus Gordon
Jim Watt: Well, it’s my special privilege to welcome Angus Gordon here this morning; Angus is a … fourth generation Hawke’s Bay person?
Jim: Fifth – yeah. And I was just saying to him as I came in that he’s one of my local heroes because he’s not only a resident of Hawke’s Bay of several generations standing, but he’s also taken time out to tell his story. And he may be bashful about promoting this, although I suspect he isn’t, [chuckles] but I will put that word in for it, because it is a special story about the Cape and Clifton Station and the Gordon family. Angus, we’re privileged to have you this morning; looking forward to hearing you.
Angus: Thank you, Jim. Good morning, everyone – welcome. I use different things every time I start but I’ll just talk about the book a bit I think this time, to start with, because technically I’m not a historian; I never was a historian. I’ve always considered myself to be a writer … wanted to be a novelist actually, or whatever … short story writer, which I used to do when I was young. But of course my family used to go on to me the whole time, because I was a writer, interested in writing, I had to write the family history. And I couldn’t think of anything I would’ve liked to’ve done less than write the family history; [couldn’t think of] anything more boring; when you’re younger you just don’t consider that’s important.
But I have a very aged old uncle called Lindsay Gordon – I don’t know if some of you might’ve heard of Lindsay Gordon – he was a bit of a character, who lived to a hundred and two years old. And his sister lived to ninety-eight, and they lived at Farnham House in Clive. And he was the repository of all the so-called family history, so I was sent along to him to get it all written down before he died. This was when he was about in his … I suppose in his nineties, I suppose … or might’ve been earlier; might’ve been his mid-eighties. When I went to see him I suppose I was eighteen, nineteen, so he seemed very old at the time. The trouble was when I went to get the history from Lindsay, the two of them would be there, because Eileen would be there as well. And he would tell the stories but as he remembered them; then she would say, “No, it wasn’t quite like that, Johnny dear”, [chuckles] and so they would then start arguing. [Chuckles] And so I was busy writing down this fact, and the next thing I was being told it wasn’t quite right. So it got a bit confusing, and all of this was hearsay that’d just been handed down through the family, and a lot of it as you know with these family histories, tends to get embellished quite a lot. So it got more and more confusing; but I wrote it all down and I enjoyed my sessions with him. And as I went on with him I did enjoy it, because he’d been born … ooh, not sure when Lindsay was born, but he was born … I’ve got it all in the book, I just can’t quite remember, but in the 1880s I think, or 1870s he was born. So … no, no, wouldn’t be that old, would he? He died in 1990s; yeah, he would’ve been about the 1880s. He came from that generation, but he didn’t appear that interested in the history himself, but because he was an old man he was considered then the last one. He was considered to know, and not only the Gordon history but all the local history; the local history about Clive, ‘cause he did a lot. So I did all that, and then I put it all away in these funny little notebooks I had, and put it all away and forgot all about it; and went [on] my way and became a farmer, and did all the work, and married and had children, and it was just far too busy to do anything else.
But I got to a certain stage when I was able to lease part of my farm out. And it’s amazing – when you’ve been an active farmer you’re just … day in day out, it’s just a physical job the whole time, so all your energy’s taken up. Suddenly I leased the pastoral side of my farm out, and I had the spare time and the energy to suddenly do it. And what’d happened was, in 1989 we moved into … my parents had been in the Clifton house for forty years, and we were all born in the house, and bred in the house of course. They moved out, down to Te Awanga – to a house in Te Awanga up Gordon Road, which my grandmother had built years ago.
So we moved into the house at Clifton; and one of the first things – there’s a very big walk-in safe in Clifton – I don’t know if there’s one in this house, is there? They’d built a wonderful walk-in safe; it was in the office anyway, it was part of the office. It was brick, and it wall fire-proofed … well, I could walk right into the thing; and it’s a fire-proof door and everything, because I suppose you always worried about fires with the old wooden houses. And I went looking in there, and I found this great pile of these books which were letter books. I don’t know if any of you’ve ever seen letter books, have you? They’re amazing – I’m not still quite sure how it works, the letter books, but very, very thin rice paper; and they’re actually books, with ‘Letter Book’ on the outside. So every letter that was ever written – this is by my grandfather – he kept a record of every letter he wrote. If he sent [it] to England he kept a record in the letter book. So it was obviously … like, it was not quite a carbon copy, but it’s like that. And luckily for me, my grandfather’s writing was terribly easy to read; it was beautiful writing, very easy to read. And I started just fiddling through these things; and they went right back to the 1880s. And I got absolutely completely absorbed, because he just told the whole story of Clifton, there in the thing. Because what the story was, was that he’d come out to actually manage the farm; the family actually lived in England, in Devon. They’d moved back to Devon fairly shortly; they weren’t farmers, they were actually businessmen from India.
My great-great-grandfather, James Gordon, who was the first to come to Hawke’s Bay in 1859, he was actually a retired businessman, so he was sixty-six years old when he actually came to New Zealand for the first time. New Zealand was actually a place for young people to come and pioneer, not old people. But what had happened was that the banks had – they’d had the Indian Mutiny in India; they were living in India and he was a jute merchant in India. Both his sons were in the Indian army; they were in the cavalry and they fought in the Sikh wars, and they fought in the mutiny. Now what happened was, after the mutiny … bit like what’s happening now; things don’t change much … all the banks crashed; the Calcutta banks crashed, and everyone had all their … huge investment in India. And that investment tipped over; all the banks crashed.
And so in this particular case JG Gordon actually retired back to Scotland, and he was actually retired, living in Scotland. His sons were in the army still in India, and married. But he must’ve lost an awful lot of money, but he can’t have lost it all because at that stage New Zealand and Australia were just opening up, and if you look at the first lot of settlers that [who] first came to Hawke’s Bay, an awful lot of them were ex-Indian army officers and soldiers, and things like that. Because they went through the mutiny, and obviously it was a disturbing time; things were … you know, it wasn’t very pleasant. Then they had the crash afterwards, and a lot of soldiers got out of India after that, and a lot of people left; and the women particularly weren’t very comfortable living in India after what they’d been through. And of course, New Zealand was opening up.
So James had his own schooner that he’d actually had from … this is most amazing at his age … he had his own schooner that they’d had for trading between India and Scotland, because all the jute in those days was from Benares, which is now called Varanasi on the Ganges River, which is the most religious place in India now, of course. And he had his schooner that they used to use to take a lot of the jute back to Dundee, because Dundee was the prime place for jute in those days – a big industry in those days, where they made all the ropes and the sacking and the wool packs – everything was made out of jute. His wife had died, and he set off from Scotland and came all the way to New Zealand, with his crew obviously, because he obviously heard about the possibilities, and he obviously thought well, it’d be a great place for his sons to come and settle down, or his family.
So he came here, and that’s how he ended up at the Cape area, I think, because he sailed; he wouldn’t’ve known anything about farming at all – no idea about farming. But this coast, as you know, the whole coast from … well Pourerere of course was the first area to be settled in Hawke’s Bay, but the whole coast up to the Cape … this area was quite a dry area, so it was all natural grassland and fern, which actually looked pretty good for farming ‘cause there was no real bush ‘cause it was too dry; the hills were too dry. And then of course, sailing along that coastline from Waimārama up to the Cape ane then across to Clifton is just stunning. I mean, as you know, it’s the most stunning … So he would’ve thought, ‘Well this looks quite a nice sort of place.’ And so he was lucky enough – he was the first.
Then – because as you know, before 1855 you weren’t allowed to buy land off [from] the Māori at that stage, it had to be leased off [from] the Māori. And then the Māoris themselves went to Governor Grey; you see in Hawke’s Bay all we basically had down here in the early forties was whalers; only whalers and a few sort of rather disreputable characters. And a lot of the Māori had come back – they’d drifted back from Nūhaka and all that area to come back to Hawke’s Bay in the forties and the fifties, ‘cause as you know, they’d all moved up to Nūhaka, most of the Māori from this area. They came back, but they weren’t very happy with him; the type of white man that was sort of around the area here because they were a pretty wild, drunken lot, and a few of them would’ve been at Ahuriri. So they actually went to Governor Grey originally, and suggested that they sell the land to the government. And that’s when Donald McLean became involved. And before that happened, settlers were allowed to come to Hawke’s Bay … like the Nairns came to Hawke’s Bay, and the [?] and the Tiffens and these sort of people. They were allowed to lease big acreages of land, and you were allowed to just own eighty acres of land around your homestead. You were allowed to own that land, but the rest was leased; you weren’t allowed to buy land. And it was very confusing; there was a lot of confusion about boundaries, and about who owned what, and sheep, and … oh, it was a very confus[ing] …
So the government tidied all that up; Donald McLean came up, did a fantastic job – bought great tracts of land off [from] the Māori after negotiation. Of course the famous one you know was Te Hapuka; the Hapuka block was the big block … half a million acre block, which really goes … well, all of Waipukurau, Pourerere – all that sort of whole coastal area and back inland. So our area we’re talking about, the Kidnappers block … it was thirty thousand acres which was bought off [from] … well, the main chief in those days was Te Moananui Hawea, and his relation’s still here today – he’s the one in the wheelchair. He’s the direct line of that line. But he sold the Kidnappers block to Donald McLean.
So by the time James Gordon came to Hawke’s Bay he’d [?decided?] now was the perfect time; everyone was arriving in Hawke’s Bay; the land had been bought so that you bought the land off [from] the government, you didn’t buy it off [from] the Māori. So they had the parcels of land, and then you bought the par[cel]. ‘Cause the interesting story about the Kidnappers block is that originally, when it was in the leasing days, when the first people here were the Rhodes brothers; one of the first people that [who] actually set up Clive. The thought Clive was going to be the original capital; it’s all planned, it was all subdivided up. They applied for a million acres of land; for the whole of what they call the Kidnappers block. But it went from here … must’ve gone all the way from here virtually to Cape Turnagain, or somewhere down there – they just applied for the whole block of land. And … you won’t guess what they wanted to pay for it – £150. [Chuckles and comments] And even in those days that wasn’t very much money, and needless to say it was turned down and they lost it. So they were actually leasing the land at Clifton for example – they were leasing that whole block. They’d been leasing, just grazing sheep. They didn’t have any buildings there, there was [were] no yards, there was nothing there.
So they lost that lease, and JG Gordon bought the property – he bought thirteen thousand acres of what was called the Kidnappers block, which went from Clifton, where we are – the Maraetotara River was the boundary – and all the way to the back road where the road goes down to Ocean Beach. That was the back boundary as well, ‘cause that was always a track; in the old days the track that the Māori used and the first settlers used went down the back of where Taurapa is, and Haupouri, down to Ocean Beach – went down to the beach and along the beach to Waimarama. That was our back farm really, and then we came forward from there. And so he bought the property, and he paid £3,375 in those days which is actually quite a lot of money. The government bought the block, I think for about £2,000; that Kidnappers block, so the whole thirty thousand acres, and then they sold our block for £3,300. The other blocks – within the Kidnappers block were Clifton, and The Grange, and Tukituki, so the Tukituki River was the boundary of the Kidnappers block. So there were actually only three properties on that Tukituki side of the river; [there] was Clifton, The Grange and Tukituki.
So he bought the property for that money, and then he sailed back to India. By then his first son was married and had a child, and so they wanted to get out of the army; they were in their mid-thirties and obviously wanted to leave the army. So [the] father went and said, “Look, we’re going to move to New Zealand – how do you feel about that?” They obviously agreed. They had a house … before they came back to New Zealand they actually had the house – the first house – prefabricated out of teak, in India; they actually had it made. I don’t know if you people’ve seen the picture of the original house, but it was a very, very pretty house. Michael Fowler used to make a big issue of it – the architect – because of the fact that when they first came here it was the first house that actually had a verandah right round it. And of course it had a verandah because it was Indian; that’s what they had in India.
So they came back, but my great-grandfather didn’t come back, because he was still settling his affairs in India. But my great-great-grandfather and one of his sons came to New Zealand, and arrived at Clifton. And they anchored offshore and the whole house was … ‘cause it was all big … you know … parts; and they threw it all overboard. And he’d brought Indian army mules with him, and they dragged everything ashore. James was in charge of jumping over in the water with a pitchfork to try and fend off any sharks [chuckles] they thought might attack them – [the] Indian army mules – that’s what they were worried about. So the house was dragged ashore there, at Clifton, exactly where the present homestead is, and was built. And the only real luxury that my great-great-grandfather insisted on was … he bought a bath with him, and the bath was the only casualty; out of the whole thing the bath was the only casualty – it got kicked by a mule. [Laughter] But it didn’t break it, it apparently had a great big dent in it; so that was the only casualty. So they set up there at Clifton.
So this is the history; so Lindsay started telling me all these sort[s] of stories, and it sort of sounded a bit too good to be true; and we all thought for a start that he was inventing a lot of this stuff because it was quite … you know, it was quite dashing sort of stuff really, to be doing all this and in those days, especially when you were aged sixty-six. But it turned out to be all true, and so that got me interested as time went on.
So the family came to New Zealand, they settled here; my great-grandfather came out with his wife. They were living at Clifton, and in those days as you can imagine, there were no trees, nothing. Where Clifton was all by itself, they had to cross five rivers to get to Napier. And they were lucky they had the boat – obviously they would use the ship occasionally, but that would’ve been actually eventually anchored round at Ahuriri because they used to use the boat to pick up the wool all down the coast and all through to Wairoa … a lot of the wool was picked up when they first started.
They had an unfortunate incident when they were living there. My great-grandmother had come from the Indian mutiny, and they’d come from all that terrible time when so many women were slaughtered, particularly, and raped and all the rest of it. And they were sitting at Clifton one day on a lovely day like this, the whole family was there; and she had three children at that stage and another one on the way. And my grandfather had just been born in Napier – he was the first boy to be born in New Zealand – they could see this great cloud of dust galloping towards them across the plains … the flats … and it was this group of Hauhau Māori; because what happened was the Hauhau had just arrived in Napier and they were upsetting the equilibrium of the whole area. And they galloped up, twenty of them, and they wore full moko [facial tattoos] and the whole works, and the must’ve been terrifying. And if you’d been in India and you’d gone through all the Indian mutiny time, and suddenly here you were out here all by yourselves on a little property, these guys galloping round and round … And they galloped round and round the house, you know yahooing, and blood-curdling yells; and then they jumped off and they all came in. And they just pushed the family aside and walked into the house; just walked all round and picked everything up. And it must’ve been terrifying at the time. JG and Thomas, my great-grandfather, eventually got them out, but as they were leaving one of them said, “We will be back”; and it was a big threat. And of course Janet Gordon was heavily pregnant at the time, and it was all very stressful.
So they left … they raced off; and my great-grandfather, Thomas, was actually – they’d formed militias in Napier at the time, because as you know, it was a very tense time, all round that time. They had a militia, and he’d been commissioned because he was a cavalry officer, to form a little group of soldiers. And they used to practise – every week he’d ride into Napier, and they would practise drilling. But they didn’t have guns; they didn’t have anything – they just had wooden guns, but they were just practising. So he took off as soon as this had happened; he raced in – he knew something was on – he galloped all the way to Napier to find out what was happening. This is when they found out that the Hauhaus had moved into Ōmarunui, and were causing a lot of trouble. And Donald McLean had decided that he was going to put an end to it, so they got all the local Māori in Napier and all the rest of it, and they formed up the troops. And so Thomas then had to gallop all the way back to Clifton, get his uniform, get his sword and all the rest of it; tell his wife what he was doing – going off to war again, and she couldn’t believe it; that she’d come all the way to New Zealand to get away from all that and here he was off to war again.
He then went to Napier; the troops all set off – I think they set off overnight – they wanted to get there in the early morning. In those days as you remember, the inner harbour of Napier was all water, so Pētane and all that area were on the coast; so to get down that way you had to go right inland to Ōmarunui, and then you went over the hills all the way along the coast. His job was to go to Pētane and check, because they thought some of the Hauhau were coming in there on canoes, and they went to meet them. And the other one was Captain Fraser … better not go on about him too much, but he was at Bay View. Captain Fraser was the one that [who] actually eventually confronted a lot of the Hauhau coming in there, but the main lot of them were at Ōmarunui. When my [great]-grandfather got there [Pētane] – they rode all night in the dark to get to this place; waited; nothing happened. In the morning they could hear the guns shooting back at Ōmarunui, and so eventually they … nothing was happening at the beach, so they all galloped back. And there was this little battle – it was a very small battle; it was the only battle we had in Hawke’s Bay at Ōmarunui – and by the time he got back they’d been routed and they’d taken off. So they ran after them, and then they were called back by Donald McLean.
And one of the only casualties of the whole thing was a man who was lying on the ground when Thomas, my great-grandfather, got back after they’d been chasing them. They got back and there was this guy; and he recognised him – it was the gardener from Clifton. And the poor guy had had his jaw shot; he wasn’t too bad, but he’d had his jaw shot; and he was one of the only casualties, I think. And the poor guy said, “Well, I came to New Zealand to get away – I came to be a gardener, not a soldier.” So he wasn’t particularly impressed with his job. But he went back to Clifton, went on gardening, and Thomas looked after him for the rest of his life.
It was quite interesting, I never knew what his name was … that man, the gardener … until two years ago. Someone read my book, and one of the members of his family came to see me – it was his great-great-great grandchildren – came to see me. I just can’t remember the name of the man, but they gave me his name and they knew all about him because it was his first job in New Zealand. So that was rather nice, you know; that’s what’s been nice about the book. Since I wrote the book it’s been really nice because people come to me all the time to just answer questions for them, or they know things that I didn’t quite have the full story. So that was a nice connection, and that family now lives mainly in Australia.
So unfortunately, after all that drama, and Janet was left at Clifton, she just couldn’t handle it with all these children. She just couldn’t handle being at Clifton all by herself while he was racing off doing things, so she said she wanted to go back to Scotland. So they left; that family, the Thomas Edward Gordons, they left and went back to Scotland. But the old fellow, JG Gordon, the original one, my great-great-grandfather – he stayed. He decided he was too old to muck around; and he’d got his bath by then [chuckles] and he was quite comfortable, so he stayed at Clifton.
And this is when the Hill family … the Hills of Fernhill – they were also soldiers … Kenrick Hill was also a soldier; he was a friend of Thomas Edward. He had been in the army in India as well – another Indian army man; there were an awful lot of them in Napier originally. He came out and managed Clifton for the family. That’s how the Hill connection goes on, and I could go on all about that; but Hastings is about the ‘twelve apostles’ and all that stuff, but I won’t talk about that today because that’s another story. But the Hill family were very closely involved with our family, and he managed Clifton for about fifteen years or so, until my grandfather was old enough and he came back to New Zealand to take over the farm; as a cadet first of all under Kenrick Hill, and then he ran it. In the meantime, the Gordons had bought Fernhill and they went into partnership at Fernhill, and that’s how the Hills eventually ended up in that area, because they bought the Gordons out of Fernhill. But that’s a long story.
So all this history … Lindsay didn’t really know all this, but it was in, from there on, these books that my grandfather … these letter books; for fifty years there was this detailed description. ‘Cause the family were living back in England and my grandfather was here and managing the farm for the family, he had to send back detailed reports to the family, so he wrote these letter books, and they’re the most … you know; they’re very thick, they’re about that thick, and this very fine, fine paper; he wrote this detail. So I started reading these things, and I suddenly realised then that maybe one day if I had time and the energy, I would write the history, because suddenly I had a lot of valuable material. Because up to then I’d said to the family … well they were quite a quiet family, the original Gordons; they didn’t mix around a lot, they weren’t the great horse racing lot that a lot here were; they were stuck out there with all these rivers to get across – they led quite a quiet life. And I said, “There’s not much of a story there; there’s just not enough to tell – they came, they did this and they went, sort of thing. But once I’d got these letterbooks I suddenly realised there was a good story to tell, because it was all the details; it was wonderful – all the main details of when the original house was burnt down.
Frank was my grandfather; this is the one that was managing for the family, Frank Gordon. They went back to England – they were always going back and forwards to England as you know, in those days. A lady here, she went over latterly on the ‘Rangitata’. My father was a boy when they were going back and forwards to England. But on one of the trips the family were coming back to New Zealand and the original house was being aired – the housekeeper was airing it all out; ‘cause they had those tilly lamps, and a lamp tipped over, caught fire and burnt the house down … the whole house was burnt down. But everything was saved, because they were shearing at the time and there were forty people down at the shearing shed … down at the wool shed, and they were all the shepherds and the shearers; they came up and they got all the original furniture. Any of you been into Clifton? Yes – we’ve got a lot of very ornate Indian furniture; it’s all very ornate, and it’s all hand-carved furniture, and that furniture was what JG brought out with him in the first boat. They managed to get everything out so that everything was saved … the grandfather clocks, all that stuff, but the house itself burned to the ground.
So my grandfather then decided to build Clifton, and obviously that’s the time when … this house here was built earlier; this was 1880s, but a lot of the big ones like Clifton and Gwavas and these type of places were all built around about the 1890s, 1900s. It was a very prosperous time for wool again, you know, ‘cause everything else went up and down; very prosperous times. And Frank’s first wife was actually Ellen Tanner; Thomas Tanner – you know all about Thomas Tanner, one of the original settlers of Havelock here – Thomas Tanner was her father. And they had a house in Napier called Balquhidder, which is still there today. They didn’t have a house to live in at Clifton, so they moved into Balquhidder in Napier, and they designed … well it’s not Natusch, it was a chap called Finch was the actual architect, but he worked for Natusch – the same people that [who] designed the Hawke’s Bay Club – to design and build the house while they lived there. Well of course because they were living at Balquhidder they were influenced by the design of Balquhidder, so a lot of the original ideas for Clifton came from Balquhidder. It’s sort of quite similar in many ways, although Balquhidder’s since been fiddled around with and modernised in pla[ces] and had lots of different owners; it’s lost a lot of its character over the years.
Well, it’s hard to believe it, but the … I found this out in the letter books … the house only took six months to build … Clifton only took six months to build. And I was down at Gwavas yesterday, because they were redoing Gwavas; the young girl’s moving back into Gwavas and they’re doing Gwavas up – it’s not actually that bad, it’s not run down at all; it’s been very well maintained. And they said that they think Gwavas was built quite quickly as well; the top storey was added on in a box in about three months, the reason being I think, is because they got all the timber organised a year before, and it was all dried. And all the windows and sashes – everything would’ve been pre-made; all the alcoves and all that sort of thing would’ve all been done. And then they would’ve moved out; they did camp on the job, and could’ve had twenty or thirty builders, because it took six months to put that house up. ‘Cause in the letter books, he wrote the letter saying, ‘We started on the house today’, and then six months later, ‘We’ve just moved into the house’.
So these letter books were fantastic, because they were the actual facts; they weren’t my Uncle Lindsay’s romantic ideas or anything else; they’re actually the facts. And it went right down basically to about the 1930s. The only time I had trouble reading it was when he went home to England at one stage and his brother, who was a partner with him in Clifton at this stage, came and looked after the place for a year; and he had writing that went like that … just impossible to read. You could read it but it was flat, and it was just … it was extraordinary ‘cause my grandfather had such easy writing. I managed to decipher a lot of it, ‘cause he was actually quite interesting; while he was looking after the place a lot of dramas happened. There was a lot of good stuff came out of those ones, so it was worth persevering.
And then I still didn’t really think … but I leased the farm out and then suddenly I had this time to write the book. And I thought, ‘Right, I’ll just go for it’, so I just got down and spent about a year, and I wrote it there and then. And we’ve got a very good manager in our cafe at Clifton, and the cropping side was easy to run so I was able to have enough time to write the book. And I did it in one sitting really, and I got some wonderful photographs. And I tried to tell it in a chronological order more as a story, so you can actually read it from beginning to end and enjoy it as a story, but with the chronological … A lot of the books get a bit confusing, a lot of the books that’ve been done; they try to put too much information into some of these books. And there’s a lot of stories in some of the books that’ve been written about Hawke’s Bay, but they’re fragmented; you can’t really sit and read it from beginning to end because they’re a bit fragmented; they’re more research books, and more you know, just record books. But I wanted to make mine more of a readable type of novel-type idea. And I published it myself because it’s very hard to get anyone interested, and I’ve sold now nearly a thousand copies of the book – of this hardback copy. I just sell it at the cafe and at the wool shed, because we’ve turned our wool shed into a museum and a farm show, and we do shows and things for the tourists, and stalls and things like that. I only sell the book there. But it seems it just goes on selling, which has been very gratifying for me; it just goes on selling. People are interested, and they come up; and Jim’s very kindly said nice things today to me, and it’s been very heartening to do that. But technically I’m not a historian, but I became a bit of a historian.
And now, my latest project is I’m trying to do … because I’m so fascinated with the whole of Hawke’s Bay. I mean, that was my first love – you obviously do your family when you start because that’s what you know and you’ve got all the information. But there’s been a lot written about Hawke’s Bay, but one of the things that interests me is the old buildings in Hawke’s Bay – the old wool sheds. Because all the original wools sheds that were built in Hawke’s Bay, the older they are the better they are; the better condition they are. There’s some fantastic sheds all round Hawke’s Bay; big sheds and little sheds, but they are beautifully built, and every one of them was a different design – it’s almost as if they were architecturally designed. So what I’m doing is I’m trying to do a record of all of Hawke’s Bay, going up every single road – when I get time, you know – if I get a couple of spare days in the week I take off in this nice weather now, and then you just go; and I know a lot of the people; I know of a lot of people up the street, and they’re only too happy. And I’m taking photographs of the buildings – I’ll have to put it together into a book myself – and doing little stories with each one; because it’s a fantastic record we’ve got of Hawke’s Bay. But Hawke’s Bay’s such a beautiful place, and a lot of these wool sheds actually add to the beauty of the place. I mean as well as the homesteads and the buildings, but the wool sheds too, because they fitted in – where they built the wool sheds was in a lot of very special places, and I mean, you go down the coast for example; you go down to Ākitio, or Tautane, or Burnview, or whever you go there’re fantastic sites, and they’re all different buildings. So that’s what I’m doing at the moment; that’s my current project.
So I won’t go on, but if anyone’s got any questions I’m only too happy to answer.
Question: Are you going to be doing an Appendix, with all these extra bits and pieces you’ve found out since you published?
Angus: That’s quite a good point – I might have to one day, yes. But the trouble is, publishing your own book … it’s an expensive operation. Because I did this myself – and I’ve got colour photographs at the back. I did it like this with photographs all through; if you wanted to do it cheaper you’d do it with the photographs all in a bunch in the middle, you know. But I did it because I’d rather have it as a sequel to have the photographs relevant to the story as you wrote, but that is a very expensive way of doing it. And it’s very good quality paper; I wanted to do it really well, but it cost me a lot of money. What I did was I did a thousand of these, hardback, which I’d nearly finished, and then I did another thousand of soft cover ones which are cheaper; they’ll be cheaper. And that was cheaper to print, so I wouldn’t want to do any more until I’ve sold these.
Question: How long ago is it since ..?
Angus: Ahh … September 2004. We had a launch in the cafe. And that’s how you sort of sell a few of these books, at these sort[s] of things. My greatest regret though, is that because it cost so much, and my printer – ‘cause I’m the publisher – said to me, “Oh, you’ve got to charge at least” … he said $70, but I said, “No one’ll buy it for $70.” And so he said, “Well you can’t sell it for any less than $60.” So we had three hundred and fifty people at the book launch, and it was a big affair ‘cause it can take a lot of people in the cafe; but we didn’t sell as many as I thought we were going to sell originally; I started selling the book more as I brought the price down, and it’s more of a reasonable price. I’m actually selling it in the book shops – well, Poppy’s sell it for $45 now, or something like that. But I sell it … at these sort[s] of occasions I just sell it for $35 now, and it’s more accessible. But of course it costs me about $30 … nearly $30, to bloody well print it, so it’s an expensive operation.
And I’m worried about this other book, this one on the wool sheds, because the wool sheds of course is going to be all photographs mainly – it’s more a photograph book. And it’s all going to be big photographs, ‘cause you know, [to] try and make it quite special. God knows what that’s going to cost, [chuckles] so I’m going to try and find … [Chuckles] I’m just doing it at the moment; I’m not worried about that, so I’m getting all the material together, getting all the stories together, doing the photographing; then I’ll worry about that next. But I’m sure I can find someone to sponsor or some, you know, people. The Eastern … what is it? Eastern & Central Community Trust – they’re quite good, I think; those sort[s] of people.
Comment: And it will have more application to the whole of the country.
Angus: Yeah. Everyone says, “Why don’t you do the wool sheds of New Zealand?” But it’s big enough doing Hawke’s Bay. [Chuckles] When you realise you’ve got to have more time … you’ve got to go down every single road in Hawke’s Bay – it’s a long way. You trundle down there; I did the [?] road the other day, so you go down and you go up each individual drive to meet people. And you have to try and ring the people, but it’s always very hard to make [?]; so what I’m doing now is just driving down there ‘cause I know a lot of them, and I can go there and there they are; I meet them. Or otherwise I ring them and tell them I’m only taking photographs at this stage, and just going through the sheds.
But then of course they’re fascinating, ‘cause you’ve got all the graffiti inside the sheds; they tell a story in their own right. Unfortunately, a lot of people … for some unknown reason they got a thing about the graffiti and they washed a lot of it off. And they won’t let them do it nowadays, but that tells a story in it’s own right. And some of the old … like in the Gwavas shed, and in the Aramoana shed … they’ve still got the old water pump hydraulic presses that they used to use.
There’s a huge amount of history in some of the … the Gwavas shed, when I was there yesterday, I didn’t realise but the original shed was actually wooden shingles on the roof. Very well built; they built them so well then, you see. I mean the sheds you get today – I’ve got one; I’ve got a new shed up on the farm – it’s a Woolaway – and they are just … they don’t last. They’re built of tanalised pine, they’re all put up; they all look exactly the same, and they wear out much quicker than these old sheds that were built in the 1880s and 1890s – they’re still going. Although I went to a fantastic shed yesterday, and I don’t know if any of you know Poporangi up [the] back of Kereru? It’s a shed that’s completely falling to pieces … big shed, but it was the most beautiful shed, the shape. The larger shed architecturally, were [was] an absolute delight. And they’re still there, so I managed to get a whole lot of photographs of them, but that shed’s too far gone to resuscitate.
Comment: Look at the Maraekakaho shed …
Angus: Yeah, the Maraekakaho shed’s in fantastic condition, and it’s in fantastic condition inside; there’s nothing wrong with that. And a lot of those sheds, even that funny little shed over at the Mission in Napier, in you know, Church Road, there’s a little wool shed there; it’s a beautiful little wool shed. Well that’s really old. I mean, I don’t know, I haven’t found out the story of it yet, but you go in there, and they’ve got the ceiling – they’ve actually got the timbers on the ceiling. So you’ve got the tin … like, an old wool shed, it’s just built, you’ve got your rafters and then you’ve got your tin. But these are actually boarded, so they’ve got boards all under the tin, so really old. And that’s a sweet little shed; you see those type[s] of sheds – no one even pays any attention – they’re all over the place. It’s really very much a part of our heritage, I think, in Hawke’s Bay.
Jim: Angus, will you include in your book the landing shed at Ākitio, where they stored the wool before the ships …
Angus: Is that still there?
Jim: No, no – it was there in the 1980s but it’s now pulled down and they’ve replaced it with a community hall in a different location. There’s a little cairn marking where it was.
Angus: I don’t know that one. Well my family’s involved with Tautane Station, and Tautane and all those coastal stations like Burnview and Pipi Bank, they used to take their wool along the coast to Cape Turnagain there – have you been along to ..? And that’s a wild coast along there, but when you go down onto Cape Turnagain there’s this little bay; this beautiful little bay. They had a jetty made there; they had a wool dump – the same thing, ‘cause they used to dump all the wool on those coastal properties, two bales into one, and they had to take them out; must’ve been really heavy, they would’ve weighed about four hundred kilos – pretty heavy, nearly half a ton.
You know, on Tautane … well right out along the coast at Cape Turnagain still, you can see all the concrete in the thing, ‘cause they had a jetty in the thing and they had to go out through the sea; and there was a mouth – a little entranceway out through the rocks, and you just had to choose your moment, and out through the rocks you went. It was quite calm along the south side of Cape Turnagain. There’s a seal colony there, on the actual cape point itself, and then just back in the corner it’s a lovely little, sheltered little bay, out of the wind and everything.
Question: Angus, getting back to the family again, I seem to remember there was a big slump in wool prices; it was about 1890, and they were gettiing absolutely nothing for their wool. How did the family survive?
Angus: Well, they did; I mean they certainly had ups and downs all the time, you know, reading through my [great]-grandfather’s letter books, I mean they [were] very depressed. But they seemed to get through – I don’t know, they must’ve set aside money from the years before, and they had enough invested and they were able to carry on. Because it then came right, you see. [Phone ringing] When did the frozen lamb start? Late 1880s … yeah. See, so suddenly there was another option by then, ‘cause the Nelson Brothers started quite early up here.
Jim: King talks of the long depression – the sixteen-year depression that went from 1877 to 1893; so things came right in the 1890s and good money was made, but my great-grandfather was bankrupted in that time.
Angus: I think Hawke’s Bay here, they survived because they were so big. It was economy of scale in those days, still. There were still big properties, ‘cause the big properties didn’t really start getting broken up until the early 1900s. So they still had the economy of scale, I suppose, at that stage, and you were quite self-sufficient on your place – I mean, you had all your own sheep and everything; all your meat, and your gardens – so a lot of the farms, those big farms, were quite self-sufficient.
Jim: There was another factor there too – about 1908 the first Land Act was passed and there were subsequent amendments to that. And basically they started breaking up some of the big properties, the big estates …
Angus: Land Acquisition Act it was called. Well, they were given an option – you had to break up or you know … and that’s when most of the properties became smaller properties. 1907 I think it was, and it was compulsory acquisition but they bought the land; I think it was £3 an acre. It was quite a little amount of money.
My Herrick great-grandfather owned a lot of land down at Highway 50, and he fell over a waterfall. He’d acquired a lot of land over a period of time ‘cause he was a soldier as well, and the government … those soldiers got a lot of land then, because I suppose they were working for the government; they got given land, or they got cheap rights or whatever. But he fell over a waterfall when he was collecting plants when the whole family were young; and the family were the very first to have to give up their lands. They were offered £3 an acre, and it was just lucky for them that Sydney Johnson, that [who] was at Oruawharo, was the trustee and he managed to get it up to £5 an acre. But you know, on the whole they were buying the land for £3.
Right – no more questions? If anyone wants a book, I’m selling on special at $35. [Chuckles]
Jim: Angus, thank you for that – it’s been a wonderful hour. You are to us ‘Mr Hawke’s Bay’, because your great-great-grandfather was James Gordon; also Thomas Tanner; and your great-grandfather was Colonel Herrick …
Angus: That’s right, Jasper Herrick, yeah.
Jim: So those are all names that are very much engraved in Hawke’s Bay. I think it’s wonderful; I admire people who get down and tell their stories as you have. Thank you for this morning, it’s been a great talk to kick our series off with.
Jim Watt: Well, good morning everybody, welcome to the Duart House Society and our history talks. This is the one from November, and Angus, I think you’re our most popular speaker, because you’ve come back a second time. [Chuckles] And we’re looking forward to hearing more about Clifton Station and its history, and its current operations; now catering for cruise ships, with a lot of other things going on associated with the station. So ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Angus Gordon.
Angus: Morning everyone. I just couldn’t quite remember what we talked about last time, but I think I did the history last time. So what I thought … this year [is] actually our hundred and fiftieth year of the family being at Clifton since the first time we actually bought … it probably was bought in 1859, but we didn’t actually arrive here ’til 1861, so I’m never quite sure which date. So next year we’re going to have our hundred and fiftieth in the middle – we’re going to compromise. [Chuckles] So at some stage I’ve got to organise a big party next year for the hundred and fiftieth; and our cafe’s been going now for over ten years, so the staff want a ten-year anniversary party; and it’s my sixtieth and Dinah my wife’s sixtieth, so we might do a one-stop-shop and have the whole lot in one hit, [chuckles] so we won’t have to worry too much.
So I thought this time I’d just talk about the last sixty-odd years and bring it right up to date … yeah, since the war … because I think I talked up to about the war last time. I’m not quite sure where I got to, but there’s an awful lot happened, and I thought I’d just bring in just a few other aspects.
So I thought I’d start just after the war when [cough] my father came home from the war. My father was an only son. My grandfather, Frank Gordon, who’d run the station for fifty-odd years way back and I talked about it last time, he had a first marriage to Ellen Tanner, and she died. And then he remarried again when he was sixty to my grandmother, [Dorothy] who was forty. So when my father [John] was born it was a very tenuous link for the Gordon family because Uncle Lindsay Gordon and his wife didn’t have any children, and his sister [Eileen] also didn’t have any children. So the line was just about to peter out, and at the last minute Frank remarried at the age of sixty and had a child, which was my father, [cough] to his wife who was forty at the time. So he only had one child [to his second wife], and when my grandfather died just before the war in ’37, my grandmother, who was never very keen on New Zealand because she was an Englishwoman and she didn’t really like living out here – she packed up the bags, closed Clifton up, put the sheets over all the furniture – and there was a housekeeper left in charge of the house – and left and went back to England, never intending to come back again.
But my father had been brought up on Clifton for thirteen years, and you know, when you’re brought up on farms in Hawke’s Bay and New Zealand and you’ve had that lovely life, it gets right into your system; and he was always very affected by New Zealand. And so he went to school at Harrow in England, and then he served in the British Army at the end of the war, because he was quite young. And when the war finished he stayed on, and he was in Italy sort of mopping up and doing all the cleaning up stuff. He decided he wanted to come back and farm in New Zealand … well he’d always wanted to, and the farm was just sitting there.
And so back they came, end of 1947. You can imagine the state of the house; it’d been closed up for ten years. And when you’re out at the beach out there – we have to wash the house; every year we have to wash Clifton because it’s white, and because we get the salty air and the pollen from all the trees and everything else it gets very dirty. So after ten years, when they came back to Clifton the outside walls were virtually black, so it was quite a job to get it all tidied up. And also, all the elm trees – we have a lot of elm trees at Clifton; we had two huge elm trees in the backyard, monster elm trees. And elm trees, as you know, they sucker something terrible! They’d luckily kept the suckering out of the garden, but they’d gone into the back, and the whole of the back plantation was just a huge area, about ten acres, of elms that had suckered up. And so we’ve still got them now, this huge plantation. We’ve actually lost … I’ll come to the slip later on, but we actually lost a lot of those elms in the big slip we had in 2006; it came down and there was mud that thick lying around a lot of the trees. And I suppose I’ve taken out about twenty-odd big trees; they just couldn’t handle the mud being around; they sort of got suffocated, and so we’ve had to take about twenty trees out, which has been a nuisance, but … they still keep on popping up of course; the elms just pop up everywhere.
So anyway, he came back to Hawke’s Bay to start farming at Clifton. Clifton at that stage was now two thousand acres, and it’s remained that size for quite a long time, and it’s still that size now. And he eventually met my mother, who was Barbara Herrick. The Herricks owned … well, they lived at Lindisfarne; so where the College is at Lindisfarne. The Lindisfarne house was their house, and they owned a big station down the coast called Tautane, which is still in the Herrick family today, actually. We had our hundredth anniversary, 2002 I think it was. So another sort of farming family.
So my mother was the youngest of a family of eight; big family, and they’d all lived in Lindisfarne for however many years. And in that time my grandfather, E J Herrick … Eddie Herrick … was quite a well known character round the area. He was Chairman of Williams & Kettle, and he was Chairman of the Harbour Board, and he was Governor of the Reserve Bank, and things like that, and so he was quite well known at the time. But they had this big family, and in the war – it was quite a tragedy, because they had six boys altogether and five of the boys went off to the war, and three of them were killed. And the three that were killed were the youngest, and they were all [cough] serving in the Air Force. And the two that served in the Navy – one of them’s still alive today, and the other one’s only just died last year, aged ninety-seven. So the trition [tragedy] of losing three boys was quite strong on my grandmother, but in those days … she was a very strong woman and they just got on with the job; they kept on wrapping presents and parcels and sent [them] to England, and doing all the good work she used to do to keep her mind off the tragedy, I think, of losing all those boys.
It’s quite fun today, because Lindisfarne are trying to build up a bit of history … ’cause it’s a modern new school, it hasn’t got a lot of history. They tend to use the Herrick connection as their sort of heritage. Because when my grandfather sold it to the school he wanted it to be a school and it was called Lindisfarne at the time. So it was quite useful that it was sold to be a Presbyterian school, of course. And he sold it at a reduced rate to help them get started as a school. So the school have always been very grateful to Eddie Herrick and the family. And two years ago they commissioned a portrait of the three brothers, which was really a rather nice thing to do, ’cause my mother only had little photographs of them. And they’ve done a big portrait now of the three brothers all standing side by side, taken from these photographs; and it’s a very good portrait which they’ve hung in the hallway at Lindisfarne.
My grandfather was also one of the original deerstalkers when wapiti and moose were first introduced into New Zealand; E J Herrick was not quite the first, but he was the first to shoot a moose, of course, but also the wapiti. And he’s got lots of big heads. We’ve got two huge heads; we’ve got the moose head in Clifton, plus the biggest wapiti he’d ever shot. And Lindisfarne asked if they could have one of his heads, [chuckles] which my mother was very happy to lose. So we had a head down in our woolshed; we’ve turned our woolshed – I’ll tell you later on – into a tourist thing, and we had one of the heads down there, so we presented it the other day to the school. And it was quite impressive because we presented [it] to the whole school. It was on a table; it was covered over [chuckles] and they didn’t know what it was, the school. And then – we sort of set up in the front of the school – and then they pulled the sheet off and there was a collective gasp [laughter] from the whole crowd, which was quite interesting. And then at the end they did a haka, the whole school; I don’t know how many kids there are there, there’s about five hundred, six hundred kids in the school … did a haka on the bare wooden floor. And they all stood up; they were just in chairs like this and they did the haka. And it was really impressive; they were all in sync and it was all beautifully done, but at the end they had to rush forward; they all rushed forward and all the chairs fell down, [laughter] ’cause they had to sort of take a couple of steps forward. But it was most impressive – we were quite moved. So they made a big thing of that, sort of to try and get a bit of heritage; because you know, these older schools have always had lots of heritage from a hundred years back and all the rest of it.
My mother’s still alive, aged eighty-four, and her brother in England’s the other one alive, he’s ninety-whatever … I think he’s about ninety-two. He was a submarine commander, and the one that [who] died last year, Terry, he was a destroyer captain or … he was in the service [of the] Navy. So they had quite a record; so this is the family that my father, who came back, single boy, very spoilt; looked after by his mother who had to come back to New Zealand as well; and he meets my mother who came from this big family – well, it had been a big family. And they got married; and they actually got married at Lindisfarne. So the last thing that was done at Lindisfarne was they had a huge wedding in the grounds. And the lovely thing about Lindisfarne when you go there now is that all the trees that my grandfather planted … they’ve maintained all the trees; there’s some monster trees. I think it’s a bit of a worry; there’s a huge plane tree in the actual quad [quadrangle] area itself on the old front lawn which is one of the biggest trees you’ll ever see anywhere. But it’s three-pronged, and they do keep it pruned up; but you know, if one of those limbs fell I think it would cause an awful lot of damage. The trees are magnificent at Lindisfarne. So that’s the heritage that Grandfather was able to leave as far as that was concerned.
So they got married at Lindisfarne, and then my grandfather then sold Lindisfarne and they moved up, funnily enough just across the road here in Duart Road in a house called Muritai, which is just on the other side of the road from here, virtually. And that’s where they lived for many years there when we were growing up.
Quite an interesting story, just at [on] Muritai. We always had fox terriers at Clifton, and we used to go and see Granddad a lot at Muritai; he was a very entertaining character. He had the gift of the gab – he was an Irishman; told lots of stories. We never quite knew how much was truth and how much wasn’t, but he did tell some fantastic stories especially about all his hunting days. So we as kids used to love going there. And I had a fox terrier called Snip who used to always come there, but not a lot. And one time we lost Snip in town; he went off – you know what fox terriers are like, as soon as there’s a bitch on heat or something like that they’ve gone, and you lose them. Or a rabbit runs out in front of them. We lost him entirely – he jumped out of my car and that was it – lost him. And for three weeks we never saw head not tail of him, and we thought he was all gone. And then at the end of about three weeks Granddad, from over here at Muritai, rang up and said, “I think that dog of yours has turned up here – there’s a moth-eaten looking fox terrier turned up in the front.” And it was this dog, Snip – he’d come back to Muritai here. We never know [knew] why he went there rather than coming back to Clifton, or whatever.
So they got married, and so having gone from this tenuous little thread of my father being born when his mother was forty, they then turned round and six children, my parents, three boys and three girls, which was great for Clifton. And those are the days, the heydays as you all know, the fifties and sixties – a wonderful time on farms. The farms were very prosperous and it was a great time. And everyone was having big families because they were, I suppose, trying to build up the population after the war because everyone, you know, had been so depleted. So there were lots of big families; it was a good time to be brought up, ‘specially at somewhere like Clifton – we were very privileged, as were a lot of people in Hawke’s Bay in those days, you know, it was a wonderful life.
And we did lots of interesting things; one of the things we did that was a favourite of ours – and I just told the story in the book. Because you know, even though you had these wonderful times, there’s always some sort of calamity as well. We’ve always been a family that always seemed to have some sort of little dramas or crises happening all the time. And when we were young kids we used to go to a place called Flat Rock. You go across what’s called Cape Kidnappers Station now, past the golf course and out to the south side of Cape Kidnappers, and there’s the most beautiful private beach down there called Flat Rock, with all these lovely hollow rocks with the sea going through. And then further south you get what’s called the Rāngaiika which is where the old whaling station used to be. Way back in the 1840s there was a whaling station there run by a chap called William Morris. And unbeknownst to us … we knew there was a whaling station had always been there and there’s also a wreck there. In my grandfather’s time in about 1885 a ship called the ‘Go Ahead’ was actually wrecked there, and you could [can] still see today the boiler from the ship is actually still on the rocks on the pinnacle of one of the bays, on what we call the lagoon there. So it’s the most magic area; and then you get to the point where you get the Whakapau Bluff which is what we call the point of view at Ocean Beach, when you look north that’s the point you look at. Rāngaiika’s really round the north side of the point. And that’s where we used to go, but we never appreciated that actually a Māori village had always been there as well … a Māori township, and they would’ve done all the whaling and things as well. There was just a little bit of fresh water there; that’s why they chose that spot. There’s a little spring comes out of the ground there, and that’s why they had it there.
Anyway, when we used to go round to the Rāngaiika we always used to go round we always used to go and spend a lot of time on those beaches crayfishing and pāua fishing. There’s big sand dunes there, lovely big sand dunes, and we were clambering round; and one area on the sand dunes – it’s quite extraordinary – in the middle of the sand dunes there’s a grove of karaka trees. You don’t know how they would grow in the middle of sand; it’s just dry sand, but these karaka trees have always been there. Just beside the karaka trees one of my brothers, Edward, discovered one year a skull … a beautiful skull. It was absolutely intact; the most beautiful teeth, the teeth were all absolutely intact … no fillings. [Chuckles] And he thought it was one of the whalers, and he brought it home. We didn’t know he had it until we got home and he produced this skull. And so he had it sitting on his mantelpiece in his bedroom, and he was terribly proud of it. [Chuckles]
Well, after that we started – as a family – started having all these accidents; it was quite extraordinary. [Chuckles] Every member of the family had an accident, some of the quite major. I had an accident where I … [it] was not very long after that I was doing some chainsawing, and the chainsaw bounced up and hit me in the face and bit right down, and I was very lucky not to get killed. And my father jumped off a … he was loading cattle one day and he used to have a signet ring; and he jumped off the side of the cattle [?] and got caught by his ring on the thing and was just hanging by his little finger. It ripped his finger. My brother had endless car accidents, and my mother had a dreadful car accident when she and my sister and brother were … my father was a quite a flamboyant sort of character. When he got a bit of money when his mother died, [the] first thing he did was went straight out and bought himself an MG sports car which my mother hated with a passion. [Chuckles] It was just a, you know, soft top, but she often had to drive it. And we had a house at Kinloch, and she was driving back and there was some tar seal … it was always a shingle road there, and then it suddenly hit the tarsal … and my mother got into a skid on the shingle and hit the tarsal, and they just rolled over. And my sister and Charles, my brother who lives up at the old Te Mata House up along here; he was young, and he went right under the dashboard, but my sister came right through, and her arm went through the windscreen. And all her arm was ripped up – all the flesh was just taken right off her arm, right down to the bone. So we had this series of accidents; my sister nearly died of asthma – an extreme asthma attack. And it just went on and on and on.
Then someone came to us – one of the old Māori who we knew down in the village. And they’d all been observing this; ‘cause what happened was … all these things started happening to us and then everyone talks. They tell stories, and the stories multiplied. So those were the actual accidents, but by the time we heard other people telling them we were [laughter] … we were, you know, we were on the end of our tether; we were hardly going to survive, the way the stories were going around. [Chuckles] So he heard about all this, and he came to tell us; he said, “Look, you do realise that that was a Māori village round there?” And of course it would’ve been a tapu [forbidden, sacred, not to be interfered with] area, so of course we were in the Landrover that day with the skull, and we took it straight back out to where we’d found it, and we deposited it back where we’d found it in the dunes, and left it there. And at that time all those little accidents stopped. [Laughter] So we had lots of [cough] dramas like that as a family; when you’ve got a big family you’ve always got lots of dramas. But it was a wonderful time to be brought up.
And then we all sort of went to schools and then we went to university; and my father and my mother had never done all that sort of stuff, they weren’t academic people at all so they were quite proud that four of us out of the six all got degrees. And my sister Jenny’s now a writer, and has written a book on the history of Ponsonby – big book. Some of you might’ve seen it; I can’t remember what it’s called. It’s the book on Freeman’s Bay, Ponsonby … it’s a huge book. And she was also involved with the research on the book … Jennifer Coney, was it? Who wrote the book on women in New Zealand … the New Zealand woman?
Audience member: Sandra.
Angus: Sandra Coney, that’s right, yes. So Jenny’s been involved with that, and now she’s doing a book with another woman on the history of Remuera, so she’s quite the academic.
So anyway, we’ve all sort of gone our separate ways, and eventually I ended up coming back from my travels overseas and blah, blah; and came back to Clifton at the end of the seventies – in about ‘77, to help work on the farm ‘cause by that stage my father just felt that he was getting a bit tired of it all as you do with farming, you know. And so I was very excited – came back; and unfortunately by then farming had slipped right off the edge, and … no, subsidies were still there when I first came back. We had this dreadful thing called SMPs. [Supplementary minimum prices] No, the other subsidy where you got paid for every stock unit you owned, and so farmers all round New Zealand … you know, we’ve got thirty-four million sheep in New Zealand now – thirty-two [or] something; at that stage it reached a peak of seventy million sheep in New Zealand, because you just got paid for every sheep you owned. So people were just pouring on the sheep; I knew one farmer, my brother-in-law’s father, who had … on two thousand acres or two and a half thou[sand], he had seven thousand ewes on his farm because he was just getting money. Of that seven thousand ewes two thousand were dry – they didn’t produce lambs; and they were all small. But that was the … sort of the stupid thing that Muldoon brought in to try and encourage farming. They thought it was a numbers game. So when I arrived back in New Zealand that was just there; and of course then it all came off, all the SMPs, all the wool – all those subsidies came off.
So we went into the eighties, and then of course we hit the eighties’ droughts. So farming suddenly started hitting quite a downward trend, and I sort of took over in about 1981 or something from my father … he sort of retired. We went as partners for a while. So finally I realised then that farming somewhere like Clifton, which is a magnificent area to live in, but it’s a very difficult farm – it’s very dry and lots of gullies and gorges; it dries out very quickly. It’s quite difficult; we’re quite lucky we’ve got a lot of flats. So I thought that farming was not … you know, we went right through the eighties, we had three major droughts, and we were all very heavily stocked up in those days. The stocking numbers have come down a lot since those days. But we were quite heavily stocked; we used to pour the fertiliser on, but fertiliser’s no good if you’ve got no rain. And so the farm was you know, starting to go down that way, and I realised that I had to start looking for other ways of … you know, supplementing our income. When you’ve been on a place as long as we have, there’s quite a lot of pressure all the time, you know, because we’ve been there now for a … there’s quite a lot of pressure to stay there. You don’t want to be the one that’s the one that’s lost the place. It doesn’t look too good. So it’s quite a lot of pressure, and I have always felt this pressure ever since I took over – that I’ve got to try and keep the place and hand it over to my son exactly as I received it. But it’s actually getting harder and harder as the time goes on, of course.
So luckily for me one of the things we started doing was cropping; we’d been just pastoral farmers – wool. Clifton for a hundred and thirty years had just been a wool farm, and everything’d been built on wool. You know, we produced cattle and fat lambs, but they’re never fat lambs there – it’s all store lambs for people to fatten. But once that great big wool cheque dropped away, we were always [a] pretty average sort of farm. I mean we produced good wool, but … pretty average as far as that was concerned.
So I luckily managed to get involved in growing squash for the Japanese market. A friend of mine came to me and said, “Would you like to try an experiment to grow early squash?” Well I didn’t even know what squash was; it’s not a pumpkin – it’s like it but it’s actually a Japanese hybrid. You see them in the shops – the ones with the green strips over it, [them] and it’s a small one but it’s a much nuttier flavour. And it’s actually specifically been engineered by the Japanese. So we buy the seed from the Japanese and we sell all the crop to the Japanese. But anyway, and I said, “Yeah, well that’s fine, yeah – we’ll try it out.” ‘Cause at that stage, when you do cropping … we’ve done a lot of cropping for years ‘cause we had land at Lawn Road as well, and we used to grow peas, beans, hay, sometimes sweetcorn – those type[s] of crops we used to grow; but we also had to grow them for Wattie’s, and Wattie’s were … if you had a good year that meant everyone else had a good year, and so they always would bypass you and let you down at the last minute, and it was quite a difficult time growing for Wattie’s. So this was an opportunity; they said, “Well if you can try and grow this early squash a month earlier …” People always grow in Hawke’s Bay … the old days the saying was, ‘Get your crops in before Show day’, and so everyone used to get their crops in before about 20th October. So these guys were saying to me, “Would you be prepared to take a risk and put a crop in on about 20th September?” Which seemed a bit extreme in those days. So we did it, and it was a success; it worked. The crop, luckily for us that year – I’ll explain to you – like, this year has been a ghastly year. But it succeeded, and so we established a little niche for this early squash.
And then as the years went by I got bigger and bigger, and I was able to command a premium price for my squash because we were the very first boat out of the country. It was all contingent on the boats getting from here to Kobe – the first boats in you got these amazing prices; quite extraordinary, just for an old pumpkin, you know – they pay extraordinary money. I mean they go up to … well, many times it’s been more than $1 a kilo, to the grower that is, and one year – it was an extreme year – it went up to $2 a kilo. But on the average it’s around … the early stuff I got is 70c a kilo, which is good money; that’s $700 a ton. It was way, way above anything we’d ever done in cropping before, ‘cause you know, we were suddenly making really quite amazing money per acre; quadruple what we’d ever made out of peas or beans or all these other things. So it was quite dramatic, but it’s a very stressful crop to grow as well.
My contract was always – I had to be on that very first boat. So then we have all these dramas; like, one year – d’you remember 1992, when Mt Pinatubo blew up? Remember, in the Philippines? Now, d’you remember that year, the weather? At this time of year? It was like this every day. We didn’t get any sun, and it was just cloudy and drizzly, and rain. We got no sun, and the crop just really struggled in it. And we normally harvest straight after the New Year … first week in the New Year, that’s when we harvest. That year we didn’t finish harvesting ‘til about the middle of February, so we were miles behind so we missed the first boats. But luckily for me, we missed the first boat but everyone else missed the first boat, so we were still the first boat, [chuckles] just a bit later. So luckily we still got reasonably compensated.
And then another year we got a hailstorm. I was driving to Auckland on the motorway – our son was at school in Auckland – and I got a phone call from my exporter saying, “Did you get affected by the hail?” I said, “What hail?” He said, “Oh, the hail down in Hawke’s Bay.” I said, “I’m in Auckland.” I said, “How do you know about the hail?” He said, “We’ve just been rung from Japan.” The Japanese are amazing; they watch everything. They knew everything that was going on at our place [alarm sounds] just about before we did. And our Japanese buyer had rung our exporter and he’d heard all about the hailstorm. So I said, “Well I’ll ring my home.” I rang my mother and said, “Ah, have we had a hailstorm at home?” She said, “How do you know?” She said, “It’s still hailing right now – how the hell” [laughter] “did you know that?” So it’d come all the way from Japan to me and all around. [Laughter] Anyway, that was a major disaster.
We came home, and it was just awful. The squash were all just at that crucial tennis ball size, and they got pitted. You know, so we’ve had a lot of dramas over the years with the squash; but in those late eighties into the nineties that’s how we survived. Because we wouldn’t have survived. And then I also leased a bit more hill country land as well, to try and get a bit more size. But it was very difficult times, and that was what got us through, so I was very grateful to squash, even though it was a stressful thing to grow.
But I just felt all my eggs were in one basket – by the time we got to the mid-nineties we were completely reliant on the squash; it was carrying the whole farm, so I felt I needed to start looking outside – get away from being dependent on the weather and being dictated to by all these [?]. And so that’s when the idea of doing the cafe came up. We’d already tried different things – we’d turned one of our cottages into a farm stay, a home stay, and that was all right, but it was quite hard work and my wife didn’t really like it because she was so fussy that, you know, people would stay for one night, and then she’d insist on having the whole place cleaned, and new flowers put in, and it was quite a stressful business. So we didn’t do that for very long. But I always had in my mind that we should be doing something with tourism out our way, because as you know, the gannets – all the tractors leave from the beach in front of us. And I watched for years and years, all these cars, every Sunday; and it happens in the winter or the summer. Cars drive out that way, and they drive to the end of the road and they stop; they turn around. And there’s a procession of them, and they’ve been doing it. So I thought, ‘Well you know, it’s silly; here we are with this bare paddock – we’re right at the end of the road.’ And so it took a while to work up enough courage to do it. I kept on … I was going to do it then I wasn’t going to do it … ‘cause it’s quite difficult, it’s very expensive. It meant taking on a whole lot of debt. We were just creeping out of all the big debt situation we’d been in [in] the eighties when the bank managers had been … in my book I wrote a story about the bank manager at the time, because the banks got really tough on us – a bit like what’s happening now. And suddenly we were in there doing budgets and all this sort of stuff that we’d never had to do before. And this particular bank manager called Rob Carthy who was the one at the time – I’m actually quite grateful to him in a way because he got us more on a business footing and started making us be a bit more business-like about the whole presenting budgets and all this sort of stuff – but he was tough. And he read the book a while ago; can’t remember what I said about him but it was not that rude! [Chuckles] And he said, “I wasn’t that bad, was I?” [Laughter] I was so embarrassed when he rang up to say that he’d read the book. It was a sort of a tough time, so … we’d just got out of all that debt because of the squash, and then here was I wanting to go back and plunge into a bit of … what I’ve learned in my business time in farming … whatever, is that you can’t make money unless you spend money; if you don’t spend money you’re not going to make it.
So against my wife Dinah’s wishes, it was quite a tense time for us because she realised I was going to do it eventually and plunge us back into … She could not work out why I was going to put us back into debt, and she didn’t think it would work. And I did know it was going to work; I’d been watching for long enough to know that the cars were coming out there. The one mistake I made was I was basing it around … I thought it would be the gannets, the tractor people. That was going to be our main market; in fact it’s turned out to be a miniscule part of our market – a very unimportant part of our market. They all park there, but they’ve all got their own little lunches or whatever, and they’re set on going to the gannets. It’s a four hour trip, so when they get back they’re absolutely exhausted; all they want to do is get in the car and drive home or whatever. So we don’t have a lot of business … sometimes we do if the tide coincides with lunch.
So I built the building, which I wanted to build in the style of the old buildings on Clifton. And the wool shed that’s on Clifton there now was built in 1886, but there was an old wool shed there before that that was built in 1861 by my great-great-grandfather, which was a beautiful building. It just looks like the café – it was a very steep roof building. It was most impractical but it was built based on a Scottish shed, ‘cause they came from Scotland so it was based on a Scottish shed. We had the shearing in each corner of the thing; they used to drag the sheep … I’m not quite sure where they held the sheep, but it was a very beautiful shed because it was architecturally designed as well. So I had the old architect’s drawings of the building so I thought when I built the café, ‘I’d like to replicate that down there’, which is what I did. To a certain degree I obviously changed it a bit, but it was to get that steepness in the roof. And so a lot of people think that building’s been there since ever, and I’ve got a friend who takes a lot of people out there; she’s a school teacher, and quite opinionated about things. And she said to me, “Well, I love taking people out to the old whaling station.” And I said, “What whaling station?” She said, “The café.” [Chuckles] And I said, “It’s not a whaling station!” And she said, “Yes it is.” [Laughter] I said, “No, no – I built that in … you know, it was only built in 1999.” “No you didn’t”, she said, “I tell everyone that it was the old whaling station” [laughter] “and it’s been there since 1840.” I said, “Look, if that’s the story you’ve been telling them, you just keep on telling them.” [Laughter]
But that of course, is … we’ve got the whaling pots out the front. Those whaling pots by the way – you know I was talking about the Rāngaiika before and where we had the trouble with the skull – those whaling pots actually came from there. They were the three try pots that were on the beach in the sand dunes at the Rāngaiika there, and we used to look at them all our lives; they were just there right on the edge of the dunes, and they were sort of … you could only just see a little bit of them. And then they got more exposed [with] a bit of erosion – the dunes started to erode away and they started to rust … started to get quite rusty. And so my neighbours who owned Summerlee Station at the time, and my neighbour, Bill Shaw, decided they would go out and rescue them. So they went out with their bulldozer and tractors and they rescued them, and they brought them home. And Bill Shaw kept two of them down at his place, and he did them all up and he painted them, and he scraped all the rust down and did a great job. The other one went up to the Neilson’s house and just sat under a tree; and unfortunately when it was exposed to the elements like that it just completely rotted away. All the water in the bottom just completely rotted it away, so that was no good; but luckily Bill Shaw had saved these two. So when I built the café, he said, “Would you like the pots down there? Because it’s rather appropriate they should come back.” So that’s why we ended up with [?] thinking that it was the whaling station.
But it’s been a great success, the café; it’s a year old. ‘Cause when I first built it I never intended to work it myself ‘cause I was a farmer; I didn’t know anything about restaurants. But I thought, ‘Well, I’ll build the building’; I talked to a lot of people to try and get people interested to come and run it or lease it off me or whatever. No one was interested – they said, “Oh, it’s too seasonal, and it’s too risky, it’s too far out and you’d have to close down all the winter; it’s only a summer drive.” I said, “No, it’s not”, I said, “we’re going to be open all …”
So eventually of course, I had to create a business, so we decided to do it ourselves. And I employed a chef who’d come out of the Air Force … he was an Air Force chef who’d never known about budgeting. [Laughter] This was the first mistake we made; of course whatever he wanted in the Army and the Air Force, they just got. So he came, a lovely chap; and so we set it up with my wife, Dinah, very skeptical about the whole business and pretty cross with me at the time because she felt that I was really risking the whole … well, Clifton … she thought I was putting us all at risk. But thank goodness … the first year we lost money, and then since then it’s been on an upwards run, although this year of course, as you can imagine, this last year’s been a challenging year. I mean it’s been challenging for everyone, and we’re no different from anyone else. But it’s a wonderful job; we have about fifteen staff there, and we have a manager, Sue, our manager at the café – they used to live in our cottage. They were restaurateur[s]; they ran the Mission Restaurant for a while when the Mission first – this is before it is what it is now – they leased the Mission. And then they had their own restaurant in Dalton Street – anyone remember Casa Giardini? In the middle of Napier. It was not a really good spot, it was upstairs; it was a beautiful restaurant and a very good restaurant too. Anyway, they were the ones that [who] kept on encouraging me about this restaurant. Sue kept on saying, “Are you going to build that café out at the beach?” “Ooh yeah”, I’d say, “but oooh, you know, it’s going to cost me an awful lot of money”, and blah, blah, blah, and I put it off. So they kept on, so when I built it – they’d sold Casa Giardini by then; no, they sold after we started.
But they watched us that first year, they watched us floundering around, you know, we had these big crowds coming out. We opened the door in the middle of winter; we opened on 29th July I think it was, thinking that it would really quiet; we’d open the doors and just get nicely started. And it was a cold, southerly day, snow on the ranges, southerly wind blowing; we opened the doors and there’s crowds pouring in. [Laughter] And we were completely unprepared for them; we sort of took a long time to … ‘cause everyone had been watching it being built, and they were curious, you see. And we didn’t do a good job. The great thing that I’ve always said to the Hawke’s Bay public was, they were [cough] terribly patient with us, because they kept on coming back. And some people had bad experiences two or three times but they kept on coming back, and eventually we got it right after … ooh, about six months, I suppose, and we got systems in place.
And then Sue and her partner Jo came in and did a bit of consultancy work for us for a while, and helped us. ‘Cause I’d set it up as a café ‘cause I wanted to keep it really casual. I felt that casual was what everyone seems to like, especially by the beach, you know, ‘cause people want to walk down the beach. So that means everyone comes up to the counter and you pay, and then you go away and you’re served. But my staff got right on top of me – and I was actually working in the café at the time as well, because I felt I needed to learn how to run the thing – as was Dinah at times. The staff all eventually prevailed on me to turn it into you know, a proper restaurant, taking orders and things like that. And it was an absolute disaster. It was an absolute disaster out there; because we’re so big, sometimes we’ll have [at] any time, two hundred to two hundred and fifty people there at one time. There’s about seventy to eighty people outside, and inside’s all filled. So it was a [an] absolute disaster – we were losing $500 a week [cough] in unpaid bills, ‘cause people just – they’d see the big queues there and thought, ‘Oh – we’ve had our meal, we’ll bugger off.’ And no one was stopping them; [chuckles] the staff were inexperienced; it was really hard to get enough staff to cope with that amount of people. It was an absolute nightmare, and I thought, ‘What’ve I done? This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in my life.’ I couldn’t believe it – Dinah was proving to be right. I thought [laughter] … I couldn’t admit to her that we … and Dinah, to her credit, eventually realised, and she came in and got involved as well, and helped out; and she managed it for a while. She didn’t enjoy that stress and the pressure, ‘cause dealing with the public is a terrible experience. I used to work behind the bar, and I used to watch them coming in, and every night a couple came in and I was looking at the looks on their faces to see what type of mood they were going to be in. [Laughter] Jenny would know, because we did have some real bad experiences [cough] … people really getting angry. And the worst … well, just to tell you some of them … we had a chef at one stage; this chef that I employed from the Air Force only lasted for two months and then he left us in the lurch. That’s another thing I didn’t know about the restaurant – they’re very fickle, chefs, they move around like nobody’s business, and they get poached and all this sort of stuff, which was something I never would’ve … it was a new world to me. We had him poached by another place; and the second chef took over as the head chef, and he was a burnt out chef. [Laughter] He was a very, very good chef indeed, but he just couldn’t cope with the experience of all these people coming in. We did have a big staff; to give him his credit he was a beautiful chef, but he just had this violent temper, and I had to go down and talk to him every day. If I’d missed a day talking to him, that’s when he would explode. [Chuckles]
One day I hadn’t been able to see him – I had to go out mustering early in the morning so I hadn’t got down to the café, and it was in [on] the weekend … and what happened? He was stressed out anyway, and all these people came in. And he was cooking away, and then suddenly he was getting further and further behind. And as you know, when you’re in a restaurant and you have to wait a long time you get crosser and crosser; your blood sugar levels go down and people start getting crosser and crosser. And this guy got very angry, and ‘course we’ve got an open kitchen as you know. [Chuckles] And he came and started complaining. Well – I can’t remember our chef’s name – he completely lost his temper with this guy anyway, and they started exchanging words. And then the guy went back again – just not the way you deal with the public at all. And they waited and waited and waited, and eventually they just lost their temper completely and they got up and walked out. Well in the meantime, the chef had thrown down … he’d had other trouble, people coming in all directions … he just threw all his gear down and walked out! [Laughter] And I think we had a hundred and fifty-odd people there [laughter] not getting fed. He said, “F— this”, and [laughter] he walked upstairs; ‘cause we’ve got an upstairs at the top. And he was up there having a smoke and steaming with rage. And then he came out – he obviously felt a bit guilty, so he thought, ‘I’d better get back down and do some cooking’. And he only had a couple of boys down there who weren’t chefs, they were just sort of hands, really, helping. And as he came down the stairs, this guy that he’d had the trouble with originally, walked out with his son. And the guy saw the chef coming down, and they started exchanging [laughter] … people everywhere, and they started exchanging ‘pleasantries’ with each other. [Chuckles] And so the chef just lost his temper completely, and he came running down the stairs, as did the other guy – he came running round; they were going to have a full-on confrontation. [Chuckles] Luckily the son was bigger than his father and he realised what was happening, and he raced in between them and held them apart as they exchanged [laughter] … and this was at the bottom of those stairs there with all the people [laughter] walking backwards and forwards. So it was a nightmare really.
And another time we had these women complaining – there were four women at a table and I was behind the bar, and someone came over and said, “Angus, there’s four very angry women in the middle of the restaurant there.” And we were absolutely jam-packed. So I went out to see what was wrong, and they didn’t like the taste of the food; they weren’t very happy with … something. And so I apologised like crazy, and when you do that you have to apologise a lot, and then you offer them [chuckles] another meal. And so I said, “Oh, look I’m terribly sorry, but all I can offer you is, we’ll give you another meal.” And they said, “Eewww, we don’t want any more of that food!” And they said this in front of all … yeah, so I slunk off back to the bar [chuckle] and cleaned a few more glasses and whatever.
So we were very lucky that eventually Sue and Jo came in; took over, professionalised the whole thing, got all our systems going in the booking and all the rest of it; said to us, “For God’s sake! Give up this being a restaurant … table service … go back to being a café; be the real casual thing.” And that’s really the clue to our success, ‘cause anyone can come in there; the whole casualness of the whole thing. People feel relaxed; dogs come in – we’re not allowed dogs ‘cause the council [chuckles] says we’re not allowed dogs – so I put up a sign to mollify the council. We’ve got the sign saying ‘No Dogs Allowed’; people completely ignore it [laughter] and bring their dogs anyway. Well that’s a part of the whole idea of it, where you bring the dog, you can go to the beach or whatever. [Chuckles] We always provide water for the dogs. It’s part of our casual look, and that’s what people seem to like.
But Sue’s been our manager, she’s been there for eight years on the trot. And I don’t think she has any intention of leaving; she said, “You’ve got me for life now, Angus.” She’s a wonderful, wonderful woman, and just so loyal and positive about everything. When I get all down in the dumps about the cost, you know – like today is the 20th of the month – I’m all cheerful now, but I’ll go back and my secretary will hand me the bills for the 20th of the month and I’ll get all depressed again, ‘cause we’re struggling at the moment … our margins are getting smaller and smaller; our costs are going up – all our wages and all our food costs. We don’t feel we can put the price of our food up that much because that’s part of our attraction. So it’s a difficult business, but Sue’s been a most amazing manager, and we’ve got a chef who’s been with us for four years; so they do stay around sometimes, these chefs.
So that’s really brought us up to date, although 2006 we also opened … as you know, in the beginning of the 2000s, or about 2002 was it, or 2001 … Julian Robertson appeared … this American appeared on our doorstep – well, not on ours, but on my neighbours – and flew over Kidnappers and liked the look of it so much he said, “I want that.” And [chuckles] my neighbour at the time was a chap called Robert Fisher, who’s a good friend of ours, and he was a real estate man from Wellington. He’d only had the property for six years, and he said, “Well I don’t want to sell it. It’s not for sale.” But Julian said, “I want that”, you know, and he got all his spin doctors out from America, and as it turned out – as you know – he bought Kidnappers for a phenomenal sum of money. It’s five thousand acres and he bought it for $20million, which … you know, that just completely changed the whole aspect of our area. And it’s affected a lot of things down the line, because that’s one of the reasons why we’ve had all this trouble at Ocean Beach; because it affected the price of Haupouri Station which was undergoing some changes in the family at the time. And they said, “Well look, he sold for $20million; we’re now worth much more than what you valued.” So it had an ongoing affect.
Anyway, he wanted to build the golf course but there’s a very interesting situation we have at Clifton, because the entrance to where you go through the golf course is actually on my land, and it’s also where you get through to Clifton. Because it’s all these gorges and gullies at Clifton, we have to go through that one entranceway there. So Julian Robertson has a [an] easement through my property to get onto his property. It’s an easement – part of the title, so it’s all official. But because my grandfather sold the Kidnappers block – he wanted to sell the Kidnappers block which was a dry, hard block, and he wanted to keep Clifton which is what we’ve got now – but the only access to Kidnappers was around the beach which is what we used to do in the old days, was bring the stock around the beach to the wool shed; or up that gully … up what we call the No 1 gully, which is where he goes now. And he’s got thirteen bridges going up there; ‘cause we used to just cross the riverbed. So he put a bridge over every crossing. Anyway, it was extraordinary – our neighbours, the Fishers, came to see us and said, “Well, you know, what do you think?” We said, “Well, why would we be anti?” I mean, we’re not one of these people that doesn’t like foreign ownership and all the rest of it, ‘cause they can’t take the thing away. And Julian Robertson – what he’s done on Kidnappers is quite a miracle. I mean, he’s turned it into an absolute model farm; he’s got this wonderful golf course, he’s got this wonderful lodge; I know it’s a bit exclusive, but he’s still turned it into an amazing place. It was a bit of a run down place that never made money; it was always a very run down sort of property.
But he wanted to put that road through there, and I said, “Well how are we going to get all our sheep and all our cattle down?” ‘Cause we had to bring everything down to our wool shed which is on the beach there, you know, where the big shed is, and we had to bring all our stock down. He didn’t want us bringing stock down and we didn’t want to have to bring them down. Well you see, every day there’s service vehicles and cars going out; so he agreed to contribute towards building a new wool shed for us up on the farm – back up about a kilometre and a half inland, up on our holding paddocks … where I always wanted to have a wool shed actually. [Laughter] Then we could afford to have it; it was just amazing … no coincidence. Anyway, we were very, very luckily, so we’ve always had a very good relationship, he and I. And then he was allowed to put his roads in; he was allowed to bolster up the river – we let him do whatever he wanted to do, and so it’s become like a bit of a public access. And he’s also got those gates at the front; the security gates, so that you have to ring in when you’re going up there. So we had to compromise quite a lot, but it’s worked out really well.
So it meant that our old wool shed down on the beach, which is a hundred and twenty-odd years old, was a bit redundant. It’s a fantastic shed, it’s in fantastic condition, so then I thought, ‘Right, we’ll do something with the shed; we’ll turn it into a farm show, museum, and all the rest of it.
So there was a guy in Napier called Ian Richardson, who’d already started doing this in a wool store testing station in Napier, in a terrible place – he’d done a wonderful job inside this shed, and he created this whole world inside this ghastly old shed. But he was in the back of Ahuriri where no one even knew where he was. And he wasn’t allowed to have sheep there or anything – he had to bring them in by the day. He was paying … I couldn’t believe it, he was paying $800 a week in rental – I don’t know how they could’ve done that to him. He was only getting sort of three or four people through; he was going downhill very fast. And I ran into him and said, “Well look, there’s not room for two of us in Hawke’s Bay – you come out to Clifton ‘cause we’re much better set up for tourists out there” – ‘cause of Kidnappers and blah, blah, blah – “I will set up the wool shed, and we’ll …” We built a shop using all old materials. He had an old wool shed that he’d dismantled, and so we used all the old materials, and got into trouble with the council of course – ‘cause we put it up, and I thought, ‘Well, seeing as down at the Camp [Clifton Motor Camp] there, they’re allowed to have their caravans with their awnings and things on skids; we should be able to put this building on skids. So we put it on skids.
And then I had to go for an application to put in toilets for the tourists, and the building inspector said, “Hang on – that building’s not meant to be there; that’s not meant to be on skids.” And so panic stations; and we were in a bit of trouble. The building inspectors came up; luckily I know Lawrence Yule [Hastings’ mayor at that time] quite well, so I rang Lawrence [chuckles] and said to Lawrence, “Look, I’m in a bit of trouble here, Lawrence – do you mind if I use your name and tell them … ‘cause I know what they’re going to be like; they’re going to come out and they’re going to be heavy-handed, and they’re going to tell me to take it all down.” Which is what they did – one week they just came in … “Oh, this is hopeless – you’ve got to take it all down.” I said, “Oh, I knew you’d say that; that’s why I rang Lawrence Yule about …” And they looked at me … “Why did you ring him? Why did you have to ring him?” I said, “Because I knew you were going to be heavy-handed like this. You know, we’ve done everything well; we’ve built the whole thing and you’ve been comp[letely] …” “Oh no, we can work it out! We can work it out.” [Laughter] So we were able to come to a compromise; cost me a lot of money, I had to jack the whole building up and then we had to put piles in underneath, but it worked out. So we have a shop there … wool shop … and then we have the wool shed, and we set up a stage and an auditorium area, and we can put a hundred people in at a time in the auditorium.
And then, before we’d even started we were approached by Nimons and these operators from Auckland who said, “Would you be prepared to do cruise ships?” And we said, “Yes, of course!” I mean, this is mana from heaven. And so the cruise ship is our basic industry thing there now, what we do with the wool shed. They come in and we do a dog show, and we’ve got pigs and we’ve got old pet sheep; and then [they] go through, we’ve got the museum; the whole wool shed’s a museum. And then we do a farm show for them, and then they go to the shop, and then they go across to the café, and they finish off at the café. So it’s working out really well.
But unfortunately, the cruise ship industry itself is actually on a bit of a downer at the moment, you know, there’s not a lot of people going, and there’s too many Australians. What happens is that [laughter] … I’m not being anti-Australian, but I’m just saying the Australians are not interested; they’re just not interested. They just don’t want to know about it. So fortunately, when we get the Americans and the Canadians it’s fantastic, because they love all this stuff and they’re so enthusiastic; and they just love it. But the Aussies don’t come. So a lot of these cruise ships now are filling up with Aussies, so the numbers have dropped a bit. But it’s still working out well.
And then just the last thing; I’ll just catch you up quickly ‘cause you most probably read about it – the beach … the Camp got washed out … the road got washed out in the winter. We were away overseas [cough] at the time. And the road, as you know, along there – that very ugly road with all that concrete – got washed out. And Lawrence Yule’d been badgering me for a long time about giving them more land. We said, “We don’t want to give any more land, because we’ve done this for centuries; my grandfather gave the Camp to them, and we’ve given them the road twice.” But anyway, the road washed out; poor old Camp was completely stuffed. The council were about to renew the lease; then they said, “No, we won’t renew the lease unless you can secure your access.” So I was approached, of course, and I said, “All right …” We came to an agreement where I lease them land now. We brought the fence right back – I brought it back far enough that I know … ‘cause it’s going to erode quite a lot there; and they put a new road in and I lease them the land. And then the two councils plus the Camp have paid to have all that concrete removed. So it’s been a huge amount – there was over five thousand cubic metres of concrete dumped there over the years; ‘cause it’s been a dumping ground there since the 1970s. So I said to the council, “We’ve got lots of these gorges and these big holes up on the farm; you can come up there.” So they did all their Resource Management stuff, and we found an area that was absolutely ideal for what they wanted; saved them a huge amount of money, because otherwise they were going to have to cart it from Clifton all the way to behind Napier somewhere. And it would’ve cost them an absolute fortune, so it saved the council … oh, I’d say $100,000 or more by doing that. So they were able to do that and they’ve done it all – it’s all gone. And so the beach has just been … it’s still very unstable of course, as you can imagine, so what’s going to happen now is the sea just has to find it’s own level. It’ll come in and it’ll take away a lot of land and it’ll erode away, and then it’ll form a … eventually, we’re hoping … it’ll form a crest, and then once the sea can form it’s own bay back again, it’ll be right. The bay was sort of … you had the bay; that concrete cut across the bay and it stopped the sea; and the sea doesn’t like it when it’s resisted like that, and it starts eroding. So what the sea did, it just kept on going down, down, down ‘til it got underneath, and then it just ripped everything out.
So that’s the current state of affairs with the beach now; so the Camp’s renewed their lease, and we lease them the land for the access. So there we are.
Jim: Great story – wonderful. [Applause] Angus, thank you so much for coming again today. I think you’ve rounded the story off for us today, because … you’re one of my heroes, because [laughter] the Gordon family, and the number of generations that have been on the property, and you displaying the same genius for finding opportunities where before there looked to be no opportunities … I think that’s an inspiration. And we wish you well into the future; and yeah, the café’s a very good one; we’ve always enjoyed it there.
Angus: I like to hear that. That’s what I’ve always liked to hear. Well you know, there’s dramas; this year for example – I haven’t grown squash for eight years, ‘cause I’ve actually been leasing out the pasture on the hill country for a while, and I’m just farming the flats. And this year we decided to grow squash because – cropping’s really hard at the moment; there’s no market for wheat, barley, maize – and I’ll grow squash again. We planted early, really early, on the 7th September, and it came up beautifully in two weeks. It was all looking fantastic; and then we got that snowstorm on the 9th, and that lasted for a whole week and I lost … ooh, I lost about fifteen acres. So it’s never not stressful; there’s always some new drama or new challenge every year.
Audience member: May I be allowed to add my voice to this assembly? I’m sure every one of you, like myself, has been utterly absorbed by this brief history in a short segment of time. Two historians are famous in the annals of history-making; one of them is Herodotus; the other, Thucydides. I think to that duo we can add a third [laughter] – the Gordons. Yeah. It’s been absolutely marvellous, and I don’t think I shall ever be able to thank him enough. But that being said, in the course of his exposition he mentioned certain traits of the Irish that you have to take with a bag of salt. [Chuckles] I leave you to draw your own conclusions. [Laughter] But Peggy, who is really with a companion of hers, a duo who I refer to always as ‘The Valkyrie’, [chuckles] is largely responsible – in fact probably entirely responsible for Duart being here, for us being here; for you being here. [Applause] I for one could listen to you every week.
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.
Format of the original35mm negative
Duart House Talk 15/4/2009