Colleen Agnes Walker Interview
I’m interviewing Colleen Agnes Walker who lives at Hastings, in the Summerset Village. Over to you, Colleen, to introduce yourself.
Colleen Agnes Walker, née Blair, a retired bank officer in Waipawa, and when that closed I then went to Waipukurau. I actually loved my job, and won several … important things …
D’you mean awards?
Yes. Uniform, and the rates and all those things have been deposited in the Waipawa Museum for other people to read later on.
As a child – well I’m the eldest of seven; there are four girls and three boys. And I used to go to Nelson Park School and I was a prefect in Standard 4. When I got a second-hand bike that Father Christmas gave me when I was ten years old, I used to double my sister Raelie to school.
There’s Colleen Agnes, Brian Hugh, Josephine [???], Lois Rosaleen, Hugh O’Neill … called Neil … and Raelie May and Kenneth John. Josephine and Ken went to live in Australia in Newcastle, and I have visited them twice.
What were your parents’ names?
Isabella May Forrest, her maiden name; and my father was Hugh Blair from Ireland. And he came with his brother as assisted immigrants to New Zealand, and he worked on farms first. And then Uncle Tom worked at the hospital. And Dad used to make Clinker-built boats and was very clever … very clever man.
And I went to intermediate school, and then I went to Napier Girls’ High School, and was the only one of my family that got a School Certificate. And I had [a] house in Taradale Road, and everybody said then it was like going out the wop-wops; and we used to walk to school which was a long way. And we went to see our Aunty Josephine who lived round the port; married Percy Merson who worked with Jim Wattie, cooking up fruit, and that’s how Jim Wattie … Wattie’s, and they are still going today, so it’s really interesting. And I keep in contact with most of my cousins.
How many of your brothers and sisters are still alive?
There’s myself; Brian passed away, and Josephine – they passed within a day of one another; and then Lois is very ill, and she and her husband live in … just forgot the name, isn’t it awful? And they’re looked after with [by] a son who’s given up his life to look after them; and Raelie lives in New Plymouth, and Ken lives in Australia. And he’s coming to see me sometime in May, I hope.
Did you play sport much when you were young?
Oh yes, I loved basketball. We had a Miss Bailey at school, and when I was only twelve, I think it was, I went to play up on Marine Parade; and then when she realised I was too young, she wouldn’t let me go. Oh! I was so upset, I remember … oh, I cried. And I don’t cry very easily; I think the only time I cried really was when my first husband died.
Where did you live first with your first husband?
We lived in Otane because he was brought up in a Children’s Home. But I actually met him at a dance over at the port; and of course I’m up dancing and so did he. But sadly he died at age thirty-five of Hodgkins disease, which is a lymphatic cancer. I was always scared one of my children might get it, but thankfully they all keep good health. Three of them live in Taupo, and they wanted me to go and live at the Summerset there, but I liked the one here. I said, “No, sorry I’m not … I’m coming back here to the one I enjoy”, ‘cause it’s closer to Otane and my friends that I made over there.
So when Bruce died you were left with how many children?
Four children. And we were lucky that we lived by the school, and of course you didn’t get any social welfare in those days. And my children on a wet day had to run to school, and they very seldom were given money to get a pie from the bakery; but my children all learnt to work and try and help people, and perhaps might get a few shillings.
Which school were they going to?
The Otane one. There was only one school, although … I beg your pardon, there was the old school which is now the arts and crafts in Otane from the old school. [A] friend and I started the … there’s only two of us alive still. We knew that that building was empty, and the council were going to get rid of it and we thought we could get it used and it is still going today. Yes, and in fact it’s getting bigger and better by the sounds of it, but sadly I don’t have a car now and I don’t have a chance to go down now and check with them.
I went to Napier Intermediate School, and then I went to the Napier Girls’ High School. And only this week I had a meal with twenty of the girls over at the port.
My Uncle Bill was a fisherman, and I can see him now riding his bike; my father loved fish and the flatfish, and I can see him now with a hairy rope with the fish hanging, and then you drop it into mum. But he and Aunty Phil … he married a Phyllis Merrick, and they never had children; but oh, gosh, when Father Christmas came and we were lucky if we got an apple and one other thing, we had to go over and show Aunty Phil and Uncle Bill.
They might‘ve given them …
[Chuckles] They could’ve.
And I took Commercial at school and became a shorthand typist. And I was lucky to get School Certificate, and left and worked for an accountant in the main street in Napier, and then went to the RSA [Returned Servicemen’s Association] and worked there. And in those days after the war, the men used to come up – and you’d have to go upstairs – and they could get cigarettes or sweets, I think it was. But one day I thought, ‘Mmmm … well I might just have a puff of a cigarette.’ And then I heard someone coming up the steps and I got so nervous I could hardly serve the man, because I felt so guilty that I’d done something dreadful. Oh, yes … [Chuckles]
So did you take up smoking at all?
No, no. No.
And I met my husband, Victor Bruce Logan, at a Port School ball. And he was a good dancer, but he was brought up in a Children’s Home in Otane. And he was a plumber, and a good one too; and often he would do kind things for people, you know – an elderly lady wanted her tap fixed or something – he’d go and do it and wouldn’t charge them.
And we had four children; we had two boys. I did have a miscarriage, and then I had two daughters. And after Bruce died aged thirty-four, I married a William Walker. I think I met him at the bank; I didn’t know he was eyeing me up. [Chuckle] Anyway, he was going to grow kiwifruit with his family, but then he decided he could do more for me. And he actually was wonderful; he changed my house around and re-did it, and oh! Wonderful man … loved gardening. And he’d been in the Battle of Cassino, and there were fifteen tanks went behind and only three came out, I think. I know Bill would never miss an Anzac Day. No, great guy.
And he looked after the children too?
No, my children … when I married Bill my children were grown up. But oh, he was a great husband; a good gardener. And I used to go to work and then when I come [came] home I always changed out of my uniform, but he had the meal made. Oh, no – he was a wonderful husband, very caring. It was very sad the day he died.
When did he actually die Colleen? How many years ago?
Oh, several years ago. And then I used to go to the RSA, and unbeknown to me there was another man eyeing me up, and he used to come. And then I used to go to Waipawa, and I would stay overnight. And it was lovely to be able to go up to the butchers; because there was a wonderful Irish lady that lived in Otane, and when you went into her place you had to pick up the wood. Yeah, and she had an Irish tablecloth, and that was a newspaper.
She always had a clean newspaper. Oh, she was such a lovely lady, and she said to me, “Colleen, you always must dress nicely.”
And you do, too.
I do, yes. Oh, she was lovely; and I still keep in touch with her daughter who lives in Waipawa … Judy Shiel.
Oh yes, I’ve had a really … very blessed life really, and I’m lucky that I’m as healthy as I am; and a lot of that’s because I live here at Summerset, ‘cause I feel secure. And I’ve met some wonderful people over the years.
And you’ve always got somebody to talk to.
Exactly … you like the company. And I go now – I don’t cook; I used to – I used to do all of these things, and bake and … but now I go over and have my meals with company.
When you were married to Bill, your second husband, did you go out much to dances and things or was it a totally different life?
Oh yes. Oh, no – no, it was different, but he liked dancing too. But oh, he liked watching rugby and that and I wasn’t that keen on that. But he had three daughters; one went to Australia to live, and one lives in Havelock, and one lives here in Napier, but I don’t see them. It’s their choice, but they’re welcome to come if they want to. Sometimes I might see Margaret here at Summerset.
When you were at the bank did you feel great responsibility for taking in the money and everything?
Yes – well often the boss, he would interview people. And I did the work but … oh, and of course everybody had cheque books, and they would come in for ten shillings. But I really loved my job at the bank, and people were … I’d get someone to bring me an apple; oh, and they used to bring these nice things.
Which bank was this?
This was in Waipawa, and then they closed the Waipawa bank and my uniforms and everything went to the Waipawa Museum so people will know what the rates we were paying and all that; so that people will know what life was like in those days; very important, because I had a mother who taught us all these things ‘cause she did the same.
You were going to tell us about your mother …
Her name was Isabella May, and her father came from Australia … in Echuca, and I actually have been over there. I wished [wish] I’d now bought the book but at the time I most probably didn’t have the money. There was something … I think it was affecting children, some health thing … and so they decided to come to New Zealand. And he worked at the port and he used to go and play cards. Well we always called him Podge, [chuckle] but his name was … gosh, I can’t even think was his name was; we all called him Podge. But he had a bike; he used to bike round to us, and he had a motorbike seat on his bike. He was quite a big man. And I remember him when I was a little girl, ‘cause I’d go and wait at the gate for him; we lived in Taradale Road. And he always said, “Colleen” … that I spoke very well. But he actually came to live with us, and I just liked him, he was a great old [?bloke?]. But he used to sit there and watch the cars go past, and he’d come into Mum and he said, “D’you know, in half an hour six cars went past”, and I often wonder what he’d think today. Oh … he was lovely [chuckle] … came from the port down … he lived with us until he passed away. Oh, no; and Mum was wonderful, you know? There were all us children, then Podge; we had Aunty Mary – Aunty Mary worked at a hat factory; we always had a boarder. And Dad had made a big, long stool for us to all sit on, you know? And [was] my job to peel potatoes, and he would tell me to go from the right to the left, because I was taking too much off. [Chuckles] When I got married I did them how I jolly well wanted to. [Chuckles] Ooh … but no, he was lovely really. Mmm.
But then Mum … well, my mother married. Mum changed after Dad passed away, and she became a marriage celebrant and married nearly a thousand couples. And I’ve made a lovely thing about Mum’s life.
I believe that she was marrying people for quite a long time?
And she would get paid for it?
Not always, no – because Mum realised what it’s like not to have the money, so she would do things. Oh! If she got £50 she’d be delighted. [Chuckles] But no, sometimes she did it for nothing.
And where would she mostly marry people, in their own homes?
Often in their homes; travel to where they were, yeah. And I’ve got a lovely album of things that mum achieved over the years.
And was she an actress as well?
No. No, we always played cards. Oh, I remember … having a big family, you know, we’d have … forget what you call them now … was something dipped in oil …
Not bread pieces?
No. Oh! [When] Father Christmas was coming, often we went to bed with heated milk with dried bread; or bread and dripping when we came home from school. And I’ve just caught up with some of the girls that I went to Girls’ High School with; and Dawn Harvey – I used to call for her – and she was an only child, and she got toast and we never got toast. But Mrs Harvey said one day, “Colleen, would you like some toast?” [Chuckle]
And then I used to watch – while she was … she must’ve been learning piano; while she had to do her practicse I could sit there, and I watched her father. He was using a computer, [typewriter] and that made me think, ‘Ooh, I’d like to do that.’
Just the action of the fingers?
Yes, so I became a touch typist, and loved it.
You didn’t want to go to Taupo … you had family in Taupo, you’ve still got family there?
I’ve got three children in Taupo, and I know there’s a Summerset there and I’ve been and had a look at it, and it’s not nearly as nice as the one here. And the family had decided that they were going to build something for me to live there, so I let them go for a while and then I said, “Look, I’m sorry, but I want to go back to Hastings, ‘cause it’s closer to my friends in Central Hawke’s Bay and the Summerset here is really lovely.” And I’ve been here for nearly nine years.
Did you belong to Guides or anything like that?
Oh yes, I used to take Brownies – loved doing that, yes.
What about Sunday School teaching or anything?
Yes – oh, I remember I used to take Sunday School; and this couple used to pick me up. And this little boy, he got his first pair of pants and he had to show me that he’s got a pocket. Oh, look – I can see him now; it’s a big thing for a little boy to have …
Oh, yes. And we went to school; we walked everywhere and I think that’s why I can walk so well now. But you’d never go over a crack! [Chuckle] Did you do the same?
Oh, I don’t know, it’s so funny. And we used to go to the park, I forget the name of it now, in Napier. Anyway, we were there one day and there was a man showing us a book with naked ladies; and when I told mum – oohh!! “You’re not going there any more”, but Mum never explained; we were never told anything about sex. And I got my period – I thought I was bleeding to death. But then, unbeknown to Mum, when she went out I would get her bras and I’d get two tennis balls and parade myself in front of the mirror! [Chuckles] The funny things you did as a child.
Were you on your own quite a bit then? ‘Cause you had your other sisters …
No. We walked to school, or when I got my bike – Father Christmas brought my bike. It was a second hand one but that didn’t matter, and I used to double Raelie to school. And in those days we used to get a bottle of milk and an apple a day, and I still think an apple a day keeps the doctor away. In fact I told my doctor that, and he’d never heard that. [I] said, “Oh well, I’ll be checking up on you the next time I come.” No, but I’m lucky I keep as healthy as I do, and I think a lot of it’s to do with living here at Summerset. And I used to do all these things, you see – one of my …
The collage …
Yeah. When my family were away I used to cull out … and my son used to say, “Mum, why did you take all the background out?” And I said, “Well I wanted to get all the people in, because people matter.”
It’s lovely. Do you read still quite a bit?
Oh yes, I like reading. The worst thing for me is if I’d go blind.
And when you were driving, did you have a family car?
Oh yes; oh goodness me, I’ve always had a car. Well, we used to go down to see my mother every week.
From Otane to Napier. Oh yes. And then when Mum went to live in one of the care places in Napier, I looked at that there and thought, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to live there – I want to live here in Hastings.’
And you had a huge collection I think, of clothes and things from your mother?
Oh, my mother must have got some of those … oh yes. And it all started because she helped at the school, Nelson Park School. I remember those early days they used to have a boys’ band, and they used to do the music for us to march into school. Oh, yeah …
You never played the piano or anything?
No. My father said I had lovely hands to play the … all I could do is 1-3-3, 1-3-3, 2-3-2-1. But we couldn’t afford all those things anyway; I mean Father Christmas came and we were lucky if we got an orange and some other little thing.
Did you celebrate Christmas as a family, you know, where you’d have a special dinner and everything?
Oh yes, Mum used to do – oh, Buggers Afloat [were] the things she used to make. [I] think it was scones dipped in fat and then with … something on top of them. Oh, it was a quick way to feed a whole family, ‘cause people used to come to our place for cards as well, yeah.
And when you were married, were you married in church?
Oh yes, always married in church.
Which church was your first wedding?
In the Presbyterian Church in Napier, where we went for when my brother died.
And your second marriage?
My mother married us at Bill’s house.
Oh, that’s a lovely memory to have.
Mmm. He had a lovely garden; he had the best garden in Waipawa.
He had a swing chair, and I loved swing chairs because just down the road from Mum there were three elderly ladies that lived, and they had a swing chair. And I still like swinging on a chair.
[Chuckle] You’ve had a lovely life …
I have, I’ve had a very blessed life, yes. And I think I’ll be the healthiest of all my children and a lot of it is because I live here.
So Summerset’s the place to be?
It is for me. [Chuckle]
So do you think that wraps it up?
Thank you very much, Colleen.
Oh … nice to be asked; thank you.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Erica Tenquist
- Colleen Agnes Walker