Dalton, William Gregory (Bill) Interview
Today is 20th March 2018. I’m interviewing Bill Dalton, current Mayor of Napier City. He’s going to tell us about the life and times of the Daltons of Hawke’s Bay. Bill?
Oh, good morning, Frank. Look I’m really proud of the Dalton history in Hawke’s Bay. We’ve been here for about a hundred and fifty years. My grandmother was born on the land we’re sitting looking at right now – The Spit – and she was born there in 1867. Now she was the daughter of a Danish sea captain, and her mother was an English lady by the name of Sarah Burton. And this Danish sea captain was one of three brothers who came out from Denmark, and they were listed as ‘Master Mariners’. And I don’t think they can have been very masterly, because all three of them lost their lives off the East Coast of New Zealand in shipping wrecks. In those days of course, the size ships that were plying the Coast were just tiny.
And this great-grandfather of mine, a fellow by the name of Fawson Scône [Schon] … and it’s interesting, in the Napier Courthouse – and of course a lot of the records were lost in the earthquake and the subsequent fire, and so a lot of them have been rewritten. And this fellow started off with his name mentioned as Fawson Scône [Schon], and ended up being referred to as Tom Scone [Schon]. So somewhere between those two was the correct name, I presume. But anyway, he was the Captain of a ship called ‘The Grayling’, and ‘The Grayling’ had previously run aground on the entrance into the Inner Harbour in Napier. It had been wrecked, and it had been bought by a private fellow, and rebuilt.
And in 1869 the Hau Hau were coming down from the Waikato, and there was a Militia went in to fight them. And Captain Scône’s [Schon’s] boat was asked to take some weapons and ammunition up to Wairoa. So they went up to Wairoa. The boat was wrecked on the Wairoa bar – they hit a storm, and the boat was wrecked on the Wairoa bar.
Now if you read the history of Greater Wairoa, it will tell you that they think that Captain Scône [Schon] actually sailed away with the boat, and was later … he sold it in California and was later seen in London. In actual fact that’s confusing two stories – if you read the “Shipwrecks of New Zealand”, the ship was in fact lost, as was Captain Scône.
So he left behind two daughters, both born on The Spit, now known as Westshore. And my grandmother was Wilhelmina Christina, but she was … her whole life … known as Minnie. And her sister was Fanny. So he left Minnie and Fanny behind, and their mother, Sarah Burton, subsequently married a fellow Wells. And so my grandmother was brought up … and it wasn’t ‘til she was an adult that she realised she actually wasn’t a Wells. Anyway, she eventually of course married my grandfather.
Now my grandfather was Henry Ruffel Dalton, and he was the son of a fellow by the name of True Dalton. Funnily enough, when you read the history of the Daltons – we are the Daltons of East Anglia. And Dalton’s a very common name, but our group come from East Anglia. So when you read the history of the Daltons in East Anglia, they went through about three generations … there was a True Dalton in every generation. But they went to the stage of spelling it T-r-e-w, and then they reverted back to the T-r-u-e.
But True Dalton – he was born in England in 1828. And when they started doing the family tree in 1917, the only thing they could say about him was that he had emigrated to Australia and they lost all trace of him. Well I know that he actually arrived in Auckland in the early 1850s. Now I’m not sure exactly where, but he was given land as a settler in Auckland, in Hobson Street, right in the centre of Auckland. And he had a bunch of kids, one of whom was my grandfather. And when True Dalton died – my grandfather eventually came to Napier around the turn of the century, and then True Dalton followed him down … his father followed him down. And our family folklore says that True used to sit in Clive Square and read the bible to anybody who would listen. Whether that’s true or not I don’t know, but certainly that’s a story within the family. Anyway, True went for a walk along the Parade in 1911, and he dropped dead. And there can’t have been many deaths in Napier because it made a news item in the paper, and somewhere or other I’ve got the news clipping of True Dalton dropping dead in 1911 on the Marine Parade.
In the meantime of course, he’d had my father, who was Henry Ruffel Dalton – always known as Harry. And he was quite a well-known character in Napier, old Harry. And he was actually a carpenter by trade, but he ended up being a cabbie. And so I have in my possession his pocket calendar that he used to hand out to people, and it’s got
‘H.R. Dalton, Cab, Drag & Gig Proprietor, Wellesley Road Napier
Ring Up Any Hour, Night or Day, Phone 828’
And inside that calendar is the railway timetable for the trains between Waipukurau and Hastings as well as further afield, but also is the tram timetable for when we had trams in the city from 1913 to the earthquake. And those trams ran over Shakespeare Road. And the trams started in 1913 and they were very popular and very profitable, but by 1926 they ran into financial difficulties because of the advent of the omnibus, and so the trams became less popular. So when the lines were wrecked in the earthquake, the trams were not resurrected.
Anyway, I digress. In terms of the family, Henry came to Napier, he married Wilhelmina Christina and they had thirteen children. And interestingly enough, I asked my father when he was quite elderly … in his eighties … I said to him “can you name your brothers and sisters?” And he actually named all thirteen. And one of them he was quite wrong with, because he named her Peta, and there was never a Peta. There was one still-born that was never named, so the family might have called her Peta.
But anyway, it was an interesting family. Old Minnie … my grandmother … she had these thirteen kids. The first one was born in 1889, and he was called Archibald Currie Dalton [spells Currie] – where the Currie comes from I have no idea. But the next one along the line was Annie that was born in 1891, then there’s a Lilian. And in the meantime, the first Archie had died, as you know, infant mortality was huge in those days. So the next child that was born in 1894, they named him Archibald Currie Dalton again – exactly the same name. So anyway, there was thirteen children born to old Minnie. All of the children were born on the kitchen table in Wellesley Road as they did in those days. Interestingly enough, when my father who was the youngest of those thirteen kids was born in 1913, his mother was forty-six at the time, so having her thirteenth child at age forty-six must have been a pretty tough call.
So anyway, my father was born. Right from an early stage he was a tenacious sportsman. In fact he was one of those guys that a) had to do everything well, and liked to be told he was doing it well – one of the those fellows who loved everybody saying “God, you’ve done a great job of that, Douglas” – you know? So he went to Nelson Park School, and then he went on to Napier Tech College. And so you know – many, many years later when he was a coach for Tech Old Boys and played for Tech Old Boys, and all these things, you know – he was a true Tech Old Boy.
So he had not long left school when the 1931 earthquake struck. And we have a document which is a really, really interesting document – it’s in my father’s own handwriting. And we hadn’t realised he’d produced it, but when he died we were cleaning out his flat in the retirement village, and we found this thing, “This is My Life”, by Doug Dalton. And it maps his whole life, through his upbringing and the things they got up to as kids, and all those sort of things – you know, working on the ginger beer cart and all those things – which is really interesting. Then it maps his life through … he was a very good singer and was given the opportunity to go to England and sing, but his mates decided that was a sissy sort of thing to do … in those days … so he then concentrated on his rugby and went on and became an All Black. So as a young man he was absolutely tenacious.
When he left school in about 1930 he wanted to be a plumber, and he couldn’t get a job. And … it was an old well-known story when I was a kid growing up … about my father going to Mr Angus at W M Angus & Co, and sitting on his doorstep for three days saying “I’m not leaving until you give me a job.” And eventually Mr Angus said to him “look, I can’t give you a job as a plumber, but I can give you an apprenticeship as a plasterer.” So my father said “well, that’ll do me, I just want an apprenticeship.” So he became a plasterer, and he was a plasterer all his working life. In those days as a solid plasterer, it was a much bigger trade than it is now – there was [were] a lot of plastered houses … lot of old wooden houses that were plastered over, and all those sorts of things. But he had a gang of about twenty guys working for him most of the time. And interestingly enough about ten of them were permanently at the Whakatu Freezing Works, but doing work building new freezers and all that sort of thing. And I well remember as a kid, when they’d done a big pour of floors, going back with the old man after dinner, ‘cause he had to top off floors that hadn’t quite gone off in time for them to do it during working hours.
Any rate, he got this job with Mr Angus and he was working at the Girls’ High in 1931 when the earthquake struck. And he and the fellow that he was working with rushed out of the building – they were working on a new brick building for the Girls’ High – and they rushed out. And the bricks all tumbled down, and the fellow in front of my father was killed. And the old man ended up with his feet buried in the bricks as they ran out. Anyway, they hadn’t been out there long and two girls came rushing across the school ground, and they’d been in the toilets. And one of them had rushed off in such a panic that she still had her bloomers round her ankles, and all of a sudden she ran out. And many, many years later my father was telling this story, and my mother being my mother, just took one look at him and she said “My God – that was Jean Gilbert and I.” And so I always tell people that my father met my mother on the day of the earthquake, but my mother was the one with her pants up. So … anyway.
So the old man – I mean, the day of the earthquake … ‘cause the exploits on that day are just quite phenomenal. You know, they went out to Park Island to where there was an old people’s home, trying to get people out of the wreckage, and all those sorts of things. The interesting thing further on, is that being a solid plasterer, he actually worked on virtually all the Art Deco buildings that were built. Because if you look at those Art Deco buildings – many of them are frames in – effectively, tin sheds, ‘cause they were built very quickly, but they have that plastered façade on them which gives them the Art Deco flavour.
There’s very few photos of Napier being rebuilt.
Well, I mean Napier was completely rebuilt in two years, which makes you wonder a bit about Christchurch, but we won’t go there. But Napier was completely rebuilt in two years, and it was done by autocratic people coming in and saying “this is the way it’s going to be.” But certainly, you know, if you have a look at some of the things that were built … for instance in the old … old AMP building, the one on the corner of … I think it’s Browning Street and Shakespeare Road, the one on the hill there … there’s some figurines up on the top there, and they were done by a fellow by the name of Mercer, and my father. And in this story that we found when the old man had died, he said “I do not want a tombstone, because my tombstone are the arches across by the Soundshell”, which he and a guy called Charlie Titter plastered. And he even remembered completely the words they cut into the plaster, and he saw that as his epitaph … he saw that as his tombstone. And interestingly enough now, being part of the Napier City Council, Charlie Titter’s grandson is the Head of Works for the Napier City Council – Lance Titter. So anyway, the old man was very involved as an employee of W M Angus & Co – very involved in the rebuilding of Napier in the 1930s.
He became a really good rugby player and played for Hawke’s Bay in 1934 when they lost the Shield. But in 1935 he was selected as an All Black to go to England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. Now, you know – that was a seven-and-a-half-month trip – ship either way and all that sort of thing. So on that tour he played in the two Tests that he wasn’t injured – he was injured for two of the Tests, but played in the two Tests when he wasn’t injured, and people listening to these things today don’t realise what it was like to be an All Black in those days. There was [were] fifteen people selected for the game, as against today they select twenty-two, and if somebody gets a bit tired, or they run out of steam, or they get injured, they can be replaced. There were no replacements in those days. So there’s amazing stories of guys playing on … you know, going out on the wing and playing on with a broken collarbone and things like that. But anyway, the old man went on that tour in 1935-36.
Interestingly enough, his family being just working folk, they didn’t have any money, and so in the club rugby matches round Hawke’s Bay for the weeks before he went, supporters would walk round in front of the stands with … people with blankets … and the people would throw pennies in so that the old man had enough money to go.
See these are things we don’t even know about.
Yeah. And I think – and I’m not sure of my ground here – but it’s either … he got paid either 1/3d or 1/6 [one and threepence or one and six] a day when he was away as an All Black. But away seven and a half months from his job. So he came back, and that was in ‘36, and in 1937 he played in all Tests against the Springboks. In 1938 he was selected and went to Australia, and you know, he was a Test player, and then in ’39 when it was scheduled for the All Blacks to go to South Africa, ’39 of course the war broke out, and so the old man never got to go to South Africa.
So then – you know, the war broke out. My parents got married in 1939. My mother was a lady called Joan Mary Hayter, and her father was Archibald George Hayter, who was a well-known cabinet maker and craftsman in the city, and her mother was Bride Victoria. And so my parents got married in 1939. My mother had been born in 1915 in a house that her father Archibald George had had built on the side of a river – the Tutaekuri was put out at Clive after the earthquake – but it was built on the side of the river. So my mother was born there. She stayed home when my father went to war – my father went off with the 3rd Division to fight the Japanese in the war. He was on Guadalcanal with the Americans and so on – he reached the rank of Captain, and he was invalided home in 1944 with chronic malaria which plagued him for some years after that. So my mother stayed behind – she worked for the State Advances Corporation, and looked after her … I think her mother had gone by then. Anyway, the old man came back from the war and they started a family. My sister was born in 1945 and then three boys, one born in ’47, one born in ’49 and one born in ’51.
What were their names?
My sister was Caroline Jane Dalton; Tom was Thomas Douglas McKenzie Dalton – he got a third name, and the reason for that is that my father’s great mate who was in the 1934 Hawke’s Bay rugby team with him was Stuart McKenzie … a guy named Stuart Norman McKenzie. Norman McKenzie was well-known in rugby circles as a New Zealand selector and all sorts of things, and he was Uncle Norman to me, as a kid. And my father was on his way to register his first son and … Stuart was always having fun with names, and he said to the old man “I hope you’re going to name him after me.” And so unbeknown to my mother, my brother became Thomas Douglas McKenzie Dalton.
My father was never D S Dalton, he was just Douglas Dalton, youngest of thirteen – they’d run out of names at that stage – but Stuart McKenzie used to call him Douglas Shylock Dalton and the ‘S’ has stuck, and so it’s even in some rugby programmes and things. Yeah. Well, I mean my family history’s always been fascinating to me. So the old man – he had four children.
He and Mum bought the house off her parents. My mother nursed her father who was dying of cancer, and he died five weeks before I was born in 1951. And my mother lived in that house on what was the side of the river in Georges Drive for forty-seven years, having been born there and lived there all that time. When the four kids came along, my father built a second storey on the back of that house – it’s still there. And so one big bedroom for the three boys, a small bedroom for my sister. Funnily enough, when we sold it about 1960 I think it was, or just after, we sold it to a family who had three girls and one boy, so they had to change the decoration of the rooms a bit.
Anyway, we stayed there until … I don’t know, it was 1961-2 or something, somewhere round there, and we moved out and bought a place called ‘Strome’. ‘Strome’ was out at Korokipo, and it was beautiful big old house, six-and-a-half thousand square feet on one floor, and it was built by the Holt family as a wedding present for their daughter. And when you looked at the house – I mean the hall in the house was exactly the same length as a cricket pitch – twenty-two yards long. When you looked at the house you would have assumed that at some stage it was the centre part of a big station that had been cut up, and in fact it never was. The property was only ever sixty acres, and the house set basically on the top of six ten-acre paddocks.
So we moved out there when I was ten or eleven or thereabouts. And I had originally gone to Central School – oh sorry, no – I went to Nelson Park School. I went to Nelson Park School and then when we moved out there I went to Taradale School. Taradale School was a country school in those days, and went to Standard 6. And we used to catch the bus into town to go to the Manual Training Centre in Clive Square and those sort of things.
And there’s another sort of interesting sideline – I was in Standard 3 I think it was, when we moved out there. But I moved out and another family had just moved into town at that time. And this new girl came to the school and she took over my seat in the class. And so she grew up as great mates with a lot of my Napier friends, but I never knew her. But she’s actually now my wife. So that was just an interesting … and she was born in Mangakino. Her father was involved in building the dams and things like that – he was a carpenter.
Another interesting thing which only proves we only live in a village – as I said earlier, my father had a whole bunch of guys working on projects at the Whakatu Freezing Works, and while they were working on one of those projects a fellow fell off the scaffolding and was killed – and that was my wife’s father. So there’s all these strange little sort of connections.
We forget that those days the communities were a lot smaller, and everyone knew one another because of the size.
Yeah. Well the 1931 earthquake – Napier had fourteen thousand people.
I know, and they didn’t move that far.
Well, you know, and it was interesting – I mean my father courted my mother for seven years. And as well as his sport, he was a great huntin’, shootin’, fishin’ man, so he was always up deerstalking in the bush and things. And every time he started to save up enough money for an engagement ring, he’d buy another pig dog or another gun or something. And eventually, the only way they managed to do it was him bringing his pay round to my mother’s house each night when he got paid, and she would take out some money to save up for the engagement ring and give him his allowance back. And funnily enough, until the day she died, and she died young … died relatively young for these days … sixty-five I think she was. Until the day she died she still looked after all the finances in the family because she knew the old man would be hopeless with it.
Anyway, so that’s the story of … anyway my father lived on until he was in his eighty-second year, and died. The day he died it was interesting, I’d actually gone down to the Hawke’s Bay Club for a couple of gins. Frank, you wouldn’t believe that of me, but I just felt like a couple of gins. And I went down there and I got a message to say that the old man had been taken down to P A Hospital as it was in those days, for tests. So I thought ‘hmm – I’m going to go and pick my kids up and take them down to see Grumpy’, as they called him.’ The kids always called him Grumpy, and a most un-grumpy fellow he was. So I came up to the house and I picked up my three kids, and we went down. And we were talking to him, and I remember we were having this discussion whether Zinzan Brooke should be selected for the All Blacks in a particular game – I can’t remember the details. And Ben, my eldest boy, said “Grumpy’s gone to sleep!” And I looked at him and he was, he was just asleep. So I said “well look, let’s leave him”, so we came home – it’s you know, maybe seven … seven-thirty. And at one o’clock in the morning they rang me to say that he’d passed on, so you know, at the end he had a peaceful passing.
So prior to his passing he was involved in rugby politics?
Yeah, he was. He was the Hawke’s Bay selector for eleven years. He was the North Island selector at one stage when the North Island – South Island games were big. ‘Cause they’re not now, obviously. He was on the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union for many years, and a very proud Tech Old Boy.
Interestingly enough, he had a huge amount of All Black memorabilia – you know, South African jerseys and everything like that. But he didn’t place very much importance on it, and in fact he gave it all … all bar one jersey, which wasn’t a rugby jersey, it was a dress jersey that they were given. It looked like a cricketer’s jersey. And he gave them all to the Tech Club, they put them on display in the clubrooms. Then they did some modifications, and they’ve gone – nobody knows what happened to them. So that stuff’s all been lost which is a bit of a shame, because now my kids would love to have access to Grumpy’s … because only one of my kids remembers Grumpy properly, one sort of vaguely remembers him and one doesn’t remember him at all.
But it was really good – we had some great times. What happened was I went to Australia to live in 1971, and I came back at the end of ’73, and my parents built a bed-sit under their house for me. And they had bought a spec house off Charlie Townsend, who used to be the Mitsubishi dealer, and old Charlie had built this huge house on the hill. And so I used to have to come down the drive in front of Charlie’s house, and he often would be sitting out there with Dot having a gin in the evening, and he’d say “would you like one before you go up?” So I’d pop up and have a couple of gins with Charlie. Some years later Charlie and I got talking at the Club, and he told me that he was going to build a new house over at Whakarire Avenue … which we look straight at. So I agreed to buy the big house. So we ended up owning the house, and my father – I was on the … effectively on the front of the section, so it was a really, really neat time to be there, next to my father.
And then you know, I came back from Australia in ’73; I was married in ’75; three children – Benjamin is thirty-eight, and he’s a policeman, and member of the Armed Offenders’ Squad and all those sort of things. And he’s got a six-year-old son called Flynn. Benjamin is Benjamin William Paul.
And then my second child is Mac. Mac is Mac Selby Douglas, and Mac works for the BNZ in Auckland – he’s got a pretty powerful position. And he’s married to Amanda, and Amanda is a consultant Paediatric Anaesthetist at the Starship Hospital, and they’ve got two and a half children … they’ve got Freddy and Billy and another little boy on the way.
And then my youngest is Jane, and she’s Jane Victoria Louise. And she got married in November just gone, and she’s married to a lovely young bloke who works for Air New Zealand by the name of Ryan Hallion, so she’s Jane Hallion now. And they live in Auckland, and Jane is a specialist cardiothoracic nurse. She did a nursing degree in Otago, then went to the Royal Melbourne and specialised in cardiothoracic nursing. Then she went to the Brompton Hospital in London and specialised in post-operative care of heart and lung patients, and she now works in the unit in Auckland where they do heart and lung transplants. She does two-thirds of her time on the ward and one-third on research. So all the kids have done well, and they’re great. We you know, see as much of them as we can – and Ben living locally, we see a lot more of – so it’s all good.
Now coming back to young Bill – did you play sports?
Yeah, I played sport. To be honest my sport was always motor racing, and I’ve been motor racing since I was old enough to get a competition licence. And my last event was the Te Onepu Hill Climb – the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Te Onepu Hill Climb, which was just a few months ago. And so I always concentrated on cars, engines, motor sport and so on, but I did play rugby all the way through. I used to play a bit of competitive tennis, a bit of competitive squash, but certainly not to any great level, just for recreation and fitness and things because my sport was always motor racing.
But I went to Taradale School … runner-up for the Dux in Standard 6. Went to Colenso High School – hated it with a vengeance – absolutely hated it. The headmaster was my father’s Commanding Officer in the second world war and he ran the place absolutely like a military camp.
What was his name?
His name was Jim Reedy.
Jim Reedy was at Napier Boys’ …
Yeah, he was at Napier Boys’ before that. Yeah. Well Lieutenant-Colonel. He and I clashed from day one. I mean I was brought up on this little farm where from the time we were probably ten or eleven we were driving tractors round the side of the paddocks, and – I actually drove my father’s Austin Westminster from Taupo to Napier when I was eleven. The old man had been up there for a meeting, and he was dog-tired. So we just got on the Rangitaiki Plains and he pulled over and he said “you can drive for a while, Willie – give me a yell when we come to the hills.” And he woke up as we came down the Esk Valley.
Well they’re a lovely car to drive …
Yeah, yeah. Anyway, I went to Colenso and having been runner-up for the Dux I ended up in 3A. I went 3A, 4B, 5C – I just couldn’t stand it. We were taught at home to show initiative, and yet anybody that showed initiative in this environment was frowned upon. It was the most unfriendly, un … well, for me, unsuccessful, so eventually Jim Reedy decided that he would dispense with my services, which was a bit embarrassing for my father who was on the Board of Governors of the three high schools. [Chuckle]
So the old man then went to Pat Caird who was the headmaster of Napier Boys’ High, and said “look, Willie’s got a few problems at the school”, you know, “how about taking him on?” And Pat Caird who was a lovely, lovely man, and I played bowls with many years later, and we joked about it … but he said to the old man “Sorry, Doug, not that son of yours.” So my father went to see Frank Crist at Hastings Boys’ High, and Frank Crist said “send him out – I’ll sort him out.” And that’s how I came to Hastings Boys’ High. And so I went to Hastings Boys’ High. My mother said I was never – she had this great dream of me becoming an accountant, for God’s sake! And so she said I would not leave school until I got some qualifications.
Well eventually, I went and got a job without telling my parents. And I used to drive off down the drive … ‘cause we had a three-quarter mile drive on the farm … and I’d drive off in my school uniform and get changed into my work clothes, and I’d go to work. And I started off as the office junior at Murray Roberts & Co on the corner of King and Queen Streets in Hastings. And so I worked there for a while and came the first winter, they were short of somebody in the Wool office in Napier, so I went across there. In those days the Stock and Station agents had sort of a … almost a cadet scheme where you did your term as a junior, and then you went into the merchandise department, the stock department and shipping department – all those things. So I went across to do my stint in the Wool department and I really enjoyed it. And funnily enough I had worked in that wool store in my school holidays, and so I knew a lot of the people, and so I worked there for a year.
But the motor racing was costing me a fortune, and my mother had a black book, and every time I borrowed money off her it went in her black book. And every time I wanted to borrow some more money, she would just pull out the black book and just look at me.
And it’s really interesting. I was earning $31.68 a fortnight – that was my take-home pay – $31.68. My mother was charging me $15 a week board. And I’ve talked to some fellows older than me who work for insurance companies that were transferred to places like Gisborne, and their families had to subsidise them. Because the cops – well, after paying my mother board I ended up with $1.68, and I said to her “this is just unacceptable – I can’t do it.” And she said “well, go and find somewhere cheaper.” And obviously I couldn’t.
So what I used to do … I used to start off doing commercial cleaning at five in the morning, and then be at work by eight thirty. And then I used to start at five thirty at night commercial cleaning and work ‘til eight, and then I’d go home and work in the shed on my race car. So you know, I worked at one stage … I was working cleaning the Wattie’s cafeteria … that was a soul-destroying task, I can tell you. I remember cleaning Sir James Wattie’s office once, and … just trying to get the dust off his desk with the vacuum cleaner, all these little strips of paper went up the vacuum cleaner … having to pull it to bits. He’d put that [?] on his desk. But you know, I cleaned a lot of places – I cleaned the Napier Post Office. But that’s how I paid for my motor racing because in those days, most young guys that were working in banks, insurance companies, stock and station agencies and so on, they all had second jobs – pouring gas at gas stations, working the town [speaking together] – we all had secondary jobs ‘cause the pay just didn’t keep you going.
So anyway, I left and I went out to work at UEB Industries, in the dye-house out at Awatoto. And I had to use a little bit of poetic licence about my age. And by telling them I was – I think at that stage I was nineteen or something … eighteen, nineteen – and I went out there and I told them I was twenty. ‘Cause to get a full man’s wage which, I might add, was 0.83 cents an hour, you had to be twenty. It came back to haunt me some years later when I was asked to join the superannuation scheme and I had to supply a birth certificate. But anyway, so I went in there and we worked eleven-hour days and we worked six and a half days a week. And man! I was making some real money, and that was fantastic. And I’d been there about … I don’t know, maybe twelve months or … bit less, and a guy from the office came out and said “look, I hear you’ve had some office experience. We want somebody to assist our stock controller”, so I became the assistant stock controller.
Interestingly enough, the guy that came out of that office and gave me the job as assistant stock controller was actually the father of my now Assistant Mayor. [Chuckle] Anyway, so I worked there for three years altogether, and then I had a bust-up with my girlfriend, and I thought ‘I’m off!’
So I packed my bags and I went to Australia, which was almost three years of an amazing time. I arrived in Melbourne with $50 in my pocket, and nowhere to stay. I spent the first night in the People’s Palace – they don’t even exist now, but it was the old Salvation [Army] dosshouse for … you know. Anyway I came back, and the firm had said to me “when you come back, there’ll always be a job for you.” So I went back and saw them and they said to me “oh”, you k ow “you can start on the floor again.” And of course I’d worked my way up to being salaried staff, and everything. So I told them I wasn’t going to go back to square one.
So I had a mate who ran the wool store just down below us here, and he said “oh, I’m looking for a leading hand Inward man.” So I went down there and I said “look, it’ll only be a fill-in, but I’ll come and help you out for a while.” So I’d only been there a couple of months and UEB came to me and said “look, we really need you – we’ve got some real issues”, so I was able to talk my own terms. And you know, straight back on salary, straight into the superannuation scheme – all those sort of things. And I worked there for another five years.
And during that time I was playing tennis every week with a bunch of mates and this new guy came to town, and was flatting with one of my mates. And he was very knowledgeable about the finance industry but he knew no one in the city … didn’t know a soul. So I was talking to him after tennis one day, and he said “have you ever thought of changing your job?” Because he knew I had local knowledge, and I said “Oh – not really.” And he said “why don’t you come and have a talk to me?” So at that stage I was on $9,000 a year, so I went in to have a talk to him and he offered me a job as an investment manager for the company. And he said “what salary are you on now?” I said “I’m on $12,000 a year.” He said “$12,000?” I said “yeah.” So he rang his boss, and they said well they can’t better it, but they’ll match it. So I immediately increased my salary by a third, and they gave me a company car and a company credit card and all sorts of things. So I worked there at Challenge Finance which was part of Fletcher Challenge, and part of my job was calling on accountants, share brokers, solicitors and really peddling the company’s wares. And I called on this guy called Wesley Bruce – W B Bruce, Stock and Share Broker, and I was calling on him in 1979-1980. And it was just at the time when the oil exploration boom was going, and he was a one-man band – I mean literally, one man – no staff, nothing. And he said “why don’t you come and join me?” And I said “well …” you know, “I don’t know about this”. I was working for Fletcher Challenge, it was a big company and all the protection that that provides. Anyway, eventually I said “yep – I’ll give it a go.”
So I joined Wes on the 1st April 1981. But before I joined him I got this horrible knot in my gut, thinking ‘I’ve just resigned, handed back my company car and all the … company superannuation. What happens if …’ ‘cause I thought Wes was old then – he was about fifty-five. And I thought “what happens if he dies in the meantime – what have I got?’ So I went back to him, and I said “look, just as an interim thing, I think we should have something in writing.” And he pulled out a piece of paper out of his drawer and he signed the bottom of it, and he said “you fill it in.” And I took it outside, and I screwed it up and threw it in the rubbish tin. And that was the closest we ever came in the whole history of Somerset Smith Partners, to there ever being a partnership agreement. The firm is completely based on handshakes and trust.
So I worked for Wes from ’81-’82, went into partnership in ’82. In ’83 I got talking to a good mate of mine, Owen Somerset Smith. Now Owen was a fabulous fellow, and he had joined his father – his father had started a share broking firm. His father was the retired Public Trustee, and when he retired from there people said “oh, you’re not going to leave us on our own?” His name was Ward Somerset Smith, and so he started this firm in 1934. Owen joined him and worked until the war – Owen was a prisoner of war in the second world war. He came back from the war and took over the firm. He was joined by David Sewell in 1965. And so Owen and I were talking about the fact that we should computerise – can you imagine a firm that is not computerised today?
So that was about 1983, and I said “well, we’re going to have to computerise” – I was sick of bringing books home at night and sitting at the kitchen table writing out these old ledgers for hours and hours. So out of that discussion Owen and I decided that we should put the two firms together. By that time our firm was known as Bruce and Dalton, and theirs was Somerset Smith, Sewell & Co. So to cut a long story short the firms were put together on the 1st October 1983, and became Somerset Smith Partners. And then I was there basically until I retired in 2011. In the end of course Owen retired and subsequently died; Wesley Bruce retired and subsequently died; and David Sewell retired, and he’s still there … he’s still alive, he’s not in the firm. But you know, we’ve taken on other young guys, and the firm is absolutely thriving, it’s fantastic. I still call in occasionally to see them and they’re doing really well, so I’m really proud of that.
Yeah, but you know, it wasn’t without a bit of effort on your part to pull yourself up, to work extra hours – it didn’t just happen, did it?
Well I daresay … I mean our firm in the end, or when I left, we had branches in Havelock North, Taupo, Thames, Napier of course, and we were actually the biggest provincial share brokers in New Zealand. And when you consider that to become the senior partner in the biggest provincial share broking business in New Zealand, and your only qualification is a diploma in wool classing, is quite an unusual path to …
But it’s about this, isn’t it?
Yeah. Well it’s about a) being practical, ‘cause life’s a practical exercise, and it’s about being prepared to work hard. And in all my jobs … and I’ve never applied for any of them, you know? I’ve always been offered them … oh, barring the time when I was in Australia. That’s different, but when I’m home. And I’ve always been prepared to get stuck in and work hard and I think there’s a lesson there for a lot of young people.
You have a great love for your city, don’t you, as a place to live? How would you describe it in just a few words?
Well I think it’s the … I say to people, “it’s the best jumping-off place in the world.” And what I mean by that is, you can go out to the airport just across here, and … I mean I’m in a very privileged position of being able to sit here – if we’re picking people up from the airport – I can actually watch their plane land and I can be out there to pick them up before they’ve picked their luggage up.
But we can go out to the airport – I can be at the airport in five minutes; in fifty-five minutes I can be in Auckland and fly to anywhere in the world. But I come back on the reverse trip, people say to me “what’s the best thing ..?” I mean I love America, and we spend a lot of time up in the States. But people say to me “what’s the best thing you ever saw?” You know, “what do you most enjoy?” I said “the best thing you ever see is the Taupo hills when you’re descending into Napier Airport – that’s the best view you’ll ever have.” Because you come back here, you can be … I mean we’ve got everything the big cities can offer in terms of social, and welfare, and all those sorts of things. You know, we have a lovely café culture; we have lovely restaurants; we’ve got all the sporting clubs you could have; you’re no more than ten minutes away from your golf club, five minutes away from your tennis club; you know, you can …
It’s got the lot.
It’s got absolutely everything going for it and yet you’re not isolated. And we have great connectivity out of the Napier Airport – you can go out there and you can get on the seven o’clock plane or the eight o’clock plane, or the nine-fifty or the eleven-ten – you can get on any of those planes and connect to overseas airlines and so on. It is a fabulous, fabulous place to live, and – you know, I’m due to retire fully in October 2019, and what my wife and I might end up doing at that stage I don’t know, but we’ll certainly always have a base in Napier. But we’re looking at other options. One of the things I’m very conscious of is – I’ve always been a nosey sod – and I drive past all these roads when we’re going down through the Wairarapa, and I see signs saying ‘Alfredton’, or names like that. And I think ‘wonder what’s down the end of that road?’
There are so many places down roads – places like Herbertville, and you said Alfredton, but I can understand looking down the road, find a little jewel.
We’ve done a … not in New Zealand, but we’ve done a lot of motor homing. We’re going to Australia on Anzac Day unfortunately, but it’s the only time we could go – going to Australia on Anzac Day to have a look at a motor home with a view to bringing it to New Zealand. So you know, we’re not sure what we’re going to do, but the thing is that you know, I’ve got three kids. One of the things that’s disappointing about Hawke’s Bay is the fact that we seem to have concentrated – and it’s something I’m trying to put right, but one man can’t do it – but we seem to have concentrated on providing industries that only employ labourers. And what we’ve missed out on is providing industries that provide career jobs. And one of the things that Rod Drury’s done by opening up Zero, and the Now Head Office and those sort of places – that’s fantastic because people that want a career will come here. That’s what we need – that’s sort of the last brick in the pile, if you like. We need to have something that stops my kids you know, having to go away, or my grandkids in particular.
A question about these racing cars that you used to have – did you build them up or did you buy built up cars?
A bit of everything. I mean I’m a car nut, and at the moment we’ve got nine vehicles. And so … my wife drives a 1929 Model A Phaeton, and I drive a 1928 Model A Roadster Pickup, so we’ve got our Art Deco cars, if you like. But also, I’ve actually just purchased a 1969 Triumph TR6 Sports car. And my new son-in-law happened to be here one day, we were having a beer and he said “oh, my father’s got a car in the shed in Adelaide”. And I said “what is it?” He said “I don’t know,” he said “I think it’s a Triumph or something.” So I gave him the phone, and I said “ring him, now!” So to cut a long story short, Shirley and I jumped on the plane and flew across to Adelaide. Bought the car – it’s been sitting in the shed for twenty years … hasn’t gone for twenty years. So we shipped it back here, and the deal was that this young fellow that was marrying my daughter wanted to rock up to his wedding in the car. I mean, it was quite a mess. And we got it here in April, and they were married in November, so we only had seven months to work on it. But it happened, and it’s certainly not at the stage I want it to be, but when I retire I’ll take the body off it and rebuild it from the ground up.
My sanity area is my workshop, which is in the Onekawa Industrial area. And I keep six cars down there, and it’s a full mechanical workshop with Istobel hoist and all those sort of things. And in that we’ve also got – apart from the two Model As – the TR6 is up there at the house, but we’ve got my Mini Cooper S … one of the original shaped Mini Cooper Ss … which is one of the fastest in New Zealand. It’s 1430ccs and got every bell and whistle on it. I’ve got one of the BMW Cooper Ss which is all modified and very, very fast – does a hundred miles an hour, or a hundred and sixty kilometres an hour, in third gear and it’s still got fourth, fifth and sixth to go. I’ve sold one of my Beattie Sports cars, but I’ve still got the original Beattie that was built, and that was built by a Napier guy called Stephen Beattie. And they went on, and there’s about forty or fifty of them in New Zealand now, but I’ve got the original car, and I did own two of them at one stage. And I have to say we’ve built it and rebuilt it – I had the biggest accident of my motor racing career at the Pukeora Hill Climb a few years ago, which is why I’m currently going to the physiotherapist every day. But I hit a clay bank, and it was seven foot off the ground and I was doing ninety miles an hour when I went in. And it took the whole front of the car off, and nobody noticed how it didn’t also take my head off, but …
What sort of motor did you have in it?
It’s got a … what we call a Pinto motor. It’s actually … it runs in the two-litre class so it’s basically … the block is a two litre Sierra, and then it’s got a lot of air slinging gear on it and all that sort of thing, it’s all dry-sumped. And you know, it’s a great little car which – I have to be honest – these days, I find it very easy to get into, because gravity helps with me that, but getting out of it is not quite the same because it has no doors, and you just lower yourself in. And then you’ve got to somehow get yourself out.
Now have you played golf?
[Shows photo] That’s my workshop.
It’s professional, isn’t it?
I’ve played golf off and on – I played bowls for a few years and so on. The thing is, in my current position it’s almost impossible to do those things, because on average … I’ve made a point this term of cutting down the hours, because last term when I kept records I was averaging sixty-five hours a week, and a lot of it on the weekends, hell of a lot of it at night, and so it just interrupted. One of the things I do in my workshop – I have drinks with all my old mates on a Tuesday night. And the reason for that is, in the mayoralty game you can get out of touch with real people and you know, all your Councillors – we all get on well. But your Councillors have got all their own agendas and everything, and you can end up feeling quite isolated. So what I do is on every Tuesday night that I can … it’s not every Tuesday night, but when I can … and we will be doing so tonight. On a Monday night I send out an email to them saying … or a text message to say I’m going to be at the shed at five o’clock. And you know, we get anywhere between two and a dozen turn up, and it’s really good.
Right – now what about things you haven’t told me about?
Well, I can tell you that I was married to my first wife Hilaire for twenty-odd years. She’s the mother of my three children and she’s an absolute superb mother to this day, and grandmother. And there is no such thing as a good broken marriage, but if there was such a thing we have it. Hilaire and I are still really close, she comes around here and has coffee and chats away to my wife, Shirley. If there’s anything on with the kids everybody does things. If Hilaire is making something that she knows I always used to like she sends some round with the kids or whatever, so we get on really well, you know, I often call in to see her at her house, or she calls in here.
And so Shirley and I – I’ve been very involved in the Napier Operatic Society, and Shirley and I actually met singing on stage. And Shirley still sings professionally, and she still sings out three or four times a week. So we’ve been married I think since about 2001, but I think my marriage was dissolved in about 1997 … my first marriage … and Shirley and I’ve been married since 2001. Shirley was previously married to a commercial fisherman, and he is now in care in Princess Alexandra, so Shirl sings down there at least once a week, sometimes twice a week. So she always goes to see him and makes sure he’s being looked after.
Well that’s lovely, because you know it’s about people, life, isn’t it?
Oh, it is. And I can’t see – the one thing that I’ve never, ever understood, is how people can be married to somebody for twenty years and have a number of children with them, and somehow over so-and-so they become life enemies. It’s just something that doesn’t sit with me, and so Hilaire and I … in fact Shirley came home from the supermarket yesterday and said “I’ve just been shopping with your ex-wife”, so they … wandering round the supermarket together, so …
Sitting here … I spent twenty-five years selling real estate all over Hawke’s Bay, … and I was thinking here ‘how the hell could you price that million-dollar view?’ That’s the most superb view I’ve ever seen of anywhere in Napier. ‘Cause it’s the angle it’s at.
Well there’s only one better view than this in Napier and that was my previous home, which became matrimonial property, so …[chuckle] so Hilaire kept that one, which is good. So this is fantastic. Well as I say, my daughter got married on the 17th November which was a Friday, and on the Saturday we had ninety people up here. And because we’ve got eleven outside doors, we just opened the whole house – and three decks, and people just … and it just worked perfectly. And so it’s great – I mean normally we have all the cushions out and all that sort of thing, and some umbrellas up.
All right, well I think unless you can think of anything else?
Well we’ve covered a fair amount of ground, haven’t we?
You know, I appreciate the time – you’re a busy man with civic duties and because you’re a doer you tend to be in the public eye …
It depends whether you know what’s going on or whether you are using social media.
That’s exactly right, Bill.
Social media is absolutely … I mean it was developed because it was going to be this amazing thing to keep people in touch, and we do use it for all our overseas friends and so on. We just love getting notes from our overseas friends showing what they’re doing – you know, snow mobiling or whatever they’re doing. But it becomes – and we’ve had the worst end of it – in fact I think I’m really the first Mayor of Napier who has been the mayor whilst social media is so prevalent. And you know, we’ve had … you know, people threatening to burn our house down and all that sort of thing.
The big problem is the anonymity of a lot of the comment.
Because once upon a time you binned anything that didn’t have a signed and addressed name on it.
Yeah, yeah. Well that’s what happens, I mean we’ve got some tough decisions to make around, for instance the War Memorial. But we’ve got a small vociferous group that have just decided they’re going to take over the whole project, and they’re criticising us for the delays it’s taking. If they butted out we could have done it six months ago.
And that’s the sad thing, that they wait until decisions are made and then try and knock them down.
All right, well look I think we’ll stop on that note. And thank you very much, Bill.
That’s all right.
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.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper