David Blake Ward & Elizabeth (Betty) Lorraine Ward Interview
Today is 22nd June 2018. I’m interviewing David Blake Ward on his family in New Zealand, and particularly Hawke’s Bay. David, tell us something about the life and times …
Yes, certainly, Frank. My forbears originally settled in Dunedin, where they were involved in various forms of business activities, [?] and professional occupations.
I was born in Wellington, as were my brother, John, and sister, Cass. We eventually finished up in Christchurch for our school years, where my father was a businessman. He was a director and Manager of the DIC, a drapery company. [Drapery & General Importing Company of NZ Ltd]
My schooling was at Christchurch Boys’ High. I had four years’ secondary schooling; played rugby for the 1st XV; followed that by having a year of practical work on a sheep and cattle station in North Canterbury …
Can you remember the name of that?
In Domett, North Canterbury, the property was. And … then went to Lincoln College where I did a farm trainee course, followed by a Diploma in Agriculture. On leaving Lincoln I applied for a job with Wrightson’s in Wellington, and was taken on as an office boy, being one of the oldest office juniors they had, never employed. At that stage I would have been twenty years of age. They gave me a pretty quick run-through various aspects of the company, and I finished up doing quite a lot of accounting work … branch reconciliations and other work for them in Wellington.
I was then transferred to Hamilton and given a company car, which was a Peugeot – I thought I was made, getting this nice new car. Cars were hard to obtain in those times, and very expensive. After about twelve months in Hamilton itself, I was transferred to Morrinsville, where I did all the fat stock drafting – sheep and lambs, and cattle. After approximately two years there I joined Hawke’s Bay Farmers in Central Hawke’s Bay … in Takapau, where I stayed where we lived for seven years.
I met my wife, Betty, in Hamilton. She was a school teacher, and our children were born in Waipukurau Maternity Home, of which Bett’s aunties, the Miss Olivers, [Misses Oliver] Jessie and Ethel, were both Matrons of the Maternity Home. So they were very pleased to see a couple more new Wards on the ground, as we’re not a large family.
My brother and sister are deceased – my sister twelve months ago; my brother three years ago, was killed in a bus accident in Manila.
From Takapau I was asked to take the livestock Manager’s job of [at] Common Shelton in Gisborne, which we duly took up, and had four years in Gisborne. That was a part of our life that we really enjoyed as our family were young, and I had access to hunting and fishing blocks, which I enjoyed along with my job. I think I was the last stock Manager in the company to have a company saddle. Part of my work would necessitate riding out miles to most bigger stations to inspect cattle, to do livestock inspections.
After four and a half, five years there I was transferred by the company back to Waipukurau to take over the Waipukurau branch as Manager. It was at this stage where Hawke’s Bay Farmers got interested in deer farming, and asked me if I would do a feasibility study for the directors of Hawke’s Bay Farmers, to see whether, as a company, we should encourage our clients or anyone else that was interested, into this new venture in deer farming. I was sufficiently attracted by the outdoor life – it entailed the travel involved; the time spent in fixed wing light planes and helicopters catching feral animals; and for the last approximately ten years was fully involved in the deer business and the marketing side of the deer business.
In the late 1970s … ‘78 and ‘79 … farmers were looking for diversification of their station operations, and were going through tough periods with some of the various aspects of the livestock they were farming. At this stage the Government notified the farmers that they had the right to write standard values down over a period, from any farming income. And also, this really attracted business investors that had big profit margins and didn’t like paying tax, so they could invest in the dairy industry by buying animals at relatively high values and writing the devaluations down as a loss against other income.
This period was extremely busy, and involved establishing deer farms around Hawke’s Bay and the East Coast. Some large corporations got involved, and we saw some huge investments and deer purchases, and establishment of large operations. Deer values – at the early days when they came on the market from farms and the South Island started to have a few surplus weaners and yearling hinds for sale – started at $600-800, and over that period we saw good breeding hinds rise to $4,500-5,000 per head.
That’s huge, isn’t it?
Yeah. I also was involved over this period in giving services to the deer industry – spoke at a lot of conferences and meetings about deer farm establishment, and presented cash flows and budget flows to justify the farming of deer; also involved and started up were deer slaughter premises in Hastings, which Craig Hutchison now runs as Progressive Meats; and also, velvet which is being bought on farm by Asians, direct from the farmer.
I investigated the returns that farmers were achieving with the velvet, and thought there was a lot more money that should be going back into their own pockets, and on that basis I developed a grading system for deer velvet which identified over fifty types of antler – depending on style, number of times, grades were A,B,C,D. This grading system has been constantly reviewed by the input from the buyers and the deer industry, and association with the Game Industry Board, and it ended up as a very sophisticated method of identifying velvet. The mere fact of being able to offer quantity of deer that fit set specification meant that buyers were able to buy velvet sight unseen, and this resulted in buyers actively operating from China, Korea, Hong Kong and other Asian countries.
Was this because you’d established such a good grading system that they knew exactly what they were getting?
They had trust in our grading operation. And it’s like everything else – it had to be done absolutely meticulously, so the farmer got the correct return for his velvet and the buyers bought the velvet as described, and the quality that they wanted.
In the early eighties I was invited by the New Zealand Deer Farmers’ Association to go over as a special adviser with a delegation to Russia, Poland and the UK. This was a most interesting trip, as we had a phalanx of seven members that had expertise in their own fields – veterinarians, deer farmers, accountants. And I offered what I knew on the marketing aspects that may be of interest. Our major goal was to get Russian velvet for a substance called pentoprine, which is a deer tonic, out to New Zealand for Invermay and other scientists to identify the properties to help with the marketing of velvet, and trace its benefits as a medicine. This velvet ostensibly was to be brought back to New Zealand in a diplomatic bag from our Embassy in Moscow. This three weeks in those communist countries were during the difficulties with their political situations – Solidarity, and everything that went along with that. And we were the first [?] to go into the Caucasus’, which is a part of Russia that hadn’t been open to Westerners for thirty-odd years.
After that, the other improvements we did with the industry, was to identify bloodlines in Europe and the UK to improve quality antler. Deer antler is strongly heritable, and the introduction of stags with good genetics and velvet backgrounds, very rapidly comes through the breeding herd and the juvenile stock.
Of course you would’ve had to have established a lot of this yourselves, because there was no historical information, was there?
No. Yeah, the actual production of velvet was very competitive amongst deer farmers that were specialising in the product, and opened up the import of bloodlines from German[y], Sweden, Denmark, Yugoslavia and the UK. I – or our company – had a veterinarian full time employed in the UK, and we were the first company to set up recognised quarantine facilities in the UK, Denmark and Sweden.
Contrary to a lot of comments, we found the Ministry of Agriculture Scientific Veterinarians at that period most helpful, and made a policy of taking one or more away on our procurement trips to help us write up the health requirements for the industry, which was strongly regulated.
Now your focus was on the whole animal, or primarily the velvet?
No – I focussed on all the attributes of good livestock principles, the development of the animal, carcass weights, weight gains, fertility, velvet rates – the whole spectrum of production.
It must’ve been fascinating to’ve been able to have all this information – a lot of it was new, wasn’t it?
Yes, a lot of the information was new. A lot of it – I had to develop it and make sure it was watertight before it could be put in place, to protect the buyer and the vendors.
A large part of the industry was the sale of surplus females, oversold normally as weaners or yearling hinds, plus all stags in Hawke’s Bay to generate cash flows for deer farmers. The availability of deer caused a problem because the demand for animals in the early days exceeded the availability, and forward sale contracts were developed to buy weaner hinds and breeding hinds forward, from large South Island operations. These safeguarded the purchaser; the description of the hinds and the weights they were to be at delivery, and also protected the vendors against a forward sale.
[It] always intrigued me during the days of mainly hunted deer, and you know, they’d stockpile it; the helicopter or the fixed wing plane would come and lift it out. But all that deer meat was sprayed with pyrethrum to keep the blowflies off it, and you know, that was exported to Europe, and they loved it, that deer meat. Our farm deer meat must’ve been very bland after them eating the pyrethrum-covered …
… meat. But that was fascinating, ‘cause you would’ve seen the dumps of hundreds of cans of pyrethrum at these strips. It changed the whole meat industry having farmed venison, David, didn’t it?
The values of live deer changed drastically over the period 1995 to 2005 with values rising and falling. The withdrawal of standard values really caused the market a hiccup, and the market fell out of the deer industry in that it was very difficult to sell any deer.
At this period I travelled with Tim Wallace, a well-known pilot and aviator from the South Island, and we went into Australia and held meetings around Australia in each state, to see if we could attract capital from Australian professional people to get involved in deer farming in New Zealand, to see if we could sustain the market and get live sales going again. We were successful in getting some funds out to put on a share farming basis with the better deer farmers that we selected, mainly on a fifty-fifty basis on the progeny, and slowly built the industry up again and got the confidence and flow going. Venison and velvet, like wool or any meat product, has its highs and lows, and when times are good they’re really good, and when they’re low, they’re difficult. At the time of dictating this, there’s a very strong enquiry for venison with the farmer being paid in excess of $10 a kilo, and quality velvet for Korean grades making $115 a kilo. So deer farmers are leading the way against traditional livestock, even considering the returns from dairying.
So at $115 a kilo for velvet out of Korea, what would an average set of antlers weigh?
Oh, four kilos.
So they’d be worth ..?
$500. The largest production of velvet in New Zealand is on a Hawke’s Bay property, and they probably velvet around fifteen hundred stags – in fact, I don’t know of any bigger in the world.
During this period I was invited by the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to go to Nome, Alaska, to help the Eskimo people to establish marketing their reindeer antler. This resulted in several trips to Nome, Alaska, and I spent quite a bit of time with the herders out on the tundra, tendering [tending] their reindeer.
We looked at the possibility of farming reindeer in New Zealand, and Tim Wallace and I did some exploration out of the Gallivare in Northern Sweden and the Arctic Circle, to see whether we could find animals and whether it was possible to bring them back to New Zealand. The consensus opinion was, after a lot of research, that our country was not cold enough to sustain the type of browse which reindeer eat, which is herbaceous herbs and rough grass. And we felt that our English pastures which red deer eat readily, would not be beneficial for them. So that’s not progressed any further. But there is always various opportunities in New Zealand, deer farmers and marketers being innovative people, they’re always trying to have a go at something.
At forty-nine years of age I decided that I had had enough travelling as I was away from home for six, seven months of the year, and thought I would try and establish some business enterprises of my own. To this end, I was fortunate in not having changed companies during my working life, and left with a reasonably substantial super fund.
My first investigation was into the grape industry, and subsequently established a vineyard with two partners in Hastings to procure grapes. At this stage my manager who was operating the vineyard, wished to get going himself so I helped and encouraged him to do his own grafting of his grape stocks to resist phylloxera, and we got established on a vineyard now known as Clearview Estate. From a very small beginning the vineyard leapt forward as a small, specialist vineyard with a well-recognised restaurant, and is the longest-term winery restaurant in New Zealand at the moment. I decided at this time to sell the grape block, which we duly did.
What varieties were on that grape block?
The varieties we were growing for Cook’s wine were Dr Hogg Muscat, which are a high-yielding grape used for the muscat sparkling, spumante-type wines. The values the wineries were prepared to pay dropped by half in value, and at this stage of my career I resolved never to get involved in any business where I didn’t have full control of the end product.
To this end I bought another property and established pinus radiata seedlings for Carter Holt Harvey, and saw one private farm forestry block and others that subsequently grew to be the major nursery for radiata on the East Coast, and certainly had a lot of challenges to establish and grow radiata seedlings to the required specifications.
You went in there with no experience or radiata at all, but you were very successful. Did you have some good people working with you?
It was mainly … I always had an affinity for farming and the land, whether it was livestock or growing anything, and picked up the knowledge to successfully start in the radiata. Bill McGavick who had a trucking business in Hawke’s Bay, had previously grown a small number of radiata for Carter Holts and he was extremely helpful in guiding us through those first couple of early seasons.
That continued for about seven years. We finished up with in excess of fifty acres of nursery, [phone rings] growing up to five and a half to six million radiata seedlings a season, with a staff of approximately forty during the winter months.
At this time the forestry companies were getting very keen on genetics and the GF rating of radiata, which is a growth form rating of the seedlings, and wanted high-spec seedlings planted. So we got up to GF28s and 30s, which is twice the ratings of the original seedlings. Long term has proven that the GF16 and 17 ratings with a broad seed base and the slower growth of the trees – it was slightly slower – grow better product.
How did you harvest the seed?
The seed was purchased on an annual basis from Rotorua, where all the seed was certified and collected under very set specifications.
How would they collect ..?
They hand-picked the cones. They’d select their trees, and then they’d get the seed from them and then they went into cuttings, where they’d take cuttings off specially selected trees. And Carter Holt encouraged us to get involved in that and actually paid for [sound of rain] massive wind breaks and other amenities for us to supply them with the seedlings that they wanted.
So that means then that you had the seed and you had to dry those – how did you get them out of the ..?
Oh, they’d be spun out in the [?] and dried. We never did that. Seeds came to us from a company called Proseed, which was a Government company … yes, it’s a lot of seedlings.
Like everything else, the demand for seedlings dropped, and I decided to put land that I owned into grapes which we established to sell to Clearview Estate, who at this stage were getting a small winery going. Our grapes were carefully farmed with wide spacings and exposure-free bunch to the sun and coastal winds, as our property was near the coast. And the quality of grapes across the varieties we were taking, plus the expertise of Tim Turley, resulted in getting national and international awards for most of the varieties.
The vineyard was all round your home?
Yeah. So that went extremely well, and built every year with increased volume of grapes, and to markets that Tim had established in New Zealand and overseas. I went in as a shareholder … forty-nine per cent shareholder … with Tim in his winery when he established his first crushings of grapes grown on the properties.
After about eight years of growing grapes, in 2016 I decided, after wandering around getting frost machines started at half past two in the morning, that at seventy-six years of age that it might be a good idea to sell up. We had two cash buyers knocked on the door before we could even advertise it with a selling agent, and subsequently ended up by buying an apartment in Havelock North, where I live with my wife, Betty, who enjoys living in Havelock and playing golf. And also she’s had to look after me, as my health has been a bit indifferent the last couple of years. So that’s …
Over time, David, you’ve had some involvement with Havelock North Rotary Club?
Yes. I was a member of Waipuk [Waipukurau] Rotary Club, and Havelock North. But I always felt very guilty at being in places round the world where I didn’t have the opportunity to make up as a visiting Rotarian in some out of the way places. I did go to a Rotary meeting in Nome, Alaska, and also visited one or two Rotary clubs in the UK and Scandinavia. So I would not say I was a good, staunch Rotarian, as being unable to offer a lot of service to Rotary, but at the same stage I enjoyed the companionship and the company of fellow Rotarians.
You know, sometimes attendance is secondary to those people whose job takes them far away … far and wide … and they’re ambassadors for New Zealand, and I don’t think anyone would ever judge them.
Do you ever play golf yourself?
I play a bit of golf. I didn’t have a lot of time – we started a family, we had three children [in] three years … two daughters and a son. And I found with my other interests and the demands of my job, I couldn’t guarantee my availability to play as required.
Now Betty is going to tell us about her family, and how she met and where she met David.
Betty: We were a small family, just my sister and I, and we had a great deal of fun because we were very outdoor. And we were always going up to the bush at the weekend, or Taihape, or up the rivers, so every weekend it was … like, taking the cold meat and going up to the bush. We always had a nice dog to go with us, so we had a … like, a happy time of a small family. But that was different then.
So my schooling was … well where the main part of the schooling was – we had been in Hastings, so we moved to Havelock North, to Guthrie Road. And that was lots of fun ‘cause really, that was semi-country then, at that time too. Across the road which is where Te Mata School is now – that was all just paddocks … cows in them, so we were always busy running round in there and climbing the gum trees. It was good fun. And we loved being at Havelock Primary School – it was a lovely, happy school. And we all liked to please – I don’t think we did anything that was ever mean, or not kind. It was a very, very nice atmosphere, and we had the same teachers most of the time, so it was really a very nice time in our lives indeed.
And when I finished primary school I went to the … oh, for the first year the high school was combined, then we had to go … to move down the other end of town to Pakowhai Road. And my sister, Margaret, was older so of course she’d gone separately to nursing by that stage, and so I finished my schooling at Hastings Girls’ High School. And I loved it – I really was … we were very happy then. We think we had a very good education, and I keep in close contact with a great many of those people. We gather for lunch and things like that, so we organise it.
Those years there was good discipline and respect in schools.
The discipline and respect made them remember things about teachers that today, I don’t know whether people still bond with their teachers the way we did.
It’s a bit of a different relationship, isn’t it? So no, we were very happy there. And I think … well, we all thought we did well. We seemed to all go on and get ourselves jobs and nice qualifications, so …
When I finished being at secondary school, and my sister was off nursing by that stage, so there was a teacher and a nurse in the family eventually. Well that was all interesting too, so I decided I’d like to be a teacher, and at that time you were sent … drafted really I suppose … to Ardmore or Wellington – you just had to go there. And so we went to Wellington, a group of us, and we were just the strongest, strongest friends, all our lives.
And when we were just about finishing Teachers’ College four of us together said “let’s go together – we’ll go overseas. We’ll work at odd jobs, or teach or anything for a year to save up some money.” And we went by ship, and it was such an ancient ship – it swirled round and kept breaking down. It was called the JVO, and honestly, it took six weeks to go to England but that’s because we went to Fiji and then they went to Tahiti, and then they sailed … it’s like, any old where. And so it was wonderful.
So we went off to London, got a flat straight away. We didn’t think of … we never thought of not getting a flat. We went to some agency and the most wonderful thing happened … we just went in there, just four of us: “do you know where we could go?” Or whatever we said – so that was very good. So straight away we got a place in … just near the Cruft’s Dog Show place in SW6, London. Oh, beautiful part, with historic homes with blue plaques [or] something … just by chance. And this house was narrow, but it took one underground level, then three up … was how it was. And there was just the four of us but [the] place … there were some other rooms. Various people came and stayed there and they got jobs, and came and went, but they were all nice people, we knew them from before. And we were friends with girls – the people we went to school with and that kind of thing, and it was very nice. It was very hand to mouth … very, because we just … that’s what we lived on.
And anyway, so we all got jobs … other teaching jobs … straight away. It was good, and some of them lasted quite a long time, and some of them were hair-raising experiences. But I survived all of that, and it was good.
And then after that first year there we had a car. One of the girls’ parents … you could buy a car within a year or something at that time. So we did that, we bought it through one of the friends’ mothers, and paid it all back … eventually got all that money back … and we went around what was called ‘The Continent’ for three months – that was what you did. So we got in our Anglia car and we drove to Paris. Two of us could drive and two couldn’t so just two of us drove for three months, everywhere. We went to the south of Spain, and we went to every gallery and everything. It was wonderful. We saw the whole lot. And then spent some time in France … a bit more … and we went right up through Scandinavia and Austria; we went skiing in Chamonix, and … And we met lovely … really nice people who often invited us into their homes ‘cause they thought we were … And you said how on earth did we get to Denmark, and how did we get to Sweden; fancy going skiing in Chamonix. But we just did that because somebody else told us, so we did that. [Chuckle] So that’s really what I did.
And then when I came back to New Zealand I met David, because it was hard to get a job. And then I heard of a job in Hamilton and I knew somebody else there, so of course went with them. And I got a job teaching at Hillcrest Normal School, which was a wonderful school, and I was very, very lucky to be … yes, right on the bend as you come in. And it was a very good experience for me, ‘cause it was a very high standard and it was jolly good. Caught the bus there every day. So that was a nice experience, and then as David told you, I met David, and then I said “I’m the one for him” … [chuckle] “and we’re going to get married”. So we got married at St Luke’s Church in Havelock North. ‘Course David was a Christchurch boy, so it was all different for him. But anyway, what a happy life we’ve had. We’ve worked very hard, but we always had a nice time, and it was …
And you’ve got three children?
What are their names?
Well the oldest is Sally – she’s the one who works on the super-yacht – she’s in Antibes in France, but we see her …
Is she the chef?
Yes, yes. Yes. So she’s a qualified chef actually. She went to Massey University – she has a degree. But that’s what she thought she’d like to do. I think … she didn’t set out to do that, she worked in the bank for two years. That was a great experience for business, but she seemed to like cooking. That was what Sally did.
And then the next in our family, one year younger, is Matt, and it’s his birthday tomorrow and he’s coming for a very nice lunch here … family.
So what age is he then?
Matt? Fifty tomorrow. Beautiful, delicious lunch coming up.
But they’re still your children, though.
I know, it’s funny, isn’t it? And the younger daughter is Sue, and she lives locally – she’s married. The oldest one who’s one the super-yacht, Sally, is not married. Just flitting about cooking and sailing.
And Matt’s married, is he?
Yes, he’s married to Ana, who we love. And they live across the other side of the river – Kahuranaki – straight line with here, really.
Yes, two – there’s only two grandchildren, so that’s …
And what are their names?
They’re Joe and Olivia. Olivia’s the eldest one.
And so you’ve finished teaching?
Yes. I taught ‘til I thought ‘oh, you don’t want to be hanging around here if you look older than [?]’. But anyway, I thought ‘no, I’m just going to do things in the community or …’ And I’ve always loved tramping and being outside.
Do you belong to any tramping club?
For quite a few years we belonged to the Te Mata Tramping Club or whatever it was called, but eventually we wound it up because we realised we were all getting a bit past that. But we used to be up in all the local bush, every weekend … every Sunday … and I just always went. We had a very good organiser, and we … you know, learnt skills to get on with it, and had all the gear, the boots and you know, wet weather gear. We paddled … I went with a tramping club at two different times, and we paddled down the Wanganui River. And so we’ve had really lovely things with this lovely group of people. And we did the training things, you know, if you were falling out of your canoe.
You are involved in golf, I hear?
Oh, well not to a great extent but just as a member of Bridge Pa.
So apart from that, do you play Mah Jong?
[Chuckle] Oh … just got the gear, lately. I’ve been playing for about four weeks with a group of friends … golfing friends … so really, I’m just a learner and it’s never been a strength of mine to be playing things like Mah Jong, or cards. And I though ‘I have to play this or I’m going to be left behind, because everybody else’ll be playing it and I won’t be [chuckle] in it.’
So anyway, I’ve got the table there, the book and the tiles …
Next thing you’ll have your opium pipe …
‘Course – all of that – bound to. So yes …
So is there anything else that you can think about that you haven’t told me?
No. But I … the other thing I like, Frank, is going to things. Like I belong to … go to the Fine Arts, and we have art lectures. So I really love that, that’s a thing I like. And I belong to a book club, so that’s something I really love … we talk about books, and get books and that’s good. So anything that’s on … I go to Napier … I don’t belong to the Chamber Music now because I thought ‘I’ve got to cut some things down – I’ve been out nearly every day’. But I go to the Symphony Orchestra, but that’s only three or four times a year at night. So I like music and I like the arts, but I don’t perform any music and I don’t perform any arts, but I attend it.
Well that’s good. Okay, well thank you very much for that.
I hope it was useful.
Yes, it is useful, for your family. Right, well that concludes our interview, David and Betty. Thank you very much. This is very important for Hawke’s Bay, and families, to recollect just what’s happened in the past, so thank you very much for that opportunity.
Betty: Our pleasure.
David: Cheers, Frank.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper