Davidson, Claude Keith Interview

Today’s the 17th November 2014 and on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank I’m interviewing today, Claude Davidson, and Claude’s going to give us an insight into his family life. Claude, good afternoon.

Good afternoon. I’m Claude Davidson. I came to Hastings when I was four years old. First of all, I was born May 20th 1918, and the reason I got the name of Claude, ’cause my uncle was fighting in the war and they didn’t think he’d come back from the war.  And I was born, so straight away that’s how I got the name of Claude.  But actually it’s supposed to’ve been Clyde, but they were so Scotch that straight away the joker wrote it down as Claude, and so I remained as Claude from there on.

I came to Hastings there, and Hastings was rather a small place. Everybody just about knew one another;  you didn’t go far without someone was mentioned and you knew them and everything. I went to Central School. I lived in 207 Southampton Street and I used to wander down from there to Central School.  And on the way the train might be going to come, and we’d have a penny and we’d put it on the railway line, and the train would run over it when it went past and we’d see how much it flattened. And then we’d pass the old gasworks there on the corner;  a bit of the smell of gas, and we’d have a nosy in the gate and think, ‘Oh, gee whizz’, you know, ‘that’s a great place.’

Then I went on to Central School.  The head of the Central School was Banks. He was a high flyer in the Banks;  and I went there for quite a number of years, ’til straight away they brought in zoning and I was transferred to Parkvale.  Well, I went to Parkvale, and it was quite a good school and everything like that;  wander through school. We’d wander through Beatson Park which was a golf links, and I used to make me [my] money there, ’cause they used to hit across the lake and straight away the balls would go down in the lake.  So I had a good idea … I’d get up early in the morning there when no one was [a]round – be about five or six o’clock in the morning – and I’d head over to Beatson Park, and there were all the balls all in the lake there, spread out everywhere.  And I’d think oh, this was great.  So I’d wade in there in the mud and everything and get them out, and then I’d take them home and scrub them all up, and I’d be back about eleven o‘clock to sell them to the golfers.  I used to get a shilling a time. That was marvellous, you know. So I enjoyed that, that was quite good.  [Chuckle]

Beatson Park was quite a nice park and everything, and now it’s changed to Windsor Park, and I still see it as Beatson Park. And there used to be a big Chinese garden just next to Beatson Park. But even Grove Road – Grove Road never went through to Karamu Road when I was a boy. It used to just stop at Willowpark Road, and then you had to walk through a paddock, and then you’d get into the other side of it and carry on up to Karamu Road, up to the butchers up there on the corner there.

But I’m starting to amble [ramble] a bit;  I’d better get back to Parkvale School. Now I was there for a number of years. I was a dud student, I had no brains;  and the teacher would turn round and say – all over two mistakes, you’d get the strap – well I always knew I was going to get the strap before I started to get the spelling word. And I got a fair thrashing at school, ’cause I seemed to be the one that [who] seemed to cause most of the trouble.

But straight away, when I left school I had no brains ’cause I worked before school and after school. I worked in a place called Nutter’s. Nutter’s was on the corner of Karamu Road and Heretaunga Street.  And straight away, I’d go there in the morning before school and I’d sweep the shop all out … all out behind the counters and clean all up … and then the next job.  I’d go off to school, and after school I’d come in and deliver the parcels everywhere if parcels had to go out anywhere.

I needed a raincoat one time, so they said, “Oh, well we’ll buy the raincoat and you can pay a shilling a week off it.” Well I only got five shillings a week, so that was a shilling;  that was four shillings a week I got for doing the job. But on Saturday mornings I had to clean all the mirrors in the shop, and I had to clean all the windows down Karamu Road, and they went right down to McDormands, the saddler. He was there. And that was in interesting place, ’cause all the saddles used to be made there, and the windows would be all open and the saddlers’d be all working;  and you’d be able to go along and talk to them ’cause they always put the window up next to their bench when they were making saddles. But that was quite good. But I went off to the school from there.

But time went on, and I grew up;  and straight away I went to work;  I went to work for Cudby & Kelt. Now Cudby and Kelt … well both used to work for Peach’s Garage. And Peach’s Garage was a Ford place and they sold cars and they repaired cars and everything;  and Kelt was the salesman and Cudby was a mechanic.  And ’cause Peach’s used to sell cars, the cars would come in and be on a flat deck from the railway, and they would actually sell the car from there ’cause no one had a lot of money.  And the farmer would buy the car off the deck of the train, and away it would go, and he’d go home with his car and the bank would pay out the money for the car.  And that’s how that went.

But Cudby & Kelt were a couple of miserable people – hard to work [for].  [Quiet chuckle]  If a car came in and the tyres had to be pumped up, I pumped them up by hand and checked all the tyres all round and everything like that;  and talked to the people that came … mostly farmers in old Model Ts and everything like that.  You know, we used to repair them there, and do all the jobs on the cars.  And then straight away me [my] wages were climbing up a little bit;  so Cudby & Kelt, being miserable people, thought, “Oh, I’ve got to get rid of this joker”, so they put me on to Thompson Motors.  And [of] course Thompson was a very genuine person;  he was back from the army and everything and he was just in business;  ’cause he first went into business in a Dodge garage opposite the railway station. And straight away he went out to where they’d got this building built in Karamu Road;  Mossman built the building, and then straight away Thompson went into it. And he took me on, and of course I was pretty good at customers and looking after customers, and working away there.  And often at weekends he’d leave me the whole place to run and look after.

But then along came the war, and all the garages were shutting down for tyres and petrol and everything like that, and then we were out of a job. So I thought, ‘Well this is no good.’  I had a young family that’d just been born not long, and I thought, ‘Well, I’ve got to have a job.”  So I walked off down to get a ride out to Whakatu.  So I went and saw the chief engineer, Mr Love, and he was a very old Scotch engineer.  And he said, “Well ring me back at seven o’clock tonight, I’ll see how you’re going.”  So I rang him back;  he said I had a job.  So that was great.

So then I got me [my] bike out and I made me [my] bike reasonably sound, and I biked every day to Whakatu. Now they all go to the gym and that;  they’d all be at the gym now to get their exercise. I didn’t need to go to a gym. I turned round and got my exercise getting to work.  ‘Cause I was always running late, and I had to go eyes out all the way to Whakatu.  And ’cause my lungs were worked out very good, and that’s how I lived to be an old age. That’s how it went there.

But I got a job there and I did very well there. We used to cut girders for the buildings and measure them all up, and drill all the holes for the bolts.  And then the girders’d go up and then all Whakatu would be built;  and then straight away the welders would come along and weld all the beams to the uprights. But I could run the freezing works – it wouldn’t matter what department it was, I could run any department.  If the other fitter was away from that department, I could turn round and put the apprentice there, and I could look after any department and keep it going. So I had a lot of skills there. And then we put in boilers, and we learnt how to assemble a new boiler and do all the tubes and expand the tubes and everything like that, through building the new boilers and things like that.  I learnt how to overhaul the steam engine that used to run – that used to be quite good, ’cause after I finished overhauling it I could take it down the track and have a drive of the engine. I thought, ‘Oh, this is all right;  this is good, I’m enjoying this”, you know.

And then after that there was [were] other things to fix. Everything seemed to be fixed – often somebody’s car;  and they’d see the boss and say, “Could Claude have a look at my car?  It’s not going to good.”  And the boss’d say, “Well … you’d better go down the end and have a look at it down there, ’cause you know, we can’t give him too long.”  So I’d check over their cars for them.  And I got on quite well with everybody;  it didn’t matter where they were … on the chain, or down in the fitting shop, with the carpenter making the barrels and everything like that.  And I enjoyed that, getting on with people.

So then that was getting a bit miserable, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll have a change … it’s about time I had a change.’  So I thought, ‘This’ll be good – I’ll go and get a job at Wattie’s.’  They were a young firm coming on and everything like that, and they were starting to get on quite good, and you know, I got a job there.  And … oh, [the] first time I applied for the job [it] was Briggs, the engineer, and he’s turned round and said, “I don’t know how good you are.”  And I said, “Well, I don’t know how good the firm is to work for – it might be a lousy firm to work for.  But I tell you what, we’ll have a [an] agreement. I’ll work for you for three weeks and if you don’t like me you fire me.” And they said, “Oh, we’ll take you on at that – that’s all right.”

So the first job they gave me was putting decks on trucks.  They were expanding, and Jimmy [Sir James Wattie] bought these trucks;  and the decks had to go on them and the hydraulics had to work. But before I had arrived there the foreman had had another truck he’d done, and he had all the trouble in the world, and he couldn’t get it to work and everything.  So when I went in everybody was watching the trouble I was going to have.  So when I did these trucks … I did the first one up, and Ray [Wattie] was sitting in the window – he used to work in the office there, and he’d watch me there;  and he watched me working out in the yard.  And I put the deck on the truck and everything and I got in and put the oil in and put the hoist up, and up they went first pop. “Oh gee, this is pretty good.  He must know what he’s doing.”  So the second truck … they watched that, and that worked exactly the same;  and the third truck, and they all worked good. I was Number One, straight from the start. Jimmy thought I was marvellous, and Ray was telling Jimmy how good I was and everything like that;  and Briggs gave me a rise straight away [be]fore I was working there.  And he said, “Oh”, you know, “this is good.”  So Jimmy goes and brings out all the old labellers, and all the old junk he couldn’t get working and everything;  and I had all these labellers in the yard, and … “Bring this one out and bring that one out – Claude will fix them all.”

And then the chap in the can plant thought, ‘Well this joker’s not a bad joker.  We need somebody for the second shift to run the can plant, so what about we get him in the can plant?’  So he went and saw Jimmy, and Jimmy hummed and haaed and everything like that, and thought, ‘Oh, yeah, it’d be a good place;  we need night shift there running the can plant.’  So I went into the can plant, making cans and cutting plate for the seam … the machines that cut the plate for the cans, and make the seamers, and put the rubber in the joints and everything.  And so I was in charge of the night shift running the can plant.  And we used to make three hundred cans a minute, and that was slow compared to today. But straight away we made cans, ’cause that was a machine that was put in during the war for the Americans. The Americans put the body-maker in and all the can plant and everything into Wattie’s.  [The] can plant was a very good thing for Jimmy. So I used to run the can plant there at night and work with different ones, and the can used to run all night. We used to fill up the whole factory with empty cans so that when the season came you could break them down – all the stacks of empty cans – and then you’d have cans to feed right through, all the time.

So I had that for a while and then Jimmy wanted to build a factory up in Gisborne. So he thought, ‘Oh, here you are … Claude;  I’ll send him up to Gisborne and he can set up the factory up there.’ So away I go to Gisborne, and everything like that.

So in the meantime, Gordon [Wattie] had been out and bought a house.  And he’d bought this house up there for me to live in. And I thought, ‘Oh, this is all right – I’ve got a place to live in.’ And I went up there setting up the factory and then I had to encourage the wife to go to Gisborne – she wasn’t too happy about going to Gisborne.  She said, “The family need the schools”, and everything like that round her, and everything like that.  And straight away, you know, like – “I don’t really want to go to Gisborne.”  So any rate Jimmy went on, and I had to hum and haa … ‘Will I go to Gisborne or won’t I go to Gisborne?’  And then, straight away, I had an argument with Jimmy over the house. The house didn’t have enough rooms in it;  and this is where the point came when I came back to Hastings;  he said he was going to carry on up in Gisborne.  And I was sitting down, he was opening letters down one end of the table and I’m sitting down the other end, and he was arguing about it. And I said, “Well, the wife says the house is too small.”  You know, like you’d never get the kids – I had four kids then, and they had to go into there and there wasn’t enough room in it, so I said, “No.”  They bought the house, and straight away, “It’s a nice house, I quite agree;  there’s nothing wrong with the house, but it’s too small.” And Jimmy says, “Oh – you can put the boys in the washhouse.”  And I said, “Bloody hell!  I’m not stickin’ them in the washhouse!  You wouldn’t stick Ray and Gordon in the washhouse, [chuckle] and I’m bloody certain I’m not stickin’ mine. Now, I’m not going to work there.”  He said, “Well, you come back and work in Hastings.”  “No show”, I says, “my labour’s worth far more than … sell it to you!  I’d sooner turn round and pack it in, and go back and … I’ll go back to Whakatu.”  So I get on the phone, I ring up Whakatu, and they said, “Start whenever you’re ready.”

So I go back to Whakatu, and I went back there for another four years. And then after that I thought, ’No, no, I’d better have a change. I’ll go back to the food industry.’

So Unilever were just setting up in Hastings – this is 1957, and they were just starting to set up and I thought, ‘Oh, this is a good shop, I could set up their machinery everywhere’;  round the compressors, and everything needed installing and all the boilers needed [to] be mounting [mounted] up.  ‘This is a good challenge here – I’ll have this on.’  So I went to Unilever.  I did very well there. It grew and everything like that, and then they were going to take another firm on. It was Butlands.  Butlands were up in Auckland;  that was another war place that’d been set up in Pukekohe, and that was set up there for the war … during the war.  And Butlands made all their things and that there, and straight away Unilever took them over. The factory had to be emptied out there – I emptied out all that factory and sent it down to Hastings.  And that was quite a good job too, emptying the factory, and that was a star for me; and so I came back to Hastings.

And then they needed somebody to run Wattie’s, so I got a job running all the can plant in there – in charge of all the can plant there. And we had a lot of machinery that used to process all the tomatoes and everything like that.  I had an Italian come out to install the machine, and [of] course he couldn’t talk English;  I had to get an interpreter for him.  And that went along and we got this machine all installed, and we used to do all the tomato paste … broke the tomatoes down there. You couldn’t get them down [un]less this machine was going … and watered right down and made the paste, and that got rid of all the tomatoes around the area.

Then I went from there and straight away, while I was working for Unilever I got made Operations Engineer.  And then a job came up … ’cause we’d taken a factory over which was Fropack;  it used to belong to Tomoana Freezing Works. It was Fropack that was working there, and [as] soon as Unilever took them over we turned round and took all their staff and everything like that.  So any rate, that factory – they were wanting to start another factory down in the South Island, and they wanted this factory emptied out and taken down to Christchurch. So I thought, ‘Oh, this is a good challenge’, so I thought, ‘I’ll have this on.’  So I emptied out all the factory in Coventry Road which consisted of compressors, and a freezing tunnel, and all the cannery stuff and everything;  quite a nice little factory and everything like that. And I went down to Christchurch, and [of] course the labour was available down there. I employed all the labour there to install the factory, and knock them into shape there and everything like that. So the factory was installed – I was down there for three months putting the factory in, and I used to send the wife home every third week to mow the lawns and [chuckle] clean the house up and everything like that. So she used to fly home there, and I was entitled to come home every three weeks [for] a break, but it was too long a break to come away from the factory when the job I had – I only had three months to do the whole job – and I had to set it all up down there. So anyway, I finished the job and everything, and the peas came in and the viners went out and everything.  And that was that.

And then I came back to Hastings, carried on working for Unilever;  I used to do the harvesting. I was Harvesting Manager, and that consisted of quite a big organisation. You had to employ seventy students to start with, and they needed buses and everything you’d organise … you had to have buses to take them out to the fields, ’cause we used to harvest round Tiko [Tikokino] and Onga Onga and all round that district like that, and all round. So I had to set it all up.  And actually the pupils were quite good. The young ones used to come in, they would come back each year for another job because they made all their money at the factory. They didn’t have to get a student loan or anything. They were working twelve hours a day working and in that time there was three hours on top of that, that was fifteen hours they would get paid for because that was the travelling time getting to Tiko and all round like that, and they were always good. And often the night shift used to sleep out on the beach there all the day. They’d come in from work – they’d have a shower in the factory, then they would turn round and go out on the beach and sleep there;  and round about half past three or so they would get themselves together, come into work.  And then they would turn round and have another shower in the factory, and get in the bus at four o’clock they’d leave and go out the door. ‘Cause on the way they’d picked up a big slab of meat and picked up a loaf of bread and a pound of butter, and that’s how they lived out on the field. ‘Cause we always had a hot plate in the field that the fire was going, the wood was always round from the farmer, and they used light the fires, there was a hot plate on there and straight away they’d cook their food on that, and they lived on that.

But I’ll tell you what – the Māori joker – he was in charge of that gang – he used to make tea, and did he make strong tea! He never emptied the teapot, he just threw another handful into the billy, and you could stand the spoon up in it. And we always talk about Charlie’s tea, you know – we always knew about Charlie’s tea, you know. And when I used to go out checking on everything I often had a cup of tea there, and it was strong. But that’s how the field used to go.  But I enjoyed all the students. They were quite good. They’d have all their little arguments and I’d have to go out and straighten them up and everything like that. And then they’d turn round and say, “We want this in the award”, and I’d say, “Well what about the travelling? I’ll do something about the travelling.” “No, leave everything as it is Claude, we won’t worry about what we’re complaining about there”, and everything would be peaceful again. But it was quite a job.

If the viners were rolled over it was my job to go and pick the viner up because I had to make sure the viner … be across the road. I had one across the road at the bottom of Te Aute hill and it was blocking the road up. And that was quite a job picking the viner up again ’cause I had to turn round and contact the Power Board – I had to contact the telephone people because they had to look at their side of the building. And then I had to get the cranes out and we’d pick the machine up and stand it on its feet, and I put that one round the back of Te Aute because it was in the middle of the night when I was doing all this work – I put it round the back of the Te Aute pub and I had to pick it up next day.

But straight away, the students were good there. You had to turn round and discipline them – the machines were very dangerous to drive and they were high up and everything like that and they would roll over very easy. I’d pick up many in a paddock and that, and one chappie broke both wrists jumping out of it when it was going over. But you had to turn round and keep an eye on the staff. Often they were … tomfoolery would go on, and they might roll the machine. But if they rolled the machine I’d stand them down straight away – I’d stand them down for three days ’cause I’d be wound up over the machine going over, ’cause I had to get it fixed again to get it out working. And I’d turn around and stand them down, and then I’d bring them in and if there’d been tomfoolery they were fired. There was no argument about it – they were fired. And straight away, if the bridge had given away [way], or the bank had given away [way] they went straight back to work again and carried on. And that’s the way it was run;  ’cause I had to discipline them ’cause the rest of the fielders were watching what I did and how I disciplined them, and I didn’t want trouble there. And this is how it would all go.

But it was an interesting job. I actually enjoyed it. I used to run the factory in the mornings at the factory and see that everything was right, and in the afternoons I’d take off down to Tiko, Onga and all round the district checking on everything was behaving itself, what it was doing, and everyone was keeping the machines going, and they were getting properly looked after and everything like that. But I had one chap working at night down there, the factory was full up and chock-a-block and they stopped the fielding for a while and so he thought it would be a good idea to put everybody in the bins and take them to the pub out at Tiko, and of course when I came to work next day I knew straight away where he’d been and in the pub, and straight away I called him in and I fired him. And when I fired him I said to him, “Now if you go to Tasmania, you mention my name there; he’ll give you a job straight away.” And this joker said, “Oh this is good.” He was a good chap, and away he went to Tasmania. He got a job there in the peas over there, ’cause I had a good connection with them in Tasmania and the factories over there and everything like that. So that was quite interesting. I used to go over there to see how they harvested and everything like that and that’s how it went. That was quite a good life.

And then – Unilever. Well, I retired from Unilever – they’re a very good firm to work for. They looked after their staff and all they could do for their staff – you never had to worry there. I went to London once for the firm and I was out of kilter there. We went out for dinner there. They were always looking for someone to take out to dinner from overseas and we went to a place and straight away we had a room to ourselves. And you only had game for dinner, whatever it was it was always game, and straight away there I had a waiter standing behind me which annoyed me straight away, but I had to go along with this dream and play my part – I’m from overseas – play my part and everything. But that really annoyed me there, but that’s the way it went. And I retired from Unilever, and Max Grainer was the director there. We got on well together.

After that we used to go up to the guides’ place at Kereru and we often used to do repairs up there that was [were] needed and everything like that, around there. So that was my history there. But Hastings is a great place and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Hastings.

It’s a wonderful life you’ve had.

It’s been an enjoyable life.

Very much so.

Turkey Lowe was our buyer and he had big feet. You could get a bottle of beer into his shoes no trouble and they were big bottles of beer and I’m not talking about the ones they have today, I’m talking about the big bottles. But Turkey was a hell of a good joker. He got on with everybody. If Max and I and the rest of them – Barry Pick and all those people – were out at the pub at Havelock … and we used to go there often on a Friday afternoons, have a let down on what had gone on during the week. And if Turkey come [came] in there was always three jugs would come across to our table. But Turkey – I admired Turkey. How he got the name of Turkey Lowe, he used to work in the Riccarton factory down in Christchurch and he bought all these turkeys. And straight away he had them … they were all in a line … and, “What’ll I do with these turkeys?” So he wrung all their necks and they were there ready for Monday;  ’cause this was Saturday when he brought them in, and straight away they were there ready for Monday. So he got his name as Turkey then – from there on he was always to us Turkey Lowe.  And I watched him go through from the butcher’s shop in Hastings and I’d see him out there with his apron on scrubbing the floors and everything like that. He was a worker, and that’s how he got where he was with the freezing works and everything like that.  ‘Cause actually when I worked at the freezing works, Lex Waterhouse – I don’t know if you ever knew Lex Waterhouse, but I got him the job at Whakatu. He used to work with me at Wattie’s. He finished up at Wattie’s and I said, “I’ll get you a job at Whakatu.” And I got him a job. He finished up at Whakatu in the factory putting the factory together down in Takapau. He had a stroke and everything; I always felt sorry for Lex, you know. That was Turkey Lowe any rate.

When I got the job of Operations Engineer, I had no paperwork or letters or anything … anything at all. I was made Operations Engineer ’cause I could fix anything. We were coming to the age of electronics, and electronics used to be … quite in the early stage. And we had machinery coming in that would turn round and weigh the peas as they went in, would make the bag, form the bag and drop it out ready for it to go to be packed to go to the customer. But straight away, you had it right down to three peas falling would be the weight; so the weight was really right, and we’d work on those and that’s how that used to go. I was pretty dumb at paper work and the Chief Engineer – he wasn’t much good at running the factory, so we came to an agreement. He would do all the paper work – anything I wanted on paper he would do it, and I’d run all the factory – everything in the factory, so a decision would be made there. Straight away Max and Barry … I’d come up with an idea and they’d say, “Oh, that sounds good”, and Barry would say, “I’ll go away and have a yarn to Max.” And they’d go away there, and finally come back; I had instruments, and it was all running by the time he came back. I didn’t wait to get an okay on ‘will we do that or won’t we do that’, I’d go ahead and do it. And they used to get very frightened of me ‘cause I’d go ahead and do something straight away. I wouldn’t turn round and wait for a boss to make a decision.

But Barry and I worked right through to our retirement and I retired there. ‘Cause I used to do all the plant. You had to have an inventory of all the plant. If you discovered a line you had to get rid of that machinery. You had to go down to the dump and cut up and get rid of it and get it off the books, ’cause it was taking up a lot of the profit so you had to do that, and I had to look after that. And after I retired they came and said, “Claude, will you come back to work and finish off? ‘Cause nothing’s been done since you left, and the plant needs all …” ‘Cause they were getting ready to close the plant down and sell it, and every plant had to have a number on it. I thought about it and everything, and I said to the wife, “I’ve retired, I’m not going to go back”, and I didn’t go back. So they had to get another chappie to do all that work and do that job.

If you went back, you’d be going back and back …

If I went back I’d go over it all the time, and I’d be on a contract doing the job. There’d be a contract job to do it and I didn’t want the money or taxation and looking after that side of it. My wife used to do all me [my] paper work and I wasn’t going to burden her with that, you know. But that’s how it used to go. That’s when a person doesn’t need a lot of brains in that area to get to the top like that, you know; so that’s how it went. Paper work – I don’t like it at all.

[Break in recording; recommences on a new subject]

… two doors from us, and we lived together all the time. If you had an evening they’d do their part and the Harmans grew up – now he got up to … in charge of the TV [television] in Auckland, you know – and then he went over to London running all the TV and BUBC [BBC] and everything like that. He’s got houses in London and all round – he’s got houses in Auckland, he’s got boats in Auckland and he’s on my iPad; the whole family is on my iPad. And straight away, one son went overseas with my son – they went to Europe and all round Europe, and he was next in charge of the Herald paper. He’s only just retired; I went over to his place in Napier not long ago. And he’s retired and shifted down from Auckland, down there.

But he was the one that took the photo of the burial – all the Māoris on the hill, and the way he got above there and he fed them out films. The Māoris let him get through without any trouble – he got right up to the grave. He’s got this great photo of them carrying the casket up the hill, with all the Māoris … a very high Māori it was … had all the cloaks over the coffin and everything like that. But he finished up next in charge of the Herald right up to the time he retired. He said, “I’m stopping there, I’m waiting for my big redundancy rather than retire.” But in the finish he retired. I still see him, I still talk to him.

But the whole family – Brent Harman, he did well too. He was in Parliament running Parliament there, and everything like that. He was a reporter there before he got into television. That family – we all grew up together. Doug Harman used to be in the Chemist shop – UFS [United Friendly Societies] opposite Lockyers … where Lockyers used to be. That family – they’ve done so well, you know, and they still know me well, you know. And Nigel’s father – it was always Nigel – his son did very well too. He owned a motel opposite the Campbell statue in Cornwall Park, and it was high class … everything was spot on. He changed the carpets every so often; he never drained it, he put more into it all the time. In the finish some Asians bought it off him, and he’s got a big house. Another one of his sons built a swimming place in Tūrangi. He’s got a place in North Auckland and he’s got a fishing lodge down in Tūrangi. So they’ve done well too. Good to see them do well, too.

But one of my sons over-wintered in [the] Antarctic.  He used to be in the navy, and then he went down to [the] Antarctic, and he looked after all the food and everything – put the Christmas parties on and everything – all in the Antarctic. And that was in the early days; and his photo is in the hall now, up in the Antarctic.

Well, what a life!

So even with the family, I’ve enjoyed the family too, you know..

Claude, I’ve got to thank you for that talk …

Well, I hope I didn’t bore you.

Not at all. No, I’m wide awake, I couldn’t go to sleep and doze off or anything like that – you were …

Well straight away, you turned round and said you’ll interview at Hastings; and I started to scratch my head and thought, “What the hell do I know about Hastings?” You know, I knew where all the shops were, but I don’t know anything about Hastings, you know, and I’ve lived here all my life. But you know, like … I knew where the rivers used to go round through Hastings at the back of – I lived in a railway house in Willowpark Road – at the back of there, the river flowed all through that area. That was just bare paddocks when I was growing up.

‘Cause after the earthquake, we couldn’t live in our house. Me [my] father worked on the railways – we got all these railway covers there – underneath the trees in the house next door. We hung all these up there, and I went in and got the mattresses out of the house and we dragged them across to there, and then we built the fireplace up with a couple of bricks and a hotplate. We did all our washing in the horse trough that was all there. There was a well right next to it on the property, and they used to pump water all the time in the horse trough . And you did all your washing and everything in the horse trough. But that was after the earthquake, you know; and we stopped for five days before we were evacuated to Palmerston [North]. I sat on the back of a truck and they took me to Palmerston;  my mother went off in another car, and I had to find her when I got to Palmerston. I can always remember the earthquake when I was at Parkvale School, and the swimming baths and the water went up – you know how you get a thing and you splash it backwards and forwards? And the water went right away up in the air – I can still see that water away up in the air, you know, in the swimming baths there.

If you don’t get up and go you’ll be here tomorrow morning and I’ll still be talking. ‘Cause what I do when I start talking is … I live here and I might go two or three days, I never talk to anybody, don’t see anybody – for two or three days, and then I don’t want to go out. I’ve got enough tucker in there – got my tucker well stocked up there. But the neighbours are very good. They’ll often come in and bring me in some – somebody might do some baking and bring it in. But I get on well with all these people round here. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well …

And I’m going to Auckland for Christmas.  This morning my son rang me up and said he’s got this new Italian car, big flash car, and said, “I’d love to drive down – I’ll drive down and pick you up.” “Oh, no, I have to fly up.” You know, I fly up to Auckland and he picks me up at the airport, you know, then away I go; brings me down and then I fly home again. “No”, he said, “I might drive down. You can catch up on all the mischief I get up to down here”, you know. So he’ll come down and I’ll go up there for Christmas. But they’re having twenty-six people for Christmas, you know – so that’ll be a big Christmas.

Yep – well, I wish you a Merry Christmas …

Yes, same to you.

… and a Happy New Year.

And it’s not the last you’ll see of me.

I’ll be back to see you.

Yeah. But if my son comes down I’d like to take him out to have a look at … out there.

More than welcome.

Yeah. And I’ll say – there’s the box you leave your subs in on the way out. [Chuckle]

Additional interview 15 July 2021 to mark 103rd birthday; recording starts part-way in with no introduction

… so I went down the road, did a good test; passed on that so I got me [my] driver’s licence.

At a hundred and three?

Yeah, a hundred and three. And I’m still driving; but you know, you turn round and you get more careful all the time. You’re not as good as what you did … you throw the car round and this, that and everything, and you know, don’t care much and everything. But now I’m a hundred and three, I get to the roundabout, I have a look at it carefully, at whatever’s coming and that, and be careful whatever you’re [I’m] doing. ‘Cause I think I’m a hundred percent.

So tell me when did you first get your licence?

I got me [my] licence when I was fourteen, and it was in an old Model T Ford. I was working for Cudby & Kelt at the time, and they said, “No, the truck’s not going, could you take [it] over; [?] go for your licence.” And [of] course me being so young, it made a big thing with the authorities, going for your licence; that was a big thing to me, I wasn’t going to let them down. Doesn’t matter what the boss said, you know, he came secondary. So down I went for me [my] licence. And the licence joker said, “Geez, this truck’s running rough”, and everything. “Move over, I’ll drive it and you sit next to me.” So he took me all round everywhere, and he’s sitting next to me. So I got me [my] licence anyway; and the boss was a bit crook when I got back and he said, “Did you get your licence?” And I said, “Yes, I got it.” So that was a feather in his cap, ‘cause I didn’t have me [my] licence working in a garage, you know. But I taught meself [myself] to drive really, ‘cause I used to have to get … every morning all the cars were parked in the garage, and they had to be put out to make space. So I knew you put your foot on the clutch and put it into gear, and the car moved off and everything like that. But I never thought about stopping, and [of] course I got to a big forty-gallon drum that had been the rubbish bin; flattened that and everything like that, and now I realised the brakes, and put me [my] foot on the brakes. But that’s how you learn to drive – you gradually pick it up like that, you know. So that was me [my] driving licence.

And then I had a pushbike, a new pushbike; and a chap come [came] into the garage. He said, “I should’ve bought a pushbike.” I said, “I just bought one.” He said, “Do you want to make a swap?” I said, “Yes, I’ll make a swap”, so he went out on my pushbike and I went out in the old Model T truck. [Chuckle] When I took it home I took the family out to the beach and everything like that, and the family changed you know, ‘cause they never had a car, you know. Me [my] father worked on the Railways, and few people had cars in those days, you know. That was the early part of me [my] life, you know. That’s how things pop up, you know – you’re learning all the time. Yeah, doesn’t matter what … I’m still learning, and I’m a hundred and three.

You must be a special person to be able to live on your own and have your own company, ‘cause not everybody can do that.

Well, you’ve only got one life; it’s your life and you’ve got to run it as you can. I sit here, I look out the window, and I go out and do a bit of gardening; and if I’m going to mow the lawn the neighbour comes out and grabs it off me and won’t let me mow the lawn. So she mows the lawn, and she keeps an eye on me and things potter along. If she’s done some extra baking she’ll bring some in for me so I have a nice afternoon tea. And people are very good … people are very good to old people. If I have a fall I hardly hit the ground and someone’s there to pick me up, you know. So you don’t got to [have to] worry about things, you know; you don’t got to [have to] get downhearted ‘cause the clouds are out – you get a sunshine day and you enjoy every bit of it.

Now, your family … in your own family, how many children?

There was … I had a sister fifteen months older than me, and I had a son [brother] – he was younger than me. Sorry, a boy younger than me. But he was born during the earthquake, and he was never a hundred percent, you know, he was always shaky and that. Me [my] mother was carrying during the earthquake, and she was thrown round in the house at the time. So he never married, but he grew up; he died about three years ago, you know, but he lived a life … his own life.

And what about your parents – what age did they live to?

Well they were in their sixties and seventies, but some of them lived longer, you know. I always said to me [my] doctor, you know, “I’ll die of cancer ‘cause me [my] father died of cancer, and uncles died of cancer.” And he said, “No, not necessary. [Necessarily] But I’ve got a very good doctor; he made that photo up there for me. That’s the day I was born, where I was born, and it was in that paper … in that newspaper. But I get on well with me [my] doctor, you know, ‘cause on me [my] hundredth birthday he arrived on his motorbike over at the Mission. He said, “I wasn’t going to let it go past your birthday without coming and saying ‘Hullo’”, you know. So Christmas time he arrived out here on his motorbike; he said, “I’m just going round the nurses, you know, to wish them a happy new year and that.” And I said, “Got everything today”, and he went – I didn’t even ask him in for a drink, you know. [Chuckle] So next time I went I had to take a bottle of wine to him, you know; and the nurses, take a bottle of wine to the nurses.

No, people do things for you and you’re so shocked in yourself when they’re doing it, you don’t think right, you know; it’s not ‘til after they’ve gone you realise what you’ve done, and all along where you went wrong, you know.

My dad used to say, “It’s better and easier to give than to receive.”

Well it is. I’ll have a block of chocolate in there, or something like that. I like to return. [Interference caused by shuffled paper]

And now your own children, how many did you have?

I had four boys. Four boys, yes. And they are now millionaires. My son has just sold his house for $4.4million – it’s in a book up here when the estate agent did a whole thing up, all in a book; two books are from then, the house.

Is this local?

In Auckland, St Heliers. Your children always do better than you did. [When] we grew up times were very hard; nobody had any money and everybody shared everything. You shared … if you had surplus vegetables they went over to your neighbour, and if he had surplus it came [over]. We used to get a sack of potatoes, those tall sacks, every year from across the road; the people’d bring them across. And those potatoes lasted; they don’t last today. The potatoes are built to get a second crop out of them [speaking together]

Genetically engineered …

… they get re-cropped whenever you like; tomatoes are the same, they last in the supermarket. Everything’s changed from our time.

It’s not for the betterment, is it?

No, it’s not for better; it’s for the supermarkets so they don’t go off. They get up to red like that and they sit there, and they can sit there for a week and they get no more riper. Now, out in the paddocks, for Wattie’s and that, they grow their tomatoes, then they spray them and that ripens them all evenly like that, and they bring them in and process them. That’s how that’s done, you know, totally different.

So you’ve got one son in Auckland?

Yes. Oh, I’ve got a son in Australia …


Away up north in Auckland; and Australia, and he’s been over there for quite a number of years. And then me [my] other son he spent his time down the South Pole there, in the time the dogs were down there. That’s him over there; and that photograph is on the wall of the Antarctic. Someone that was down there at the time took the photo, put it up on the wall; and it’s on the wall in the Antarctic. [Scott Base] But he’s flown over South Pole and that …

So where’s he now?

He’s in Auckland, retired. But his wealth is in houses – he buys houses in Auckland there now, and that’s his return, you know, rather than have the money in the bank, you know, so he’s got about three or four houses in Auckland. Their grandson is working on the big thing in Auckland under the … you know, where they’re building the whole thing in Auckland? [City Rail Link] He’s a foreman there, with all the people there. He [His] father give [gave] him a ticket to go overseas when he was twenty-one, and he toured Germany and these places. He got a lot of experience on concrete and things like that, different parts of the world. He’s come back now, he’s working for Fletchers, and he keeps me informed on what’s going on, or how they’re digging down there for the stations and things. And I want to know where the earth goes, you know, ‘cause … massive earth, you know.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it?

Yes, yeah. What they’re doing is now …

How many grandchildren have you got?

Oh, I’ve got about seventeen; and great-great-grandchildren. So my grandchildren have got children; my great-grandchildren have got children.

So you’re their great-great-grandfather?


That is amazing!

Yeah, well they all came for me hundredth birthday. That was quite good ‘cause they all met one another. Life goes on; they would never’ve met one another, but they all got together; they were chatting away and this and that. The chatter was going on all the time over at the Mission.

Actually you would be a rarity.

Yeah. Well straight away, I’ve lived a good life; a hundred and three now, and it’s getting harder for me to live; to get round. Me [my] legs are not as good as what they were, and life is getting harder. And I say this is me [my] last birthday, a hundred and three. I’ve had me birthday – last one. So me [my] granddaughter leaves Dunedin University, flies up, comes to me birthday, flies back the next day, you know. And that’s children; I’ve got a grandson, he just started out to be a plumber, and he’s bought a house. So you know …

He’s a chip off the old block?

Well straight away … he smashed his car up, he was without a car. And I said, “You turn round and save $1,000, and come back with me and show me $1,000, and I’ll cover it with another thousand”. Oh – he went without his lollies and his this and that and everything; saved a thousand and he was here in no time at all. So I said, “You write the cheque for $1,000”; so I made him write the cheque for $1,000 and he got his car. Now that’s really set him down how to save, and now he saves; he’s shifted into this place he bought, got all his mates are shifting in with him. So all the houses both sides will be for sale in no time – he’ll be buying those. You see the families coming on – I like to see them establish themselves; no dough … they’ve got everything, and want a good life, a clean life and everything like that, you know.

How old were you and your wife when you got married?

My wife was sixteen and I was twenty. And we both were playing fathers and mothers. [Chuckle] And she was a great cook – she could cook a roast dinner and everything like that, and that’s how the family went on. I was married for seventy-five years; we got a thing from the Queen saying seventy-five years, you know. But I had one when I [was] a hundred, you know. So the Queen couldn’t come over for me [my] birthday ‘cause she was having trouble with her family … straightening out her family.

You and your wife worked as a team, that would be right?

Oh yes, yes – she was in the line that laid the law down; it was always, “Wait till your father comes home”, you know. But we had a good life, ‘cause that was the best time of your life, when your children are growing up. You’re round the table, you’re debating what you’ve done for the day and everything like that, and what went wrong and what didn’t go wrong, and who got into a bit of trouble and who didn’t. You know kids. But I made them … if they wanted a pushbike they had to go and get a job and work for it, and give me half and I’d pay the other half. They grew up that way; they’d say, “We would value our bikes”, you know. They’d value things ‘cause they had a half share in it, you know. I had the other half.

But I worked hard for the kids. The pay packet would come home and go straight to the wife [to] run the household. And if she run that and you know, handled the money; she handled the paperwork, and I just did the work and supplied the [money]. [Bad interference] When the kids were five she went to work, worked for Smith & Smith in the wallpaper. [She was] very good at colour and everything like that; she did the office work and worked there, and that’s where we got our first fridge. We had the extra money; she got a fridge; ‘cause we had the fridge the kids all wanted ice cream, so she had to buy a mixer for the ice cream, you know. But that was life, you know. If we went to the beach in somebody’s car … they’d lend methe car for the weekend … everybody along the street went with us to the beach. There was always enough food, my wife always had enough food.

And even those children today will come up – “Hello, Mr Davidson”, and speak to me, you know – have a yarn with me, ‘cause not only does your family grow up but the people there. One boy there, he was the head of television in New Zealand, Wayne Harman, and then he went to London and he was head of television over there. So those children grow up.

Another boy there, he flatted with my son when he was in Auckland; and they still meet one another now. He was next to the photographer in the Herald paper. So all those people have grown up with a family; we’ve got one big family. They were part of the family too, you know.

Now out of all the jobs you had, which one would you say was the best job you ever had?

Well all the jobs contributed to my finishing jobs, ‘cause I worked at the [freezing] works, and I worked on boilers; I worked on refrigeration … I’ve got all that experience on refrigeration. I turned round and went to Wattie’s;  I was in charge of the can plant there, making more cans. I got on well with Jimmy Wattie, and I took a factory from Hastings to Gisborne and put the corn in Gisborne. I was taking factories from – the Fropak factory around in Hastings – took it to Christchurch and reassembled it in Christchurch. And I’ve taken closed down factories … Street’s Ice Cream in Palmerston; I bought Butlands factory down from Auckland, down to Unilever’s factory in Hastings. So I’ve had a terrible lot of experience with people … handling people.

So which was your best job though?

Well probably … I was operations engineer for Unilever, and everything [that] was moved was my responsibility. And [at] that time electronics were just coming in, so the machinery came in with electronics equipment and you had to learn electronics in those machines. All the racking work around the peas was all new; it was getting developed, and often you wouldn’t have enough [???] under to go through the machinery. You had to reject that reel and put another reel in. And I’d go back to Auckland and complain about these reels and that. I’d go to Australia [to] see them harvesting peas ‘cause I was harvesting manager as well as operations engineer – I had two managers’ [management] jobs at the same time. I did all the harvesting for Unilever on their peas; took on seventy students, so I was amongst people all the time.

So you’re a real people person?

Well, I worked with people all the time.

Who was the best boss you had?

Well Matt Grainer, he was director of Unilever, and Jimmy Wattie would be the other one. Jimmy Wattie was a very good boss; he knew everybody’s name … first name … in the factory, and when he walked through the factory it was, “Good morning So-and-so”; “Good Morning So-and-so”; and he addressed everybody like that. And when I went to work for him – the foreman had put a deck on a truck and had a lot of trouble – and when I came in there I had three trucks to put decks on with the hydraulics going up and everything like that. And the foreman’d had all the trouble with his truck, and everybody waited to see how mine was going to work, and every one of mine worked perfect [chuckle] first time. And Jimmy came out with all the machinery that never worked, labouring machines that he’d bought overseas and that, those people couldn’t get working. He thought I’d wave me [my] hands and they’d …


… and they’d all work. And so Jimmy put me in the can plant, running the can plant, making the cans, ‘cause the body maker was bought by the Americans during the war and put into Watties; that’s how he had the body make. [Maker] And he made the cans for the stuff going overseas, supplying all the peas and that for the troops and that. The cans had to be lacquered so they weren’t in the bright sunshine as well.

When I was working at Unilever, often we’d go round adjusting the unions for the season, and go to Wattie’s … what we’re going to do; and Jimmy would always come over and talk to me and we both respected one another. [Each other] Straight away, Unilever was coming up to Jimmy and saying, “You’re pinching our labour, Jimmy!” [Chuckle] And he’d say, “Claude and I don’t go in for stealing one another’s [each other’s] labour.” And that was an unwritten story – if I had fitters come into Wattie’s [???] would say, “I’m sorry mate, you can’t give me a job”; and he’d do the same with mine. We’re both short of people at the time, and we respected one another [each other] without robbing one another, [each other] you know.

You’ve certainly gained knowledge and experience …

Well in our time, you could get sick of a job, you’d think, ‘I’ll have a change.’ And see, I went into Wattie’s, and I said, “I’ve come for a job.” And they said, “Oh, I don’t know if we’ll give you a job”, and I said, “Well I don’t know what places to work for.” So that’s pretty easy … “You don’t know me, and I don’t know the place; I’ll work for you for three weeks – you don’t like me, you fire me.” And so on the first job on the trucks, out come [came] a rise for me.

That’s great.

And any job that come [came] up, it was always the Chief Engineer and me that went and sorted it all out, you know.

What are the biggest changes that you have witnessed in your lifetime?

[Interference] Well I was in Wellington when Hood & Moncreiff flew the Tasman, and we were standing out watching for the planes to come over. And a chap standing next to me said, “You know what? Sometime they’ll bring all the mail over by plane.” And I said, “Gee! Wouldn’t that …” Never thought of people, you know. All the mail would come over, and … gee, that would be great, you know. And that’s was back when Hood & Moncreiff flew the Tasman in a little plane. And they never arrived; they were lost, you know.

And then, you take flying now; when we went away on a holiday we went by train. You went to the station, and it doesn’t matter what the weather was, the train left. Today you go to the airport, you don’t know if the plane’s going to fly or not. You’re there at the mercy of them. But when the railway went, the train always went. If we’re going to Auckland, we’d go to Palmerston [North], then you go to the theatre in Palmerston and wait for the afternoon train to come through, catch the train and go to Auckland. So that’s how you travelled.

But no, cars; cars came right through from Model T Fords … I’ve actually travelled from Waipawa to Hastings with grass inside me [my] tyre, ‘cause I had a puncture and didn’t have any spare. So you took the tyre off and you filled the tyre with grass and everything, and you’d come on the rest of the way with that. [Chuckle]

Talking about change … well you take music. Me [my] mother always on paydays, bought a record, and I can remember she come [came] home with ‘The Laughing Policeman’. And he was laughing away in there, so I pulled a long face and … was a sour face, and I didn’t laugh. [Chuckle] I was always a bugger of a kid. [Chuckles]

Growing up, what was the worst day of your life?

Oh, the worst day of [my] life … I don’t know. Life’s always been good to me. Oh, I rolled a car over. I rolled a car over in Dannevirke; that’s how me [my] nose is still broken, you see, there. [?Heat?] was on the road going down the road, and I finished in the Dannevirke Hospital with a broken arm as well. The chap sitting next to me – he broke both wrists. That’d be a bad day.

So how did you manage to do that?

Well, the wife was in the Wellington Hospital, and I had a little Austin Seven with a hood on it, you know. And I did it all up and then in [on] the weekend, took it down to Wellington to see her and then come back. And I was on the way back when a little bolt broke in the tie-rods underneath the steering, and the car shot up a bank and over, and ran the whole of the way down the bank. A doctor picked us up and took us back to the hospital – he was in a car behind us; he was heading for Hastings. No, that’d be a bad day, but generally, all days are good.

So what was the best day of your life?

The best day of life … one of [the] best days, [chuckle] probably when I got married, now that … I always remember that. Oh, every day’s been a good day to me. I value every day, and today’s a good day. And you’d say well, you’re sitting looking out there; but it’s still a good day. I’ve got memories; I’m happy in a house, I’ve got air pumps going; I go from one room to the other. I had the air pump all night in me [my] bedroom and then I come out here and turn that one off and turn this one on in here … have it here. You’ve got everything controlled for you, and it’s warm and everything. Life is so good today, where in our days you went out at the weekends and got wood and everything to keep the fires going. To buy wood to burn was a silly thing, so you worked on the weekends and got wood. You had a mate that went with you, and you chopped and … they had no saw, no electric saw, like you’d have today. You’d get a load of wood in no time at all; life is totally different. The mower – where you push the mower, it’s got a motor on it now; it can be electric – you can take a choice what you want, you know. Life is so easy, you know. The ladies never had a washing machine. That was something that came in. I used to come home from work and wash the napkins so my wife’d have another batch for next day – that was one of me [my] jobs, to wash the napkins, get them dried in front of the fire so she could have some for next day to work. So you worked even like that; life is easy today, you know. But that’s the trouble, that when a girl gets married today she’s got to have everything; she’s got to have a washing machine, a fridge, a this and that …

And all brand new …

All brand new, doesn’t want anything second-hand. I worked with a chap … he made himself a washing machine, you know? And everything like that. So … we made everything; we made the – Christmas for the kids’ tools [toys] – when the freezing works … you’d knock off, [and] when the boss’d come along and give you a job – “I’m too busy, I’ve got to make this for the kids”, or something like that. And you know, you’d go to the paint shop and you’d get the paint off the painter; you’d go to the carpenters’ shop and he’d cut things out … cut a horse out, you know these horses the kids put between their legs with a head on? He’d have the shape and he’d cut the head out for you; he’d supply the sticks and everything like that. Everybody worked in with one another, you know … everybody was your friend.

And people had respect for one another, didn’t they?

Oh yes. Oh, yes, you always respected anybody. [Everybody]

And your handshake was as good as a signature on a piece of paper, wasn’t it?

Yeah, your handshake was enough. If you said, “I’m going to do that”, today that still goes with me. You take people for their value. I used to bike out to Twyford there and fix up tractors, and spray plants for people I knew, and everything like that, and they’d see us and they’d bring a case of fruit in every now and then – everything worked in like that, you know, you shared all the time. I got their plant going for them so they could spray; their wife would ring me up and say … I’d be sent a message somehow to me to tell me that her husband had thrown the crank handle down the orchard somewhere, and you could say, “Well, I’ll [?] it.” [Chuckle] That was life – you just thought nothing of it.

You’d bike all the way; I biked to Whakatu for thirty years. You talk about going to the gym today – well, all my grandchildren … “I’ve got to go to the gym.” “Got to go to the gym? What are you going to the gym for?” “Oh, I’ve got to keep fit.” I kept fit on me pushbike getting to work. I was always late, and if I was really late I’d go down the railway line; all the way down to Frederick Street to Whakatu down the railway line, ‘cause the boss would be on the front gate to write your name down when he saw you. He never saw you come in the back gate. [Giggle] You knew how far to fiddle and what to do in those days, you know, to survive. You were a survivor.

Most men like cars – what was your best car?

Yeah, well you bought cars and sold them, you know, all the time. I know we had a lot of cars; cars with fabric on them and … mainly covered with fabric … and the little Morrises and that, and I had Morris Cowleys; I’ve had Fords and everything like that, but you know, that was it you know. I could buy a car for £5 … if I had £5 pounds I could buy a car … I could buy a Model A Ford and I could paint it all up … I could do it all up … and I could sell it for a £100. And that was my pocket money, ‘cause my wife would have the pay packet, and I would repair cars and do everything. After tea at night I went out to the shed and worked ‘til midnight, and then next morning I’d get up and go to work. So in my life I’ve worked hard …

You have …

… all my life, even when I worked for Unilever. My job was on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week ‘cause I was harvesting, and they were harvesting right round the clock. And I knew everything at night time went on in the plant. I had a Maori chap, he’d look after me. He said, “Oh, they had trouble last night – their foreman took them all into the pub at Tiko.” [Tikokino] Well I couldn’t stand for that – called him in and I fired him. And I said, “What are you going to do now?” And he said, “I’m going to Australia.” I said, “You go to Tasmania, mention my name and you’ll get a job there straight away, in the peas there.” And he did, he got a job there. He thought I was the greatest joker ‘cause I fired him and he got a good job in Australia.

But I was always fair with people … I’d always be fair with people, you know. I placed myself in their position, and [especially if] they had a family we’d try and look after them the best way we could, even when they had their holidays. And then you’d look to see if you could bring next year’s holidays forward to help them get through, you know, ‘cause they had to have their money coming through to them. And people were very good, they’d go out of their way … the Personnel Department would go out of their way to help somebody, you know.

I had an old joker working for me; he said, “Claude, if I didn’t have this job I’d die.” That chap died on the gate at four o’clock in the morning coming to work. The Personnel Department used to come along to me about once a year and say, “He’s too old to work there.” And I’d say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah – it’s in me [my] bucket list; I’m doing it”; and then that would go on, I’d palm them off and he would have his job for longer there. But they were worried that – he was a boilerman, see, and boilermen are hard to get – I was looking after meself [myself] as well as looking after him . But I always said … that sprung in my mind … he died coming through the gate, four o’clock in the morning, to do his shift.

And another thing – I had a boiler that exploded and killed a person out in front. He was looking after the boiler there, and it was going; and straight away this boiler blew up and it killed a person who was working out in front of the boiler. So I’ve had a terrible lot of experience. They had to strip that boiler down at night, work all night checking the welds and everything in it so it was ready to get the factory going next day. And the trouble with boilers – [there] was two boilers with one another – and this boiler was feeding steam to this boiler, as this boiler was out of water. And after that the whole of New Zealand had to have non-return valves between two boilers, right throughout New Zealand. So that fixed that, really. So I’ve been amongst things like that, you know.

So your hobby would’ve been making all this stuff for …

Keeping things going. I was troubleman for Unilever. If they had trouble in Christchurch, I’d fly down there, fix the trouble and fly back again. I remember one long weekend I was stuck in Motueka, and I said to the factory manager, “I’ve got to go home, I’ve got to go home”, so he drove me to Blenheim. [I] got the ferry from Picton across the Strait, walked right round the wharf and got the Dominion car back here; arrived back here for the weekend. So yeah, there’s always a way; doesn’t matter what your trouble was there was always a way out.

Now are you a gardener?

Well, I like me [my] garden right. And me [my] neighbour’s very good to me – she’s just planted all me [my] polyanthus for me. She took all the other plants out and put these polyanthus in, and she’s the one that told me that they’re ready to come out. And she’s the one that tells me what I’ve got to do with the garden. But straight away, I keep me [my] garden right – ‘cause the wife always did the garden too. When the boys come [came] home from the Navy they always wanted to go and look at Mum’s garden, you know; she did the vegetable garden and everything, you know.

She had the green fingers?

Yes, she was always the one, and she was so good, she’d direct things – what we had to do, you know. One house I lived in I had four lawns, so I delegated a lawn to each son. And I could always tell which one wasn’t mowing his lawn. [Chuckle]

Now – what’s your recipe for making it to a hundred?

The wife’s good food. All the family – we put it down to my wife’s good food. There was always the best of food; there was no cheap food or anything. You’d go to the butcher’s shop and he knew what Mrs Davidson wanted when he cut the meat up. It was either a rib with the bone taken out of it. And being in the freezing works I always brought legs of lamb home from the freezing works and things like that. And the day the works opened everybody took a fry home. [Lamb’s fry] We always got a fry there. The manager would send a note out: ‘We lost so many frys, so many whitebreads, [sweetbreads] so many this, so many that; we’re watching from now on. You’ll be prosecuted.’ ‘Cause everybody took a fry home the first day of the kill. [Chuckle]

That was sad when the freezing works went from Hawke’s Bay, when both Tomoana and Whakatu … We never recovered from there, we’re still going through it. ‘Cause everybody had a job in the season; the money rolled in. The off season, the Māori got their jobs fencing and everything like that … going out fencing. And Hastings has never really recovered from then. It’s sad really, that they picked on two freezing works that closed down ‘cause there wasn’t the number of sheep.

And yet they built the new one at Takapau …

Takapau – they opened at Takapau. A mate of mine, I got him a job at the freezing works, and he was chief engineer down there.

Now when you were younger did you ever think you’d live ‘til you were going to be a hundred?

No. no. If I got past sixty I was satisfied.

Three score years and ten … seventy.

Yeah. That was the age that … most people died by that age, or you know, they got weary or something like that. But my wife’s grandmother, she died – she was very old; and her grandfather brought a steam engine into New Zealand when he immigrated, and he did a lot of the work over in New Plymouth for the barracks and that in New Plymouth; he supplied the wood for the first place up on Mt Egmont, you know, the ski lodge up there? He supplied the wood for that. So he opened a mill in New Plymouth, and the Māoris would tell him “Bring the steam engine and put it away” … that “there’s trouble tonight – there’s trouble brewing”. So he got on well with the Māoris, you know.

And you know, we had relations that were whalers, and things like that. There were no women in New Zealand, and this is what people that [who] emigrated out thought that the Māoris and the Pākehas would all get together; the men would marry the Māori girls, and so it’d all be one race. And that was originally thought of in the early days, that it would just even itself out. But it hasn’t worked out like that. But I think it’s improving, I think we’re getting closer together all the time, you know.

There’s very few true Māoris left now.

No, no, not true Māoris. ‘Cause my wife’s grandfather was brought up in a pā. He was on the radio, and he could tell all the birds, the songs of them, what they were; all about the birds in New Zealand, because he was brought up in a pā. So that was the early days you know. His wife walked from New Plymouth to Upper Hutt … walked there, ‘cause he shifted over there, she walked there to be with him. Yeah.

So, I saw the write-up in our local newspaper when you turned a hundred and three, and the photograph is of you blowing your candles out with a leaf blower!

Well we’ve got a club, it’s old people, that I go along to. It’s Heretaunga Old People’s Club. We’re very well set up, we’ve got two buses and a car so we get … go round. We lose a lot of people dying and going to Homes and everything like that. And I come up with the idea that we would set up the club … do something about the club that we’d see. So if I had a hundred and three candles on the cake we’d get the Fire Brigade there to look after the fire in the building; and then straight away, you know, I’d blow the candles out – they had to be candles that relit themselves again [in] case I had trouble. And so I really set it up and got the media down there so that that went out in the paper and the club knew about it, and we could get more people coming into the club.

Publicity …

You’re very short of people, you know, and helpers; we’re getting short of helpers that [are] coming all the time like that. And I try to be the louder one in the club [interference] and when the people come along there – people who play the music and everything and sing along – I say, “Want more volume! Want more volume here, not enough volume – come on, sing up! Sing up!” [Chuckle] Everybody knows me … everybody knows Claude at the club, you know.

What are you going to do next birthday?

Well, I’m not having another birthday. [Interference; chuckle] I mean, I’m ready now; I want to go out when I’m enjoying meself. [Myself] You know, you can live too long. If I got a stroke – now I’m frightened of getting a stroke – [if] I got a stroke [and] it was in my bed, well I’d think, ‘Why didn’t I die sooner? Before I got the stroke’, you know. So not all good things are living a long time, ‘cause you spoil the life I’ve [you’ve] had. I’ve had a good life right through me [my] life there. I couldn’t have lived for it to be any better [in] any way, so why spoil it now with limping around waiting for the undertaker to come and get me, you know? And I say to the wife every time I go and see her, “Put the kettle on, I’ll be down soon.” And she says, “I’ve burnt out so many bloody elements now, they won’t give me any more.” [Chuckle]

Well, Mr Davidson, it’s been wonderful interviewing you this afternoon. I really appreciate you giving me your time.

Oh, no, no, I’m pleased to give it to you, ’cause straight away, if people can see how people lived and time is going on, you know, and I’d like to share it with them.

We really appreciate that. We wish you all the very best.

But I try to make other people’s lives good as well. If I’ve got a good life, why can’t I share it with somebody else, and they have a good life?

That’s why you’re still here.


Take care.

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Interviewer November 2014:  Jim Newbigin

Interviewer July 2021:  Lyn Sturm

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