Diane Boila Gifford Interview

Today is the 22nd February, 2018. I’m interviewing Diane Gifford. Her father was Mr [Eric] Phillips, the architect. Diane, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family?

[Jenny McGregor, Diane’s niece, assists with the interview]

Well it’s hard to know where to start, that’s the trouble.

At the beginning.

Yes, it’s … where I remember was really when we lived in Duart Road. And I know we lived somewhere else when I was about two, but from then on we were in this house that Dad built, or designed. And it was the family home until Dad died in 1980, and then of course it was sold, and then Mum came and lived with us.

Is that the home that’s being advertised for sale at the moment?

No, no. This is the house that has had a little bit … half put on the top, and I don’t know how the Council could have passed it for it to be built – it looks dreadful. It’s a lovely house – it looks rubbish.

So Diane, where did your folks come from to New Zealand … where was the country of origin?

Oh, well Grandpa came from England in Cornwall … in Liskeard in Cornwall … and my grandmother came from Jersey. She was born in Jersey but they were not native Jerseys – they were English originally – and came out here when he was eighteen years old. He was born in 1861 or 2, I’m not sure which – one or the other.

And where did he come to when he came to New Zealand?

Well he … we know very little about that but he obviously came up here soon afterwards. He must have …

To Hawke’s Bay?

… landed in Wellington I guess, and then came up here. When he married my grandmother they lived in Hastings for a while and then Grandpa designed the house in Havelock and they moved out here and Dad was born … I’m not sure whether he was born here or whether they were still in Hastings, but … and Grandpa lived here for the rest of his life, in Havelock.

Now you keep referring to Grandpa – he was ..?

Grandpa Phillips.

He was your ..?

Dad’s father.

So what did he do?

Well he was a cabinetmaker originally I think, but he was very clever at designing things too, ‘cause he made furniture. And then … I think this was about 1906 … we have got a story about this shop in the cabinet. And they joined up together and it was a big shop with everything. There was a big building out the back where they made all the furniture, and in the building itself was a shop, and it had a … upstairs was all the materials, and all the upholstery went on … there was a bit with all the tools and things you needed to do everything. There was another section which was … the next section was … Smith & Smith came into it anyway, later on. They were later on, they were called Smith & Smith.

Can you recall about where that shop was?

It’s in Heretaunga Street. It was almost next to the Cosy Theatre, and that’s why we don’t know much about what happened to it. In the earthquake it wasn’t … I don’t think it was badly damaged, but it was burnt to the ground. Everything went – this huge shop and this huge back area and there’s nothing about it anywhere. Grandpa was overseas … he went over to see his parents, for the first time he’d been over, and he happened to be away when the earthquake came. But they didn’t have enough water. It says in one of those books that it just … [speaking together] it doesn’t say anything about … and I’d love to know, because it was a lovely shop. And I was, what? Seven, nearly eight when the earthquake happened, and I remember it well, because we were all keen on making things and … bits of material. We’d rush upstairs and dear old Miss Jull was upstairs, and she used to have little bits for kids. I’m the second in the family.

It’s not that long ago when you think about it because Reuben White who only died a few years ago as an elderly man – as you said he worked …

He did. [Speaking together] He worked for Grandpa. He did.

… in the shop, and so there’s a link right …

That’s right.

… through to …


… to here, where we’re sitting.

Yes, yes. Yes, he was a lovely man.

So – brothers and sisters?

Well, Vivienne was my eldest sister, and then me and then Maxine – that’s Jenny’s mother – and then our brother John Phillips. And he died when he was sixty-one, which was far too soon. He was farming.

I knew John very well.

John Phillips – did you?

All over the years. We used to cart their hay …

Oh. Oh, for heaven’s sake. Dear John.

Now what was his ..?

Wife’s name?

Cecil Phillips? Was Cecil ..?

That was his … yes, Dad’s brother.

Yes. And John and of course Ros – they were in our Rotary Club.

That’s right, he would have been too.

So … the plot thickens.

I know. Well dear Rosie – she’s my sister-in-law and I couldn’t do without her. [Chuckle] She’s lovely … she’s amazing, isn’t she?

Jenny: Absolutely.

And so you went to school then?

Diane: We went to St Luke’s School, mainly I think because Viv, my eldest sister, she was quite a bad asthmatic and she had eczema and so on. And when I was three and my younger sister was eighteen months – Maxine – Mum took the two of us to England because she hadn’t been back to see her father, and Dad and Viv stayed with Nannie and Grandpa. And of course Viv being just a five year old, that’s right, she’d just started school, and Nannie just adored … and she didn’t care much for the rest of us, it was always Viv. [Chuckle] But anyway that’s what happened. And … where did we get to before then?

So we went to St Luke’s school. It was a fairly small school but it was a lovely school – we all went to St Luke’s and then we all went to Iona ‘cause Nannie wanted Viv to go to Iona. ‘Course once you have one going you’ve got to have the three of us going. My girls went to Iona too. Yes, so that’s where we went to school.

And then I was at school when the war started. But when I started work we didn’t know what we were going to do, because everything was sort of … So anyway, Piet van Asch happened to call on Dad for some reason or other, and he said “are you doing anything?” I said “no, and I don’t know what I’m going to do”. He said “I want somebody to come,” so I started with Aerial Mapping. And it was just … for me, no doubt about that. I loved it, it was great work.

‘Cause that must have been in the early days of Aerial Mapping.

Well that was ‘40… that would have been ‘42-ish to ‘46. Yes. We rode our bikes into Hastings every morning, eight o’clock, and I had the key because I was the most reliable. And I was the most reliable because Grandpa, when I started work, he said “now, one thing you must always remember, you must be on time”. [Chuckle] And I can see him pointing that finger.

So rain, hail or sun, you had to …

We’d bike in.

That would have taken twenty-five minutes.

All through the war we had a knitting place where we made balaclavas and all the bits and pieces for the soldiers, and I made myself a balaclava. And if you could see us riding in with balaclavas, [chuckle] but it was so jolly cold.

And of course the road wasn’t that wide those days.

Oh, it was shocking, it was shingle on the side.

That’s right.

Yes, ‘cause you couldn’t really ride with cars.

You worked there until you were married?

‘Til I was married.

And then you moved …

To Wellington. Yes, it was interesting about Peter. He came back … ‘cause he was at Wellington College and he left school and had one year before the war. The war started just after he left school. And he came home from school and he had a job with Rainbow & Hobbs, and he hated it. He wasn’t going to be an accountant anyway – he didn’t know what he was going to do. So when the war came he couldn’t wait to … ‘cause “it’s only going to last five minutes”. He’d just turned nineteen and off he went to the war, to the Fleet Air Arm. And four years later he came home. Then when he came home, he’d had one year away and we got married at the end of that year. So we went down to Wellington – in fact it’s interesting, in his diary which is over there somewhere … I could find it for you …

One thing that’s quite unique though was the long courtship. You said you met when you were five years old.

[Chuckle] Well …

And you had to wait …

Well it was interesting in that … ‘cause we were both at boarding school and Mum and Dad knew the parents. And we were a mob of girls and a mob of boys. We were all very good, I tell you – very pure. And [chuckle] whenever we went to a film or something we got to the stage of holding hands … [laughter] to what they do now, like … well, I can remember my twenty-first – we went into Napier and we had a meal at the Masonic Hotel. There were eight girls. Mum and Dad … Dad must have run us in, I can’t remember that part of it. But we sat in the lounge and we had a little wee sherry. We did.

How daring!


Now they would have a bucket.

[Chuckle] At least – what goes on. I tell you, my life was different, wasn’t it? That’s why I find it quite hard to think of what they do these days – I don’t want to be in that life anyway.

So what age were you married?

I was twenty-three, Peter was twenty-four.

And then that’s when you lived in Wellington?

We did, and I worked for the first year, ‘cause I would have gone mad otherwise. And Peter – he was lucky in that to go to University … when he left Rainbow & Hobbs Peter went to Wellington and asked Dick Martin who was a great friend of the Giffords, and he was the head of the big Vacuum Oil Company. And he went down, took the train and went down, and said “Dick, will you give me a job?” He said “no Peter, I won’t give you a job. You go to University, get your degree, and join your father.” “Oh,” he said “hadn’t thought of that”. So home he went and said to his father … this is in his diary… he said that’s what he was going to do. And his father said “you can’t do that. You didn’t do Latin for Matric”. [Matriculation] “Oh” says Peter, “I’ll go to school and get Latin”. So that’s what he did. So he had that as well, and he got his degree and joined his father.

So we had two years down there. Philippa was born … well it would have been eighteen months after we were married … yes, about that. And then we came home with a six months old baby and nowhere to live and we lived with his parents for some months. Yes – with a six months old baby – yes. Anyway, his dear mother was lovely but she was very sick – had help.

Now in the background, or foreground, was your father who was an established architect, who was doing all sorts of wonderful designs and …

Yes. Well that’s me – that’s the end of me, I mean ever since it’s been just a busy life, but Dad – well from what we know, he was born in 1897. Mum was born in ‘98.

What was his full name?

His name was H E Phillips … Dad’s full name was Herbert Eric Phillips, but he didn’t like Herbert so it was always H Eric Phillips, but then it was mostly Eric Phillips. [Chuckle]

Now as a growing young lady were you aware of his architectural prowess at that stage?

Well yes, we did, because Dad did a lot of work at home. He had the table in the living room in the winter time, and he had lovely pencils – we were all quite keen on pencils and things like that, and I went to classes and did painting with Geoff Fuller actually, which was great for a few years. Then when Dad died I went to the classes for another year. We’d got to the stage where we … with three other friends … we’d go out and paint things, and then when Dad died and Mum came to live with us, I found I couldn’t cope with both of them so I joined an embroidery group. [Showing some embroidery]. We’ve all got a bit of something, and …

Some bits of art.

And the painting and the drawing and so on.

You could always go into his homes and the first thing you could tell that it was one of his houses was the fireplace and mantlepiece design.

And just the finish, with that well rounded …

It was, it was just like putting a stamp – H E Phillips.

That’s right. I’m just looking for Dad with his rounded things. [Shows photos] Now there’s a swimming pool that he and Don Nimon – and that’s a little house grandpa made for us. But no, there aren’t any of the others. And yes, you can tell a Dad’s house.

And so when did he practise ‘til? What age would he ..?

He had a stroke in ‘67. Yes, and he did never understand cents, and … that was too much, it was still pounds – found that difficult.

He designed the home in Thompson Road for Dick and Lorna Brodie …

Yes, I know the house.

… and it was a classic, you know. Here it came into the area – this classic house sitting there, and it was a classic design. [Speaking together]

Yes, it was. You could tell it was Dad’s. Yes, you’d drive past it, you’d think that he patented that.

Would never date.


But it just had that look about it.

So finished, yes.

So after that he had to retire did he?

Well, yes, but he kept on doing a little bit until he had his stroke. He probably left the firm at about ‘66 – 1966. It wasn’t long before he had the stroke, but he was still doing the odd things right up until the end.

Jenny: What age would he have been, Diane?

Diane: He was … well he was born in 1897, and he died when he was eighty-three.

Somewhere I guess there is a record of all the properties he designed?

Well that’s what Jenny and I’ve been sort of – well Jenny, been taking photographs of different places. I can sort of tell if it’s a Dad house or not. And we’ve got quite a few photos – you’ve [Jenny’s] got them all, I haven’t got them here.

Jenny: Mmm. But I think there’s a lot that we perhaps don’t know about, or there’s some that we don’t know about.

I said to you about a friend of mine who lives in McHardy Street. I thought it was one of your fathers but it was a Chaplin.

Diane: Oh yes – Sid. Yes, that was Sid’s house.

And they were quite different designs.


And you know, in time those homes – they’re ageless. you know, there was [were] no leaky homes.

Well – this was done by John Scott. It’s only a two-bedroom, two-bathroom and this. It’s only a small house, and it’s perfect for one person, or two of us – even for the two of us it was okay. But I’ve spent a hell of a lot of money on it with leaks just about everywhere. It’s not built well.

This has got a lovely feel about it though.

Well, yes. It feels big enough, but it’s not a big place, it’s a little place, and there’s the two bedrooms and the bathroom there, and the one in there and the bathroom there.

Faces the north and you’ve got all the sun and …

Feels the heat.

Who’s the green fingers – you enjoy gardening?

Well, I used to potter but I’m not very good at pottering now. I water and I do a little bit, but I have somebody who comes once every six weeks.

Well that’s important.

Well, you know if you want to keep going at [chuckle] ninety-something-or-other, you’ve just got to keep going.

Yes, but see – it’s obvious you don’t feel old.

Well I had a fall last year – set me back a bit, and I just feel I’m not the same as I was a year ago, or six months ago. [Speaking together]

Just the sound of your voice. That’s always a giveaway. I’ve got a dear old lady, she’s ninety-eight … ninety-nine, but she’s so determined. [Chuckle] She’s back living on her own with some help. She’s waiting for the telegram. [Chuckle]

No, I don’t want to wait for that – I definitely don’t want to wait for that.

There must be some grandchildren then?

Well yes, we’ve got three … you mean Dad’s grand..? Yes. And Viv had three, and Max had three, and John had four. So there were thirteen I think, altogether. Yes. And we’re a very close family, just about all of us. One or two of them are away.

At some stage I will get you to write down their names and their ages and their grandchildren or great grandchildren because that becomes part of the history and if they’re looking for family members …

Jenny: Right.

Because once you index things – you understand computers I’m sure – you need those details.


So okay – now, let’s come back to Peter Townshend Gifford. He finished in Wellington and you came back to Hawke’s Bay.

Diane: He came back to Hawke’s Bay and he joined his father. It was Ebbett & Gifford at that stage.

Yes. And so he carried on all those years.

Oh, the office was number one. Peter did a lot of voluntary work … he started Birthright. And actually Philippa, our eldest daughter Philippa, is the National President of Birthright now. She’s doing an amazing job too, she’s really brought it back into … At the beginning of this century they joined it with some other thing, and you don’t hear much about Birthright, but they are still doing their thing.

They have a building in …

In Napier – yes, they do.

They don’t have one in Hastings?

No. No, the one in Napier’s done very well.

I remember Frank Darroch.

Oh yes – he and Peter, they were on some committee in Taradale, and they used to go to meetings every five minutes, it seemed. [Chuckle]

But they were very community-minded. Frank – he started something similar to Birthright too, that became very strong. They had some foresight to do things.

Peter was on the Council for nine years, in the days they weren’t paid like they are now. And he was also on the Harbour Board … they weren’t paid. They were in the end, but not all the time. He did a lot of consulting work, so did Dad.

Now your children?

Mmm. Well, Philippa is the eldest of the three, and she’s married to Russell Ballard and they are in Wellington. And she was married when she was twenty-one – she just turned twenty-one two days afterwards, I think it was. And Russ was born and brought up in England, or at least he was born in England. And then after the second World War his father came home and didn’t have a job, and they went to Africa … Kenya … and his father had a farm there. And so Russ was brought up in Nairobi, and he went to boarding school aged seven and was there for the rest of his days at school. They had all that awful Mau Mau time and his parents’ farm was taken and they moved to South Africa, the parents, but Russ stayed on at the school until he finished. And then he got a scholarship to go to Massey, so he came out here and had his year here and then he got a scholarship to do a Masters. So he did that too, and then he got a scholarship to go to America and do a PHD. So when they were married they had three years in Rotorua, because when you get a scholarship you’ve got to stay with the [?outfit?], which is fair enough. So he had a job in the forestry there. And then they went to America, and Philippa had done her BA and she was going to do a Masters degree, but she was allowed to do it in America if she sat their exam, which she did, and passed of course. so she went to University too and did her Masters in literature.

So then they came home having been married for three years, in Florida, and then they came home. Then they had their two boy, and then when Joe, the younger of the two, was six months old Russ got a call from America to say would he come back and do this particular job that he’d been … so they went back again with a six-month-old and a two-and-a-half-year-old. And off they went for another seven years, which was a long time. [Speaking together] I thought they were there forever, but fortunately they decided when Edward was getting to a certain age – that was the elder one of the two – they wanted them to go to Wellington College. So Russ got a job straight away, and he was an OE [CEO?] for all sorts of things, so he’s pretty well known in Wellington. And Philippa … well they had a daughter in America – she was five when they came home, or she was nearly five. When she turned five Philippa said, “I’m going to do a law degree”. So she went to University and did a Law degree. So she’s a lawyer.

And then when Susie the younger daughter – oh, then there’s John in the middle. John did a Law degree too, but he started with a Law degree and Susie did a BA and taught for a while, and went overseas and came back. And Philippa got her to start a Law degree. “I think I’ll do a Law degree” … so she did one too. So three are lawyers, but none of them have worked in a lawyer’s office. Philippa’s with … she’s actually a Small Claims Tribunal referee, and Susie’s with the Ombudsman. And John of course has had that trouble – he was working with Rob … in Napier. It was the Bank, and they were on the … and it was just terrible, what we all went through for those nine years. That was shocking.

So did you play any sports at all as a young woman?

Oh, well we had school sports and … not too bad at the basketball and the swimming because we had a swimming pool. We were really good at swimming. [Chuckle]

Did you play golf?

Well I did when everybody had gone to school. And Susie, the younger one, was dying to go to school, and her first day at school she was so excited, and off she went to school. And I started golf. And she came home and said “I’ve had the best day ever”, and I said “and so have I”. [Chuckle] So the pair of us had our best day ever. [Chuckle]

And so you played at Bridge Pa?

Yes, and played for quite a long time until I was eighty. Well, it was fun … it was good.

Now we’ll just backtrack a little bit – how old were you during the earthquake? Where were you at the earthquake time?

I was up a tree at St Luke’s school. [Chuckle]

What a ladylike thing to be doing.

[Chuckle] It was play time, and the bell was ringing of course and I was up the tree and getting down thinking it was the bell … time to get in. And I’ll never forget the cows – there were four cows in the paddock at the back of the school, and these cows went mad. And they were frightening really because they were just kicking up and didn’t know what to do with themselves, poor things. And I ran, and fell over … I remember falling over and getting up, and by this time we knew it was something really big going on. All the kids were being gathered up, and the chimney fell down in the school, and … you know. We were gathered up and told to wait here until a parent comes to collect us.

And was your home damaged at all?

Yes it was. And one of Dad’s houses – it shouldn’t have, should it? But it had a chimney in the middle and it was a brick chimney, and the chimney came through the roof.

I don’t think you can blame your father for faulty workmanship on that.

No. And poor mum, ‘cause John was only about two I think, at the time, and he was sitting on the floor playing with the pots and pans in the sliding cupboards.

So where was that house?

In Duart Road. They must have moved in there about 1920 … they were married in ‘20 so it was about two years later I think.

Now also your holidays – where did you go for your holidays?

Oh, well, we went to Taupo ‘cause Dad was a very keen fisherman with Bill Nimon. Bill Nimon was one of the brothers and he and Dad were great mates. They were the same age and they went to school together, and then they went to the war together, and they came home together. And then when the second world war started they were asked to help with … they were in Napier anyway, in uniform, and they were training. And I think it was 1941 they were in the sun standing at attention, and Bill just dropped dead.

How old would he have been?

He was born in 1897, the same as Dad, and this was about ’41, ‘42, ‘43 … mmm. It was sad ‘cause he was lovely. He and Uncle Cecil and Dad dug that with picks. [Shows photo]

That was the one member of the Nimon family we never ever knew. We knew all the others.

Did you know that they had that brother?

No. Because it was you know, in the forties, and I was only a little boy those days. People talk of [with] great fondness of [for] him.

But we had all our … every Christmas we went away to Taupo and we always went with Bill and Molly and their two children. Josephine was my age – in fact she’s in England. I rang her two or three weeks ago which I do about three times a year. And she’s the same age as me. [Chuckle]

Well also I guess, with your association with Iona, do you maintain any interest there still? 

Yes, I was on the Board for nearly ten years, a long time ago. The last year Philippa was at school whilst Susie was at school. And I just went on with Mary Mossman – we were the two old girls, and Mary Mossman was wonderful. She was just a marvellous, marvellous person as far as Iona went. I’m being spoilt by them now, they ring me up to say “well, we’ve got a seat for you”. [Chuckle]

It’s not being spoilt. It’s recognising you for your friendship for the place.  [Speaking together]

Well we were lucky being able to go to a private school of course.

But later on when I was in Rotary we used to do vocational courses and go up and try and help the girls to decide what they wanted to do. And it was a whole new world to go in there and find very disciplined, very mature … you know, not scatty young brats like some of our … 

I know. It’s gone mad.

Jenny: Pa designed some of the buildings at Iona too.

Diane: Well he did the chapel. And yes, some of the buildings.

Jenny: What is the building that the senior girls had as their ..?

Diane: That was for the head mistress – at the gate, but they’ve altered that too because they’ve added on to …

So there’s fond memories of your old school? Now …

Yes, well Philippa was head prefect her last year, and Susie was the head of the … so they did well.

So at some stage you moved to Twyford and built … was that a Peter Holland?

Peter Holland, yes. Well when Philippa was married and John was in South Africa and Susie went overseas, Peter said “I want to plant some trees”. I said “what an earth for? We’re pretty happy where we are”. No – so he came back one day and said “I’ve found a place. There’s thirty acres, and we’ll plant apple trees”. “Oh, okay”, so I went and had a look at it and there was this house there. And I thought ‘I like my house in town’, [chuckle] because it was one Dad had designed.

So where was that house? The one in Hastings that you lived in?

In Oliphant Road. If you go from Southland Road it’s next to where you get into the park. And it looks very run down now. It was a nice house, I loved it. Peter said “well, we’ll build a new house there” … that’s what we did. And we planted … we had a piece in the front there a paddock that we had. We had …

Jenny: Apple trees?

Diane: No, no, no, no – in the front garden. Asparagus. And we had that for thirteen years and then we dug it up ‘cause the convolvulus took over. And now we’ve sold it and it’s all covered in trees. I didn’t want trees right on top of me, so …

I remember when you moved there and it was a bare paddock. How many years were you orcharding then?

Well we had twenty years there. We went in ‘78 and we left in ‘98, and that was because of Peter. And we chose this house for … well, several reasons but mostly because there was [were] no steps, and it meant it … easy for Peter.

Yes, you walk straight in, don’t you?

You walk straight in, and that’s a big advantage when you’ve got walkers and all that sort of stuff, wheelchairs and things.

Jenny: I’m just writing down … ‘cause Pa drew some maps one of Taupo and one of Hawke’s Bay. Can you recall when he did those?

Diane: Well, they’ve got the date on them.

Jenny: Yes – but your experience of them, because he did them while you were at home, didn’t he?

Diane: Ah – he started them when I was at home, and then he … the first one, which was the Hawke’s Bay one.

They were maps of Lake Taupo?

No, we’ve got them – there’s a big painting – got it on the wall in the hall there.

Jenny: One of Hawke’s Bay and one of Taupo.

Diane: Yes, and there’s one of Taupo round the corner. So you … as you go out you can have a look at them. Unfortunately they were put on the wall in Duart Road, and they faded badly and you can’t read them very well. It was a pity because there was all the information as well.

Jenny: ‘Cause there was a lot of Maori information … Maori – you know, Pa was doing …

Diane: Yes, he was very interested in Maori language and he had a great friend that we had to go and see every time we went up to Taupo. [Laugh] But he was a very nice man. Tai was his name, but I think it was something quite different – but Dad called him Tai, so I don’t know what that meant.

Yes I know Taupo well – I’ve fished for fifty years.

Right – well we used to get big fish, and they were a beautiful colour in those days because not many people fished – there weren’t boats fluffing around everywhere.

It’s all changed, today we very seldom take a fish. Initially we used to take as many fish as you could cart home.

Jenny: There’s a lovely photo in here in amongst all this information that I don’t know if I could locate now, but it’s a beautiful picture. It might be in here … old Eric down one end and …

Diane: Uncle Bill the other end. Yes, Uncle Bill – we always called him Uncle Bill of course – he wasn’t related but …

Was he Joe’s brother?

Brother. He was the second in the family, there was Joe, Bill, Dick, Cecil … oh, Aunt Edie came in between, yes. Aunt Edie she was to us too, and … oh, Granny Nimon was Granny Nimon to us too.

Jenny: After the earthquake Diane, what happened? You had to leave your house in Duart Road?

Diane: Oh yes, for ages. We stayed in the Nimons’ back yard in those days – it wasn’t all houses, it was just paddock. But we kids had a good time … didn’t have to go to school, and … not that we disliked school, but we didn’t have to go to school, and … oh, no, it was a good time.

Jenny: I was just trying to think too at times when you lived in Duart Road how there weren’t many houses around, and …

Diane: Oh, heavens no.

Jenny: So you had a big …

Diane: Oh, there were all paddocks all around us – yes, we just sat there. The one just down the road was Dr Scott – he lived there, dear old man. Yes. No, it was a different world, it was very small.

Yes, I quite often say that once upon a time I could walk down the street and I knew everyone.

I know – I am a complete stranger, that’s right. Yes. No, there aren’t … well I haven’t got any of my old friends left.

My father said once he used to go and meet his old mate, and he stopped going in his eighties, and we said “why?” And he said “they’ve all gone.”


You don’t realise, it happens.

Jenny: Until you get to that stage yourself.

So coming back then to …

Diane: Going to Taupo.

Jenny: Where did you go, Diane? Where did you go in Taupo?

Diane: Oh, well in Taupo you could go anywhere.

Jenny: Yeah, but where did you go? Where did the Phillips go?

Diane: Well we went out to a place round … like, after Acacia Bay, and it was somebody’s farm and we were allowed to go there, and we had it all to ourselves and we had a lovely time, just us and the Nimons.

Jenny: When did you start going to Motutere then? Did you not go to Motutere? Nanny and Pa went to Motutere.

Diane: Well no, I didn’t go there before I was married.

Jenny: ‘Cause we had holidays with Nanny and Pa at Motutere.

Diane: Mmm. Well I think I went for the first time when we were married, and we unpacked our luggage at …

Jenny: Oh, round at Acacia Bay.

Diane: No, when we were on our honeymoon.

Jenny: Oh! Yes.

Diane: That was when we went there.

Jenny: Motutere – we used to camp at Motutere, and Nanny and Pa had their caravan.

Diane: Oh yes, that’s right – yes, that’s right.

Jenny: And we’d come up from Whanganui and we always had a holiday with them every summer.

Diane: Yes, we did. And we did too, after that. We didn’t dare go by ourselves any more. Oh, it was just extraordinary, our honeymoon – you wouldn’t believe it. [Chuckle]

Worth saying anything about?

Oohh, well! Well, of course we had no money because Peter was at University. So we had to hire a car – we hired a little car to get up there, and off we went with a tent. And we had two or three days at the beginning of our honeymoon at …


Yes, Waikaremoana. We had three days there I think, and then we had to move on and we pitched the tent in Rotorua having got there eventually. And we pitched the tent which was Peter’s father’s old tent. It was big and this little wee car and … unbelievable really, I don’t know how we did it. But anyway, we had this tent, and put it up in the camping ground. And we had a little kerosene … and a frying pan. A new wife, just to do the meals – we had no money to go and buy meals. So we had two nights there, and I said to Peter “What say we go and join Mum and Dad in Taupo?” “What a good idea!” Took the tent down [chuckle] and packed it up – off we went down to … and Mum and Dad were there, and Viv and Viv’s fiancé then, and Max was there and John was there and we all had a lovely holiday at [chuckle] … the best honeymoon. That was the best part about it.

Jenny: And so that was at Motutere?

Diane: Motutere, yes. [Chuckle] Well, it was crazy wasn’t it? But that’s how things were in those days.

But I mean, that was the time, you know – people didn’t have a lot of money.

Well, we certainly didn’t.

Jenny: What did you used to do in the evening? Not then so much, but like – before you were married – what did you do in the evenings?

Diane: Well, we all made all our clothes … everything we ever wore we made. And we all knitted away for the soldiers, and we all did a lot of drawings and things.

Did you ever play cards?

We didn’t ever play cards – not because they didn’t want to. We used to have puzzles – we used to love puzzles, and we’d have a lot of puzzles and they were good. And we walked a lot.

Jenny: So you did all your puzzles and your knitting and sewing while Pa did his drawing?

Diane: He didn’t do it every night of course, but he did a lot of it. And then we got to the stage where Bill and Molly went away to the islands and they brought home a mahjong set, and so we played mahjong ‘cause there were four of us – Mum, Viv, Max and me, and Grandpa would sit there. Oh, that’s another thing – we had Grandpa living there, but we loved Grandpa. He was a dear, dear man. [Chuckle]

Jenny: And he lived in his own little house.

Diane: Well not a house, he had a room and he was lovely.

Mahjong – how long did you play that?

Well we did that I suppose for three or four or five years. The war was six years old, [long] wasn’t it? Yes. Not all the time, but we did in the winter time. I wish I played it now, but I don’t.

So what about shows … did you take any part in any acting? On any Boards besides Iona?

Not really. There just weren’t things – we weren’t ever invited to do so or whatever.

Jenny: When you say shows – you went to the A&P Show of course.

Diane: Oh, always. Yes, we went to the A&P Show. In fact we went one time and we had a puppy … a dog … Old English sheep dog, and John just adored this dog and he was going to put it in to the Show. And then he won some chooks in a raffle, and there was a dreadful rooster that we couldn’t stand because you’d go into the shed and it’d just about eat you … fly at you. They can be pretty savage. So anyway, he wanted to take to the Show. Well he came home with first prize for the rooster. So we had to keep it after all, and then the puppy got top of the whole outfit. So John kept on taking animals [chuckle] ‘cause John was a farmer in the end, and they had a stud. And so they took their cattle every year – he got prizes for them too.

But no, we girls, we just – we all belonged to different things where you could help things.

Girl Guides?

No, we didn’t have … ‘cause we were at boarding school.

Jenny: Can you tell us, Diane, about Pa when he started his architecture? When he started his ..?

Diane: Oh, yes, ‘cause that’s really what we’re here about …

We had to get your family.

My family’s finished, yes. Well Dad … you see we didn’t know much about … although we … little bits came here and there. But Dad didn’t talk about the war at all. We didn’t know anything about it, he just didn’t want to talk about it. But it was only after we found this diary, which is in here Jenny, and we found out you know, where he was. [Showing diary] But you can hardly read it, but that’s … you know, we were able to find out things from that. Very tiny writing though – hard to see.

So anyway, after the war he stayed on for a year – oh, when Dad left school, he left because … he was at the Havelock school with Bill Nimon … and then Dad didn’t go to high school, he went up to Auckland to train for architecture – he wanted to be an architect, or he wanted to learn. And he was under … well, it’ll come to me in a minute. Anyway he went to school up there too, but I don’t know what sort of school it was but he obviously did well because when the war finished, he had a year at University in England. There was no training in New Zealand. He was one of the few ones that was a qualified architect. He had one year only there and then he did the rest by correspondence, and he had to go to Australia to do the final exam which was a big business in those days. Viv was born I think, when he did that. What else was I going to say about it?

Jenny: Well, just what you remember about his. …

Diane:  Oh, well – when he went to the war he had two uncles in England, his mother’s brothers. And one lived in Yorkshire and one lived in Jersey. He tossed the coin and it came to Jersey, so he went to Jersey. Dad’s mother’s brother, and Mum’s father’s sister, were married. And Mum’s mother had died when she and her brother were very young, and they were handed out to different aunts. And here’s Mum living with Aunty Alice I think that one was. And Dad went to see his uncle and Mum was living … So, they sort of met. [Chuckle] And Dad wouldn’t have been all that old, because they came out in 1920 and he’d had a year at University.

Jenny: Did they come out together?

Diane: No, no – Dad came three months earlier than Mum. So that’s how it all happened – toss of the coin.

Jenny: And Nanny came out all by herself …

Diane: And Mum came out all by herself in 1920 and she came out with Nada, and I don’t remember what Nada’s surname was … her maiden name … but she married a guy from Hastings and they had a double wedding three weeks after they arrived. So they were the best of friends forever and ever, weren’t they? Except she died when she was seventy-five and Mum lived until she was ninety-one, so she had a long time without Aunty Nada. But Aunty Nada was lovely too, wasn’t she?

Jenny: Mmm. And she lived in Hastings.

Diane: She lived in Hastings.

What was her surname?

Diane: Wright … Stan Wright.

Jenny: And they walked to … Nanny would take you into town, wouldn’t she, to see Aunty Nada and you all walked.

Diane: Neither of them ever drove a car, and somebody had to be the chauffeur. But I loved it anyway, it was fun. It was interesting. [Chuckle]

Can you remember what sort of car it was?

Oh, well we had a … well when we were kids we had a big Chrysler ‘cause Dad needed a car. [??] windows, they were in the back somewhere and you had to go and get them when it started to rain, and put them on. They weren’t wind up things, no. But if you could see us going to Taupo. The rails on the side and the … oh, shivers! Four kids in the back seat … bit of fighting went on occasionally – “my turn on the side” … [chuckle] you know, a punch here and there. But we all got on pretty well, we were pretty good kids on the whole, but it was getting in that car … so I remember Viv saying once “well, we’ll write it down” … whose turn it is.

So your father then, once he’d become an architect, passed his exams in Australia and so forth, came back to Hastings?

Oh yes, ‘cause he was born here … he came home. And he was with … lived down, half way to Hastings …

Jenny: He was an architect?

Diane: Yes, yes, he was an architect, but not qualified like Dad. What was his name? Those old ones …

Jenny: So he was never involved in the partnership?

Diane: It was Phillips & …

Jenny: Phillips & Wright?

Diane: No, no – Grandpa. It’ll come to me in a minute.

And that only lasted for a short time I think, until he was with the next one, which was another one who’s well-known, and they’ll both come to me in a minute. And then Dad went with Harold Davies and they were on a long time. Then Sid Chaplin joined them, and when Howard left John …


Yep … joined them. And it changed after that and Dad left.

[Speaking together] At that stage they were in some fairly big projects in Hawke’s Bay, weren’t they?

After the earthquake. Although Dad – and it’s in that book …

Jenny: Which book, Di?

Diane: … which is all the books of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake – one of them. Mr Harold Davies – he didn’t get on with people the way that Dad did. People found Dad easy to talk to, and took whatever they wanted and he was very good at that apparently, and so he did most of the houses. They did some lovely houses in the country but we don’t have one of those, but … those were the sort of … the wealthier farmers in those days.

Today a lot of the builders … the young carpenters … are not joiners, they’re not taught to finish to the levels that …

Well we had Jim Potts, and his father was very religious but he was a wonderful … he was Dad’s number one for – Dad liked to have him because they knew it would be a good job.

Jenny: So did he build most of his houses?

Diane: Well, a lot of them I think – well, at a certain stage, I don’t know who the early ones were. When we built our house at Twyford we had Jim Potts, and he made a great job of that, but that was with Peter Holland. It was Peter said – well, Dad always recommended him. And Dad was still alive when we built Twyford because he was going to come and live with us too, so that’s when we put – at the end of the house we put a big bedroom and bathroom. And we put a little cubby hole place where Mum could make cups of tea and she could plug in a frying pan if she wanted to, and things like that which of course never happened, but still …

He must have found it interesting, a different style of house completely to the ones he built.

Yes. But he didn’t see it much, did he? Just … I think we’d only just moved, and he died before we moved in. It was still being in the building stage. Yes.

Jenny: Did you go to many of the houses that he built … that Pa designed that you actually went to when they were completed …

Diane: Oh yes.

Jenny: … or while they were being built?

Diane: Some [?] we photographed. Oh yes.

There was an affinity between the architect and the person, because they built up a relationship, didn’t they, of listening to the ideas. [Speaking together]

Yes, he did, too – yes. Yes. And I think they got a cheaper design … a cheaper value – at least they didn’t have to pay as much.

Right, I hadn’t thought of that.

Oh Dad was like that – very much like that. [Chuckle]

Jenny: He was very generous.

Diane: He sure was. Yes, he used to do some nice things like that. I remember when we were kids, he used to belong to … there was a children’s orphanage place, and they were pretty, you know … orphanage … And Dad had – and there must have been several men or people in Havelock that did the same thing – and Dad had three boys that he would give a Christmas present to. And he gave – whatever John got for Christmas, those three boys would each get.

Jenny: Wow!

Diane: But he did that for years, and I suppose he just [?], I don’t know.

Jenny: They were three boys from an orphanage?

Diane: They were in the orphanage. And they were this group of people that did that then, and whatever John got, they got. Yes, which was … but Dad was like that.

Jenny: The building that’s down in the new complex down here in Havelock, the new …

Diane: Oh the pavilion?

Jenny: Yes.

Diane: [Chuckle] Well he of course did it for nothing, [chuckle] but see, it’s …



Well the amount of people in Havelock who’ve – Colin Shanley did a lot of work, and if it hadn’t have been for Colin Shanley it would’ve disappeared years ago.

Jenny: Well Pa designed that. Didn’t he gift the ..?

Diane: That was that little … it was behind the …

Jenny: Swimming baths.

Diane: Yes. Once they put that road in it was useless because …

The cricket. And of course the tennis courts were behind it.


It was a shame because that was being used, the pavilion – its last use of course was the swimming club, and they were all of a year there. And then of course it raised a few eyebrows with the renaming of the building, because they thought there were several people in Havelock whose name could be on it, but …

There are the notices outside that he had designed it.

I went to a jazz concert about two weeks ago. There were families … and ‘course the old pavilion sitting there in its glory. And I thought ‘it’s lovely … we haven’t lost a thing, we’ve just gained’.

Jenny: Exactly. And I think they did a very nice job, actually.

Diane: Well, it’s very popular, the park down there – they made a good job of the park.

Yes. And when I think of all the discussion there was about the footpaths, the pods … we wouldn’t have that café culture in the village now if it wasn’t for that move. People always fight change, don’t they?

I know, I know, I know.

So coming back to Eric Phillips – Eric Phillips no doubt will be remembered for the classic style of exterior and interior of his homes. These homes, there were enough of them to really compile quite a nice illustrated book, because those houses are going to outlast most of us.

Jenny: For sure.

Diane: And they will too, mm. Well the one on the corner of Duart Road going into Gillean, on that corner Grandpa built that house, and that’s where they lived. And the house that’s next door to them, an old, old house next door, they lived in that house first and Grandpa built this other one, and that’s where they lived for a lot of time. Then they went round the corner and built another house, then they went round the block.

Jenny: So there were four houses there – there was the one on the corner with the tiled roof?

Diane: Yep, Grandpa – yes. Yes, and then you go round the corner into Chambers, and the Dentons live there now – think they’ve lived there ever since it was sold. In fact we have a photograph of …

Jenny: And the other one on the corner further up, is that Nigel?

Diane: Yes, well that’s where they lived until 1939 and they sold it then and Mrs Crosby went in, and I’d have loved to have bought it after that but it wasn’t on sale at the right time.

Mrs Crosby – was that Bill Crosby’s ..?

She was a widow and she didn’t ever have a husband when we were … all the time she was there. She was on her own. A nice lady but she got to the stage where she didn’t want visitors. Yes, you don’t know what you’ll be like in your old age, like me forgetting those certain things.

You’ve got a remarkable memory, not only long-term but short-term memory.

Oh, you forget a few things. You think ‘oh, what was it? What was it?’ And then it comes to you later on, but it isn’t there right there and then.

Jenny: This is the house that I was thinking of on the corner of … Pa didn’t design that, Grandpa did, didn’t he?

Diane: Oh, Grandpa did I suppose – yes, it’s still there, mm – it’s on the corner. The corner as you come into Nigel, if you go up Chambers. And they had a big area then in those days – now it’s all squashed in to next to nothing.

Jenny: Here’s that map that I think is just extraordinary.

Diane: Yes. Yes, it is, too. That’s the Havelock one.

Jenny: The Hawke’s Bay one.

Diane: But we’ve got the big one.

My father when he was a boy he said there was a lot of fern and stuff on the peak. It wasn’t all grassy like it is now. Simla Avenue was shingle when I went to primary school.

Well when we were kids Duart Road was shingle too. I remember when it was tar sealed, it was terribly exciting. Yes, well you see it would have been the thirties that we would’ve … I was born ’23 … yes. We were allowed to go walking up the Peak on our own with some other kids, and you didn’t have to worry about anything. I remember when my kids started to do that sort of thing … I remember Philippa going up and she would have been in probably last year at St Luke’s … we were in Hastings. Anyway she was probably about fifteen … sixteen, and school holidays and they had terrible times. They’d bike out here, three or four girls together, and then they’d find boys up there and they’d tear home again, and we wouldn’t let them go any more on their own. It was just a different world all of a sudden.

[Looking at maps … next section results from discussing the maps]

We’ve been right round to those …

Jenny: And see, the Taupo map was similar. There’s so much information on it, but sadly that’s been a little bit more damaged and hasn’t had …

Diane: I still think it could be …

Jenny: I do too, Di. [Speaking together]

Diane: I think it’s worth looking at some time.

Jenny: In fact we ought to send it down … it’s down in Te Papa. But I was talking to the person at the Knowledge Bank and she said that there’s other ways of preserving these things.

Diane: Yes, well Dad used to do that while we …

That is a replica of the one on the wall, is it?

Jenny: Yes, that’s the negative of that.

Yes. That really needs some digitalising so …

Diane: Oh, well we have got it now – we’ve got it in the big one … kids have all got them and it’s very good …

I only just mean for …

… with the black and white.

Hawke’s Bay history.

Jenny: Yes, it’s a very historical thing. I mean, this writing here – we can’t read it, but briefly this is the story, or something like this. This is what he’d do, in brackets. [Reads] ‘Kahurangi reached New Zealand from Polynesia’ – you know …

Diane: These are some of the houses. [Now looking at photographs]

Jenny: Well they’re all the buildings … had a bunch here that was of the schools. You know, this is Woodford, Woodford swimming pool, Hereworth – their cricket pavilion, this is a building at Iona, at the front entrance there. That’s another house that actually ………. this is in Hastings, and that’s not its best perspective – we went there, remember? And it’s two storey, and it has this frontage that in the TB times people would sleep outside. [Speaking together]

Diane: Oh, that was the … that was the Baird’s house – the Baird family, it was built for the Bairds.

Jenny: Big house.

Diane: The Baird shop that they had.

Jenny: Anyway, we know he designed it. What’s the other building in Hastings that he designed that the National Party had some rooms in? Art Deco. It’s on the corner of … not Queen Street …

Yes, the old Dental Chambers.


Diane: Dental Chambers – yes, he designed that – that’s nice. Also he did Roaches and that was nice, but now of course it’s …

It’s all gone.

A shame, because it was a nice design.

I must ask Brian McFlynn – he may have some photos too.

Yes well you see, this would have been before – long before … That must be Grandpa, ‘cause Grandpa always wore a hat.

My father was a coach builder at a place called Simons, and I have never been able to find out just where it was.

Well I can’t imagine why there isn’t something about it [referring to Phillips’ furniture shop] because it was a big shop and it was burnt down because the fire started in the Cosy Theatre. It just went through, and there were [was] no … no water for them, it had all gone down to the other end, and the whole lot went down.

Life is full of coincidences – just amazing. Okay, well I think probably …

I’m sure.

… we’re at a stage now where we can just stop the machine …

There’d be a lot of rubbish you wouldn’t bother to put in though, would you?

Well, none of it is rubbish. Thank you very much anyway, for giving us this portion of the history of your family and we look forward to getting the rest of the collection.

Original digital file


Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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