Dimbokovits, Maitel Dawn Interview

Good afternoon. Today is Thursday 4th February 2021. I am Lynn Sturm and on behalf of the Knowledge Bank I am about to interview Maitel [Dimbokovits], a resident of Wairoa.

Good morning. My name is Maitel Dawn Groves, and I was born on 15th November 1932, and I believe it was in a maternity home which is in Black Street. It was run by the McKay sisters; I think it was called [?Oree?]. It was a private maternity home. My parents were living at that stage in McLean Street, and funnily enough from that house you can look across what was the paddocks and you could see the Te Uhi Hill straight across the river, and that’s exactly where we are living now … one section across but straight through, in Apatu Street … and our section goes right through to Kopu Road. And you can still see the slip on the side of the hill in the photos I’ve got, when I was a little girl.

Now I’m one of a family of seven children. I have [a] twin brother and sister that are two and a half years older than I am; and then I’m next on [in] the line; then I had twin brothers that [who] would be two and a half years younger than me; and then I had [a] twin brother and sister, and I think they were about three years younger again. And this was all in the time before there was any family benefit or anything – it was the time of the Depression, and Dad was working for the local council and he was on the night soil; the only job he could get, and he had to have money for a family. So Dad went on the night soil, and he and Mr Finucane were the two men that were operating that, Mr Finucane and Dad. There were three concrete houses – they’re still there in McLean Street; we were in one end, Mr Finucane was in the middle house and the health inspector was in the third house.

Now we grew up there [at] the younger age, but then when Dad left that job I think he went to work for the Power Board and he got a house right up the Frasertown Road where Ivan Bodley lives now; there was this little cottage up there and that’s where Mum and Dad were living. They were living there at the time of the earthquake when my eldest brother and sister were born. Mum used to say how she had been baking; and she used to make jams and pickles; and she was very proud of all of her bottling. She had all of these jars and bottles of fruit up in the cupboards, and the earthquake struck and everything came shooting out of the cupboards all over the floor … there was fruit everywhere. And my dad was working over where Williams & Kettle used to be – it’s where Rite Price is now – and the bridge came down. And Dad got on his bike and he road across the bridge, up the Frasertown Road and as flat out as he could to see if Mum and the twins were okay; to walk into the room and find all of this all over the place. Dad said to Mum, “How are the babies?” And she said, “Oh, they’re in the front room – they’re all right.” They went in there and there they were lying there in their pram; she had this great big huge cane pram. They were in the pram, and all the bricks from the fireplace were all down all around them.

Now Mum and Dad slept out on the side of the hill for the next three nights with these children in the pram, during [after] the earthquake. And from there they moved into town, and they were living way down the end of Sommerville Street, almost the last house. And they moved from there up to a house in Bridge Street where Mr Jackie Foster lived; then they had to get a house and there was just nothing available, so they managed to rent a home, a big old villa that was right beside the North Clyde School. It was owned by a Māori family, and it was on [at] the stage of being condemned. Mum and Dad moved in there on the condition that Mr Sid Carroll – they paid rent to him – and instead of paying rent they did the place up. So they had to paint and paper the house; they took a list of what they spent and that was all put down as rent money, and they did that house up.

Now I can remember … my very earliest memory … was being a little wee girl and going around the side of that house, and there were great big high wild parsnip flowers. And I can see these yellow flowers; that’s my very earliest memory – well, I can remember being there helping Mum and Dad, all of us kids … oh, the three of us … ripping the wallpaper off the wall in the bedroom. I don’t know about how many layers of wallpaper, but we were having great fun. Mum stripped all the walls down – that was a twelve [foot] stud house – she took all the wallpaper down, and it had scrim on the wall. She re-tacked the scrim and she climbed up the ladder and she hung the wallpaper, and Dad was down the bottom with the brush painting the glue on. And they painted, and Mum painted the ceiling; she did the whole place up, and Dad.

Now Dad went to work at the freezing works. He was one of Wairoa’s first butchers over at Swifts. He, Wattie Mettams and Mr McGregor … Walter McGregor … they were the first butchers over there. And I can always remember Dad saying they came in with a whole lot of big sheep from out at Mahia, and Dad said to Mr McGregor, “Oh, I’m going to have to give up this butchering; I just can’t manage to lift up these sheep”, he said, “my wrists are just so bad.” They had these great big sheep that’d been running out on the hills there. Mr McGregor said, “Look, Snow, go home”, and he said, “get your missus to give you some wool; tie some black wool around your wrist three times, and leave it.” And he said, “You’ll be right.” So Dad thought, ‘Oh well’, he’d try it out, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’; and he did it, and it worked for him. And it’s something our family has always done. Whenever we get these bad wrists we tie black wool around our wrists and leave it, and that has helped us – my daughter, my mother, the whole lot of us – we do the same thing.

Anyway, Dad was working for them. Then he left AFFCO [Auckland Farmers Freezing Company] and he went to work on the railway for many, many years. He was a surfie, going out when they did the Kōpuawhara floods and things like that, he was out … I don’t know about Kōpuawhara, I’m not too sure about that, but I do know he was out on the tracks. And he had two men out at Happy Home which was on the road to Nūhaka, at Iwitea – Mr Hook and Mr Pukaki; and Dad always used to talk about these two men. They’d come in on the jigger to Wairoa to go to work, and then they’d pick up the others and off they’d go back out on the track. And they were there at the time the Americans were coming through, and the Americans were always throwing off cans of food and things, and Pop would come home with cans of food but they never had any labels on them so you you never know if you were getting peaches or spaghetti [chuckles] or what you were getting; but they would throw them off. And at that stage you used to get lots of railway cups and railway saucers and things thrown off, so everybody had their grandmother’s initials on their china. [Chuckles] You all had NZR – that was our grandmother’s initial[s]; but I mean, we had maybe one or two cups there like that.

Anyway, Dad worked on the railway out on the track for many years. From there he went on to working in the goods shed, and then from there he went on to cleaning the railcars. And that’s what he was up to; he did that job for many years.

But in the meantime I went to the North Clyde School. My eldest brother and sister were there; there were just three classes at that time, three classrooms, and I can remember I had a Miss Newbigin as a teacher, and a Miss Ruff was another teacher. And while I was there my eldest brother and sister went over to the Wairoa Primary School because that only went up to Standard … I think it was Standard 3 it went up to – no, it wasn’t; wasn’t even the Standards. Once they’d finished the Primers they went over the river. By then I had come up to being in Standard 2, and they built on two new classrooms and I moved into Standard 2. And Mr Les Spiller was my teacher, and he’d been trained as a Native School teacher, so we learnt to do all the Māori action songs and the Māori poi and the stick games. I can remember all the children coming in and telling us all their fables and things. I was still terrified of swimming in that river because of the taniwhas. [Chuckles] And anyway, I went to school, and it was a lovely school, we had lots and lots of fun. One of things Mr Spiller made us do was, we’d have to bring a carrot or parsnip or a bit of pumpkin or cabbage or something … split peas, anything … and the bigger girls in the class had to go in and we made soup, and the kids were given a mug of soup every day during the winter; that was our job.

He also had a beautiful little Pekingese dog, and the lucky girls were allowed to go and wash that dog and flea it; and of course we were always the best kids in the class because you got out of doing schoolwork ‘cause you were washing his dog. When his parents were away the older girls had to go across to his house which was in Mahia Avenue, right next to where Mr Bernard Teague had his nursery. We had to go over to his house and wash his breakfast and lunch dishes, and clean up in there. And I can remember, you could see through into the front room; he had this great big huge xylophone in there and us kids were really fascinated with that. But that was one of the jobs we did.

Of course when we were better [?bigger?] and we went over to the Wairoa Primary School, they didn’t like us over there because … huh! Well, we were a dumb lot of kids; we knew everything that was to do with Māori but not too much about other things. [Chuckles] And there were too many children in the classes over there, so they moved our class – I think it was a Standard 4 class – over to the Oddfellows Hall which is beside the bowling greens now. That was our classroom, and we used to be there with Mrs Glass, our teacher. And I can remember that hall was not fully lined, you could see all the rafters and everything in it, and you used to see the rats running up around it. [Chuckle] But we really enjoyed it, and our play area was out in Sommerville Street. We used to go out there and that, because there’s no paddock or anything around that hall, so that’s where we played … playtime you went out and played in Sommerville Street. We really enjoyed that.

My best and happiest times at school was the North Clyde School; I could tell you all the kids that I went to school with. I still see some of them around, and funnily enough one of the girls that I was at school with, her son is now the headmaster of the school that my daughter is teaching at.

Anyway, I never ever liked the Wairoa Primary School; never liked it, and didn’t like the kids. They were all too snooty over there for my liking. [Chuckle] I got up to Standard 6; I had Miss Kenny as my teacher in Standard 5 and also in Standard 6. While I was there I wasn’t very well, and my mother decided she’d take me to the doctor and see what was wrong with me. I used to love to play with paper dolls, and I would sit at home at the weekend and I’d cut out paper dolls, and I’d draw paper dolls; and I’d design dresses, and I’d go and sit away in the hall and play on my own with the paper dolls, quite happily. Anyway, Mum said I was just so … didn’t want to do things, and I was just so pale. I was always very, very pale. So she took me to the doctor, and Dr Riddle saw me and he said I had to go up and have a chest x-ray; and we said, “Okay”, and Mum rang up and it’d have to be the following week. And that night Pat Campbell called in on the way home from work and said, “Dr Riddle wants Maitel up at the hospital tomorrow morning to have a chest x-ray.” And I went up and I had a chest x-ray, and they sent me straight across to the old TB [tuberculosis] ward to see a Dr Francis who was there. And he said to my mother, “Well I’m very sorry, but” he said, “your daughter has got TB”, and he said, “she’s got to go into hospital.” He said, “It’s, you know, really quite bad, so”, he said, “she’s got to go into hospital smartly”; he said, “so I’ll get that organised.”

Well I went home, and none of the other kids … no one else was sick, just me. I was sent up to the Gisborne Hospital, and I was a girl that hated being away from home – I just loved being at home with my parents. I can remember a man coming to take us out to his farm, and I got in the car and as soon as he started that engine up I was out of that car and hiding inside; I didn’t want to go out, I wanted to stay at home. So I was not a ‘go away’ person at all.

I went up to Gisborne Hospital; I think I cried for the first fortnight I was up there – I just hated it. And I was in the TB ward which was at the back of the old hospital; and you looked out – it was all open in the front – and you looked out over the farmland [dog making noises] and you saw … the hearse used to come up to the track. But it was like two wings, and I was in the bottom; the men were up the top, the girls were all down the bottom. And there were two rooms in the middle part, top and bottom, and you could see in those rooms. The front of the building was all open and they had big canvas blinds that came down. Now believe it or not, every morning they came around – the floors were all just timber – they came around with wet tea leaves, threw tea leaves on the floor, and then they swept that up so that there wouldn’t be any dust. And at night they used to let these big canvas rolls down, and that’s how you slept; and when it was very rough weather they left them down. There was a verandah between those windows and the end of your bed; the rain would come in onto the verandah so they had to put these big blinds down.

I was in the room next door to Nola Clarke, who was a Wairoa girl, and on the other side of me there was … the chap who got the VC, [Victoria Cross] Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu … his sister, Whiu, was in the room next door to me. There was a man upstairs, and two of his nieces were both downstairs. One was a little baby and one was a ten year old, in the same ward. But we used to be able to [chuckle] stand up on the end of a bed, and you could pull on the curtain rail and slide your bed out so that you went along this little verandah; hit your bed, and you’d get your bed along, and you’d lie all stretched out on there in the sun.

One day I was sitting there with my leg hanging out of the bed, and the doctor came in. Well did I get a rark up for having my leg out of the bed – I was not allowed to put my foot out of the bed at all. And so the first three months I was in Gisborne I had to stay completely in bed rest. And I can remember one night there was a satellite in the sky that everyone was talking about, and you could see it from the back of where I was. Well we got out of bed at night and ran across the corridor and down into the bathroom to have a look at this satellite, wondering what the satellite was; and all it looked like was a wire in the sky with a light on it. So … nobody knew about that, but we’d all had our sneaky trip out [chuckle] that night.

From there they decided I was going to go down to the Ōtaki Sanitorium. I had to go and have my teeth all seen to; they put me in a taxi and I had to climb upstairs and go to the dentist and have my teeth done, and I hadn’t been out of bed for three months. I went back to bed, and then Mum came and collected me and I was put on the railcar and sent down to Ōtaki, and I spent the next, it would have been two years in Ōtaki. One night I was not very well and I coughed, and I had a little bit of blood come up; and they decided I had to be sent to Palmerston North and have what they call a pneumo thoracoplasty done. Now, until that stage I had had all kinds of treatment done in Gisborne. I’d had a phrenic crush; they crush here, a nerve, and that didn’t work. Then I had air pumped in my chest here and here and my back – that didn’t work. Then they put it in the peritoneum and they pumped it in your stomach; and they had two big bottles of fluid and the water went from one to the other, and that pushed the air through into you. It’s hard to describe to other people who don’t know about it, but … all of these old fashioned things they did. I had that for well over a year, and when I had this slight haemorrhage I was sent to Palmerston North. And they told my mother that I was the youngest person in New Zealand to have had this op [operation] done; they took out three ribs the first time and the second time they took out two ribs. And I was in Palmerston for two months, sent back to Ōtaki, and then on New Year’s Day I got my very first grade that I was allowed to get up, and that was to sit by my bed while they made my bed. And you did that for the first week; the second week you were allowed to get up and go to the toilet, once. The next week you were allowed to go to the toilet every time. And you got up like this and then you gradually got up and got dressed and you went to lunch; and then you just got half hour grades each week. On Friday night, once you got to a certain stage you were allowed to go to the pictures.

And you were in little cubicles, but as you progressed and you got better they moved you into what they called ‘shacks’, and you were moved further and further down. Now this building that we were in, I would imagine it must’ve been about quarter of a mile long from one end to the other, and they were all little shacks. I mean I have got photos of all of these different buildings that you went into. Some of them were up high, and you went down and there was all farmland in front of you and native bush. You had a little shop there, that once a week you went around and you took orders from everybody [of] what they wanted; you could buy sanitary towels or toilet soap, and writing paper and things like that there.

And then once you got to a certain stage you were allowed to go for a walk down the road for quarter of a mile. Now the san [sanitorium] was up a long driveway which was half a mile from the main road … by the time you went down and back again, that was your half mile. Then you went another quarter of a mile and then another quarter of a mile down the road, and once you got to a mile you were allowed to go to the pictures once a week, so that was another treat for you to go to. My mum used to come down on the railcar and visit me, and every time she came down she’d bring me all kinds of things, but … oh, I used to cry … I wanted to come home; I hated it down there. Hated every bit of it. But now that I think about it, I really did have a good time down there.

While I was there I learnt to do [a] lot of hand crafts. In Gisborne I was making lots of toys – felt toys, sheepskin toys, moccasins, things like that; and then when I went down to Ōtaki I was doing some leather work. When I came home … well Mum came down with my twin brothers to pick me up. I think we never stopped talking from when they arrived ‘til when we got home again – we just talked, and they were so excited at having me home. When I got home I wasn’t allowed to go actually to work, but the TB Association paid for a taxi to take me up to the TB ward every day, and Bunny Kaukau from out at Iwitea, he used to come and pick me up in the taxi and take me up to the hospital and I would spend the morning up there teaching the patients hand crafts. And funny [funnily] enough I was talking to a girl the other day, and she said to me, “You know, years ago”, she said, “there was a lady up at the hospital”; and she said, “she used to teach the patients to make toys.” And she said, “My mum was up there, and she came home”; she said, “she had all of these toys – she had rabbits and elephants and horses and giraffes.” And I said, “I was that lady.” And she said, “What?!” And I said, “I was the one who taught them that.” Now I taught leather work; I taught sheepskin work – they could make teddy bears and rabbits and things; did felt work. [Dog with squeaky toy] I taught embroidery, tapestry, crochet and tatting. I taught one girl who had the TB spine how to tat. She was lying flat on her back; I just about had to lay [lie] down beside her to teach her. And she was left handed, and everything she did was back to front, but she did more tatting than I’ve ever done. I taught poker work and painting – we did lots and lots of bread boards and salad boards, and …

So who taught you?

I just learnt how to do it myself. We just played around doing things; well, I think my dad was an artistic type of a person, and it’s just been one of those things in our family, like my eldest sister has done beautiful paintings … she did a lot of paintings. But anyway, I taught all of those things.

Then we got a doctor here who didn’t believe in that type of thing, and he said, “Stop it right now.” He said, “Maitel’s to go over into the hospital, and she’d to work in the office.” Well at that stage, once I’d been working for the TB Association and I was able to work full time, then the hospital took me on and I taught hand crafts for anyone in the hospital – at that stage they were there for a long time, so anyone could learn it. I did all the flowers for all the wards, and I gradually went so that I was helping Joan Ogden in the Enquiry office. And eventually when he said I had to finish I went straight into the Enquiry office and I worked there on the switchboard and I was the switchboard operator and admission clerk. I did that for many years; I worked with Jean McKay – Charlie McKay was in X-ray. And then I went down to X-ray and I’d help in the office in X-ray; I did all the office work. I’d have to go in at night and take all of the films out of the wash and hang them up to dry, and in the morning I’d come in and we’d cut all the edges off the films and write their names on them. I worked in X-ray there with Marley Bell – she was one of the ones that worked there as well. I worked out once, while I was working in X-ray I think I worked with twenty-two different women – one man and that many different women, that [who] came and went.

At that stage they decided to build a new piece on to the hospital and pull down all the old piece. They built a new TB ward over there which was a beautiful building, really lovely; and my office was way down the very far end of that. But at that stage when you went across to the old TB ward there were all the clotheslines there. They pulled all of those down and got rid of all of those, and they built all the new part of the hospital – the kitchen, and the maternity ward and the surgical ward, and then they built the new medical ward. But my husband came to work on that job, and he used to see me walking to and fro going from one building to the other and he tried to catch my eye and I wasn’t listening to him. I didn’t like people whistling at me.

My sister was playing indoor basketball and they played indoor basketball down on the old wharf, which was down in front of the Riverview Dairy. There were two big huge sheds, and if you weren’t careful you could go through the floor – you could see the river underneath the sheds. Well that’s where they played indoor basketball down there, and the boys at the hospital didn’t know the first thing about indoor basketball but they decided that they would make a team up and they would join this team; they’d call themselves the Wolves.

And they had a fancy dress ball for the indoor basketball, and my sister and I both went dressed in old coal sacks. Well, they were actually soap sacks from the hospital, and we’d done them up and we were Annie Oakley and … some wild thing. [Chuckle]

And my husband and his mates had gone to Allied Builders do which was on the same night at the Mayfair; and they came down to do their little time at the dance, and that’s where I actually met him. And he wanted to take me home, but we had our bikes and we said no, we were biking home, so we were all set to go home. And I eventually went out with him, and we went together for some time; ended up getting married. I think I was twenty-five when I got married; my sister got married at Easter and I got married in October. And we both had short dresses, and I had a nice quiet little wedding at home, just the family. We moved into one of Hedley’s houses down … oh, first of all we were in a flat straight across from the bowling greens; we were living there with Muriel Jardine’s mother-in-law. And then she died, so we went and stayed with my mum and dad, and we then eventually moved into one of Hedley’s houses which was right down the end of Mitchell Road. We lived down there for about a year. And this little house came up for sale and so we bought this place; and Frans and I moved here and we’ve lived here ever since. He did a lot of alterations to it, but my daughter has done a whole lot more since then.

My husband was a very, very keen shooter, and used to go out shooting out to Mr O’Rourke’s farm. He was always going out there and I would go out with him. I went out on the hills a couple of times with him, way up in the hills, and … oh, that really knocked me. He’d leave me sitting up in the middle of nowhere and he’d go off hunting for pigs; and I was sitting there terrified in case a pig comes shooting out, and I’m sitting out on the top of the hill, [chuckle] and I’d look around and there weren’t any manukas or anything I could climb up. But anyway, he ended up coming with this big pig; dropped it on the ground, and he decided he had to show me just what was what. And he split it open and let all of the bits and pieces come out, and he was telling me about … “This is the pig’s bleeder here”, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, that’s something to do with its blood system’, and it was its bladder. “This is its bleeder”, he said. [Chuckle] Anyway, my job was to carry the gun and the pig’s head down to the farm. He put a slit in the pig’s ear, put it on my finger and the gun on my shoulder and, “Off you go.” And we were way up in the hills and here I am staggering down there, not used to that kind of thing; him with a whole big pig on his back. And we get down to the bottom of the hill and we had to go across this little stream about that wide – I ended up in the middle of it; I was absolutely exhausted, and you still had to climb up another little bank to get up to their house. We got up to their house and we had a glass of beer. Oh, it was the best thing I ever had! [Chuckle] I felt so good after that, [chuckle] I thought I could’ve gone out for another walk.

But Frans was a great one at going out shooting and coming home with pigs and deer. He’d hang them up in the shed. I’d have to go out and help him cut them up and parcel them up, and then it was my job to deliver them around to everybody. He never sold anything; he would give everything away … cut everything up and give it all away. He loved to take young people out and teach them to shoot; he enjoyed showing the young ones, and it was nothing for him to go way up the back of Putere, or way up – he didn’t like going out to the lake, but Putere, and out the lake road onto this particular farm, yes. And also out to Patunamu … Patunamu was another place.

We had our daughter when I was thirty; and I was in the maternity home, and that night Frans came sneaking up the back stairs and up to my room. “I’m a Kiwi now! I’ve just been made a Kiwi.” He became naturalised that night at eight o’clock; the next morning at seven o’clock I had my daughter. And unfortunately, she cannot get an Austrian passport because her dad became a New Zealander at eight o’clock the night before. [Chuckle] Otherwise she would’ve had a passport; she could’ve gone over there.

But anyway, he was so happy he’d been made a Kiwi. But … oh, he was a very much a man’s man, and he loved drinking and smoking, all of which I do not do. [Chuckle] And unfortunately he ended up as an alcoholic, but that’s, you know, one of those things. And he died quite suddenly because he got an ulcer that burst. And my daughter came home to live with me and she’s been living here ever since, and we get on very, very well. We’ve got our little family of dogs now, and cats and chooks, and things.

But as for growing up, I had a wonderful childhood; all my brothers and sisters, we’re all great mates. My twin brothers were the biggest mischiefs this side of the black stump. When we attended the North Clyde School there was a big area at the back of the school ground … one corner that was all willow trees, and we used to spend our Christmas holidays over in those willow trees playing Tarzan, swinging down the willow branches, [dog barking] and things like that.

And while they were building the school my youngest twin brothers used to go over to Hedley’s men and play around, and they would get nails and bits of timber and things; [noises from dog] and they loved building and they’d make themself [themselves] little carts, and they both ended up as builders. One was a kind of a boy that loved getting all dirty in the concrete, and the other one was the one who made best with the building. And funny [funnily] enough they both ended up … Cliff was the little one, and he was the one who loved being all full of dirt; and Colin was the other one. Colin ended up running a concrete factory down in Palmerston North, and Cliff ended up working as one of the head men in Fletchers, and he worked down in Christchurch and Wellington for many years.

Ted, my eldest brother – he lost his eye. He was at a sports meeting out at Ardkeen, and a boy threw a stick and it went across the horse and hit Ted in the eye and knocked his eye out. Normie Robinson picked him up, brought him into the hospital, and he spent many months going to and fro down to Wellington and to Napier. And all of that … Mum and Dad had to pay for that; there was no social security or anything. And he had to go into a private hospital in Napier to have his eye out. He worked in a shoe shop here in Wairoa for Mrs Watson; and Lois, his twin sister, worked for Graham Winter in Winter’s Haberdashery, and then she ended up working for Mr A D Taylor.

She married Dean McCracken, and they have four girls and one boy. Ted, her twin brother, married Doreen Viggers from Napier, and they have two girls and two boys. They lived in Wairoa for many years but now moved down to Napier. Colin was the one who lived in Palmerston – now lives in Feilding; and Cliff lived in Wellington … one of the areas out of Wellington, and then Christchurch. And then he and his wife were divorced; he married a Salvation Army officer, Marion Blencoe. They had two girls and they got divorced. Cliff came to Palmerston, then he ended up in Wairoa, and he died with cancer. Lois, my eldest sister, died with cancer. And Valmai and Jim, the youngest twins … well Valmai married a chap who was working on the farms, and they moved from here to Waipukurau, then up Papakura way to Hunua, then to Papakura – they’ve been to that many places up around Auckland on different farms; and ended up coming back to Wairoa, and they’re now living in Wairoa; they bought one of Hedley’s houses.

Valmai and John had seven children of their own; they adopted a Down Syndrome girl and they adopted a deaf boy, and then they had endless foster children. They had one little boy almost from birth until he died at the age of about twenty-two. He was a cerebral palsy boy, and she was still changing his napkins and feeding him when he died. And he looked little; he would be sitting in his high chair – he sat in a high chair all the time – and he looked tiny, but when you picked him up he would’ve just about been six foot. He was a tall thin boy, and the most happiest, loveliest little human being you could ever have seen … never saw him that he wasn’t laughing and smiling. He couldn’t talk. He was just such a beautiful little blonde boy, with all these broken teeth where he’d broken his teeth when he’d been crawling; and he was just so beautiful, and she just absolutely idolised that kid. She lives here in Wairoa now; he passed away – her husband passed away recently also. And one of her sons is coming down to live with her. She has, I think ‘bout thirty grandchildren, [chuckle] and she’s got about five great grandchildren now. So she’s doing very well. [Chuckle]

But our family has increased; we’ve got nieces and nephews all [?]. And our daughter’s a school teacher at the Wairoa Primary School. She’s taught there all along, ever since she’s come home from training college. She’s the deputy principal there at the moment.

And I retired at the age of sixty-five, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it; and I’m getting older and more bent, more like Rumpelstiltskin every day, but at least I’m still going, one foot after the other. [Chuckle] I don’t know …

As I was growing up, my mother and I started playing around icing wedding cakes. And we iced many, many wedding cakes … birthday cakes, wedding cakes … and we made the flowers up all by hand; we’d make roses and lilies and all of these flowers. And I can remember one lady coming to us and asking us if we’d make this cake up – her daughter sent her a photo over from Australia, and it was just a round cake; the whole top of the cake had to be covered in pink flowers. Now I made all of those flowers. Mum did the main piece and covered the cake and iced it, and I would make the flowers. I’d go over to her place at night, ‘cause at that stage I was married and had Maree-Lou. I used to ride a scooter bike; I’d put Maree-Lou on the back of the scooter bike, tie an apron around her and around myself, and I’d go across to Mums, put Maree-Lou into bed over there, and we would work on these cakes at night. And I would put her on the scooter and bring her back home again – either that, or I’d leave her over at Mums depending on how late it was – and we worked on these cakes. You didn’t do them just over one night, it took you ages to do them. But this cake, when it was done it was absolutely beautiful. I mean I can get you the photos to show you.

And one day I was in Napier, and I was looking in this shop and I said, “Oh, look at the top of that cake in there.” And there was this top of a cake in the window, and I said, “Well let’s go and have a look at that.” And I went inside and said to this lady, “Oh … that cake in the window?” And she said, “Oh”, she said, “it’s just an advertisement. This lady makes these flowers up like this, and this is just to show you what she can do … she will do you a cake like this.” And I said, “Who iced it?” And she said, “Oh, she ices them.” I said, “I don’t think so.” And she said, “Yes, she did”, and I said, “No, she didn’t.” I said, “I iced that cake.” I said, “I know that because I know that flower – I made that flower up.” Now, a funny thing had happened … this lady was a sister at the hospital; had asked me to ice this cake for her, which I had done. She came back to me several years later and said, “Look, I’m sorry, Maitel – my friend in Napier said to me would I ice a cake for her, exactly the same … get one iced for her the same.” And I said, “Oh, okay, I’ll do another one for you.” Now I’d done the second cake, and it was the second cake the lady must’ve taken the top off and used it as … She might just have said, “I can make these flowers, like this.” But the way it was told to us as though she had made [them].

There was another lady here in Wairoa – her daughter showed her a photo she wanted – had flowers all down the wedding dress … all these flowers embroidered, and all around the hem. She wanted those particular flowers with those particular colours put on the cake. She gave us all the colours of the material and the pictures of the flowers, and she wanted those made up. We made them, and we had the flowers so that they went from the top tier right down through the three tiers. It was absolutely beautiful.

I can remember making one that I loved the best of all, had blue irises, and I made the flowers up. I just couldn’t get them right. Maree-Lou started helping us, and she joined all the irises up. And Maree-Lou ended up doing all the forcing work and doing things like that, and the two of us worked on it for many years; but decided in the end that the work we put into it, it just did not pay you at all. You weren’t even getting $2 an hour.

One of our masterpieces was, the Presbyterian Church had their big anniversary and they wanted the cake made for it. So we made the cake, and then Maree-Lou got the idea – she made a big cardboard model of the church and she iced the whole model of the church, with the stained glass windows, the doors and everything in it. We made this big huge … and it was all out of icing; stood it and we put it over the top of the original cake so that when you went to the hall you saw this big iced church. And I mean, it was big; it was like this – this big iced church. When they went to cut it, everyone was, “Oh my gosh – how are they going to do that?” Just lifted the cake up to one side and there was the cake underneath, and all iced beautifully. And that church was put on display there; oh, it went to the Show, and it went all over the place, you know.

But Maree-Lou’s also done beautiful gingerbread houses; iced them and put all lollies on them, and done all kinds of decorations. I’ve been to the school and taught the kids how to ice gingerbread men, and I’ve taught the kids at the school how to make rabbits. But Maree-Lou’s a very talented person, she does a lot of polymer clay. She loves making dragons, and she’s put a light bulb inside the dragon, and then put all of these little scales all over it, little teeth and little eyes.

We’ve got this great big album of all the cakes that we’ve iced over the years. I used to go through to Taradale to [the] Cake Icing Guild through there; I went with Colleen McCuish and [?] Besford. I used to go through and stay with the girl Whatuira, who ran the Ahuriri cafeteria; she used to do cake icing, so I used to go through and stay with her. She actually was a nurse here at the Wairoa Hospital; her husband was Reg Whatuira – he was an orderly at the hospital and she was a nurse. When they married they had two little girls, and these little girls said to me, would I be their grandmother – they wanted to adopt me as their grandmother. So I’m their adopted grandmother, and that’s the only grandchildren I have. [Chuckle] And now I’ve got some great grandchildren, and some great great grandchildren, [chuckle] but all these adopted ones; and then they had a little boy as well when they went to Napier.

But no, when we were young kids and my dad worked on the railway, there used to be a big huge shed over at the railway … a big goods shed. We have got photos here somewhere of that big shed when it was burnt down – huge big clouds of smoke, and that was over in the railway yards.

Now Dad used to work on the wool bank at the weekends – he would go there and they would load all the wool, and my brothers would go and help him. He also, he was a real crackerjack at … you know, they had the big coal trucks, and the men would get paid to empty the coal trucks? Dad could empty more coal trucks than anyone. Mr [?Dallisett?] was another one – they used to go over there – these were men with big families and this is what they did at the weekends. Dad had gardens down the Railway Road where old Mr Jewell had the little house, and Dad cleared this big huge blackberry paddock; he cleared all the blackberries off it and he put a garden in there.

Now I must tell you a funny story … my dad had a cow, and it was in a paddock down at the back of the railway houses in Te Rata Road, and that’s where Mike Little has got his building now. Well there used to be a paddock that ran along there, and Dad had a goat in it, and a cow. And he used to get on his bike with a cream can hanging on the handle, ride down there morning and night and milk that cow. Now, when he was busy out on the track, like when there were floods and things, Dad had to go to work in the middle of the night and be cleaning tracks. Mum would have to get up in the morning, go down and milk the cow and come back. My sister had this raincoat that she’d just sent away and had it all re-proofed. Mum got up in the morning and it was raining, and she had to go and milk the cow and she thought, ‘Oh, I’ll grab that coat and I’ll wear that’, and she put the coat in and off she went on the bike. She went to ride across the bridge on the bike, and there was grass all growing up; she missed the edge of the bridge and she ended up in the drain with the bike on top of her, and the drain was full of water; the bike handle in the coat pocket and the cream can hanging on it, and she’s having to drag herself up out of the drain. She got out and she milked the cow; and she came home and she said to Lois, “That coat of yours isn’t waterproof, you know.” [Chuckles] Lois was not very impressed. [Chuckles] It was a family joke about Mum and this … but Mum did this for many years. She used to make her own butter. I can remember her with the butter balls … she had a big baby’s bath she put the milk in when she came home, and she skimmed it off, got the cream off it; had the buttermilk.

Mum was a great one, she baked; if you can imagine that house of ours, there was a kitchen with a big huge kitchen table in it; there was a wood and coal stove in it, and there was a sink behind the door. She had seven children in that room and it was winter time, and Mum would be cooking. There would be kids sitting around playing draughts and things at the table. Cliff and Colin used to get bits of her machine and play on the floor, tractors and graders and things; there was [were] kids doing something everywhere. Mum would be at the end of the table and she would be baking. And I can tell you this, anyone who knew my mum would tell you that they could walk into her place at any time and she would be able to give them something to eat. Her cake tins were always full, and I’m even talking about during the war – my mum used to put treacle in bran and make her own tea. The bran would all roll up, and it looked like tea leaves; and she put that in the oven. It didn’t taste very much like tea but that’s what she did. She used to put all of her eggs into big … we had our own chooks … into big kerosene buckets with some slimy stuff on them. They were put in what she called the jail – it was a little room she had under the tank stand.

There was an old shed out the back that had a copper in it. She had to go out there and light the copper, and she put all of the washing in the copper; and we had to have our sheets changed every week … all of our sheets and pillowcases. And our pillowcases all had ties on them, and it was our job to iron the pillow cases and the ties. We had to iron the ties, iron the pillowcases; Mum ironed the sheets. And I’ll tell you – she ironed all the sheets; they were crinkly ironed. She starched things; she had tablecloths … damask tablecloths; I’ve still got mine here that I got from Mum, all folded up and shiny. She took great pride in doing things like that. She had the kitchen fire going; she’d be out working in the shed with the copper. She made her own soap in the copper, I can remember her with these big bars of soap that she made.

She had her own fruit trees; she bottled her own peaches; she peeled all of them – she and Dad’d be peeling peaches and taking the stones out of them. We used to go out for miles on our bike out the Frasertown Road, to a paddock out the back of … And there was these two quince trees, and we would pick the quinces off those trees and Mum used to make up quince jam and quince preserves. We would go up to Leah Kent’s and climb up her fruit trees and get plums. We would go out to [?] place – they had limes and lemons, and Mum would make marmalade from that. A lot of our Sunday trips Mum would put the little ones in the pram; and we would all walk right out to Hill 60 which is out where the golf course is. And Hill 60 was Martin’s farm – we would go up and spend the day with Arthur and Beryl Martin. And in those days they were always called Mr and Mrs Martin, and my mum and dad always referred to them as Mr and Mrs Martin; when they were at home they were Beryl and Arthur, but when they were talking to them. And then they would go over the hill down the other side to Syd Rofe’s place, and they had a big huge shed there with big hay bales in it, and my brothers used to love to go over there and make huts in the hay bales. They had a big row of macrocarpa trees, and we used to love to climb up those trees; you would climb from tree to tree to see how far along you could climb – there was no such thing as OSH [Occupational Safety & Health] worrying about you. I mean, we used to go out to Martins and get on his old … he had an old horse out there called Māori, and he’d put a sack on the back of it, heave us kids up on it and sent us off. We would go on this horse and you could ride on it until it started to slip; and there’d be three of us kids sitting on the back of the horse and it would start and slip, and off you’d go. [Chuckle] We couldn’t get back up on it again ‘til we got somewhere where there was a fence or something. But it was a poor old horse that was nearly dead, but at least we had rides on it.

I know Ted and Colin Martin … they went out and for a walk around the hills, and they went up Hill 60 and had a look around up there, up the steep hill. And then they came down and they got in the tank that was in the cow bale, and they had a swim in the tank. They all had to have waistcoats – they took off their waistcoats, and they’d seen that film … oh, what was it called? It was a film about bull fighting anyway – Blood and Sand. And these two boys were like this with this cow, trying to get this cow to chase them. [Chuckles]

But I mean, we would do all kinds of things … have great fun out on the farm. We just loved it. I can remember Mrs Martin having a … we walked down a track to her toilet, and she had one of those lemon/lime trees there. And you rubbed the leaves on it, and then you’d sit down on the toilet; it didn’t have a door on it, and you’d look out at the landscape rubbing your hands like this, and enjoying [chuckle] sitting there in the open air. [Chuckles]

Mum got an ice box; we thought we were millionaires. And we would go down to Affco and get a big huge block of ice, roll it up in a sack, put it on the bike, bring it home, and Dad would get the saw and he would saw it in half; one half when into the top of the ice box and the other one was rolled up and put under the house. When the top one melted then the bottom one was put in up the top, and that was our fridge. We thought we were just Christmas.

And our old uncle came up with our first radio, and it used to be on top of the cupboard; and we used to all stand there with one leg up like this, listening to [?] [chuckles] and Dad and Dave, and … oh, David and Dawn and the Sea Fairies; all of these things. We’d stand there like stalks, listening to them. That’s what our uncle said to us, “You just look like a row of stalks standing there.”

My brother and sister and myself, we went to the first Wairoa radio station. There used to be a man that ran the radio station here, and I’ve got a photo of those children all at that … all of the kids around here … local children … used go to it. And at the time of the Depression he was accused of talking over the air and telling everybody that Wairoa was being swept out to sea by the … you know, it was all just … somebody did it and they blamed it on to him, anyway. It’s called Uncle Tom, or Uncle somebody-or-other.

Oh, I was telling you before, North Clyde used to be a great little shopping area. You’d go down, and there was Martin’s Corner – or Fiddelson’s first, then Martin’s Corner. You’d go on down … there was Condor’s Dairy, and there was a butcher’s shop … Livingstone’s Butcher shop; there was the Nikau Dairy, there was McGill’s clothing shop; next was Graham Chapman’s fish shop, and there was another shop – I don’t know what it had in it; then Mrs Cameron had a secondhand shop, then there was Ridge’s grocery shop and Ostler’s cake shop; there was Mrs King’s Guest House, it was a two storey guest house. That’s where there’s an empty section there now. Then there was a fruit shop, it was owned by some … he was a Dalmatian or something like that … he had a fruit shop. Mr Hees had a hairdresser’s shop and a billiard saloon there, and Jim Thomas had a fish shop. There was a chap … oh, what is his name? He’s got a hairdresser’s shop over this side of the river; he’s just sold it. Anyway, they had a hairdresser’s shop over there … that’s what the second shop was, it was a hairdresser’s shop. Then there was Adsett’s Hairdressers and Billiard Saloon was on the corner, and you went around the corner and there was the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Building … big huge building; and there was the bus station. All of those things were all in North Clyde. There was Deacon’s Garage; you didn’t need to go over the river, you could get everything in North Clyde. Oh, there was a dairy factory; it had all kinds of groceries and things there as well, and men’s implements and things like that. There was panel beaters over there; plumbers – Mr Casey Logan was the plumber; and Jimmy Rowell was a carrier. Jimmy Rowell originally had horses and carts and that, and he had a place over there. Just across the road here, Mr Mogridge was there, and he used to have horses and carriages over here too.

Now, I have got a clock up there that was taken out of a bus that went down into Lake Waikaremoana; it was a bus that had doors down the side. Piri Thomas was the driver; the bus went off the road and it went down into the lake, and for some unknown reason he got the clock out of it and he gave it to me, and I’ve still got that clock. And that was many … well I was telling Normie Robinson about it, and he never ever knew that a bus had ever gone down there. And I said, “Well it went there, because Cobby was the driver, and he used to stay at our place.” He stayed with Mum and Dad for many years.

And another one who stayed with my mum and dad was Mac McLennan. He used to play the violin, and he left his car and his violin and all of his clothes and he went off overseas; and he stayed in Scotland when he finished after the war and Mum and Dad sold his car and sent him the money. We got someone who was going over there to take his violin and the best of his clothes over to him. Anyway, he had [dog barks] this dog called Doone, and he won all of these cups with it. Mum used to have them all over the sideboard in the front of the stove … big huge cups, little cups; he won endless cups with this dog. Yeah.

Over the years my mum had endless children that would be sent to her or come to her, for her to look after because the mums couldn’t get them to feed.

Across the road from us, Mrs Holmes lived where Hedley’s big building place is now; that used to be all open farmland when we were kids, and Mrs Holmes’ house was out in the middle of that paddock. And we used to go over and play over there and help her with her children; she had three boys and two little girls. She used to work at the Ferry Hotel, [dog’s toy squeaking] she was the cook at the Ferry, and I don’t know what he did, he used to drink a lot. They always laugh, talking about him coming home on his bike and he fell off during the flood … fell off in the water, and he had his hand up in the air holding the loaf of bread out of the water. [Chuckles] That was Shorty Holmes.

You’ve done very well, actually. Thank you so much for sharing your life with us; really appreciate it. Thank you very much, and we wish you all the very, very best.

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Interviewer:  Lyn Sturm

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