Douglas (Doug) Leo Coles Interview

Today is the 23rd January 2017. I’m interviewing Doug Coles of Hastings. Doug is an orchardist by trade and he’s going to tell us something about the life and times of his family. Thank you, Doug.

Our family came out from the UK, from Hampshire in 1877 on the sailing ship ‘Columbus’. And the great-grandfather I think it was who came out, was a carpenter and I’ve been able to read and trace back some of his history in Hampshire. And they lived in Southsea and I think he was a naval carpenter. And the only reason I can work out why they came out – it appeared as though it was a financial business – was that the ships started to be made of steel and there wasn’t the need for carpenters. And they shifted from Southsea where there was a lot of ship building went on, to Droxford, about twenty years before they came to New Zealand. And he made an observation in an old diary when he arrived in Auckland that it was good to walk up a main street of a town and not run into people that owed him money. [Chuckle]

And from what I can gather there was a chap called Bridge who set up Onga Onga and surveyed up the main street, which was called Bridge Street I think … may still be today.

Yes, it is.

And he had an association with the Coles family and knew that Coles had quite a few sons and himself that were carpenters, and wrote a letter over to him when this Bridge guy was out here and took up a farming lease, and said, you know, “we desperately need carpenters.” So he arrived in Auckland, got a steamer down to Napier and went straight to Onga Onga and started building houses and wool sheds and things like that, and built a lot of the original buildings all around Onga Onga – the shops and houses and what-have-you. And they ended up having quite a thriving business there.

And there was a large family, there was about sixteen of them. And more than half were women, and the other half were involved in the building business. And the old premises they used is still there today, and it’s been done up and painted on the outside of it – it’s got ‘Ironmongers’ and ‘Ship’s Chandlers’ and Undertakers’ as well. [Chuckle] And I think the business reached its peak probably in the early 1900s, and then as the farmers became more mobile, so a lot of those small towns declined because they could get in a car and go to Waipuk [Waipukurau] and Waipawa and Napier and Hastings if it came to that. So the business gradually sort-of fizzled out, from what I can gather.

My father was born in Onga Onga, and I think when he was four they made the move to Hastings. And his father had some land at Twyford … they lived in Nelson Street, and he died fairly young – I think my father was thirteen when he died. So my father went to work for the nursery in Pakowhai Road … I just can’t think of the name of it now – been there for years.

Wilsons?

Wilson’s Nursery. And then Mr Wilson was setting up … was a shareholder in Asparagus Ltd which was a huge holding on the Heretaunga Plains. It was three hundred acres at its peak which was a lot, especially in those days. And my father got the job of managing it in the early days, and I’ve got a diary that he wrote starting off in 1937. And the Paynters were involved in it, and Harold Carr, and I think he was involved with Wattie.

I remember my father was taking some stuff into Wattie’s and I think it would in the very late thirties … might have been even a bit later than that. And he said Jim Wattie used to come running out and help him unload the truck – I’m not quite sure what the date of that was. So he worked there and then went off to war, came back and got a rehab loan to buy a small property in St Andrew’s Road which he expanded it and then I took that over in about the early 1970s.

So how big was it when he first started?

He first started with seven acres, and he bought a neighbour out, and then he bought another neighbour out. And I started leasing small properties in St Andrew’s Road and we ended up with quite a bit of the road in the end. Then we leased one in Twyford and one down Howard Street for a little while, and I had a packing shed there and we got up to about a hundred and ten acres with the leased bits and pieces. So we had quite a good business going.

The apple industry went through a rapid expansion in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s. The industry started off – I think in the 1920s there was eight thousand tons of apples railed out of Hastings, and it was all local market.

And they were dabbling in exporting to the UK and to South America, and it really spluttered along with the exporters making a fair bit of the money, and huge ups and downs – there would either be boom or bust until about 1948 when the Apple & Pear Board was formed. And the Apple & Pear Board took a little while to find its feet, but I think they were exporting in the early fifties sort-of a million and a half … two million cartons. And Nelson was the bigger area than Hastings. I went and worked for them straight out of school in 1960 it would have been. And they used to have a photograph in the paper when the millionth carton came into the depot, and that was near the end of the season so they were probably exporting round about three million cartons out of New Zealand in those days.

And they had some fairly progressive Board members and they started getting into things like branding, juice factories and all that sort of thing, and they got some new varieties on board and the industry grew from that million or so up to twenty million over the years. And a result of its success was its downfall in a way – it got a wee bit too big, and they ended up with flats in London, and offices offshore, and they had a huge headquarters in Wellington, and they made a few mistakes. And probably in hindsight we all thought the single desk was the only way to go, but it was a production-led type thing, where you just kept producing more and more, and throwing it at the marketers and telling them, “you sell ‘em”. And I almost wonder if the dairy industry’s not in the same boat today.

You know, it did a lot of good – it took an industry from a million cartons up to a twenty million, and its time has probably run its course I think. It’s a different world we live in today where it’s corporate-driven. The corporates have got the capital and they’ve got the organisation. It had a marvellous history of family ownership through those ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, and in St Andrew’s Road I think there were seventeen families living out of growing apples.

The interesting thing was those days they were family-driven. A lot of the labour was family.

It was, yeah.

And I know in our own road we had orchardists there that only had five or six acres, but they made a living off it – the whole thing was a family operation.

It’s exactly the same as St Andrew’s Road. We had neighbours that came over and they packed at night with Mum and Dad in the shed. And it was in the days before bulk handling and forklifts – the tractors didn’t have hydraulics until probably about early 50s. And you got a trailer and you loaded it up with empty cases and took it out into the orchard and put them down in the orchard, they filled the cases and then were lifted on to a trailer, stacked in the shed handy to the grader and then tipped by hand, case after case.

I know.

I remember the carrying firm in Havelock was Pickering. And they had a fleet of … well, on today’s standards it would be very small trucks. And the truck would back into the shed and all hands would stop and you’d throw the cases up the carrier. And I remember my father talking to one of the old drivers about bulk handling and forklifts, and the driver reckoned it would never work. [Chuckle]

I remember when forklifts came in, Harry Ferguson came out with a tractor that had three point linkage and power lifting on it, which would drive a hydraulic ram which would operate a forklift. And there was a huge debate in Hawke’s Bay whether bins or trailers would be the best thing. Nelson went mainly to trailers, and the bigger growers – one or two of them had trailers. Bins went out at the end of the day. And all the orchards now have bins out in them that are picked up by tractors and brought into the shed, and everything’s forklifted on to huge units and away they go. I think the orchard I’m on at the moment we take about seventy bins on one truckload.

But I can remember an old uncle of mine that lived in St Andrew’s Road talking about the days when the horses used to bring the trailers … pull the trailer to the shed … and he said a really good horse didn’t need anyone to ride it or lead it, you give it a pack on the backside and it would walk immediately to the shed, and then it would walk out again when they’d unloaded it, to where the pickers were.

The tractors weren’t very powerful in those days and no one had mowers so they used to cultivate the orchards. And mowing came in and made a huge difference – we grassed the orchards down and we used to mow it every week or two. And modern machinery with sprayers and all sorts of gadgets have come in since, and the production’s gone up – you know, it’s quite common to get two hundred bins a hectare now.

The Heretaunga Plains is a marvellous place. I think a lot of people don’t realise how unique they are with their aquifer and the way it sits in to the north with the shelter to the south and the west. And even the Ngaruroro River collects all of its water on the western side of the divide and comes through onto the dry side. So it’s a shame today to see houses being put on the Heretaunga Plains. You’ve got this beautiful alluvial fill soil. It varies quite a bit as you go across the Plains, but a lot of that beautiful silty stuff like you get down St Andrew’s Road, mixed in with some of the heavier, gives you incredible fertility with the aquifer that just pours out hundreds of thousands of gallons of fresh water every day. And the climate is the other thing – we’ve got the Mediterranean style climate that’s hot and dry a lot of the time. It’s almost a perfect climate for apples. What’ll happen with global change or climate change, it looks like we’re probably going to be a bit wetter and a bit hotter, but hopefully it won’t destroy.

As you said, this beautiful alluvial soil that was built up by the three rivers over time puts us in a unique position. And we have a water table too, which is important for … trees can go down and tap it.

Yeah, yeah. The artesian system is one of the best in the world, and the Ngaruroro feeds most of it. And the croppers and the whole of Hastings’ water supply, and Napier and Havelock, all come out of the same source. It’s an incredible asset to have. I don’t think people really appreciate … or they don’t tend to want to preserve it as much as they can and get the housing and what-have-you into the less fertile hill country. That’s a shame that Hastings ever took off where it …

Was easy. It was easy, wasn’t it?

The railway came right across the Plains – I think it built itself around the railway. And there’s maybe a marvellous place for a city up the Tuki Tuki Valley and out towards Haumoana and Cape Kidnappers and through that area.

A lot of that country, it’s not good grazing country.

No. We’ve ended up with Hastings slap bang in the middle of the Plains taking out quite a big chunk, and it’s a shame that it happened but it’s part of the history of the place I suppose.

Progressing on from say the 1960s and ‘70s the Apple & Pear Board, I think in its heyday, got up to a turnover of about eight hundred million. And they produced the brand Enza and they also had a thriving juice business with brands like Fresh Up and I’m just trying to think of the other … Just Juice, Fresh Up, and they had a few other brands, and they did sell off quite a bit of that, or they sold the brands off at one stage. But they had quite a few innovative ideas and they tapped into some huge markets, particularly in Europe. They had one store in Germany … chain of stores … that they sold a million cartons of Braeburn apples to every year. And they had some great varieties. They had the Gala, Royal Gala and Galaxy, Braeburn. Granny Smiths sort-of stayed on the scene for a long time, and they built up these markets. Asia was fairly new, they had some pretty good markets in America for the bigger, high quality stuff. The UK always took a lot of Cox’s and Braeburn, and a big market in Europe for all sorts of varieties.

And the thing that’s really underpinning the industry today is the Asian market, and it’s the reason the Germans came down to New Zealand and bought out Turners & Growers … was to get into Asia. And there’s huge growth into places like India, the Middle East, China. And there’s one customer that Turners & Growers have got in Thailand that only about seven or eight years ago took three containers, then he took thirty. He’s up to over a hundred containers and wanting more now, and they basically can’t supply him. There was a customer in Taiwan rang up a few months ago and wanted the entire crop of New Zealand Jazz. That’s about a hundred-million-dollar deal.

So the demand coming out of Asia is huge and one of the reasons why it’s so good is they haven’t got their own apple industry because it’s too hot to grow fruit there. A lot of the countries we’ve been exporting to have their own industry and we just filled a gap in their off-season. And the technology in keeping apples with CA storage and smart freshing them and what-have-you is so good now that our window of opportunity’s narrowed up a lot, but Asia wants fruit the year round.

Obviously, Asia is getting more wealthy.

The potential in China and these places is just huge, and one of the reasons why the corporates are so dominant – you need a lot of money to develop these markets. There’s a big Fruit Logistica thing that’s on in Hong Kong, and you need to probably spend a hundred or two [hundred] thousand dollars to participate in that and get to …

Be part of it.

Yeah. So that the smaller grower really can only ever latch on to getting a relationship with one of these bigger firms, supplying … But where it goes to from here you know, it’ll have its ups and downs I’m sure.

Eventually there’s only going to be probably seven or eight major companies that will control the total industry.

It will be I think. And I think innovation is one of the big things that needs to be pushed. When you go back and look at it it’s the new varieties, things like Envy and Jazz … and with Hort [Horticultural] Research we’ve got a very good world-leading fruit breeding programme, and you know, as long as they can keep the money into that innovation, and keep bringing up new ideas and new varieties and things …

There’s a name for a new apple – Innovation.

Yeah. [Chuckle] Yeah, yeah, yeah – they’re just about running out of names. The cross between Galaxy and Braeburn has been a great winner, and they’ve got all sorts of crosses from it. Envy’s one, Jazz was one, there’s an apple called Lemonade, I think John Paynter has got the rights to. There’s another little one called Rockit that’s got a lot of innovation around the marketing. But there’s a whole raft of crosses came out of that original cross. Envy’s the one that’s on a real roll at the moment, but there’ll be further crosses and better fruit produced down the line.

The Gala apple came from a cross of Kidd’s Orange and I think it might have been Golden … no, it was Cox’s – Kidd’s Orange and Cox’s I think. And then Golden Delicious played a part in it somewhere, I’m not quite sure, but it’s definitely got a …

I think that was in the original cross.

It was Cox and Red Delicious that got Captain Kidd, or got Kidd’s Orange, and then it was a cross between Kidd’s Orange and something that got Gala. And then your Royal Gala and Galaxy have been sports of. Braeburn was found on the side of the road in Nelson as a seedling, and they think it’s got Cox in its parentage. So it’s a you know, a matter of breeding from these nice ones they’ve got now and getting something better.

Sturmer was an old variety of cooking apple – it was an acidy apple and I remember it cropped very well. And I remember the old timers always called those apples ‘mortgage lifters’. It was Sturmer, and I forget what the other one was. I think Grannys was a great old apple.

Yes – every year there was a crop on them.

Yeah. There’s a lot that were grown in those days, like Rome Beauty, and Jonathan and that type of thing – Ballarats – cooking apples. There was a lot of old English cooking apples – Mob’s Royal and Prince Alfred and Twenty Ounce …

Gravensteins, red and green.

Yeah.

But I guess that’s the price of progress. And transport – now when you think how we handle fruit now in containers and we transport it – it must have made things so much easier for the exporters.

Well they get a fleet of forklifts and they fill a container in about ten minutes now, and you know it’s one truck, and it’s on its way to the port. But I think the big innovation today in the industry is on the marketing side of it, where they don’t really send anything to market unless its pre-sold. In our days we just sent a lot of fruit to Europe that really wasn’t sold.

Waiting for a buyer.

Yeah.

And of course they had us by the curlies.

Yeah. And it doesn’t leave Napier until it’s actually got a … In fact there’s a lot of work goes into it now, and virtually this year’s crop which will probably hit around the twenty million cartons, is pretty near all going … they know exactly where every carton’s going to head for.

Has the percentage to the grower moved with the way that fruit value has?

It must’ve I think, because the industry in New Zealand’s … in 2012 it was worth about $350 million. Last year we hit $700 million, and the acreage hasn’t gone up by that percentage. A lot of that money’s come out of the extra – Envy’s making $40, $50, $60 a carton, and Jazz is up round the near thirties, I think. So P [Pacific] Queen’s another one that they’ve been getting, you know in the thirties and forties a carton. So the grower’s been getting a pretty good return but percentage wise I’m not sure how it stacks up.

But there’s a lot of extra money generated that’s come into Hawke’s Bay. Those figures I’m talking about are from New Zealand. But the majority of the industry’s centred around Hastings now. Nelson’s tended to fall by the wayside a bit. We’re producing, I think three quarters of the fruit now in New Zealand.

Well when you look around the fruit growing families that have exited the industry, apart from the Wakes and one or two like the Wakes, they’ve all gone.

They have, yeah. John Paynter’s one of the few family ventures that’s still going. The Mardon boys … they sold out this year … and there’s a few others around but the industry was dominated by those family runs in the old days. And then as we said earlier, lots and lots of small family run outfits where everyone in the family pretty much was the picking gang and the packing gang.

And in retrospect, these families always had a nice car and always had holidays away at the beach. And you know, it must have been what they saved as well as what they made.

I think so. A lot of them … I know my father … a lot of them had been through the Depression, and they were always wary of another one happening. And they were very frugal in their habits as far as spending money’s concerned – they hated spending it on anything much. I suppose that’s quite a good trait to have in a way. Yes, with the modern credit cards and all that sort of thing going on, it’s a different philosophy, isn’t it?

And of course we had changes of political philosophy as well that changed a lot of the dynamics of borrowing, you know. Many of us were exposed.

Yeah, yeah. I know my father had an opportunity to buy a neighbour out and there was another neighbour interested, and my father would only buy … they split it in half … my father would only buy what he could pay cash for, which was … [Chuckle]

Using the head, thinking smart.

The other neighbour borrowed all of his money and got slightly more than half, [chuckle] and never looked back, [chuckle] so I suppose you can be too …

Too careful.

But one of the big things today is, everything in the old days was done by hand, where you’ve got a machine nearly to do everything these days. We use hydraladas with power pruners on them. Probably the one thing that they haven’t really got is the picking side of it, and one of the big things is we’re bringing in these boys … Pacific Islanders to do a lot of the picking now. And there’s a huge force of them coming into Hawke’s Bay each year for the harvest, and they are marvellous to work with. They are willing participants and they get the job done, and it’s a win-win because we’re pumping a lot of money into those Pacific Islands.

And they’re very happy, their attitude is quite different.

Yeah, ‘tis, yeah.

‘Cause I know I used to employ a lot of our local people, and ‘course always rang up WINZ and said “we need some pickers – can you send them out?” And they’d send me one-armed people, and people that didn’t get up ‘til eleven in the morning. And in the end most of the people I employed were from up the coast at Tokomaru Bay and Tolaga.

We went through a phase where most of the labour was local. And we had some quite bad labour shortages, and then we went through a phase where we got a lot of Indians down from Auckland. And they did a lot of picking with a lot of Asians I think, then the Asians prevailed for quite a long time. And the locals have been dropping out more and more. A lot of the locals ended up working – ones that are still in the industry – in the pack houses driving forklifts and that type of thing. And now, over the last ten years or more, we bring in a huge workforce from the Pacific Islands – I think in Samoa it’s their third to biggest money earner for the country is money coming in from the RSE [Recognised Seasonal Employer] workers, and it’s been a great scheme.

And they love working in the team atmosphere, don’t they … together?

They come in as a gang. The company pays for their airfare in, they pay for their airfare home. And they can take home quite a bit of money, enough to set themselves up for life a lot of the time. We bring in from the Solomon Islands, from Vanuatu and from Samoa. It’s a been a great scheme, that one.

But coming back to your family, Doug … I know you have a brother. Do you have any sisters?

I’ve got a sister that married a South African, and they lived in South Africa and raised a family, and then they’ve come back to New Zealand to live in Havelock. And they’ve got three children.

What’s their surname?

Schnell.

Oh, David – of course, David and Judith.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And he’s a chemist, and he’s just working part time now – he’s sort-of looking at retirement. I’ve got a younger brother – there was three of us in the family – and he went to university and was one of the first in New Zealand to go through a town planning course at Auckland University. And he worked in Hastings as a Deputy Planner, then became the Town Planner for Hastings, I think probably in about the early nineties. And then he went out on his own and did a lot of work locally with a lot of the big vineyards, getting consents to operate restaurants, and just operate. He did a lot of work for Andy Lowe in all their different ventures and things. And Cape Kidnappers Golf Course – he did a lot of those big jobs. I remember running into him one day and he said he had thirty-five jobs all going at once. You know, it all got a bit much in the end so he decided to basically retire quite young. And he bought a bit of property as well, and did fairly well out of that and he’s ended up with a lovely little valley out at Waipatiki with native bush through it, about fifty acres, and he lives out there. And his wife, Marilyn – she’s the Small Claims Adjudicator, so she comes into Napier three times a week and does that.

So I ended up marrying … first marriage was to Anne McHardy, and that didn’t last … came to grief after a couple of years. And then I married Adrianne Goldstone, and they were a farming family from down – well her father was a stock agent who went farming.

Was he Terry Goldstone?

Terry’s brother, Des.

So where did she grow up?

She grew up in Central Hawke’s Bay.  Des married Josie Faulkner, and Josie had a family farm … well, it was in trust. Her father was J J Faulkner who was a well-known dentist in Hastings, and they had a farm called Silverstream at Otane, and Des was managing that farm – it was Te Aute Trust land. And they farmed down there up until probably fifteen years ago, and they sold the farm and retired into Waipawa.

So we have two daughters – one’s a school teacher, and one’s working in the corporate world in Auckland.

Are they single, or are they married?

Single.

When you look back Doug and see all the things you’ve fitted in and all the good decisions you made, and some of the ones you mightn’t have made the second time round, but you never stop learning, do you?

The apple industry’s interesting in that you never get two seasons exactly the same. And it becomes a fascination that keeps you interested. I think you know, if you were in a factory producing the same thing over and over again you’d get bored pretty quick, but I enjoy growing things. And you know, every season is quite different climate-wise, then you’ve got the innovation side of it that’s always there with new varieties, and new ways of doing things, and getting higher production and what-have-you.

So do you have an opportunity to direct crop loading, pruning techniques … all of those?

No, we have an input into it, but there’s also a fair bit overseen from above. It’s such a big … growing for a corporate takes a wee bit of getting used to. Because you’re on a much bigger scale you’ve got a lot more people involved. And the way they do it is they divide the area up into sectors and put a manager, an assistant manager and a foreman into each sector, and each sector consists of about two hundred acres in the old acreage terms, or round about a hundred hectares. And they have input of their own but they also have someone basically looking over them all the time. And there’s a lot of people in offices that are doing spreadsheets and things; a lot of accountants; and a lot of planning and marketing goes into the whole thing.

But someone must make the decision what crop loading you’re going to have on trees for fruit size?

It’s so well organised compared with what we were in the old days, when we were just basically growing the fruit and giving it to the marketers to sell, that we know what market each block’s going to go to, or we’ll grow it small for Asia and bigger for America.

Right, so it’s pre-planned?

It’s all pre-planned.

Oh, that’s amazing, yeah.

So we get a spreadsheet that tells us where every pick’s going to go to.

Another huge innovation’s been computerisation. There’s a barcode now put on every bin and we generate the barcodes in our own office out on the orchard. And when that truck arrives they actually know before it arrives that it’s going to be there that day, ‘cause when we print the barcodes out it’s telling them – we have to say what day we’re going to use them. And it’s, they know what area of the coolstore it’s going to go to and what market. Everything has to be tracked.

Well you know, you do your thinning and … but hell, if you didn’t have apples a certain size by January you were in deep trouble, and you’d know you’d committed your crop to a size that wasn’t going to …

[Chuckle] They’re wanting a lot of smaller fruit now for Asia, and ’course the crop looks as though it might be a bit bigger than what they really need this year. There was a very heavy natural drop this year which has increased the size of it. So they’re very short of small fruit at the moment.

Oh, and there’s no Ken Harveys or these other people around to shift the big fruit.

No, [chuckle] no. So it’s all very well controlled. And you know, the modern technology with cellphones and computers … we’ve actually used computers … we’ve got a tablet we can actually use out in the orchard. And we have people come around and check up on our workers, and they’ll enter a score for their pruning and what-have-you, and we can actually read it – they can actually put it into a computer in the orchard.

And the other area which you must have noticed a big difference is with spraying techniques – spraying only when you have to rather than the old days.

Oh yeah. The IFP [Integrated Fruit Production] programme was a huge innovation, and it was New Zealand-led. They introduced, or spread natural predators for anything that they wanted … the beneficial predators, not the bugs we wanted to get rid of. And coupled with that we used some new sprays that’ve been developed that are non-toxic, and they kill the insect in various ways – some of them stop them from shedding their skins, and all sorts of things like that. If you go to their ratings we’ve got these ERMA ratings now on the labels, and a lot of them are not as toxic as sea water. It’s been a massive innovation, from the nasty old things – from DDT to the organic phosphates that we went through in the seventies and eighties and nineties. So the spraying technology has changed dramatically.

We still have a problem with black spot in the orchard, but we’ve got a whole raft of new chemicals that are coming out all the time to control that. But the days of having toxic sprays are long gone.

I spent twenty-five years as a spraying contractor spraying ground crops, and I used organochlorides, organophosphates – I used the lot, and I used to be monitored by the Otago School of Medicine – every year they’d get blood tests and so forth. Anyway when I think back to the stuff we used to put on, stuff like Metasystox …

I can remember that one, it used to stink.

I remember Richard Barron used to get me to spray, and he said “oh, God, I can’t do that – I get the gripes and the scours after it.” Anyway, one day I saw him out there spraying with this drift going across him – he was just in shorts, no singlet, no protection gear at all.

[Chuckle] I can remember the old timers spraying, they’d be smoking as they were going along spraying. They’d be smoking away, and there was no spraying protection gear you could buy – no mask or anything, and it didn’t seem to worry them.

No.

Our guys, even though the sprays are non-toxic, they have to wear spray suits and they’ve got helmets … full helmets, and a lot of the people have got cabins on their sprayers now.

Yes. So the juice crusher in Hastings – that’s part of you, isn’t it?

That’s part of Turners & Growers. They crush a lot of bins – I think they get up to two thousand a day in the height of the season, and it’s mainly sent offshore. It’s concentrated into a … almost like golden syrup type mix … it ends up going offshore to all sorts of companies that make juice. That’s been a huge industry for a long time. That was a great innovation that came out of the old Apple & Pear Board. They’ve got a big plant in Nelson that does a lot of canning and satcheting, and even frozen apple pieces and what-have-you, and apple pulp.

And so what do you do in your spare time?

I used to be involved in quite a bit of sport in my younger days. We had a bach at Waipatiki – my parents did – and then I ended up taking it over for a fair while, and we used to do a lot of fishing out there, and surfing and boating in general. And then I had a bach at Taupo at one stage and we did a bit of trout fishing. And I’ve always liked playing tennis and squash. And the Havelock Squash Club was very active in the seventies and eighties really wasn’t it?

It was the centre of activity.

It was, it was a very social scene. I remember we had five hundred members and we had a waiting list of fifty or sixty trying to get in. And I was the Club Captain there for a while and that was a great social and sporting … and as group of us used to play tennis in the summertime. And there were some informal small tennis groupings that used to play, and we’d go away and we’d have … usually about six or eight of us … in the summertime we’d have competitions against them on a Saturday or something, and they were great.

And then I was playing golf in the wintertime in those days, and I was a member at Bridge Pa for quite a long time. My father was on the committee there, and my mother was the Club Champion two years in a row. So she was …

What was your mother’s first name?

She was Daisy. Her maiden name was Ryburn, and she came from a farming family up in Clevedon. And they were a great sporting family and she was a very good golfer. My father took up golf later in his life, and he got quite involved – he was on the committee at the Hastings Golf Club for a long time. So we were brought up around golf and I got down to a 9 at one stage, but most of the time I played on about a 13 or 14 or 15 – round there.

And we had a regular game on a Thursday afternoon, and then I got into another group of … mixture of orchardists and farmers and one or two others that came along and played on a Friday afternoon, and you just turned up, and you worked out what the groupings were going to be when you got there so no one had to pre-arrange anything.

The Friday afternoon was a great arrangement, because you turned up with no one ringing up the night before and a lot of the time we’d have about twelve. And we’d throw the balls in the air and as they landed, that’s …if you ended up with three threes or three fours … so it mixed it up – you weren’t playing with the same people all the time. It was a great arrangement.

And I belonged to a couple of clubs in the old days. The Havelock Club was quite active in its day and my father belonged to that before me. And I belonged to the Hastings Club. And I think the drinking and driving plus other social changes …

Killed most of us.

… all those clubs …

But it didn’t worry us those days, we seemed to fly by the seat of our pants.

No. Well there was never too much trouble from drinking and driving. The Golf Club used to go … the 19th used to be pretty active until all sorts of hours, and I can never recall anyone having trouble getting home. And the Hastings Club and the Havelock Club were pretty much the same. They were great meeting places, and you could talk about your work and just socialise – a lot of the time we were working on our own, and they were great institutions. It’s a shame they’ve all shut up.

Is there anything else you can think of? You always had a lovely garden around your old homestead.

Oh, yes, we had a lovely home.

Gardening was obviously something that …

I always enjoyed growing vegetables, and we had a great vege garden when we lived in St Andrew’s Road for … I don’t know, forty-odd years I think, while I would have lived there. And my mother was quite a good gardener, and she planted a lot of shrubs and expanded the garden in St Andrew’s Road and had a lot of old trees around the house. We did some major alterations to the house and expanded it, and it was a great area being at the end of a blind road. It was a sad day when we had to leave that.

It was very private for all of you people, and I don’t know whether you all socialised but there were a lot of very social people who lived in that road over the years.

When I first went there about a quarter of the residents of the road would go to the Havelock pub on a pretty regular basis, and there was lots of tales about people coming home and going into ditches and things without too much damage being done. And if I walked into the Havelock pub – the public bar – there’d always be a contingent from St Andrew’s Road there. And yes, the families had lived there for years and years, and the big thing that probably brought them together – they were all doing the same job basically – they were all making a living out of growing apples, or off the land.

It’s interesting when you drive down there, the only survivor is on the left.

Yeah, there’s families [that’ve] been there for a long time. My old uncle, Bernard Clift his name was, he went there about the turn of the century and I remember him telling me that he can remember when there was a gate on at the beginning of the road where it went on to the Hastings-Havelock Road. And he said he can remember driving his dray through a flood there on that corner, that was up to the axles of the dray. And I can just remember when the road was shingle. The Hills were next to us for years, Sid Dickson was quite a well-known orchardist that was on the road for a long, long time.

There was [were] various families … Dick Perrott was one that grew berries there for years and years.

The Catholic boxer, what was his name?

Hannas, they were an old family there. Mrs de Freer had been there for all of her life.

That’s right.

There was, yeah, a lot of people that spent their whole lives there, and it was very handy to Havelock and Hastings.

Well that was the beauty of it – it was so close.

It’s all lifestyle blocks now and some very expensive houses there.

Yes. I think that gives us a broad brush of where you’ve come from and where you’ve been. Thank you, Doug, for that.

Original digital file

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People

  • Douglas Leo Coles

Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

1592/46438

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