Drown, Robin Wynn Interview

Erica Tenquist interviewing Robin Drown, and the date today is 25th March 2019.   Over to you, Robin.

Right. My lengthy involvement in employment and management of Totalisator Agency Board branches in the early days of non-computerisation.  My background as the wife of a busy stock agent, supporting his career combined with three children as a stay-at-home mum, meant little surplus to the family financial budget, so that any extra part time income needed to be compatible to working hours to accommodate family responsibilities.  Prior to my marriage I worked for Peter [Piet] van Asch’s Aerial Mapping Company; he had some skills in photography and development.   I also enjoyed the opportunity of flying with company pilot Bob Fleming. So as a young bride in Wairoa 1959, some casual work for Peter Davidson, Photographer, was welcome until pregnancy became a priority.

In 1962 in Hastings, after a company transfer, I found the opening of firstly, on the track racing totalisators locally, to Saturday and allocated mid-week sessions with Denny Heaton and Anne Jones; and temporarily manager at Stortford Lodge, with Bob Abraham.  I was then offered the Clive branch as the agent, and my husband came with me in support in 1975, so after sixteen years of casual work, I ran the Clive [branch] until 1980, when the ticket system of manual sales was replaced with computers.  The ticket system – Clive Agency had four selling windows – all transactions were manual ticket sales.  We, the agency, were paid on the total ticket sales, not the amount in turnover.  Race day sales were displayed in the public area of the Agency.  There could be up to four or five separate meetings going at the same time, with say eight to ten races each.  As each race closed, they were marked ’Closed’, and collated by phone to Napier Head Office.  Staff had to remember; sometimes inadvertently a sale was made on a closed race, and became a liability and a worry.

Two large freezing works – Whakatu and Tomoana – were in full flight, and descended on a Wednesday in force at lunch time – pay day – many tearing open their envelopes and spending disincriminately. [Indiscriminately]  I am sure that subsequent gambling losses were attributed to us, not the TAB.  We took the money physically through the sales window.  Night trotting and greyhound racing were introduced and extended our responsibilities.

Golf: My husband enjoyed his golf and encouraged me to take it up.  I had no inclination to do so and when he bought me, in 1970, a half set of clubs for my birthday, I was not impressed, and stowed them away in the attic.  But about 1975, I was introduced and invited by two lady friends to a round at the Hawke’s Bay A & P Showgrounds’ 9-hole course.  This was the catalyst for an interest that took over.  My two mates opted out and I joined the Flaxmere Golf Club in 1976; practised hard, earned my ladies’ handicap, and at thirty-seven years of age scored a hole-in-one at the 10th hole on the 7th July 1977, in my first year.  This took me on a path of thirty years of sport.

I relinquished [relished] the contacts and friendships made at Flaxmere, Maraenui Golf Club, and Bridge Pa. While serving and gaining my Masters’ Hawke’s Bay representations; accumulating five holes-in-one; joining my husband in pre-combined and combined events and social activities; coaching the juniors, boys and girls, at Bridge Pa; serving as Ladies’ Captain; and for a length of time playing on a single figured handicap, are proud achievements, and now still sadly missed.

Yes. Well we’ll start with the golf … you had a half set; what does a half set mean?

Well, it’s just sort of a main thing to get you going, not a full set of clubs.  It’s like a driver, and a wood, and an iron, and a putter, and a chipper.  Just sort of a half set, yeah.

And did you walk all around the golf course?

I played the whole time and walked there.  [Speaking together] We had a trolley to put … yeah.

How many children did you have?

Three sons.

Did any of them take up golf as well?

No, not really.  Tim sort of came and played; he had an old set, but he didn’t join the club or anything, no.

And when you were at Bridge Pa did they have an 18-hole golf course there?

Oh yes – that’s the main …

Did you go and play at …


… places like Wairoa or Dannevirke?

Yes, when I was in the Hawke’s Bay team I had to go, yeah.

How many years were you in the Hawke’s Bay team?

I’m not sure, probably three or four.

And 5 holes-in-one?

Mmm. They’re all up there …

What a …

… those things there.

Now, did you find much difference in the betting between the races and greyhound racing and the night trots?  Which were the favourites really?

The day gallops were the main … yeah.

And when you said they’d come from Whakatu and Tomoana, how many would you have to serve, say, in the lunch hour?

It was huge compared to the rest of the time.  And then there was a nice chap; he was a real hard case – just trying to think how it worked – he’d bike down and bike to the Works and get their bets, and come back and put them on for them.  But then he said to Bruce one day – and his wife was very petite and very well spoken and everything – and he said, “Oh, my wife’s in Aussie at the moment.” And Bruce said, “Oh, yes”, and he said, “and she sent me an email the other day.”  And Bruce said, “What did she say?” “It said, ‘I’m feeling a new woman, so I think I’ll stay an extra couple of weeks.’”  And Bruce said, “Did you reply?”  He said, “Yes – I said, ‘Stay another extra three or four, ‘cause I’m feeling one too.”  [Chuckles]  But, there were some people that were really … you could write letters or notes about some of the hard cases that came in. Yeah.

Do you think any of them made a fortune?


And did any of them lose far too much?

Well, probably more than they could afford.  Some of the housewives were probably the worst.  They‘d have a bet one day, and then they’d come back the next day and recoup it, but it doesn’t work like that.

So you were at Clive; where was the TAB?

Well, where the shops are now; the TAB was a single, big building, yeah. On the right hand side where the dairy and everything … and the hotel was next door.

So they could come to the TAB and then go to the …


and then come back when they won or lost, whatever?


Were there many who bet on the same horses all of the time?

No – we really wouldn’t know.  There was one that … he took a lot of bets, but small ones. And he was at Bruce’s window this particular day, and he’d taken all his bets and then he disappeared. [Chuckle] And Bruce said, “I don’t know – what am I going to do?” And he said, “I’ll collate it, ‘cause I know he’ll be back.”  So he did come back, and Bruce said to him, “What happened?” He said, “I ploughed my wallet into the ground somewhere.” And he said, “So that was the finish of the money.” So he had to go and …

Find it!

Well, he didn’t find it.  No. Well he said, “That’s the only thing that could’ve happened.” Yeah. But he was very good, he came back and … but we knew he was such a nice bloke that he would come back.  Yeah.

And were you treated properly there by anybody coming in? Anybody accusing you of not doing it right?

No, not really. No.  We had random audits that [where] we didn’t know what was going to happen.

Can you explain a bit more about the tickets?  How did you get the tickets out of the machine?

But they didn’t come out of a machine.  You had a book with – I think there was about ten individual little pieces – that you wrote one bet on, be it a double … And in those days to start with, I think we didn’t really have the …

Quinellas or anything …

No, not like that, no.

So you’d just have a double, or a win or a place?


And you’d have to write it out by hand?

Yes, everything was written by hand, and then you had to sort it all into the … you had boxes out the back to put them in. And then at Christmas and New Year time it was terrible, because you might have eight meetings, but we had to get it to Napier on the phone.


And they’d be ringing to see where it all was, but it was just about impossible ‘cause there was so much to go through.

And doubles [coughing] would be different too. Did they have at that time … if you win Race 1, Race 3 and Race 5?

No. No, ‘cause they wrote out tickets too, so there was nothing like they’ve got now. I don’t think they could’ve handled it.

And did you have any times when you did the Melbourne Cup, for instance?


And that would be a huge affair?

Yeah, and then when it went on to computers when you talk about the Melbourne Cup; they had, say, the Canterbury Cup and a quinella with the Melbourne Cup, and different things like that which you could never’ve done.

Not by the ticketing method?


Did you take bets yourself?

No; well, we weren’t allowed to.  If I wanted to have a bet I’d have to go somewhere else.

And did you have a policeman outside for security?

Oh! No, no, nothing like that.

How did you get the money that you’d taken … did you have to take it by vehicle?

I think Bruce just took it to the bank, I think.  Well, he’s out there; I’ll ask him in a minute.

So the number of people – how many would you’ve handled on an average Saturday for instance? 

I’m not sure really – I’ve never ever thought about how many people would come in.

How long were you open on a Saturday when there’s seven or eight race meetings?

Well in those days when there was only the day meetings, then you would close when the last race … maybe five or six  or something … closed. Yeah.

And that’s when you’d close up shop?


You were behind a barrier so that you could take ..?

Yes, there was a long … like a counter, but it had glassed … so you just spoke through that to them.

So you did have a bit of security?


Now, with the greyhound racing, was that the same system?

I’m just trying to remember – I don’t know whether we had greyhounds then.  When you think back, its a long time.  Yeah – no, I can’t remember; I don’t think we did.

They have a lucky dip at some of the races; did you have such a thing then?

No. No, it was just all straightforward to be able to manage to do it, I think.

So just going back to the tickets, were they all white?

No, they were yellow. You just tore their piece off and gave it to them, and then you had the copy underneath for you.

Can we go back further now – Bob Fleming and the flying – where did you fly to?

Oh, he’d just take me up for a flight, and it was lovely; and I enjoyed it, but I couldn’t keep doing it because one of the girls at Aerial Mapping – as a joke – decided to lock me in the vault.  And the rolls of film are kept right in and cooled down right inside this big vault. And it was on a Friday afternoon about ten past four, and it came to about five to five and she hadn’t come back and let me out.  So then I panicked, ‘cause I thought, ‘Who will know where I am?’

That would be dreadful.

It was.  So that stopped; I’ve never flown since.  So Bruce and I … well, he went over to Aussie with the New Zealand Dog Trials and that; but there’s just things I can’t do, because … can’t go in a lift because I’m just claustrophobic.  It was terrible.

That was a stupid, criminal thing to do.

It was. Yeah. He’d just, you know, take us for a flight and up and down and it was beautiful.  It was no problem until she did what she did.

And to go back to Peter [Piet] van Asch, when you were working for him what was your main job?

Mainly we printed out the photos and developed them and did all that.

Colour as well as black and white?

I think we did have colour.  We must’ve done, because his photos … mind you, they can put colour into them now.

Did you enjoy doing that? 


You’d see something different every day, wouldn’t you?

Yeah. And they were big; there was quite a few of us that worked there.

With your children, did any of them take on flying?

No. Well Chris, the eldest boy, he teaches Nursing at EIT, [Eastern Institute of Technology] and Tim is driving for … oh, God, what firm is it? Bruce’ll know. And the youngest one, he’s a surveyor, and he’s in partnership in Wellington.

He’s probably using drone planes to fly …


Shall we get Bruce in now?


Bruce Drown has joined Robin and I so that he can fill in a few more details.  Bruce, on average you know, mid-week racing when the men came down from the meat works, how many people would you’ve had?

Bruce: Oh, at the peak, Erica, when the rich people came down at lunch time, we’d have fifty or sixty people.  They came in dribs and drabs through the day. [A] lot of the local housewives used to come in and have a cup of tea at the place next door, and then go and have a bet; it was like a social gathering.  And they were lovely old people – now I’m one of them. [Chuckles]

And you probably thought they were old then?

Oh! Absolutely, yeah.

[Chuckle] What was an average bet?  I didn’t ask Robin this, but I’m wondering how much would people spend? 

On average I suppose … you had the regular punters who probably used their budget every week, and their wages, to say, “Oh, I’m going to have £5 every week to put into my bets.”  Then you had the big punters who spent a lot of money.  We had one chap from the Works who had one bet a week; it was always £100 for a place, so that if he got a place bet and it paid £2.50, [£2/5/0, or 2 pounds five shillings] he was up £150.  And he was pretty lucky.  He thought his chances were far better to put a lot of money on a place bet.

Did you have people that had their favourite window to go to?

Robin: I don’t think so, because most of the time I was probably out the back doing all the collating and everything, ‘cause you just had to do it; you didn’t have a lot of time when the race closed – you had to add up …


Oh, absolutely, yeah. So your brain had to function.  It doesn’t function as well now.

[Chuckles] I think it functions pretty well.


And the greyhound racing; I asked Robin …

Bruce: I think it was one of the reasons that Robin decided not to carry on when all these things came on board. They came on computer time.

Did you have a lead into the computer?

Robin: No.

One week you were doing it by books … you know, by the tear off pieces?

And we decided when the computerisation was coming in, that – because when we were writing tickets and we still had to keep collating and doing things, you were still working; but when the computers came in there was nothing to do – you just gave them the ticket and there was nothing to do.  So there was no interest in … you’d still have to be there at ten or half past at night ‘til the last race closed at the trots, but nothing to do in between. No.

That was a whole new system?

Yeah.   So we decided that we didn’t want to stay and sit round and do nothing. No – when we were there and the races were on, there was no time to do anything much, no.

And would you go back and do it again?

Bruce: I wouldn’t, no.

Robin: No, I don’t think so.  I think I enjoyed real estate more, I think.

[Speaking together] You might’ve gone back … and the stock agents?


Bruce: I did a variety of things in the stock world. They were all interesting.  I wouldn’t have changed much, really, no.

Now would it surprise you if I tell you that the Summerset Village at Trentham, up in their cafeteria, they have now got an online … you can do it up there in the cafe while the races are on?

Is that right?

Robin: Oh, right.

Trentham …

Summerset?  [Chuckle]

Summerset On The Course, it is.

Oh, right.

They’ve got it.

Bruce: Do you have a bet?

Yes I will, but I’m not recording it.

No. [Laughter] 

Anyway, anything else either of you would like to add to this today?  Well, we haven’t touched on what you do now; do you still go to Knitter Natter?

Robin: No, because about a couple of months after I came here – I’ve got Meniere’s, which causes falls; and I came out the bedroom door to go to the toilet in the night. And if I fall I go backwards, and I caught the door into the shed and I dislocated a vertebrae in my back.  So anything I enjoy doing is just about out. Knitting; even if I’m stirring a cake, and the doctor just says to me, “Just take Panadol.”  And see, I loved my bowls after the golf, and that’s out; so now I don’t have much to do. [Chuckle]

You can talk …


Bruce: She just loves her cooking.

Robin: And I’ve got a small account which … I can have a $1 bet because it’s on the phone that my son gave me.  So I think its about every what … couple of months or more, that it goes down, then it goes up again.  Yeah, so I have quite a lot of interest.  But I don’t have to have a bet to enjoy the horses.

Do you usually go to the races at all?

We used to, but Bruce can’t walk now that well.  But my youngest son, he rode ponies, so I used to get up and plait them and do all the things for him.


Bruce: I went to see ‘The War Horse’ last night. It was very good. Far fetched of course.

Robin: Bruce said I wouldn’t have enjoyed it ‘cause it was cruel.

Bruce: There were some cruel parts.

Robin: Cruel for the horses, yeah.

Bruce: There were some [?] parts too – it was good.

Thank you very much to Robin and to Bruce Drown at Hastings; thank you both very much.  

Robin: Thank you, Erica.

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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