Edward (Ted) Francis Hill Interview
Today is Friday June the 19th 2015. I’m interviewing Mr Ted Hill formerly of Somercotes Farm at the end of Percival Road. Ted will give us some thoughts about the life and times of his family starting back where they came from.
Thank you Frank. Well as Frank has said my name is Ted – Edward in fact – but known as Ted, Ted Hill. I’ve lived in Percival Road all my life which is now a fair while, considering I’m eighty-three years old now, or close to it, and I hopefully will see a few years yet.
Obviously in that length of time the situation here has changed a great deal and I’ve no doubt we can discuss that a little bit later. As far as myself and family are concerned, my forebears basically came here … my father’s family were ex-Nelson. They arrived in Nelson in 1848 on a boat called, I believe, the Thomas Harrison, and from what I gather the conditions at the time were fairly spartan, but the family seemed to survive there for a period of time. There was quite a few of my uncles there.
My mother’s side of the family actually started off their time in Christchurch / Ashburton area. My grandmother on my mother’s side arrived out on a boat from England, I believe to be a governess … she was a girl of about eighteen or nineteen I believe. And she arrived out to be a governess I think, for – I believe the Grigg family, who were fairly well known in the district at that time. She married down there and they produced a family of I think twelve or thirteen – that’s the Lowe family. And over the years … or fairly soon, many of the brothers and sisters actually emigrated north to the North Island, firstly from Tinwald out of Ashburton, up towards the North Island to Foxton, Palmerston and into Hawke’s Bay here. I’m not quite sure how my mother and father met but it was in the Hawke’s Bay area here. Mother was, as I say, one of twelve or thirteen, and my father was one of also I think about twelve. So families were fairly big in those days, and I’m talking prior to the turn of the century, or second century.
Ted, where did your grandparents come from by boat?
My paternal grandparents I believe came from Lincolnshire and the Lincolnshire is reflected in the name of the farm, that my mother gave the farm here, Somercotes, which was rather a difficult name in the sense that most people called it ‘Summercoats’ whereas the actual spelling finally was ‘cotes’, not ‘coates’. And that was as you can image a fairly common mistake. But Somercotes was the name given to the farm by my mother, and that company … the actual farming company existed up until a very short time ago, until we actually liquidated it because its usefulness to me was no longer. That was where Somercotes name came from, and the actual company was inaugurated or … whether that’s the right term or not … but it actually was evolved in 1955. I was probably about twenty-three or something like that at the time, and my mother and myself were the shareholders of Somercotes farm. My mother held ninety percent of the shares and I held ten. That was the set up of the farm at the time. Prior to my being born which happened fairly late in my mother’s life – she, I think, was forty-four when I was born and she already had my brothers and sisters, namely my sister Ruth, who was the eldest; my brother Greg, who was the next; my sister Barbara, who was the third; a sister Helen was the fourth, and I came up as fifth in the family as it were – a good, I think, about fifteen or sixteen years the junior of my youngest sister … my closest sister, and it made me very much an afterthought, you might say, in the family. The consequence of that was that I became the actual – because my mother was the youngest of her family and I was her youngest sibling, [child] it made me very much the youngest of the grandchildren, and I actually turned out to be the seventy-fourth, I believe … it was either seventy-third or seventy-fourth. And ironically enough the two below me are still in Hastings and still around, and we see a lot of one another – by the name of Tom Lowe who was … if I was the seventy-fourth, he was seventy-second, and Reuben Lowe was the seventy-third. And we are still in close conversation you might say in the local district. As such that stretched over a fairly long period of time.
What was it like growing up in Twyford?
Well it’s funny you should say Twyford, because Percival Road here was a bit of a no man’s land in that sense. We were known as Mahora at the time. This was part of the Mahora Settlement and this was known as Mahora, and in actual fact Evenden Road, which is now the through road to the Expressway, actually stopped … well, it turned a corner at Percival Road, which we now know as Percival Road and came down to our home farm, with Bridgemans’ as the first house on the left-hand side as you came up, in fact the only house.
What was it like going to school in..?
Well Evenden Road, as I said, in the first instance, actually used to stop at the end of Percival Road and turn the corner into what is now Percival Road down to the farm. It wasn’t until … I think it was the very early thirties … that Evenden Road was actually pushed through to meet up with Ormond Road. And because of the fact that there were different landholders in the way, that was why the kink which there is in Evenden Road at the end of Percival Road – and it still exists – that the land that was taken for the road actually came from what was the Bridgeman farm on the way through to Ormond Road. And at that time – in my school days – Evenden Road was just obviously a shingle road and … I don’t know, we never noticed, it was just normal I suppose. It was just shingle and you put up with it to go to school.
When I first went to school, which was at Mahora School – we went to Mahora School – my two sisters who were employed in various places in Hastings at the time when I was a very small infant child you might say, they used to drop me off at school from their bikes until I got to I don’t know – Primer 3 or 4 or whatever it might have been – and then I had a bike of my own. The coming home in those days from school, before I had my own bicycle, I used to quite often get a ride up Evenden Road with the bread cart. There used to be a bread delivery with a horse and cart – how it worked I’ve got now really no idea, but I distinctly remember the riding on the dray or the cart that was carrying the bread and [ha!] quite often … the bread in those days used to have a twist on it – twist on the top – and somehow or other sometimes the bread got a bit burrowed into, the fresh bread. [Chuckle]
Now that’s interesting – you say you came up Evenden Road – did you never have access through Lyndhurst Road?
The farm itself had access through to Lyndhurst Road – in my sisters’ and brothers’ time there was not access through. The access through to Lyndhurst Road from our farm only came with the acquisition with what I believe was … my father bought an area of land down off the end of Lyndhurst Road which adjoined our back and then we then had access through to Lyndhurst Road.
So in the meantime you had to do this big …
… dog leg to go to school?
In effect, yes, although at times we used to cut straight … not often, but where that hole in the hedge is right now, we used to go straight through over there.
Was that Mahora Stud beyond that?
That’s Mahora Stud. It wasn’t Mahora Stud then, although – the Mahora Stud came into being about the last of the War – during the War years, and that was the Breen’s property. In fact it was the Breen’s property on Lyndhurst Road and there was the Breen’s property on Evenden Road, and looking where that hole is, the joint was just straight there.
So, when you finished at Mahora you went to High School?
Yes, obviously then it was the combined boys’ and girls’ high school. I think I did two years there – think it was two – I didn’t get far. My services were needed apparently back on the farm, and that’s where I came to.
So you went to school – did you play any sports at all or ..?
Not a great deal to be frank. Our occupation in the farming scene tended to preclude too many sports in that sense. Most of the summer was occupied with the activities that were necessary on the farm. Sporting activities weren’t in vogue in those days.
Coming back to the farm, how big was the farm those days when you … say when you left school, how big was it and what was the family growing on it?
Well, the farm here – my father bought his original farm here about 1900, or it might have been a bit before that, and it was a forty-five acre block. I don’t know for why but much of the Mahora area here was surveyed at the time either into forty-five … approximately forty-five acre blocks, or thirty-three or sixty-six acre blocks.
They would have bought off another family – Williams or someone else on this side, wouldn’t they?
Well what happened here was my father bought the original forty-five acre block, and then he bought the extension that went through to Lyndhurst Road from the Sinclair family, and I believe that was about thirty acres. And it made – on this side of the road you might say, it made an area of seventy-four / seventy-five acres. And at the same time, and I’m not sure whether it was before or after, but we also acquired another forty-five acre block which was adjacent on the south side of the … well the east side you might say. And it created a small problem to the extent that at the time the law of the land was that if you had a – what had been or was a Government block – you couldn’t hold another one. And the family, or the solicitors – whoever it was – got over that problem by actually putting the forty-five acre block which was to be acquired in the name of my eldest sister, Emily Ruth Hill. And it was one of those subterfuges perhaps you could say, that happened and probably still happens. And the consequence of that was, that increased the farm area to somewhere around – what was it – a hundred and twenty-five acres or something like that. And that block was farmed in conjunction with … because they were adjoining … it was all farmed as one. And in those days, and I’m talking about the War years and immediately after the War, the major operation was done growing rye grass seed, and the summer was rye grass seed production usually combined with eight or ten or twelve acres of potatoes as a ground crop, and the farm ran stock – sheep … generally sheep … during the winter. And that was the pattern of the farming operation until – really the advent of the pea industry.
Well just coming back to the rye grass industry – those would be the days of mainly horses, were they?
Yes, horses, sledge, traction engine and Clayton & Shuttleworth stationary mill – it was taken from paddock to paddock.
And ‘course the big stacks of rye grass that was …
The stacks were usually either stacked. And very often, in my day anyhow – I don’t know whether it happened any earlier on ’cause I don’t know when baling first started, but very often the stacks were converted into bales via Eric Batson. He used to take his baler around the various stacks and the stuff – the stacks – were converted into bales.
Potatoes? That would all have been done with horses too, wouldn’t it?
Yes, yes it was, but I personally didn’t have – I didn’t actually have a horse trained … at the time I started, basically about in 1947 or ’48 I think it was … Ferguson tractors started to come into play. The Ferguson tractor arrived, and that – well I wouldn’t say it revolutionised the job, but it went a long way towards it.
[Chuckle] It certainly changed things.
Yes. Scarifying and moulding up potato rows became a different proposition.
Yes. Then as the farm developed you obviously had a major part in the running of it?
Yes. We originally ran the farm for a period of time as a joint operation between … it was called AE & AG Hill. That was my eldest brother – my only brother I should say – and that persisted for a few years, but it finally drifted apart to the extent that he started to run his own – he acquired the forty-five acres from my sister who had it in her name at that time. It was sold to him – my brother – along with a small seven acre block on which he built a house, and that fronted onto Lyndhurst Road and it joined onto the back of the forty-five acre block.
So then the farm progressed into growing other crops – you mentioned peas and so would you like to develop that?
Well we grew our first peas in 1948 – only a small area of, I think it was five acres, it might have been ten but I think it was five, and Wattie’s at that time were just entering into the harvesting business. They were just giving up hand picking pods and the crop was handled with a mower and a rake, and loaded onto trucks and carted to the factory for vining, to extract the peas. Obviously, over the next decade or two, that because very much more refined in terms of the way they did it and we refined our farming operations in like manner.
Yes … and of course with the peas there were beans that were hand harvested …
… in the paddock with pickers and their big bags and …
My wife hasn’t got such fond memories of that and in as much as it was her job to pay this myriad of pickers, [chuckle] and it was my job basically to try to keep them from kicking the bottom of the tin and filling it up with dirt and one thing and another. And an interesting – to me anyhow – part of that story was that I was not at all convinced that picking beans by hand … and having the problems of the labour requirements, and the fact that they would go off comparatively quickly and they needed to be harvest picked at a certain point in time. And you couldn’t plant more than a few acres at a time because you simply didn’t have the manpower simply to pick the quantity that you would like. And I was very, very keen on the question of mechanical harvesting of beans, and I made representations over a period of time – a long period of time really – to factories to keep an eye on the developments that were happening, particularly in America with bean picking machines. And oh … I don’t know whether I’d be perfectly true in saying I was a major instigator in persuading the factory to buy the first Chisholm Ride-on Harvester that they bought to eliminate hand picking of beans. I think from memory that was in 1960 … ’59 or 1960.
It probably would be because hand picking just disappeared like that. Soon as the machine came in no one wanted to hand pick any more. But you still could only harvest so much a day couldn’t you?
And the plantings had to be staged.
You had to stagger them. But the machine harvesting of course got rid of the problem of hand picking that was unsustainable really.
So then, the peas of course were being harvested and the vines taken to the cannery to be threshed by static mills, you would have then been part of the static mills that they put on these big trailers and went out to the paddocks and harvested them in the paddocks.
In the first instance that was Wilson Hazelwood, Tom Ryan and Webbs. And I’ve got a feeling that Wilson Hazelwood actually was probably the first to actually put one on wheels. And then came the succession of different types of pickers, that the Americans were experimenting with and putting into production. And they all – well, right to this present day there’s simply a development gone on with them.
Yes, so that was a really wonderful story, the pea harvesters and the way that they could harvest peas that were so young without damaging them. Then you would have led into the tomato industry – picking into boxes. Remember those days?
I remember them only too well – broken back, picking 60lb cases of tomatoes.
That’s probably why your back’s still sore from it.
So when you started growing tomatoes …
Piles of bins, piles of boxes. The boxes were – basically you put them into bunches of three – one in the bottom, one put in longways in the middle and the other one over the top. You had three empty cases and you dumped them up the rows, off your trailer. And then when they were harvested by hand, you had the problem of going along and picking them up and loading them on a trailer, and then loading them on a truck.
So how many acres of tomatoes were you growing during the hand picking?
Oh … probably about ten or twenty.
That was a lot for hand harvest.
Oh – absolutely, back breaking.
And so as time went on you were part of the development of mechanical harvesting of tomatoes, the bulking of them, but also …
The first thing that was the biggest help and is still probably the major factor involved in a lot of that, and that was the advent of a forklift.
The forklifts – don’t know whether they revolutionised anything but they simply made the operation possible.
Yes, they certainly did.
There were a fair variety of forklifts introduced in those days. People had their own ideas as to how they should be and what they shouldn’t be and one thing and another, but anything that lifted something and put it up in the air was of a huge moment.
And of course, all the sprays we were using on the crops then were not as sophisticated as they are now.
They were probably reasonably sophisticated in those days, but today you wouldn’t be allowed to use ninety percent of them. They’d be off the list.
‘Course those days you were growing Scorsby tomatoes …
… ’cause the Scorsby tomato was …
It was about a foot in diameter.
[Chuckle] It was a soft fruit that didn’t keep, so it needed the copper sprays to keep the fungus out. And then I guess when we went to machine harvesting we went to the Italian style tomato didn’t we?
Yeah, with the harder skin.
The same thing happened of course with the beans. The original beans were – green beans I’m talking about – the varieties that we used then weren’t really suitable for a machine pick. And the machine picking went hand in hand you might say, with the variety escalations of the types that were being bred specifically for it.
Actually the question of the beans was quite interesting from our point of view. We grew quite a considerable acreage of peas and we discovered that with the advent of irrigation that if you got your peas out early enough you could follow it with a crop of beans, which actually suited us, and it suited the factory too because they were spreading their load also, as it were – the processing load. And when the machine harvesting of green beans started to come in, when it first came in, I can still remember the invitation that Wattie’s issued for growers to come to the factory and talk about the possibilities of what this green bean harvester was going to be and what we thought as growers what we thought we would be doing. And as I said before, I was always you know keen on the question of mechanical things, and mechanical doing things, and I hated this hand picking deal and I thought ‘well if I can get away from that, I will be’.
But the downside of the machine situation as it was explained to us at a huge growers’ meeting that Wattie’s held – you may even recall it, I don’t know. But Wattie’s held this meeting to discuss the question of the forthcoming mechanical harvesting of beans, and the downside was that the beans had to be planted into thirty-six or even forty inch rows, and we had been accustomed to planting with a drill on every second [?] of the drill which actually made a fourteen inch row. And many said “oh, we’ll never grow a crop by halving or more than halving the row widths”, and one thing and another. And I thought “I dunno – I still don’t like hand picking”. So Wattie’s actually gave us the option of whether we would like to grow for machine or whether we would like to grow for hand picking still or a combination of both, in the sense that they said that you could hand pick the first crop and then … the first flowering of the crop … and then they would come in with the harvester and harvest the second. But oh – I said “no, not for me”. I said “I’ll go totally machine picking”. And they said “at the end of the meeting, put down your preferences and how many acres you would like”. I put down on my piece of paper that I’d like sixty acres, [chuckle] and sixty acres was a huge quantity.
It certainly was.
[Chuckle] Anyhow it came out that many opted to go half way and do the both, and some stayed with the hand picking and there wasn’t a huge take up in the first instance because everybody thought ‘oh, it’ll be … the harvesting situation – it’ll be a failure, it’ll do this and that’. Well as it turned out, certainly the first year or two the yields weren’t all that flash because – you know, we were on a learning curve. But boy oh boy – from my point of view, at the end of the day, that sixty acres of beans – I stuck to that over the years that followed – over many years that followed. And a year or two later when machine harvesting really started to get going, everybody says “how on earth do you get sixty ..?” ‘Cause they were dishing it out in five acre lots. And in fact to cover up to some extent my … I can’t think of the word, but to conceal it to some extent, I shifted the quantities between three different farm names. We had about twenty acres in each. [Chuckle]
But I mean you did come in at the beginning and said yes, you’d have a go at full machine harvesting, so why shouldn’t you?
Exactly. I tell you what, it was a very close run thing too, in the sense that at that time – you’ll recall the Wattie fire? Well that harvester for the … we were actually irrigating about sixty acres of beans out on the farm out here, at the time that fire occurred. And the harvester had just arrived at the bloody place, only a matter of a few weeks before, and we looked out there, and Jean will – you know, verify it – I went out the door to shift the irrigation, and I came back inside and said to Jean “look over here.”
I hope the harvester’s not in there.
Exactly that. Exactly that. As it so happened it didn’t but …
So you had had peas in that …
I had peas prior.
… peas prior in there?
Yeah. And of course that absolutely compounded the work all over the Christmas period – we transferred the grass seed problem into the bloody … Christmas was always just a …
But you also grew quite a lot of beet too didn’t you?
Well, that started just a year or so after that, yes. We went into beet in a big way – well, for ourselves if that makes sense. It was a new crop for Wattie’s. Actually it’s mentioned in those books.
So how many acres of beet did you grow?
Oh we only started off … I think we had about six or seven acres the first year.
That was quite a lot though, ’cause it was close-planted, beet.
Well all we did then – we didn’t know anything about it much – all that we did then was use Planet Juniors, and just spilled it up the row. And then we got a whole heap of Indians from Fiji, that’s right. And they sat on their bums with a knife thinning it out and weeding it out up the row.
Jean: But first – Wattie’s used a harvester first, didn’t they?
Ted: Well in the first instance there was but …
Jean: And they would only harvest about an hour or two a day.
Ted: Anyhow, it wasn’t long before we got – I was once again – you know, totally interested in the mechanical side of the thing, and we imported the bloody harvester from Chisholm – no, FMC – and harvested our own.
‘Course Phil Baines had a harvester too, didn’t he?
That was after, yes. Phil and I used to work together quite a bit.
So at this point then you met Jean?
No, we were already married at that time. We were married in 1958.
Okay, so Jean has been here for most of those growing … of course, you were taking morning tea out to the …
That was prior to our wedding.
Jean: And after our wedding.
So now just to fill – to bring the story up to date, where did you come from? Were you a local person Jean?
Jean: Well originally I came from England.
Are you English?
Yes … south of London. And in 1949 Mum and Dad decided that we would come to New Zealand. They thought that after the War there wasn’t much for us younger ones. At first we were in a boarding house called Shortlands, which is on the Marine Parade, which is part of the Museum now. And it was right next door to what was the Court. And then we got a place … Mum and Dad got a place at Westshore where we lived there, and Dad bought a section in Onekawa and he built our house. And our house was the third house to go up in the whole of Onekawa. And the first house to be built was built by the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board. Anyhow, I worked at various places until I could get a job … what I was trained for was a shorthand typist.
You had left school when you came from England?
Yes. I never went to school in New Zealand. But I went to night school and took shorthand and English, and I worked at Tait’s shoe store; I worked in a hotel; I worked in a bar, until I could get the job that I was trained for and then I went and worked in the Bank – in what was the Union Bank of Australia then. All hand posting. And then I became the manager’s secretary, and then the machines came in and I said “right, I want to learn those”. So I did. Well anyway, on the social side I made several friends obviously and I took up ballroom dancing. And that’s where I met Ted.
I see – you’re a bit of a whizz on the floor?
Ted: No, [chuckle] I was just a – I had two left feet.
Jean: Oh, you were pretty good.
D’you know … it’s amazing – a friend and I, Ken McKeown who you wouldn’t know …
Ted: Yeah, we know Ken.
Jean: Yes, we do.
You knew Ken?
Ted: He used to be out at Lawn Road.
Yeah, well Ken was my closest friend – we grew up together.
He died didn’t he?
He died of Parkinson’s up in …
No, it’s between Whakatane and Tauranga.
Remind me to come back to Ken McKeown.
Jean: And anyhow, I got up to gold in my exams and things, and Ted – he went up to silver. And anyway, then they wanted us to go away for competitions and my parents wouldn’t allow me to go. So what I did was I turned professional and I taught ballroom dancing. And our teacher used to say “well, if I was so many years younger, the only guy that I would have was Ted”. And I thought “gosh, I’m not going to look at him with a ten foot barge pole”. And anyhow, he asked me …
The truth’s coming out now Ted!
… oh, he knows all this. He asked me out to the Mahora School Jubilee ball. And his sister and Greg, her husband …
Ted: That was in 1953.
Jean: … was the first time we ever went out together. But anyway we didn’t go out together again until the following year, and he asked me to go to the Show. And then he took me home to his parents … to his mother … and they made me so welcome. But Ted and I went up on the piano, because too, I had done a bit of acting on the stage and quite a bit of singing. And we had a lot of fun around the piano and whatever-have-you. And then our friendship just blossomed from there. And we were three and a half years together and then we got married in 1958 – February 1958. And Ted said to me “now we get married in October and we go away for a week, or we get in married in February and we can go away for a month.” So I thought ‘right – we’ll get married in February, then we can go down the South Island’. I’d never been to the South Island, and I thought it would be many years before we could ever do that ever again. And that’s what we did. But as the years went on, we found it difficult to even celebrate a wedding anniversary … never mind about preparing for a wedding, because our farming changed. But that was really brilliant.
So then during those years you had how many children?
We had four and the eldest was four and a half when the baby was born. And during that time, bearing in mind I didn’t even have a calculator … there were no computers, no nothing … everything was all done by hand. Our first taste was with beans – of employing people, and I had to keep all of the tallies, and I had to do all the wages. In those days you had to pay them by cash, and so then I worked it all out, and then worked out all the pounds, shillings and pence out; took the cheque to the bank and got all the money; came home; had to put them all in little envelopes; go out to the paddock and they had to sign in the wages book. And then when we came to do tomatoes, and bearing in mind there were about twenty-thirty people who were picking, and the same thing when we came to do tomatoes.
And then it became easier … we were able to pay them by cheque, but they still had to sign a wages book. And then peach time, when we were doing peaches, you know … And I look back and I wonder ‘how did I cope with doing all that, having four small children, feeding the men’ … And I did all the baking, and I made everything that the children wore except for singlets, underpants, socks and ties and shoes.
Okay – I’ll revert back now to Ted.
We started growing beetroot in the first instance. It was a new crop for Wattie’s and it required some development in the sense of – you learnt as you went along, and I think we were probably pre-eminent in the area of growing it in the first instance. I actually imported the first precision planter for it. I was always poring over magazines for this and that in the farming world, and I saw advertised a firm in England called Stanhay, and they were involved in producing a so-called precision planter. And I thought ‘well something’s got to be better than Planet Juniors just spilling down the row.’ And I imported one through … somehow or other – I still don’t know to this day why – but it came through Tourist Kelt – they somehow seemed to be the … Tourist Kelt Farming Corporation in Hastings? And John Blake bought it out here in a box. He said “there it is – I don’t … we don’t know anything about it – it’s up to you we don’t know anything about it, it’s up to you.” [Chuckle] And I believe it was the first one to come into the country.
Yes, that would be right because we used to have to get the Dutchman ..?
Phil used to come and sow our carrots.
Yes, well actually – what happened there was Phil – the original one I bought was a four row one – planted four rows. Because with four rows under the tractor you had to turn round, and your wheel tracks went on one or the other … I thought ‘well I’ll get a six row one, and then I can run the tractor wheels up the centre’, and we could turn straight round and we haven’t got this double … And I actually sold Phil my four row one and I bought the six row one. [Chuckle] That was during the sixties, that happened – more or less – and of course there are a lot more sophisticated ones out now.
But the beetroot in those days was quite a steep learning curve, and I actually spent some time in America on a couple of occasions, and in Australia, looking at the operations over there as to how they handled their crop and how they did it. And I brought back several innovations to the factory here in relationship to beetroot, and we became reasonably pre-eminent in the production of it in the finish. I think actually towards the end of my growing days it was, the Apatus had gone into it in a fair way, and the other two or three growers that were around had sort of … they’d stopped. Then finally, as I say, I think the Apatus basically … very much later years now, Apatus are basically the – I think the only growers.
Just coming back during the growing period – you became very active within the politics of vegetable growing in Hawke’s Bay, and eventually this led to your involvement with the National Group.
Well, yes, well you’re right – we became involved in a political sense in relationship to the negotiations that we used to run with Wattie’s in terms of prices and the conditions and so forth of supply that they would like. Overall we had you know, a comparatively amicable relationship with the factories. Of course there were several factories originally in Hastings. There was Fropacs, there was Birds Eye, there was Wattie’s of course. I think there was another outfit called Zeropac from memory. There were several different processors.
Well they came along …
That’s right, a later one.
Yes. The politics of the growing situation – obviously if you’re interested, I got involved and over the years I moved up you might say, in the rank of who was what in terms of the vegetable growing industry. And I actually went through the Chairs you might say, of the Process Division which was part of VegFed at the time. And then I became the actual Federation President, which incorporated both the process and fresh market vegetables. And I had a fair bit to do with the … you know, this dreaded term of amalgamation of the what was then the Potato … I’ve been trying to think what they called themselves – the main crop potato growers anyhow. It was the early growers who were part of VegFed, but there was the main crop growers who were growers in their own right you might say. And there was several years of quite torturous negotiations went on before they were persuaded to become part of VegFed itself. And even then amalgamation wasn’t all that popular – it was quite an achievement.
Yes, so that obviously was quite rewarding. You probably wondered how you made time for it while you were busy trying to operate the farm.
Well that’s true. But mind you, you know it’s a bit like topsy, these things grow on you as you go along. It’s a bit different today. Much the same sort of situation applies obviously, but I think, for better or for worse, the positions now are such that there’s more of a financial incentive shall we say, to be able to do these things, when in those days it was mostly on yourself. You know you did it yourself and that was that.
Now, obviously you were busy enough growing crops but then you made a foray into Golden Queens.
The Queens actually arrived by inheritance you might say. What happened basically was that my brother who’d taken of the forty-five or the fifty-two acres that had been adjacent to part of the farm – he had decided that he was no longer going to be interested in that, and I negotiated to buy that part of the property from him. And in the meantime he’d planted thirty acres of Queens on it, and so I inherited the Queens. [Chuckle] They lasted there for quite a few years in fact, but as such, that was my introduction to fruit growing.
But you didn’t grow any apples did you?
No, I wasn’t growing any apples at the time although once again I inherited some apples when we bought the property here, which was next door again.
So, when you sort of look back and think you really covered the field with crops from rye grass, potatoes, is there any other crops that…?
Oh, we grew a major quantity of cauliflower here for Wattie’s, also for Wattie’s –we grew probably – in the heyday, four or five years I suppose – we grew probably forty / fifty acres.
Yeah. Huge quantity. The harvesting was the biggest thing, you had to go through them every day … every two or three days … otherwise they‘d go to waste. I don’t know if you remember the Huatas – I used to have them here as a gang walking down the bloody rows and catching cauliflowers. You ought to talk to Jean about it – a bit of a sad story in some ways, in as much as that in the first year or so that we grew … or it might have been the first year that we grew them – I think Wattie’s – no, it wasn’t the first year. Wattie’s decided they didn’t want to handle all the greenery in the factory, they only wanted the curd, and we‘d harvest them then spend the night cutting the bloody curds out and putting … and the ironical part came when in the disposal of the greenery. At that time we had three house cows we were milking these three house cows because we had never had the services of a milkman you see. So I threw these cauliflowers out to the bloody cows. [Chuckle]
It killed them. [Chuckle]
No, it didn’t kill them – not then – there was another aspect to that, but it did kill the milk for a few days.
Well, we got fairly involved in the tomato growing operation, the mechanical harvesting operation with Wattie’s and that got fairly big in that Wattie’s in their wisdom decided that they wanted only a few growers and large areas, which in retrospect as far as we were concerned, was a failure. I don’t know … we weren’t really set up I suppose you could say, with the way the factory wanted tomatoes, and the harvesting operations and the weather factors. And there were several … two or three years in which we had droughts and I think then we got wet weather in the harvest field, and it was a learning curve for both Wattie’s – both for ourselves, and the big growers basically they wanted at the time. It was about the time that Heinz bought the factory, and the atmosphere changed over a period of a few years. And what was a negotiable situation between us and the factory, or between the growers and you know … became harder and harder. And, well we basically gave up the large scale and in the process we developed the nursery that Graham still has, and growing the tomato plants which is a better proposition from our point of view than the actual the bloody crops. And another factor was coming into it and that was the question of the land supply. You couldn’t find … these crops needed fresh land. And we had, over the years – perhaps unknowingly – we gave the ground a hard time.
You mentioned Graham growing plants – so he‘s still actively growing plants.
Yes, he still actively grows all Wattie’s tomato plants. That’s in the greenhouses down the bottom here. Over the years it’s going down in terms of quality. Wattie’s import – a great deal of their production now is imported via paste. Where they use the crop at the present time now is for diced tomatoes and that sort of thing, that they can’t reconstitute out of paste.
So what else can you think of? Obviously when you look back on your growing life Ted, you’ve seen some wonderful changes – you know, tonnages .. you’ve seen the change in chemicals, fertiliser … all sorts of things, you’ve come through a very interesting phase of the growing industry haven’t you?
Well, that’s unquestionable, and the changes are still going on. But the way – nostalgically, the way I look at it is that I think that the best years were in the seventies and the early eighties, when we were dealing with a firm in Hastings that we knew, they knew us, and everything went ahead reasonably smoothly as far as the weather and other factors like that were concerned. And we didn’t have a lot of the problems that they’re involved with today with consents for this and consents for that, and difficulties with – you know – burning for instance, smoke and all this sort of – and the health and safety factors that are so prevalent today. I’m not saying it’s not all important today. but the fact is that in those days we didn’t even appreciate a lot of things that are necessary today, and it just makes it that much harder. And I believe that – from where I sit – I’m not sorry that we’re not in it in that sense now – those were the good days, and the days now are simply dictated by factory requirements and there’s not much deviation in that sense.
So – you’re now working from this home here. How much land is attached to this?
None. Came the mid-nineties, or it might have been before that, I rightly or wrongly decided – we’d been acquiring land, we acquired more round in Evenden Road over the years and so forth, but I decided that if the family were interested they could take over the property so we, in effect divided the farm up between the three boys. And for better or worse … for one reason or another, all three now, apart from Graham’s interest in growing the tomato plants, they have all disposed of their interests – the land and their interests. And all that I’m personally left with is the area – our own house area. And at our age it’s quite enough.
So the Golden Queen block went too?
Yes, yes. Douglas had that but he sold parts of that off bit by bit and that’s all now gone in that respect. And Michael sold the old … we moved here from our own original home so that Michael could take it over with the land that he acquired as far as the property division between the boys was concerned. But that’s now all gone into the park. And frankly, from the way we look at it now, I‘d just as soon see it in the park – I’d rather see it in the park quite frankly, than to see a lot of development going over it, and houses and so forth. Whether that would become or not … it probably would have but it’s now in the park and I don’t think that will ever alter.
Your children – you still have Graham, who grows all the tomato plants.
Well Douglas is now – since he sold the last of his part of what was the farm, he‘s now working for Waterforce. And he’s a very good engineer, and he worked here for a period of time doing some fairly substantial engineering in relationship to irrigation and water for the crops and grapes and so forth.
Graham – his occupation is the nurseryman, growing these plants, and a lot of other plants as well he grows for various other clients. He’s actually growing quite a few trees for – I think … Works Department for putting on the sides of the roads and these sorts of things. And he’s still got a portion of it up there.
Michael – well his area he had was down in the park, and he’s got a job – he’s also an engineer, and he’s doing his engineering with the apple industry basically.
And the daughter, Jane who was the second child, she’s married to an individual in Palmerston North and they’ve got five children. And I think we’ve got about ten or eleven great grandchildren.
So the Hill name still lives on. That’s wonderful. So … you’ve brought your children up, they’ve all flown the nest, they‘re all busy doing their own thing. I notice that you‘re a JP, but you also do …
Jean: I’ve got a Queen’s Honour.
Have you any civic awards?
Ted: No. No, not to my knowledge. [Chuckle]
So Jean, you are a JP plus you‘re a marriage celebrant?
Jean: Yes, yes.
Over the years I know that you worked very, very hard for a political party …
… very, very hard – we all did.
And we had a lot of fun doing it. Well, towards the end, yes – but still.
So anyway, obviously you’re still involved. Were you on the hospital ..?
Yes, I was on the Hospital Board.
Can you just develop some of those things, ‘cause that really makes the family.
Well, during the time that the family were growing up I was able, and Ted encouraged me, to continue my acting and singing which I thoroughly enjoyed. And then I’ve been very involved in the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers and got life awards and all the rest of the drama, and really concentrated on health, education and law. And then I was made a JP, and I was invited to take exams to be able to sit on the Bench, which I did for about twelve years which I thoroughly enjoyed. Felt very sorry for … some aspects but I did enjoy my time on there. But I’ve been retired because I’ve passed the age.
And I’m a marriage celebrant and I’ve done a number of weddings and – I wouldn’t like to say how many I’ve done – been doing it since ‘89. And we have weddings in our garden, only unfortunately when some of my prospective clients see my garden [chuckle] … “please can we come and have our photos taken after the ceremony” … so that’s what they do.
And I’m also involved in a smaller way in mental health, but I’ve wound down a lot to what I did do. And last year I joined a group Bell Chimes and we go out giving concerts to different organisations and I thoroughly enjoy that. But, all through that – yes, for our farming operation and whatever I’ve always kept the books. And I’m not an accountant so the accountant finishes those off. [Chuckle] We’ve been married for fifty-seven years, and on the whole we have had a very happy marriage.
Well, you’ve both been great contributors to the community … as a grower, and as a wife – mother, and your input in various organisations. And you know that really is a very balanced life isn’t it?
You wonder how you ever had time to do it but they say if you’ve got something to do find a busy person and ask them, [chuckles] ’cause they’ll do it.
Yes, well Ted was involved in the Scouts and used to go away with Scout groups in one form or another, and I was involved in the Scouts too. And in our earlier years we were involved in the Hawke’s Bay Car Club, and we gave that up because it was too stressful when you’ve got little children, and it wasn’t fair to be hawking them around, and so we gave that up.
Ted: We managed to do a bit of jet boating … a bit of white water rafting over the years. [Speaking together]
Jean: Well Ted’s done a lot of rafting. I’ve only done two or three trips, but he has done some quite heavy grade rafting, he’s even been down the South Island and done it. But they did jet boating for about eight-ten years, and while I was never involved in driving or anything, I was involved in organising. And way back, there used to be ten or twelve jet boats which would leave from Hawke’s Bay here, and I used to do all the organising for all the motels and everything all the way around. [Chuckle] And in those days – gosh! The poor beggars you know – there was no talk of wetsuits or anything in those days and they just had to wear ordinary clothes.
We were tough.
Yes, but my challenge was to get them dry for the next day.
Yes, I can imagine. [Speaking together]
And in those days even motels didn’t have laundries and that sort of thing and it was very difficult getting things dry. And I remember over on the West Coast, we only had a [speaking together] …
Ted: Wasn’t much point in getting them dry ’cause they only got wet again the moment you went out.
Jean: … a potbelly stove, you know. Yes, but they had to be dry and warm when they first started. But then as the years went on of course they had wetsuits so it didn’t involve a lot of drying.
Ted: The whole scene though has changed now – it’s got a lot more … obviously a lot more safety orientated, and it’s got a lot more – there’s a lot more form filling in. You can’t just go where you want to go or you’d know our brown brothers have a major say as to whether this is available or that’s available.
Jean: But all the same, when we were doing the jet boating we had a lot of fun and we met a lot of lovely people. We even went to Canada one time. And – no, it was good.
Well, one final question – did you ever border onto the Ballantyne property?
There was always a property between you?
Ted: Oh, quite a lot.
Ted: Quite a long way between Lyndhurst Road and the Ballantyne area. Yeah, oh yes.
But didn’t the Ballantyne property come …
It came quite a way up, but it never came past – to my memory, it never came past Ikanui Road.
Jean: No, it didn’t.
Ted: There was always the other orchards that were in there, or a lot of orchards. Stoneycroft came up I think as far as Ikanui Road but…
Jean: Well Bixleys’ orchard …
Ted: Oh there was [were] several … when you come down to Arbuckle Road and Ikanui Road, there was a lot of … one of my uncles was the George Lowe orchard there, which is now on the corner of the new road and the roundabout where Nottingley Road … that was another uncle – Reuben Lowe actually ran that orchard for a while. He leased it there from his uncle, or the uncle’s family. They were dead then, but there was – as I say, there were all those orchards and small holdings all the way through there.
I didn’t realise all you people were related.
Jean: Oh yes,
I could have put my foot in it. [Laughter]
Ted: I was going to actually mention going to the school. The Mardon household was the one round the corner here where all the cars …
Jean: All those cars that are there now.
Now, something Ted didn’t tell you – when he was a little fellow, he would leave his home properly attired, with a raincoat and shoes and socks. And at the Mardon household down there – ‘cause that was mother’s sister’s home – he used to take his shoes and socks and raincoat and stuff them in the hedge and pick them up on the way home.
No wonder he didn’t need dry clothes when he was jet boating.
[Recording interrupted – recommences with discussion about Cyclone Bola and harder economic times in the eighties.]
There was the … Bola and all the other rubbish that came along, and interest rates soared and production went down. There were a lot of farmers who were really in a distress situation, and a lot of them were suicidal. And in fact some of them actually committed suicide. Now, there was one particular bank that was the first to put them into liquidation, and that would be the ANZ. And the other banks were … little more tolerant. And the different co-ordinators that we worked with – we were very careful who we selected, because they not only had to have some farming background of one sort or another, but they had to have empathy with people, because farmers by their nature are very isolated people and clam up and say “everything’s fine.” So if you had a person who you felt that you could talk to and trust, they could open up and you could help them. And we did … we’ve helped a lot of farmers. [Refers to organisation which assisted the farming community]
Ted: What was his name, the guy …
Jean: Then we had another one. Then it got changed again, and after about fourteen years – well it just … as far as the old committee was concerned, we just got disbanded.
Ted: We thought that in the earlier eighties and the seventies – they were the good old days.
Max Mouat who bought my orchard, said that when they bought Mangarapa Station … and his brother … they had no money at all. They just went out there with a couple of bulldozers and a lot of hope, and he said they struck the 1951 wool boom. He said … “timing.”
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper
Supporters and sponsors
We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.