Evelyn Foster Interview
Today is 13th November 2017. I’m interviewing Evelyn Foster of Ahuriri. We’re sitting in the house that she’s lived in for most of her life. Evelyn, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family?
Yes. My mother, Evelyn Round, came out from England, from North Ormsby, Middlesbrough on the ship ‘Athenic’ – departure date was 29th June 1922. Now she didn’t know anybody but decided to come to New Zealand on her own. Shortly after that her sister, Lilian Round, came out in 1924. She left on the ‘Tainui’, and then two years later the other sister, Mrs Phoebe Fenn, and her husband Bill and daughter Evelyn came out in April 1924, which was three months after her sister. She came on the ‘Rotorua’, then after that the grandparents came out, and the three girls had already come – they came too.
Any relation to the Rounds that used to be in Hastings? They had a garage.
I think there is a connection. I think it might have been over there when I was looking up something, we found another Round, the same name as my grandparents. [Speaking together]
Two brothers – Les and Fred.
Yeah – I knew Les.
They came to Napier …
To Napier Port?
And they settled here?
Yes. And my mother bought this house before she was married, and my grandparents lived in it until Mum got married, and then they moved down to 128 – my grandparents did – and then Mum and Dad lived here.
I was born in Upper Hutt in 1930, and they moved up here … I’m not quite sure, but I was just a tot coming up here … and we lived at 128A for a little while, while this house … I think somebody was renting it.
So what did your father do, Evelyn?
My father was a seaman, and he came from the Shetland Islands … Lerwick, Shetland Islands. He came from Ollaberry, and he was a seaman who worked on ships that came out here, and then after he came to New Zealand he transferred to coastal ships. He was working on the coastal ships when he met my mum.
Do you know which line he was working for?
I have got it somewhere. [Speaking together] Might be New Zealand Shipping, I’m not sure.
He came out to local shipping …
So then you were born – how many sisters and brothers ..?
No brothers or sisters – just me. I understand there was another child that didn’t survive.
Yes. And so you grew up in Ahuriri …
… and went to Port School?
To the Port School, yes.
Until you matriculated, and then did you go to ..?
Then I went to the Intermediate School, and then Girls’ High School.
The Girls’ High – could you go over the hill from here to it?
Yes. That road was not closed off then. Waghorne Street went straight up to Shakespeare Road.
And my dad came out on a ship … which I can find out … and it was the ship that brought the elephant Jamuna to the Auckland Zoo, and I have got the documents of that, and a photo there. And then Dad moved on to coastal ships then.
And did you play any sport when you were at primary or intermediate?
No, I didn’t – I was a busy girl. I was very fortunate I was taught Highland Dancing, which was very big sport in the community round here. And I was also taught piano, singing and violin.
I didn’t realise this area … a lot of Scottish people.
A lot of fisher folk. There were Italians – a lot of Italians … Picones and DeStefanos and several Italian families … and a lot of Scottish and Shetland Islanders, which – a lot of them were fisher folk as well. The next-door neighbour … George Smith used to live there, and he was a fisherman. I used to be fascinated watching him making his nets, and his hand with his shuttle on was weaving backwards and forwards fast as could be – this huge big fishing net. ’Course there was no mechanically done ones in those days, everything had to be done by hand.
So once you went off to Napier Girls’ High – how many years did you go there?
And when you left there you went to work?
I went to work at Ellison & Duncan, which was down the bottom of Waghorne Street.
They were importers and Ships’ Chandlers?
It was a name that was well-known, but it’s sort of disappeared, these days.
Yeah – the façade of it is still down the end of Waghorne Street, but it’s just the façade of the building. And it was general merchants, and they had been there a long time, in the 1800s.
Were you in Napier when the earthquake was ..?
So then you worked?
Then I worked at Ellison & Duncan, and then I … well, I got married while I was there.
Now how did you meet your husband, and where did he come from?
He worked for Napier-Wellington Transport – he was a driver, and they used to pick up stuff from the rail and deliver it. And they sometimes … they started doing the long trips to Wellington at night time, and then – they had only one man doing it and unfortunately he fell asleep, and he hit a tree in Georges Drive. Didn’t hurt himself – well, not badly. So they decided they would have a man going down one week … one night … coming back the next, but they would swap trucks at Palmerston North. Yes, I remember him saying he had a very trying time driving to … going to Palmerston, going through the gorge …
‘Cause the roads weren’t that good those days, were they?
No, no – hardly any street lights. And he’d get halfway through the gorge and there was a slip, and he had to back all the way out because he couldn’t get any further – nowhere to turn with a great big loaded truck. So that was very trying.
So you got married – your husband’s name was ..?
John. But then we moved to Wairoa and he worked … general work I think, at the Brick Works, for a while there. And we moved back to Napier and he did driving round Napier to help build the Hohepa Home, out at Fryers Road. And we lived there with … Sir Lew Harris’ property – it was his property there, he built that Home out there.
And then we moved into town and we had a house – we were in Hillary Crescent in Maraenui, which was a very new suburb, and very, very nice – nice shops – very nice. And then they built the multi … houses that held I think, too many people in too small an area, and then it became not so nice, over there.
Then at some stage you must have moved back to here?
Oh, well I moved back here when my mother died and left me the house. She was eighty-seven. My dad was eighty-six – he died on his eighty-sixth birthday, which was sad. He was a healthy man, but he’d been cutting firewood in the back yard and his appendix burst, and he didn’t get immediate help … wee bit “I’m all right, I’m all right”. Next day – I think it was about the next day by the time he got the doctor – well, the poison had spread.
After Ellison and Duncan ..?
I didn’t work a while, because I had my daughter, and then I had my son.
What are their names, and their ages?
Lyn … Lynette Joan – she’s Lyn Joan Fryer now, and Steven Robert Foster. He’s an auto-electrician.
And do they live round here, Evelyn?
He lives in Hastings, and my daughter lives at Marewa.
What about grandchildren?
I’ve got two grandchildren from my daughter …
What are their names and ages?
David James Ferguson and Geoffrey Ferguson – I might have got that middle name wrong, but it’s David and Geoffrey Ferguson. And Stephen had two boys as well, Matthew and Bryce.
What age would they be now, then?
All in their … ‘bout forties.
Yeah. [Chuckle] And they’re at four corners – one’s in Wellington, one’s in Auckland, one’s in Australia, and one’s in London, so we don’t see much of them, which is unfortunate.
So any great-grandchildren?
No, not yet. Keeping fingers crossed and hoping, but I shouldn’t hold my breath I don’t think.
Well David went over with a band – they won the Battle of the Bands there – his band, that he was in – guitars and drums. And he’s done very well, enjoys his … plays his music and he’s done very well. And he’s got recording studios in London and he’s done very well playing – they have gigs and …
Does he play the sort of music you enjoy?
Some of them, yes, some of them. Some of it’s a bit harsh. [Chuckle]
When you said you did Highland Dancing, there must have been a pipe band there?
Yes, there was.
Port of Ahuriri Pipe Band.
Port of Ahuriri Pipe Band. Yes, it was very much community in those days. Well nobody had TVs and you were lucky if you had a radio.
Well it was really segregated from the rest of Napier, you had that great big hill between you.
And people didn’t have cars.
And of course the river used to come around in front of Marewa, and of course this was the oldest part of Napier, wasn’t it?
That’s right …
This is where …
… it all happened.
Yes. Well of course it wasn’t fashionable to live at Westshore or the Port years ago. And it was isolated because nobody had a car – or I mean only one or two rich people had cars, and everybody walked or got the bus, or rode a bike wherever they went.
When people chose their bride or bridegroom, they either worked with them or was in a day’s horse-riding of where they lived.
Yes. Yes, well my mum when she came out, she worked at the Crown Hotel. And … ‘course in those days when you got a job you got it where you had your accommodation, so it was good. And she met my dad at Ahuriri here.
‘Cause when you think back, a girl on her own coming out on the ship – that would have been pretty traumatic.
Yeah, well she was twenty-five when she came out.
Yes. Did she say anything about the trip out?
Not a lot, no.
When your children grew, then you went back to work again?
I did. My children were old enough … I didn’t work full-time, I worked ‘til … say half past four, which meant that they were only at home for about an hour before I came home. But one was at high school, and the other one was almost at high school in those days.
Did they play any sports at all?
No, my daughter did Highland Dancing, and she went right through and got her teacher’s certificate – she did very well. My son – no, he didn’t play sports but he was always interested in cars, and that’s the only thing he wanted to do, was be an auto electrician, which is what he did.
In Hastings we had the Sparks family who were Highland dancers.
Yep – I remember those.
The father was a piper. There was Julie Sparks and Marcia. Ken was the father – he used to run Greater Hastings and the Highland Games.
Yes, that’s right. Yes, well there used to be a family lived round the corner in Hardinge Road – the Young family. Now – they were … pipe major and the drum major and pipers and drummers … all – the whole family, you know, were into music, Scottish music
When you started working again, semi-part time – it was almost full-time, wasn’t it?
Well it was.
Where was that?
That was at Martin Printing Company in Onekawa.
And you drove a car?
I did, yes. I had a Mini. [Chuckle]
You said you sang … did singing – did you ever go in any of the shows, like the Frivs?
Yes, I was in the Frivs for a number of years. Been the President, I’ve been on stage, I’ve been the wardrobe mistress – you name a job at the Frivs …
The Frivs used to come to Havelock once a year – Wally Ireland, Vic Viggers …
[?Ivy Napothum?] They were characters, weren’t they?
And they were elderly those days, when we were kids.
‘Course anybody’s old when you’re a kid. [Chuckle]
We have just printed all the Frivs’ …
Someone in Hastings had every one, and they are going to go online.
So you were President of …
I started out as a wardrobe mistress, and the lady who was the musical lady and that, was Edith Ferguson … my daughter married her son. Now the two boys were both on stage in the Frivs, both their parents were on stage in the Frivs, and both the grandmothers were in the Frivs.
It was a family affair.
As soon as they go online I must give you a ring so your kids can bring a computer along and let you have a look at them.
Havelock and Napier didn’t really come together.
They were there, and they were there.
When I went to Napier Boys’ High it was like that. My kids wanted to go to Napier Boys’ but I said no, they had to go to a mixed school.
Well my two children went to Colenso, and that’s a mixed school. I said to my daughter, “you can go to the Girls’ High if you wish”. But we lived round the corner from Colenso, so there was no point, and her friends were at Colenso anyway.
So have you travelled at all?
I’ve been very fortunate – yes, I have. Once I grew up and settled, and retired and finished working, I joined … well I might have still been there when I worked … I joined Barber Shop Chorus, the ladies’ Sweet Adeline’s Group. Now that is a very worldwide organisation, and I was with them for twenty-three years and I became the baritone section leader of our chorus. We had a wonderful time – we had such … [speaking together]
Was that in Napier?
Hastings actually, it was started by Dorothy Bisley. And then the two Napier and Hastings Choruses combined and formed Hawke’s Bay Chorus.
Did you ever know Edith McGiven?
She used to sing with the Group.
I know the name, yes.
Yes, and I’ve seen photos of when you went away to these various places. So you found your musical ability was hanging around in the background all the time, wasn’t it?
Yeah. Well, when I stopped working I think, outside, I taught singing here, from home. I had young children. And I always enjoyed singing, and I was with the Chorus twenty-three years, so it’s a long time and a lot of fun. And we’re still friends, a lot of the girls. ‘Cause I was still in them four years ago when I had the stroke, and then I couldn’t stand for very long then.
Did you travel anywhere overseas?
Yes, I went … with the Chorus.
Well, not as a Chorus. Eight or nine of us from Napier and Hastings joined up with the Christchurch Chorus and we went to New Orleans. And while … there was the fiftieth jubilee of the Barbershop Chorus, and we went to New Orleans. And while we were over that way, us nine, we went to New York, Niagara Falls – some of us went to Vancouver and some went to San Francisco, and we came back through Los Angeles and Hawaii, and back home. We had a ball – it was absolutely wonderful.
Oh, that would have been wonderful. Oh, so there was a payoff for …
… all the hard work.
Well we did very well too, and we sang that lovely old song – the Maori song ‘Poi E’ – so we got a standing ovation. We had one girl with the long poi and two girls with the short poi, and we had people doing stick games at the front of the stage, and we got a standing ovation from the audience.
It makes the hair stand up on the back of your head …
That’s right. It was very well done. But Virginia Humphrey-Taylor’s the leader of the Christchurch Chorus – she really knows what she’s doing – she’s very, very good.
So then, having been in the musical side of the community you would have noticed a lot of changes over time. The Frivs of course, they’re not the same as they …
They’re not the same as they were – they’re still struggling on, I’m still on the committee.
And you’ve got the Tabard Theatre that’s very professional.
We’ve got the Hastings Musical Comedy Company … the rooms they have are not really suitable for a …
Well they’ve joined up with the other one, didn’t they?
And it isn’t ideal, but I mean you have to do what you have to do.
You do. What other changes have you noticed – you must have noticed a lot of changes over on this side where all the beautiful old homes …
Yeah, all the …
…fronting the sea … [speaking together]
… character houses – they’ve pulled them down and put flash ones on.
… have either been altered or gone. Yes, yes. The biggest, I think, move was the conversion of all the woolstores into …
Flash offices and things.
Yeah. Well you go down at the weekend – you can’t get a park anywhere.
So what other things can you think about that we haven’t covered?
I don’t know. As far as my life was concerned I was pretty busy with the singing and the dancing. And I used to go in the competitions, and Mum would take me away to dancing competitions in the country – down to Onga Onga, and we’d go to Wellington and Gisborne and Auckland.
Trouble is with being in competitions and stage shows, nobody sees the practise that goes on, every night …
Every day was practise time.
… until you had it perfect.
Yeah. But it widens your horizon for a lot of things, and it gives you an appreciation of the music and everything like that. In fact it sometimes spoils it for your listening, because your ear picks up things that some people might not want to be heard. [Chuckle]
So obviously you’ve got good sight, and you’ve got good hearing …
I’ve been very lucky … very fortunate.
… and you’ve got a wonderful memory as well. ‘Cause I deal with a lot of people now who’ve got macular degeneration; they can’t hear me; and some of them – their minds have gone.
Yes, it’s very sad, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s sad for the families …
It is very sad. Well I go to a … ‘cause I had a stroke in – 21st September 2013 – and I got out of bed and I wasn’t feeling very good and my legs didn’t want to go, and I slid down the wall and sat there. And I couldn’t reach the phone. And I was there from eight in the morning ‘til … a friend called by chance about half past twelve or one o’clock, but I couldn’t get up to let her in – I had to talk to her through the door. And she couldn’t get in because the gate was bolted, so I got her to go next door, and the man next door jumped the fence and got in – opened the gate. It was very lucky. But I’ve been fortunate, but you do have to make the most of what you have got. Because I go to a day programme, and there are people there that … you know, you think … they’re far worse off, and you think ‘oh, those poor things’. You have to make the most of what you’ve got.
So it doesn’t look as if you’re going to move to a Rest Home?
Well, hopefully not – we’ll just see what the future brings. You don’t know, do you?
No. And I suppose you’re within walking distance of the shops if you need to go.
If I really had to. But fortunately I’ve got a car now, but when I was a child you see, nobody had cars, or we didn’t have cars. We certainly didn’t have a telephone. I fell in the back yard and broke my arm badly – they had to run down to the nearest shop to get someone to get a taxi to take me to the hospital. But I don’t know how the kids of these days would get on if they didn’t have a telephone, because everybody depends on it. [Speaking together]
Look – it’s part of their hands.
I was talking to a lady and she said she visited her family, and she said they were all on their phones and nobody said anything. So she said … after about an hour, she said “well I’m going home”. Sad isn’t it? But they just … don’t mean to do that, but they just do it.
It is. I know, I know. Okay, well I think we’ve probably covered everything. Just one thing – do you ever go swimming in the sea, over the years?
Not now. I used to, I grew up on the beach virtually. I used to love going fossicking in the rockpools for starfish and crabs, and all sorts of things. And tiddlers, and fish. But the man that used to live across the road, a Mr [?Cavanagh?], he built a rockpool out the front here, and everybody used to come down to Cavanagh’s pool. It was about twenty-five yards across, and he shifted all the rocks and made it all out of the natural rocks that were there. And it was about fifty yards out towards the sea, and there was a channel at the back for the tide to come in and out and it was six feet deep at the back, but right outside. And it was very safe. I mean even if you got into difficulties, you had to struggle along and get to the rocks – you could soon get out.
I think we’ve probably pretty well covered everything haven’t we?
Well, I think so.
Thank you for sharing it with us.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper