Ewan William McGregor Interview

Today is the 13 January, 2016. I’m recording the life and times of the McGregor family, and I’m currently interviewing Ewan. Ewan would you like to just tell us where it all started.

Okay. I was born on the 2 May, 1945. It was the day that the world learnt that Adolf Hitler had killed himself, and it’s at the very end of the war in Europe. And my mother was in McHardy Home hearing the sirens celebrating VE Day.

We are a Napier family. My mother’s father, she claimed, was either the first or second man born in Napier – it was Ahuriri at that time – it wasn’t much. This is in 1858. His father came as a soldier with the 65th Regiment. And on her maternal side her grandfather also immigrated to Napier in the 1850s, and so she was a Napier family from the very start and she was very proud of it too.

My father’s family emigrated from Glasgow. The McGregors had been thrown off the Highlands in the Highland clearances. And they were a warring clan, and they were outlawed. And his ancestors cleared the Highlands to Glasgow and his family emigrated to New Zealand in the 1870s, so they weren’t that early. And they emigrated to Dunedin as was often the case with the Scots. And then when the gold, and to a large extent the prosperity, ran out in Otago they did a second emigration which was quite common at the time of the First World War, and they emigrated to Napier because Hawke’s Bay was offering much greater prospects.

My mother’s grandfather bought a section at Milton Terrace on the north side of the Napier hill in 1870 and built a house there, and a part of the section – not the homestead – but it was a large section my mother inherited. And to cut a long story short her bachelor brother built a cottage there in 1950. And my parents bought him out and so that remained in Mum’s family, and it was leased. And then when Robert got married he inherited it, and he lived there until this year … he died, and he’s left it to his daughter who lives in Wellington, and intended to retire there. And she’s got children, so it’s been in our family since 1870 and he’s got the title deed hanging on the wall. So there could be in my mother’s family, her name was Yates, for two more generations to come. I don’t think there’d be a house and section in urban Hawke’s Bay that’s been in one family for quite so long. We’re quite proud of that.

I never realised that Robert was your brother. I didn’t realise your association with Napier, the hill, and obviously you went to Napier Boys’ High?

That’s right, we’ll come to that. Yeah well, my brother – his claim to fame was he was that he was ‘Mr Art Deco’, and he drove the Art Deco movement. And I said when I was giving my eulogy at his funeral I said how our mother had loved Napier. She died in 1959, and she loved Napier. She wouldn’t have known what Art Deco meant, but she would have been hugely proud of what he’s done and of Napier today, because that was her life really ’til she came to the farm.

So anyway my first memories – in the late 1940s Dad came back from the war ten months before I was born so that was good timing. My parents were forty when I was born, and Dad had been in the Territorials since 1920 – he was a lieutenant at that stage, and when war broke out in 1940 he was thirty-seven, and he was determined to go away. And I can understand that even though he didn’t have to. At that stage actually they didn’t live at Milton Terrace. When they got married in 1937 he bought a small dairy farm at Greenmeadows, and their little cottage – which was before my time but they used to point it out to me – where they lived, was right where the roundabout is where Prebensen Drive joins Church Road. Anyway – sold that because Mum couldn’t look after it. She had … Robert was just a baby really, so she went back to live with her mother on the Napier hill when Dad went into the Army and spent most of the war there, but he was discharged when they disbanded the 3rd Division in the Pacific in 1944, and came back.

He took a job as secretary of Farm Rehabilitation for Hawke’s Bay, and Farm Rehabilitation – I’ll talk about this bit later on – was a huge thing after the war. So he had quite a good job there, and … just remember him going to work as a bureaucrat, you might say. But nevertheless, he qualified for the ballot because he’d done his overseas service and he’d had experience as a farmer. I don’t know how many ballots he went in for, I never asked him unfortunately. But anyway, in 1949 he drew a ballot here for Hautope, and the Hautope block was bare land that had been acquired by the Government – mostly part of Tamamu Station, but there was also some of Tiffens’, and it was big enough to settle eight farmers.

Now what happened was that the first four came here in 1949 and they worked as shepherds, because there wasn’t even a road in at that stage. And they had a cluster of army huts where the first settlement was going to be. And after about eight months they pressured the Government to allocate their blocks, so they knew they were going to get a block, and they knew what the blocks were going to be, but they weren’t specifically allocated to the four. They had a second ballot to allocate the blocks and Dad got the block where we are now … where I am … and they shifted his one-man army hut to this site.

My father was in quite a different category I guess, than the other three, but then soon after the next four were settled, so there were eight. And Dad was quite a different category. He was at least fifteen years older than the next oldest. The other seven went into the army as very young men and came back, got married and had young families, so Dad was much, much older and he was a townie essentially at that stage. The others had gone to work on farms to get their experience. Robert and I were a little bit older than the other kids – not so much me. There were twenty-eight kids in Hautope when they stopped breeding. [Chuckle] Twenty-eight, and two Catholic families – they provided half of them, and then the rest of us.

Now I’m jumping ahead a little bit. So anyway Dad came here – his army hut was out where the cattle stop was, – one-man army hut. No power, and I remember them when they used to come up and stay in the holidays when I was a little fellow, and I remember them putting in their own telephone line. By that stage, by 1952, the eight were here, and I remember they put in their own telephone line. We had a party line – eight of us on it. You always remember your ring – we were 301S, and when our ring went up you’d dive for the telephone. You knew exactly … [Chuckle]

Who did Tamamu Station belong to?

Goring-Johnston. They weren’t the original settlers but the early settler was a man named [?Tucker?] Tamamu. Tamamu went from the Mangaroa stream which enters the Tukituki a couple of kilometres above Patangata … went from there to the Omakere Hall. It was about twenty thousand acres – that was not unusual for properties at that stage.

McCollins had wild dogs he said drove his flock over a cliff, and he failed, but that was very early in the piece, and it was acquired by the Goring-Johnston family who were well established and had other farming interests and also were notable in the judiciary too, between the wars. One of New Zealand’s leading judge [judges] was Judge Johnston and that was a member of the Goring-Johnston family.

I should explain that this part of Tamamu Station had been passed over to the then owner’s son, Willie Goring-Johnston, who was also well into his thirties – bit of a hangman, never got married, and [?] a farmer’s block here by living in the Patangata Hotel here, right across the river, [chuckle] going round the sheep every now and again. Always seemed to be getting into trouble. Anyway, he went away to the war at the start. And he was good friends with Jack Logan – bit younger but still, at the bottom of the hill – farmed there. Nice fellow, Jack Logan. And he left Jack his two most valuable possessions which gives an indication of his lifestyle – his polo sticks and his shot gun. And Jack said to him “Billy, don’t worry, they’ll be here – I’ll look after them – they’ll be here when you come back”, and Willie said “I won’t be coming back”, and he didn’t. He fell in the Crusader campaign in late 1941. But he indicated that if he didn’t return he wanted his land made available for rehab for settling soldiers. And I’m always very conscious of this, that his death in the war is why we’re here, you know, we’ve never forgotten that that was a memory or an acknowledgement that I make to a fallen soldier. But the Government acquired more from the Goring-Johnston family, and Tiffen family as I’ve said, to make up the block. It was big enough to settle eight.

So anyway, I remember coming here probably about 1950. The army hut had just been moved here I think, and we had to leave his car at the crossroads because it wasn’t metalled. This was the very start, and I remember as if it was yesterday, trotting in behind Dad – because it’d been raining you see, there was no metal on the road – couldn’t come in the car. Wasn’t any road fences, he didn’t even have his sheep yards, let alone a wool shed and house and everything like that.

It’d be a couple of kilometres from the fork in the road would it? Into here?

No, one kilometre to here. But our farm then extends …

Yes, but I mean it seems like 2 kilometres even on a shingle road.

Oh yeah. [Chuckle] Yeah, so we didn’t get the power ’til 1956, so that was a great day. So my mother all her adult life lived on the Napier hill, or for that brief period at Greenmeadows – they all had power and water and shops very close – so it was a tremendous change for her. So I take my hat off, because she was not a young woman at that stage. And Dad too – I mean when Dad came here as a farmer starting under these pioneering conditions he was forty-five, so I take my hat off to them.

I just want to go back and just talk about my memory of going shopping with my mother from Milton Terrace in Napier. This was the time of course when the man – the husband – worked in town or had a job, or whatever it was and the wife didn’t have an outside job, they had to look after the home – no automatic washing machines and all that sort of thing in those days. And she would go to town on the Hospital Hill bus which was a red Ford V8, and still when I hear the sound of the vintage Ford V8 with a flat top V8 engine and that rhythm – you know, zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom-zoom …

Yes, uneven beat.

Yeah, yeah. Anyway … reminds me of going shopping with Mum in the Hospital Hill bus, and we used to go down there into the middle of Napier. Napier’s population was twenty thousand, because I can recall in 1950 standing watching the processions celebrating Napier becoming a city. We would go to Haynes’ Butchers’ shop in Hastings Street which I think was probably the biggest butcher’s shop in Hawke’s Bay. And it was a big ‘U’ shape, sawdust on the floor, half a dozen butchers and all the sides of lamb and mutton, and quarter of beef and sausages and that, were all hanging on a rail with a hook. And she probably had her favourite butcher, and she’d want some chops and he’d find the appropriate mutton or lamb and bring it round on the rail, and then chop it up to her specifications.

And then we would go to Marsden’s book shop – Marsden wrote a book after the earthquake, bit of a quaint little book, I’ve got it – selling books and magazines in Napier, and we’d pick up the Auckland Weekly and the Freelance – they were all bundled up with our name on it. Most people got the Auckland Weekly and Freelance – you’ll remember them – every week they came out, and you learnt about everything that was going on.

Then we would go to Reading’s, the pastry cook, and we’d buy something nice and go to Loo Kee, the greengrocer, and then she’d hop on the bus and go back home again [chuckle] with great baskets full of food, you know. So that was a great memory I had.

Just on that theme, when we came to Hautope of course, Waipawa and Waipukurau … depending on the shopping you had to go to Waipukurau too, because because Dad was a Dalgety’s client and Dalgety’s – apart from Williams & Kettle – all the other stock farms were based in Waipukurau, and Williams & Kettle was too, but they had a very big branch in Waipawa. And there again, the shops down each side of the main roads including Waipawa main street, were family-owned businesses. The husband would run the business, the shops there were a bit smaller of course, and believe it or not they provided … raised a family on the income from those businesses. Waipawa had two butcher’s shops, two book shops, womenswear, menswear, chemists, a whole lot down each side of the main street – all family-owned. And now the butcher’s shop’s the only survivor really. How things have changed. There were no supermarkets then. The only ones that were a bit bigger were the stock firms, and of course I’ve been writing this book on W&K and it’s made me think a lot about the role of the stock firms in those days because they’ve virtually gone now, completely. But you could get everything from the stock … ran a grocery department, W&K had crockery and all hardware. Hawke’s Bay Farmers in Waipukurau had men’s outfitters, and they had weekly delivery out in the country. And of course they had a great paternalistic relationship with the farmer. It was a unique form of commerce – I won’t go into that – I put it in the book anyway. It was a unique form of commerce where big transactions took place on nothing more than the shake of a hand. And I’ve asked old stock agents “how many of those were reneged on?” “Never”, never once – it was all done on trust. And then of course the farmer’s wife would buy groceries and what-have-you from those firms too, they were big, and they were very important.

It was a one stop shop.

Absolutely, yeah, yeah.

Did you start school in Napier?

Okay. Dad had his army hut here, and of course the other families … we had a home in town which put us in a different category. The other families – they had two or three army huts pushed together to start with, because the whole family lived there. But Dad was on his own. This went on for three and a half years, and the reason was – they didn’t know it was going to go on for three and a half years – but there was a chronic shortage of building material – and so building this house … we’ve added to it substantially, it was just a state house to start with. But we had to wait, and I can remember Dad saying to Mum “oh, there’s been another delay in the house being built”. “Oh no, not another one”. It went on for year after year.

So we arrived here, I remember it very clearly, we got Mahoney’s trucks from Napier, two Chev trucks – I can remember them … put all our household effects on them and down we came to the new house … it was like a palace to us, and that was two days before Christmas 1952. So I’d gone to the primers at Central School, and now my first year at Waipawa School was 1953 and I was in Standard 1. And it was a different contra here … just want to comment on this too. Napier hill was not an exclusive suburb but it was a bit more socially affluent than Napier South or Ahuriri, and they had schools down there. So Central School – most of the children would have been … their father would have been a businessman or professional person or something like that. I can’t remember any Maoris being at the school … don’t think there was any workers’ children or poor kids.

Came to Waipawa, and this was something to really celebrate. It had a complete cross-section – Maori children from across Te Paru Pa, and fine Maori families they were too – workers’ kids, and some of them were pretty damn poor too. And of the two Anglican homes up on the Napier hill, there were the Home kids – they were always the Home kids, even if they are my age now. He was a Home kid or she was a Home kid. We were all mixed up, and there was [were] kids in the class – there was a doctor’s son, a dentist’s son, a lawyer’s son and a grocer’s daughter and other business people, and four of us kids were farmer’s two sons and two daughters. And we were in a bit of a category – I sensed that even though we were pretty modest farmers, that didn’t matter, we were farmer’s sons, and farming was top of the social heap in those days. And also of course, we were quite distinctive in that we all went to school in the school bus. Two from this side and two from the other side. And immediately after school we would have to say goodbye to the kids and hop …

Back on the bus.

on the bus, yeah. Well in our case you did have a late bus, so I could sometimes stay but my parents had to pay 1/6d for me to come home on the late bus [chuckle] so I was discouraged from it.

But I loved my time at … we had a great class too, and we still meet – about two months ago we had a class reunion because we turned seventy. Every ten years we have a big class reunion, but we meet between that too. But we have a big one, and we met down here under the trees here – we had a great time – there was twenty-two turned up. Some have died unfortunately, and some are overseas, and otherwise they couldn’t come. But we had a good turnout with the spouses too, and we just had a great time. We just loved it. It’s a wonderful thing that here we are … 1958 … we call ourselves the ‘Class of ’58’ because that’s was my Standard 6. And because we were such a good class the teacher took us to Christchurch for a week at the end of 1958, which was a big adventure for us kids ’cause we’d never been to the South Island before, and we went down on the ferry and that. So I loved my time at the Waipawa School. It really meant a lot to me and I’ve maintained friendships there that I keep to this day.

Were any of the teachers Bibbys?

Athol Bibby? No, he didn’t teach me but he taught me rugby and I’ve kept in touch with that family. And David Bibby, his son – in fact I just got an email from him this morning. That’s another thing … a lot of my old school friends from both schools that I only contact them perhaps at Christmas time, with email it’s regenerated the friendship, and I really get a kick out of that. No, Athol – I used to go and stay with the Bibby family in there and David would come and stay here, and so I know the Bibby family very well but he didn’t actually teach me.

So because you were a bus boy, were you able to still play sport?

Well it was a bit of a disadvantage, you know, and I’d go back the next day to school and the kids would be saying about what they were doing after school, you know. Mind you I was always keen to get home and go out and find where Dad was, you know, and we had so many kids here that the bus only came to the bottom of the hill. The bus came in from Pourerere to Waipawa, then when the Hautope kids came on-stream there were too many – he’d have to go to Waipawa and then zoom back to Hautope to pick us up. So the parents took turns, and we paired up – we paired up with the Mobeys here, because the two of us were down this road and one would take us down to catch the bus and then one would pick us up. And after a year or two of this … so there was [were] four cars would have to go down every day, so we bought a Volkswagen bus … we bought our own bus so we had two buses, and the fathers would take week about driving the bus.

Funnily enough too, I remember seeing them going down the corner when they were assessing. The guy came out with a Bedford van, and this was not long after the war. And then the guy came out with this new, very unusual make of van, Volkswagen, you see, and no prejudices about …

Germany.

that was the best value, so we bought this Volkswagen. We had it for about six years until we all – I was one of the first to go to High School and gradually they drifted off.

So you left Waipawa and then you went …

Napier Boys’ High School. That was in 1959, was my first year at Napier Boys’ High School and I was five years there, and I had the best five years of my life, I really enjoyed it.

My mother died half way through my Third Form … I think probably I got a bit of an easier time for a while there. I got in the First XV in 1962; I was in 6B and then 6A; I was head prefect and captain of the First XV. And when you’re captain of the First XV at a boys’ school in New Zealand – well you’re top of the heap basically. [Laugh]

Absolutely – totally.

And I just had a wonderful time there, and I didn’t do much scholastically until the last year. And I was ready to come home at the end of it. Well I couldn’t have gone on any longer, I’d reached the ultimate class.

I came home – couldn’t get home fast enough because things weren’t going too good on the farm. My father was a widower and we had a housekeeper, an elderly lady, housekeeping for us, and the farm was getting beyond him and we’d one or two tough years. And frankly if I hadn’t come straight … I’d like to have gone and done other things. If I hadn’t come home he would have sold it. And my father’s nerves were packing up a bit, and we had a difficult relationship in some respects. In other respects the two of us – until I got married six and a half years later – the two of us achieved a heck of a lot. We built hay barns, and I made my own concrete fence posts, and fenced, and built cattle yards, and we actually achieved a heck of a lot. I did my own shearing, he did the wool handling. And then I got married to Heather in the middle of 1970, and were married for twenty-four years, then the marriage ended. We hadn’t been blessed with children unfortunately.

But anyway, fortunately within a year … it was a pretty difficult year as you can imagine because I had a matrimonial settlement, we were having a ripper of a drought, we were overstocked with cattle and the cattle price slumped. Anyway, I got through, but what saved me was I met Cynthia, and she was a great help to me and gave me guidance and encouragement.

I’m jumping ahead a bit. Anyway, that was sort of the second phase of my life. And in 1989 I bought the neighbouring property – one of the settlers, Stanley his name was, and I bought the bare land and he sold the house and part of it. I bought two hundred and eighty acres of bare land that just came right down to a hundred yards from the house, and a couple of hundred yards from the woolshed – it just made my place. It gave us extra acreage without any encumbrance, so it was buildings … unfortunately, then yeah, I had a matrimonial … so I sold that block to an outstanding young farmer, Martin Meredith, and he leased the whole farm.

And then I went and I did other things. I worked for New Zealand Land Care Trust for three years and got on the Regional Council – did other things, and did a consultancy with Forestry. And then he bought a lot more of the property, and then he … kept the river flats, and then he bought them this last year. And we’ve kept a substantial block here for lifestyle. But that’s jumping ahead.

If I could just go back to my farming career when I was really actively farming, the post-Second World War period was a golden period for farming. Prices were good, and the farmers – unlike the First World War poor fellows, that were settled and had slump – we had good prices but we also had new technologies. And we had aerial top dressing; we had heavy diesel crawler tractors, and giant discs that could cultivate hill country, or if you had scrub – not here – but needed to be broken in with heavy equipment that could not be done by hand, it was available to be done with heavy machinery. And as I say prices were good, confidence was good and it was a great period for farming.

But I did witness tremendous changes. I’d say that the two big changes that I would identify would be firstly, farm mobility. I just recall the early settlers when they came here, they had draught horses with a sledge. Dad was no good with horses, and first thing he did when he got the farm was he bought a little Oliver crawler tractor. And then they all got crawler tractors. They were pretty cumbersome but at least they sure beat a draught horse when you were laying out fencing gear and all that sort of thing. That was a huge advance was mobility, because then we moved into … with tracks, the four-wheel drive tractors, wheel tractors, Land Rovers, and then along came motor bikes which replaced the farm hack, and four-wheel [drive] vehicles. I can’t emphasise enough how that has changed farming … the mobility we’ve had over farm land.

One of the other technologies that’s been unrecognised, is polythene pipe because you don’t see it, it’s under the ground, but it’s enabled provision of quality water to concrete troughs instead of bog hole dams. Here in Hautope we were pioneers in respect that we put in in 1974, the first community water scheme in a rural area in the North Island, and subsidised by the Government – that’s okay, we took it. And we put a pump down the river – a second pump – to boost it and eight farms had part of the water, it gravitated over the whole farm, with a header tank there – marvellous thing.

And of course aerial top dressing I’ve mentioned, as it’s revolutionised pasture quality, and with it of course with subdivision much more extensive stocking. But essentially, the basic system – the same here – and that is sheep on grass, and cattle, and the sheep producing meat and wool and the beef cattle to back them up. That’s still the same but of course, as you mentioned, the landscape’s changed, because it was treeless – totally treeless – and now there’s poplar trees, ornamental trees and farm wood lots being placed over the landscape, but it’s still essentially a meat and wool operation. Okay you had better prompt me a bit now.

Yes. Now just coming back to the farm – the farmer’s crawler tractor – you were able to cultivate most of the farm with the crawler tractor?

Oh yeah. Well this country … call it medium hill country. We’ve got steep land, gullies, and steep faces. ‘Course you couldn’t put a tractor near them. But the rest of it – what happened in the fifties and sixties was that the tendency was to cultivate one paddock a year, and get a contractor in. The crawler tractors we had were very small, they were just farm hacks. You’d get a contractor in and they’d cultivate one paddock a year and you’d put your molly crop in and then put in a rye grass clover sward, and ‘course then maintain it. So it was a one-off operation – there’s very little of it done now – there’s a bit of it done, but basically that was converting the land from brown top [?danthalia?] unfertilised native pasture to English sward.

I might just say too the [?Aidset?] was here. Unlike the civilian Land Settlement Scheme that succeeded the World War II rehab scheme… in that case the farmers were assessed for their farming ability. But the returned servicemen – this was driven socially. It was a grateful nation rewarding these guys by giving them an opportunity to farm, because the Rehab Scheme covered everything – apprenticeships – but the farming was the big one because it involved big asset in terms of the land, and the farming industry was top of the heap on the pyramid of our prosperity. So they weren’t assessed for farming ability. They’d done their service, and they had to do three years I think, practical farming, something like that. And then they just went into the ballot, and eventually they didn’t have any choice where they landed – they didn’t care – they just won the ballot and that’s where they went. So I’d have to say that the quality of their farming ability was very mixed. Some of them didn’t sort of settle down after the war – a couple here … they did a fair bit of playing and a fair bit of drinking, and they hadn’t quite settled down. They still lived on their war record a bit, you know. And others put the war right behind them and they got stuck in. Some of them did very well. And anyway there’s only two of us left here now – John Foster, he’s got three farms – and me and Cynthia have got a substantial lifestyle block, but I’m happy.

Just fertilising. Obviously you used to topdress by air did you? Top dressing was all done by plane?

Yeah. That’s right. Well when they settled here there was forty ton of bagged super in the railway shed at Otane. The Lands Department were settling them, and they had the fertiliser, so they said to the four settlers “you’ve got ten tons each”. So the three of them got the Maori gang in and sowed it by hand. My father, in many ways he was a progressive, but because he was a townie he actually thought outside the square a bit. And this is quite often the case – that someone comes in and the old timers might sort of scoff a little bit, you know. Anyway, Dad went to Bridge Pa aerodrome – this was May of 1950, he’d been farming for a month. He went to Bridge Pa aerodrome and he ran into someone, who turned out to be Derek Turnbull. And anyway, Dad said to him “I’m looking for someone that wants to fly on ten ton of fertiliser’. This Is at the very start of topdressing. And he said “I will, I will”. And so he came out in his Tiger Moth, and the Gun Club airstrip down at Patangata they took the super there, and it’s in the book. Derek went on to farm at Elsthorpe. And then they wrote the history of the Elsthorpe district and he’s got in the book – ‘the first aerial fertiliser put on east of Waipawa was Mr McGregor of Hautope’. And he said when all the farmers in the district … you’ve seen a plane putting super on, it’s a fairly visual thing … and he said they all assembled and watched the operation down at Patangata there. Dad was quite proud of that. Aerial topdressing was a technology that is quite unique in the way it was implemented. Someone told me that the average for a new technique to have wide spread commercial usage was fifteen years. With aerial topdressing the first experiment was done in 1947 at Ohakea with an Avenger bomber. The field trials were done in 1948 and then there was some commercial spreading done in 1949, and 1950 it was away. Now why was it so rapid? Well firstly, there was confidence in farming; secondly, there was [were] all these aircraft, the Tiger Moth, that were surplus to the war, you see. Now if you’d gone back ten years before the war it couldn’t have happened. There were just no aircraft. Now who was to fly these planes? Well there was [were] all the guys that had been taught to fly in the war, and some of them that had learned to fly at the end of the war – they felt as if they’d missed out a bit because they hadn’t got to the Spitfires, and so this was the next best thing, was to do a bit of topdressing. So … and then of course it wasn’t long before the Tiger Moths were superseded by more modern aircraft, the Fletcher and so on, and now it’s the Cresno [?Cresco?] – takes two tons. And the airstrip here’s up on the side of the hill over there. I was just watching a plane the other day, and they come off there with two ton on. The old Tiger Moth took quarter of a ton. But doesn’t matter, that was what put it on its feet and it was a wonderful thing.

And they all today have those guiding satellite …

Oh, yeah.

GPS.

Oh, absolutely, yeah, yeah. It was a bit hit and miss in those days, you know, and Dad said that there’s a little bit of a gully down near the Gun Club strip. Anyway, old Derek overshot, and the Tiger Moth popped into the little gully. So Cassidy’s truck was there – they pulled him out with a rope and he thought “oh, I’d better fly back to Bridge Pa to have it checked”, you know. [Laughter] He used to stay in the hotel, and funnily enough, because it was a bit of a long operation sometimes, they parked the Tiger Moth … fly it from the strip down to the hotel, it’s only about half a kilometre … and parked the Tiger under the bridge. And I was somewhere at a social function, and I was talking to this elderly woman. “Oh,” she said “my husband” – McKenzie her name was – “my husband used to fly for Derek”, because he had two planes. And she said “I’ve got a picture of the Tiger Moth under the bridge”.

Is that Jock?

Jock, yeah.

Well he used to fly for Jim Frogley as well, in a Tiger Moth.

Well anyway she said to me “I had it scanned”. And I treasure this picture. There’s the Patangata bridge – just got the bridge – and the Tiger Moth’s right under it.

I remember old Jim Frogley, he was a year ahead of me at school.

That was young Jim.

Yeah, young Jim – oh yeah.

Old Jim – he was a tiger too. But young Jim of course he flies that Beaver, and he did have a Turbo Fletcher. He did have an Agcat I think it was. But we could write a story about the Frogleys, over the years.

Well the story I heard he had a bit of a mishap coming in to land and he had his loader driver with him. Anyway, he did a bit of damage to the undercarriage and bent the wing and I think the prop was a bit damaged. And the Press wanted a bit of a story, and they only got the loader driver. They couldn’t get Jim. And the loader driver said “oh, he knocked the undercarriage a bit, and dinged the wing and buggered up the prop”. Now I come to think of it, it was one of his better landings. [Laughter]

I’ve told young Jim I’m going to interview him.

Yeah, I’ve been to his farm.

So then you took a rest from farming and joined Land Corp, was it?

No, Land Care Trust. It was set up by the Government in 1997, and the purpose of it was – it was modelled on the Australian Land Care Foundation which is a big thing. The Federal Government over there and the State Governments have really heavily funded it because they were concerned about the degradation of farm land there. This was modelled on it but without the funding much. Anyway, I became Regional Co-ordinator in 1997 for the lower half of the North Island, so it gave me an income when I badly needed it. And also I must say Cynthia was the one that spotted the application for the job because she sort of does that kind of thing with her work. Anyway I got the job, and the guy I was answerable to, unfortunately, was a bureaucrat. He was based in Christchurch, and this guy was a bloody expert on being seen to be doing things but not doing them. Anyway, so I struggled with him a bit because I was wanting to innovate and do more. But anyway I enjoyed it, because it took me all around the lower half of the North Island, from Te Kuiti south, and Gisborne. And I went on a lot of properties and I met a lot of people including scientists and researchers, and it gave me a tremendous …

I should say that before that I had this Churchill Fellowship to look at forestry in the northern hemisphere. I was over there for three months in 1994 and so this was probably why I got the job … one of the reasons. So both with my Fellowship and this job I developed liaisons with a lot of interesting people that were involved in the environment in various ways – practical farmers, scientists and so on, people in Regional Councils and that. Anyway they were short of funds, and I think this guy probably wanting to see the back of me and he said they didn’t have funds. So I’d liked to have done another couple of years with it, but anyway, did a bit of consultancy particularly for Brownrigg Agriculture and others. After that, then I got back on the Regional Council so that sort of carried on. It was all going pretty well.

And one of the great benefits from my time on the Regional Council – I hosted my counterpart from Landcare Victoria. He was exactly the same age as me, and with similar interests, not just the environment but military history and so on. Rob Ewell his name is, and that’s now getting on to twenty years ago and we’ve been really good friends since. I’ve been over there to stay with him half a dozen times, and he takes me out into the field and I’ve spent sometimes a week or two at a time going out with him on farms in Victoria. He’s come here. He came out for my seventieth. He belongs to an organisation called the Australian Forestry History Society … and I was over there in October and gave a talk to the Annual Conference on the history of New Zealand Forestry and I made so much friendship there, they are going to hold their Conference next year or the year after in Hawke’s Bay.

Wonderful. Now going back a step – your involvement in farm politics. You started off Young Farmers’ Club at Napier Boys’ High School, but you progressed on to become the Chief in Hawke’s Bay – would you like to tell us about that?

Okay, well I took the Ag course at Napier Boys’ High School as most boarders did ’cause they came off farms. And they had a very good Agriculture Course, a very good teacher called Dougal McKenzie who went on to become Headmaster of Marlborough College, and he’s still alive too. He is in his late nineties now. But he was very good.

But I wanted to carry on. I got my School Certificate and then I got my UE, and then – I had to change my subjects a bit to get there. And then when I got into 6A there was no curriculum for agriculture.

No, that’s right.

And so he had his classroom, but he had a room at the back, a storeroom at the back, and when it was my period to do agriculture I just went to the back of the room and read war stories [chuckle] and that sort of thing. I had a great time, you know. And – ‘course I was playing rugby and I was Chairman of the Young Farmers’ Club there. I got out to different things at school. When I say I had an easy time, I was learning too, but it wasn’t quite academic it was more dealing with people and going on to properties – in fact I went to a Field Day on a dairy farm and I’m not sure it wasn’t yours – this’d be 1962 or ‘3. I remember there were the Friesian cows there.

That was Mieckle Farm Trust. That would have been Dunray Stud on Napier Road. That’s the one you would have been to.

Okay, well that was the sort of thing I was going to and it’s given me a tremendous outside of the classroom experience. Spent a week at the winter school. They used to have agriculture students from all over New Zealand would assemble for a week in Hamilton when they had the winter Show. And we went to Ruakura and [?] and all these places – it was really good. It was the best year I had at school, even though the old man was struggling a bit on the farm. Met the Queen when she came in 1963 because head prefects met the Queen. My contemporary at St John’s College was Garry Plowman. He’d be a neighbour of yours wouldn’t he?

No, Plowmans used to live in St Georges Road South.

Well anyway, well he was – I’ve got a picture there, I think he’s in the picture – I mean I’m meeting the Queen in the grounds of the Hastings Boys’ High School.

So I had a good year. Anyway, so I was always interested in politics, but particularly farming politics, and I … ‘course I joined the Omakere Young Farmers’ Club. All those have gone now, you know – Omakere for instance, it’s a typical rural district. It had a Rugby Club for junior rugby club, YFC had a very active National Party branch, Womens Institute, Sports club – they are all gone now, and that’s typical and it’s really sad. The wives head into town to work. The young people have gone – they’ve probably gone overseas – so it’s changed completely. That’s another story on its own, really.

Then I got involved with Federated Farmers, and everything went my way. John Wills was President of Hawke’s Bay for five years, and then in 1978 he retired and I was elected unopposed. Did five years and then retired after five years and I … perhaps at Dominion level, I lacked a bit of confidence to push, but I did … push my philosophy and Hawke’s Bay philosophy, and that was we don’t want SMPs and we don’t want subsidies, we want to stand on our own feet. And that caught the imagination of the membership in Hawke’s Bay, ’cause we had a strong – those were the days when Federated Farmers was very strong. Every road – Omakere, Elsthorpe, Porangahau – they all had branches; they met regularly; sent delegates once a month to Hastings. It was a very active organisation and being President of it was a privilege really.

And then I retired from that. And there’s an overlap here because I retired from that in 1983, but in 1980 I was elected to the Harbour Board, representing Patangata County – I was elected unopposed so that was easy. And I ended up Deputy Chairman – missed out on the Chairmanship by one vote. I enjoyed that.

Perhaps I’ll just say … why was I interested in Harbour Board? Well it goes back to Milton Terrace where we couldn’t quite see the Port, we could just see the tip of the breakwater, but we could see the ships coming in and out. And we could look right down on Ahuriri, and the steam trains were shunting backwards and forwards all day taking the meat and wool to the Port. It was a booming export Port. And the old dredge, the ‘Whakariri’, would be out there grinding and graunching away – bucket dredge – and I used to go down ’cause our next door neighbour, friends of the family, was the master of it. So we’d go down – he’d take us down, and sometimes on the weekend. But also, sometimes on a Sunday my parents would take me down on a Sunday afternoon, and go on to the Port. We’d just drive on and just walk down and have a look at the ships. And even when I was at high school in the early sixties we’d be allowed out on a Sunday afternoon. Of course we were in uniform so we had to behave ourselves, but we’d go for a bike ride, and we’d go down the Port, we’d ride on to the wharf, and I tell you, there were times we actually went up the gang plank and went on to the ships – hard to believe now isn’t it? [Chuckle]

You’re dead right.

So then of course I got on to the Regional Council – I think I explained that. Then I lost my seat this last time round – I was just going to do one more term. Lost it over the irrigation issue, because we had the drought and the irrigators ran out of water. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.

And so now I occupy my time … well I got my break in writing – I’ve always wanted to write a book – I got my break in writing when the A&P Society asked me to write the history of the Society coming round to a hundred and fifty years, so we launched that book 2013. And then I did a history of Kopanga Station, the Chambers property. I’m working on two books now and I’ve got a whole heap in mind, or several more that I’m quietly working away on – the history of the Hawke’s Bay meat industry is one, and I want to do a really good one on man’s impact on the New Zealand landscape. So writing, and the Trade Fair, and housekeeping, because Cynthia works long hours so I can’t expect her to come home and … bit of a house husband.

So you’ve become very efficient on your computer?

Well it’s a funny thing that. My father did something that was sort of a bit out of character because I don’t think he sort of had a lot of imagination for some of these things. He had great qualities, my father, don’t worry about that. One day he arrived home with a portable Olivetti typewriter, which was only – it was second hand, but it was only a couple of years old. I would have been about ten or eleven – he just arrived home with the bloody thing. He must have got it cheap or something. Because I would start off banging away at it, you know, when I was a kid – I was writing all sorts of things with it, very slowly. And then for thirty years I never went near a keyboard again – or even forty – and twenty years ago we got a computer. And you know – I went straight back into it. Well I was still a bit slow, but it never left me . When I played around with that typewriter, I just went straight … and I picked up the computer. I’m not an expert on it but I can handle all I want to do on it.

It’s interesting, Ewan that today we’ve got several groups tackling Hawke’s Bay history – specific companies like Williams & Kettle. We’ve got …

Michael Fowler.

I’ve interviewed I think sixty people in the last twelve months. We’ve got Managers of Tomoana Freezing Works; Assistant General Managers of Whakatu; Freezing Works families – four generations there; people from the orcharding industry – four, five or six families; people from the horticultural industry. That information is sitting there, and at some stage someone will pick it up from the Knowledge Bank and they will turn it into a book, which is wonderful.

Oh, well that’s absolutely right. The shame of it is, that we miss so many opportunities of course. And then of course we’ve had good recorders for a little while, but the development of recorders made this possible. And when I gave up Federated Farmers I actually was going to do a bit of recording, and I did a little bit – not much. But I’ve always sought out, when I’m talking to people even, and I’ve stored it in my head, and I’ve applied some of it, you know, when I’ve been doing my interviewing I’ll say to Hamilton Logan, I’d say “oh yes – I remember old Phil Giblin telling me this story about Lew Harris”, and then I’d tell the story then you see, so it is on record, but the amount of opportunities that have been missed.

Both our parents were in Napier – right in the middle of Napier in the earthquake. They weren’t married. Mum rushed down between two buildings on to Emerson Street, turned around and looked where she’d come from and saw a heap of rubble. And Dad was a clerk in the Borough Council, in a wooden building which they recently shifted. And he was sitting in the Council Chamber just writing up some minutes, and the earthquake came. ‘Course that building survived, but they had the Mayors’ portraits on long strings, and he said they all flew out from the wall and they turned around, and when the … there must have been a [?] movement, they were all facing the wall when they went back. And I was just reading Guthrie Smith’s biography and he said the same thing at Tutira. Anyway Dad talked about rushing out and doing rescue work and trying to put out the fires, but they had no water. And he’d tell a good story like that and we never recorded it – even my brother – didn’t record it. Mum – she died in 1959 – that was too early. But we should have recorded Dad’s reminiscences.

And of course the same has happened with the guys that went through the war. I’ve got a book – I’ve actually lent it and haven’t got it back – called ‘Voices of Gallipoli’. And this was done about thirty years ago. Someone had recorded about a hundred surviving Gallipoli veterans and recorded them and put thirty of them into this book, you see. And several of them said, and they were in their nineties, “this is the first time anyone’s asked us what it was like”. It’s just – this is something now, that I guess it’s natural, that the further away you get from an event …

I looked up – just out of curiosity, I looked up the Daily Telegraph in the library of the 3rd February 1951, the twentieth anniversary of the earthquake. It hardly rated a mention. Why? Because just about everyone that was there – it wasn’t used, you see. And now, fifty, sixty, seventy years after, it’s a big event, you see. I mean history’s yesterday, but it’s ho-hum history yesterday. But history fifty, sixty, seventy years ago – that’s something different.

In reality when you think about it, we’ve lived half the period of history in Hawke’s Bay already. We’ve only got to get the recollections of our families and the things we heard to bridge some of the gaps.

But just one thing, because you’re very Scottish you would have the McGregor tartan no doubt?

Yeah.

What colour is the McGregor tartan?

It’s very red. And I’ve been told that the more blood there is in that clan’s background, the more red there is in the tartan.

And so do you wear a tartan kilt?

No. But I’ve got a tartan tie, but it’s so loud, and [chuckle] Cynthia won’t let me – well, I used to occasionally wear it to the Regional Council but I had to – she’d go to work first before I put it on [chuckle] and wouldn’t comment on it.

What about the pipes?

No. Actually funnily enough, the chap that was first to sell out here next door – he sold out in 1960 – he took me in to the Pipe Band and I was learning the chanter, which I’ve still got … learning the chanter, and then he sold out and he left and I gave up. But I’m not very musically minded but my Scottish heritage – I’m proud of it, but it’s not a big deal to me – no, I’m a kiwi. But yeah, I’m proud of it, but … I mean even Otago, because my parents came there … I’ve sort of got a bit of a soft spot for Otago and I haven’t often been down there. I should go down more.

When I was on my Fellowship in 1994 I did a lot of sightseeing – see I wanted to see landscape. And I had a three-week train ticket – it was $800 it cost – by God, it was good value. And you could travel on the trains for those three weeks, anywhere, any time. And it was high summer so I’d get on the train at seven o’clock in the morning, and I might go to a Research Station in the middle of the day, or a park or something like that, and I’d get off the train at nine o’clock at night.

I went right round the British Isles on the train, and I went round the Highlands in Scotland and coming back from over the Highlands – the high Highlands, the main ones – from Mallaig to Glasgow, the trains you know, have a little table. And I was sharing the seat with a couple and we got talking, and their names were McGregor. As we came over he said “oh, this is McGregor country – this is where the clan was”, and that. He gave me a great history lesson, and it was good – yeah, it was really good, and we got on very well. ‘Course McGregors were prescribed – and I had to look that word up in the dictionary – I didn’t know, and someone said that McGregors were prescribed. It means that you could harm a McGregor and you weren’t necessarily held accountable by the law. So you could kill a McGregor and you might be let off, you see. So we’re an outlawed clan. And a lot of other people – McGregors – change their names. And so we’re proud of the fact you know – it means no credit on me because we’re going back many generations. But if you’re still a McGregor, then you stuck to it, you know. The great-great-great grandfather said “stuff it, I’m going to stay put”. And if you disfigured a female McGregor’s face, which they did, you weren’t necessarily going to be convicted for assault or anything like that.

Isn’t that amazing?

Yeah. So, well yes, so – you know, I’m proud of it, but I’m a kiwi.

Just coming back to the farm, you’ve planted thousands of trees, not only on the lifestyle block you have now, but on the balance of the farm. How much have you still got round the homestead?

I’ve got eighteen hectares here. I’ll show you what I’ve done there because it’s quite unique – planted a lot of poplars, as indeed the whole of the Hautope … all the settlers got into poplars, and the Regional Council officers have sometimes cited Hautope as a good example of contiguous planting because it’s not just one farmer’s done it. Of course it was easy because they were subsidised, but I’ve over-planted. And I’m trying to get the Regional Council to work towards commercialising poplars – this is one of the things I studied on my Fellowship, was the commercialisation of poplar. It’s utilised all around the world. It’s a major timber – plantation timber. And I say “look, you want to see the biggest poplar tree in the world? Go to Frimley Park”. I said “you look at that, we’ve got a million of them in Hawke’s Bay, and what now?” And I haven’t made any progress in that respect. I can see a huge problem developing. We’ve created a problem by over-planting with poplars. But I’ve pruned mine, some of them, most of them, apart from the real early ones, and I’m damn sure … I’m working to try and commercialise them – even if it’s chipped. But I went to China with the Regional Council and I went with a programme to try and encourage them to … I wasn’t getting any support from the Regional Council. By cripes, that upset me – they just couldn’t see what I was trying to get at. And poplars – we went in two trips. We went from Shanghai to Beijing, stopping at Xuzhou, which is a sister city thing. Poplars – I saw bloody millions of them, and they were milling them when they were about that big. And to them – it’s what radiata pine is to us. If we can’t market poplars in China there’s something damn well wrong with us.

Are these Aspen poplars?

Well no. Visually they look like ours, but they would be subtly different. See all these are hybrids, and we‘ve developed hybrids for our purposes, but visually you couldn’t tell the difference from the ones we planted except ours looked to be a slightly better form. Everywhere you looked there was [were] poplars – not in big blocks – they were integrated into their farming systems, so you’d have perhaps three or four rows to protect a paddock and that sort of thing. Theyre everywhere.

So I guess now you and Cynthia are retired here? Cynthia is still working as a City Councillor and of course she’s still an accountant, isn’t she?

Well, Deputy Mayor, she’s in her fifth term, and Lawrence has been the Mayor for as long. They’ve been a great team really. What happens this time round we don’t know, but she also is the Office Manager for Logan Stone and she contracts thirty hours a week to them, so that gives her a great deal of flexibility because she doesn’t have to work she just got to do her contracting work.

And so we have a … when I was on the Regional Council we had a flat in the middle of town and we just came back here in the weekends. And I’d come down during the week sometimes, but when I was off the Regional Council there was no way I was going to hang around in the middle of town so we sold the flat – plus the fact that I wasn’t getting Regional Council income – we sold the flat. And she loves it down here of course, but she‘s got to travel to work, and she has just bought one of those Suzuki Swifts. It does twice the mileage on a litre of petrol. So she works long hours, and this year shes going to actually not work on Fridays, because there’s not much Council work on a Friday anyway. She’ll do four days a week, but she works very long hours. She loves it here, we’re very, very settled, and needless to say I love it here because it’s been my home since 1952.

And I’ve seen so much change. There was a big flood in 1992 went down the Tukituki, one of the really big ones. And it took in the Patangata Bridge and it damaged five piers, so they were going to have to repair them and it meant at some time the bridge was going to have to be closed for some long periods. So to explain the process the engineer, your namesake John Cooper, held a meeting in Patangata to explain … I went because I was Central Hawke’s Bay representative on the Regional Council, but we didn’t use the bridge, it was mainly for those that lived east of the bridge … to explain the process. And then afterwards we went in and we discussed it in the pub. And the old fellow White – he only died a few months ago too – I think it was White – the name just slips me. He said “this is history repeating itself”. He said “the same thing happened in the 1938 flood and the engineer held a meeting to explain what they had to do”. And the engineer’s name was Basham, he was a plumbing engineer – you know his wife? His wife was Aunt Daisy.

Is that right?

Aunt Daisy Basham, you see? Anyway, Basham … after the meeting he and a few others had a bit to drink you see. He had a Ford V8 coupe. So he goes out, and he says “there’s a sow there with one suckling weaner pig on it”, so he grabbed it and put it in the boot of the car. And he’s heading back to Aunt Daisy, he was heading back to Waipuk [Waipukurau] and he crosses where the overhead bridge across the railway line is, it wasn’t being built then – or it might have been under construction. He whipped across the railway line, bump, bump, bump, and the boot popped open you see. He opens it up, [laughter] out jumped the pig. So anyway, when he arrives home his wife says to him “just had a ring from the publican at Patangata. He knows you pinched the pig and if he hasn’t got it back by tomorrow your jobs on the line”, you see. [Chuckle] So Basham’s got a hell of a problem. So he whittles up some of his friends [chuckle] to go and find the pig. Whether they found it or not I don’t know, I didn’t get that part of the story. But anyway Basham left his job not long after by the way. But that was that. [Laugh]

Patangata was always a favourite place for duck shooting.

It was a great old pub. Like a lot of country taverns now its having a bit of a revival. If you go past there on a Saturday and Sunday and there’s the Vintage Car Club, or motorbikes and that.

I belong to a group, it’s a Breakfast Club. I asked Adrian would they be interested. It looks so inviting, that garden bar out the back.

I don’t know what the position is now, but the rather well-known Duke of Edinburgh Hotel at Porangahau used to put on a fish banquet, I think on a Sunday, there and we went out there a couple of times. And you know, it’s all the fresh fish you could eat – they put on a great show. But that hotel had a distinction in that quietly, no one really knew about it, but on at least two occasions I think it was, Buzz Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the moon, used to go out there – he was having nervous problems, he had a nervous breakdown. And he used to go out there and just quietly have a holiday, and no one knew about it. It’s a fact, there‘s photographs of him there.

The lady that ran it was Scottish wasn’t she? Was she American or Scottish?

Scottish. McCain.

We went there for Christmas dinner once. We were treated as if we were royalty. I’ve never seen anything like it, and all the food was served under these big silver …

We had a woman friend from America came out, and she said “look”, she said, “I’d love to go to a typical country hotel”. I said “okay, I’ll take you down to Patangata”. It was a week evening. So – went down there, and there was a roar of female … giggling female voices inside the bar. We go in and there must have been thirty women there, all pretty high on wine. It turned out it was a free wine night for women. [Laugh] I had to tell her … I had to tell her that this was definitely not typical. [Laugh]

Going for a walk round your beautiful garden with all its trees, lovely open spaces … really a light and shade area isn’t it? ‘Cause there’s light amongst all the trees – it’s absolutely beautiful, and I can see why you both come back here to live.

I often ask myself, and people have asked me why have I got a sort of a love for trees. Well I don’t know, but the Napier hill was a treed suburb. It was you know, getting on to a hundred years since settlement – not quite – when I was a youngster there, so the trees are getting quite big. There was a beautiful copper beech on our section that my grandfather planted to commemorate my mother’s birth in 1905, and it was a beautiful tree to climb, you know – smooth bark and it was a beautiful tree. And when I was on the Harbour Board, out in the tugs – theyd take us out in the pilot boat or tug sometimes – I remember one Spring and I looked up and saw Mum’s tree there up on the side of the Napier hill. I thought ‘well, that’s very nice. Anyway, when the part that Robert hasn’t got was sold and the old homestead was pulled down, and the train sort of went through the tree to make room for other buildings, so there you go. So anyway, from there, a lovely treed suburb, I came here, and we had a State house, asbestos sidings, aluminium roof and not a tree to be seen, you see. So it must have been a bit of a culture shock, which perhaps I didn’t think much about at the time. You get a hot summer here – well where the hell would you go for a bit of shade? There wasn’t any.

Well, you sure turned into Johnny Appleseed didn’t you?

I’ll say. Well anyway, when I planted that new bit, it’s starting to come to fruition … just like to see it in another ten years … I’ll be happy, I reckon itll look pretty good.

Yes. Okay, just one thing that comes to mind I forgot about, and that was when you were on the Harbour Board you came to the Havelock Rotary Club and you drew a lot of free-hand maps of what the old harbour used to be like before the earthquake. That’s a long time ago.

Well I’ve got it, I could put my hands on it within an hour or two.

But the point I was going to make – it showed the depth of interest you’ve had. Several people that I was with at that meeting said “it was neat that he took the time to actually do that”.

Yeah – that map, I know exactly what you‘re talking about. You see, what stimulated my interest … my parents were mildly interested in history, but I remember the earthquake was the absolute milestone in their lives, cause they were both in the middle of Napier. And my mother particularly, I remember … how many times I heard “before the quake”; “soand-so was – was she born before the quake or after the quake?”

A peg in the ground isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, it is. They were married just before the quake. It was always “the quake this, and the quake that”, and she talked about – because we looked out, from Milton Terrace you looked out to where the airport is – and she talked about that, and I think that stimulated my interest. And seeing the ships coming and going, and having our friend, the neighbour who was master of the Whakariri‘ – all that generated my interest.

All my politics – activity I’ve never really taken offence to much. I haven’t been subject to any nasty stuff, but there was one thing that bloody infuriated me. We had a debate in the Regional Council on concessions for leaseholders and I took a particular position. And Stewart Nash said on Bill Dalton’s blog, so it’s public, these were his exact words: “Ewan McGregor doesn’t give a shit about Napier”. And if ever I was offended by something in my political life, it was that bastard saying that. I’ll never forgive him for that, because I love Napier and I’ve given a lot to the museum – not a lot, but I’ve given – a lot to me, cause theyre quite valuable things I have given.

Just before you turn it off, just keep up the good work, ’cause it’s fantastic. When James Morgan came to the Regional Council … he actually got us to make a statement I think, supporting the concept of the Knowledge Bank, ’cause it was just an idea then. And I’m pleased that one of my colleagues said “it is a great privilege to be asked to support this …” I just said “this is a great idea, go for it”. [Chuckle] I’m quite pleased that I …

Yeah, I think it’s interesting that everything starts with an idea but it takes somebody to actually continue with that idea. James was so enthusiastic, and it’s his enthusiasm that helps drive it.

Before you turn that off I’ll just give you – the many examples of someone picking up a good idea but it would never have flown if that person hadn’t dedicated themselves to it, and I’ll give you a very good example of it, and the guy just died this week. And it was Gordon Stephenson, who was responsible for the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust. My first three Dominion Conferences of Federated Farmers – I was Vice President to John Wills – I went down, and this guy was a Waikato dairy farmer and he got up at the Dominion Conference. And the first Conference I was there was in 75 he talked about “we must try and have a way of protecting our native bush, if you’ve got a patch of bush on your farm and you don’t want it to be knocked down by the next owner”. And we all sat back there and thought ‘oh, you know, that could have merit, you know? Maybe … maybe not. The next meeting, 76, he said “we’ve got a working party, we’re taking this on, and this is good”. “Oh” … you know, so they could read the body language … “this could be on … this could be on”. And the third – 1977 Conference – he said “we’ve set up a Trust to do it”. Now that guy drove it and he had the first covenant on his property, and that wouldn’t have happened, or it might have happened ten years later. And that guy took it, and he took it to the Federated Farmers when there was a certain degree of scepticism. He had to sell it, and he did. And that happened. Everything, good ideas – when someones really picked them up and driven it – perhaps driven people silly. The Art Deco ones probably another one, you see.

It is, absolutely. But then look what it‘s generated around Napier.

Oh, yeah.

It’s ongoing.

Oh, it just gets bigger and bigger – yeah.

Original digital file

McGregorE809_Final_Dec17.ogg

Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

809/43700

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