Gordon (Don) Leonard Burgess Interview
I’m with Mr Don Burgess, well-known figure in Havelock North and I’m interviewing him today the 16 September  on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank. Good afternoon Don.
Now I’d just like to know a little bit about your history. You’ve had a wonderful time in your 80 plus years so I look forward to it.
I didn’t realise, Jim until I started to write some things down. Yes I have had quite an interesting life and hopefully it hasn’t finished yet because my youngest sister who is 6 years younger than I am, rang me from Australia just yesterday to tell me that she will be over here at Christmas to spend a month with me but not this Christmas, it’s next Christmas so at my age I just hope everything will be all right.
Anyway I was born in Napier on the 29 April 1933. Now I was born in a home with a midwife, not in a hospital which is very handy to Queen’s Square in a house which a midwife ran where she delivered babies and Jack Gleeson who was a very well-known old gentleman in Napier who collected old cars and motor cycle bits and pieces, he actually owned it. I have an older sister who is dead and gone. Bev was 2 years older than I am and Julia 6 years younger. The family at that time were living in Meeanee. My grandfather farmed there, milked cows and they had a town supply and my mother and father lived in a house on the farm and were paid £1.2s.6d. a week. The 2/6d. was for Mum if she helped Dad with the milking. Now the house was actually burnt down one morning when Mum and Dad and they had Bev and I down in the cowshed with them while they were milking, we were both in prams asleep I think and the house burnt down. So that was the first tragedy that happened in the family. I can remember Meeanee quite clearly. I can remember the cowshed and the power lines there in the cowshed. I was three when they left there and I can remember these birds which I realise now were starlings sitting on this power line making all this noise and I can remember little picnics that we went to down to the Ngaruroro river because I lost a little coat that I had there. And I can remember that quite vividly somehow and Dad reckoned some Maori fellow stole it.
Anyway, that was that. Now the family left there when I was about three, that was in about 1936 when they left there and moved over to Havelock North here within the boundary and moved over to Leithmore. Now I can remember that shift very clearly also because all of the gear was packed up in wicker baskets and it was dropped at the gateway to Leithmore just the other side of the Karamu Stream and there’s a long driveway that goes up the side and everything was dropped at that gate and the family moved in there. At that stage there were ten in the family. There were five boys and five girls and Dad was the eldest and the next one was a girl and that was Perk, (which was Mrs Jones they all had nicknames, and then there was another boy then another girl, another boy, another girl, another boy, another girl, another boy and the last one was a girl which was Linda Terry – ten kids and they shifted in there. Now Pop gave Dad an acre of land at the end of the farm which you could get into from Miller Road and also from the Main Road and it was the piece of road, you would know it Jim, behind where the strawberries are now, it was all that land behind there and one of the last people to own it was Mike Toogood. He doesn’t own it now. He sold it but we visited it. I organised a reunion for the family and we went in there, a bus load of us, we did the rounds and I’ll tell you a little bit more about that later.
And Pop said to Dad, build yourself a house, Tom, because Dad was milking the cows for Pop at that stage. My father milked 40 cows. So they did, they fenced it off and built a house, not a big one but it cost £775 which was an average cost for then and a fellow called Fred Phipps built it. It was 2 bedrooms and a sun porch and at that stage there was just Mum and Dad and Bev and I. Now prior to that while the house was being built we lived on a bach up at the farm which was next to the cowshed and that was just one room and a kitchenette with a little veranda out the front there and several of Dad’s brothers and sisters lived in it at different times. Now Nana and Pop never stayed in the house at Leithmore very long. Nana spent a lot of her life in the back country and so she didn’t want that any more and she’d raised ten kids. Pop provided the money and in lots of cases the work for them because when they were at Meeanee they all worked for their father, all the boys – I’m sort of back tracking a little here but they worked for Pop and he leased a lot of land in those days. He didn’t buy it. In Meeanee he leased what was called the overflow which was the river bed which was a big area of land which they planted in boey and there’s a photograph there of the threshing machine and them working there and I can identify some of those people in that photograph.
So Nana wanted to live in town so Pop bought another house in Miller Street which was two doors from where the Hunts lived. You may know the corner where Colin Hunt and them all lived there and Pop travelled backwards and forwards to the farm every day and stayed in the little bach that was there and the house was let to Mr & Mrs Jones, Hawke’s Bay Ford. That was Paul and Mark and Jacky and the other girls’ parents. Now they lived in that house for quite a while. It was a very beautiful home. It was only about three years old at that stage. There was a lovely tennis court with a dairy. There was also the outbuildings – there was a harness shed; Pop had two Clydesdale draught horses at that stage and next to that was a little shed which had a grated floor in it which you could shear in and I saw old Mr Miller shearing with blades in there for the few sheep that Pop kept. He had some other land which went right along the edge of the Karamu Stream and ended up at the bridge which he kept after he sold Leithmore. So the Joneses – they lived in it for about 3 years. When they left and built a house in town the Roaches – Gordon Roach’s parents and the two girls who you would know also – they came out and they lived there for quite a while and so all the time that Leithmore was there and owned by my grandfather Mum and Dad were the only ones that actually lived on the place but they were very happy days and we used to have Christmases there when the whole family would be there. All the boys and all the girls with the exception of Bill. He was the only one of the boys who was a little bit strange. He had a learning difficulty I seem to think on looking back from what I had learnt but they were never happier than when they were in one another’s others company. They really were. They were great people. Hay making for instance. I never saw Pop employ labour or anything like that. The hardest work I ever saw Pop do was kick a thistle out with his boot. He’d never walk over a thistle, he’d kick it out with his boot. He wouldn’t cut it out with a knife.
Now right through the war Dad milked the cows there. Now I don’t think Dad passed the medical thing. He had a heart problem which came through later on. He’d had it for years and years they said, so I doubt whether he would have made it. Anyway I assume that Pop milked the cows and that was his way of keeping Dad at home with his wife and three kids because Julie was born while they were there. Now at the end of the war Pop still owned the place and he bought a David Brown tractor, brand new. So I was very quickly taught how to drive that and I used to harrow the paddocks and spread the cow manure around with this tractor and we had what was called a Konaki which I think originated in Taranaki, it was two wheels in the front. It was called a Konaki and we used to fill it up with pumpkins and feed them out into the paddock and then go round and split them all with an axe for additional food for the cows. Now Pop also had to lease quite a bit of land. He leased the land on the northern side of Leithmore because at one stage Leithmore owned from the Karamu stream right down to St George’s Road. That was all originally Leithmore, the whole lot of it. But he leased that land, but after the war that land was cut up into two blocks which David Mansell and Bill Symons planted orchards on. Down the end of Miller Road there was a big piece of land there, 12 acres in actual fact, we had a lucerne paddock there and also the cows used to be put down there every day to be taken down through the farm. Dad when he’d finished milking he would put a stick up in a piece of downpipe which was on the side of the cowshed which you could see from Mum & Dad’s house and there was a pillowslip on it. That meant that the last cow had been let out. I’d have to go down, open the road gate, take the cows down the road and put them in this bit of land which belonged to McCormick. So he leased quite a bit of land. He also bought some land in Park Road. He had 12 ½ acres there which he used to take sheep down to. He had the odd sheep he’d buy and he’d run them from the farm down there and I was the dog, he’d drive along in his Straight 8 34 Buick and we’d put them there. He cut that land up into sections eventually.
But anyway I was there working on this tractor one day, harrowing, and Algie Rainbow who was the ex Mayor of Hastings, he had an accountancy business who you would remember, he stuck his head over the fence because he had that all in asparagus which is now strawberries and he said to me in a very deep gruff voice “How much does Pop pay you for doing that, Don?”. “Nothing, Mr Rainbow”. And he said “You come and work for me lad and I’ll pay you 1/9d. an hour. He had a little Allis Chalmers tractor so that was my first paid job actually. I was only in Standard 5 when I got that job. Can you imagine that?. Can you imagine what OSH would have to say about that, driving a tractor, a Std 5 kid?. So I worked for him right through my High School days and when I was about to start High School there was the polio epidemic so we couldn’t go to school so I worked for Mr Rainbow and I earned enough money to buy myself a Hercules push bike, balloon tyred with gears for £23.19.6d. with all the gear on it and I bought that off Frank Garden who had the bike shop on the corner by the Municipal buildings. Where Hutchinson’s is now. Right on the corner there. Frank Garden had the bike shop there and he then shifted right next to the Regent theatre and he had a little shop there where he used to sell model aeroplane parts and stamps.
So that was that part of it. Now I also had a paper run at that time. The Daily Telegraph paper run which was all in St George’s Road. I used to pick up my papers from a house just around the corner on the Main Road there. They would throw a bundle of papers. It was Tucker’s place in actual fact. Tucker & Palmer. They had an orchard there – two brothers. And then I would undo this bundle and my first paper was the County Yards, where the Hawkes’s lived. June Hawkes and Dudley Hawkes. They lived down there. That was the first paper. The second paper was on the corner of Crosses Road and St George’s Road, where Gilbert Lloyd ended up living in the end in the old house there but Cross’s lived there then and then the next paper was at Grasmere Avenue which is right down the other end and the last paper, I had 4 papers I delivered and one for myself, was in Miller Road from the first house on the right which is down past where Walker built his house and that was to Percy Lyons and that gave me 6 shillings a week. So I was quite a wealthy boy.
And at the same time we had jobs as tray boys at the Embassy Theatre. Donny Hembrow, his brother Maurie, myself and Graeme Potts who ended up a Qantas captain so it was a good start for his life. We were tray boys. That was the start of that. This is most about Leithmore but Leithmore, as I say the 3 acres Pop kept that along the river bank and a school teacher bought the land and it was just recently auctioned and sold. A chap Cunningham bought it and I went to the sale which was at Bayley’s. Walked into the door of the sale and being an old guy I was immediately approached and asked “Are you bidding sir” and I said “No I’m not but my grandfather used to own it”. So they gave me all the papers that they had collected and here on the oldest piece of paper was T.G. Burgess, my grandfather had signed it. I was there at the sale and I sat next to the people who had bought it and they were away from here, up north somewhere, I think his mother bought it actually and he bought it for $700,000 that 3 acres which is opposite Mary Doyle on the other side of the river. Now Pop took a caravan out there and he used to come out from town every day. At this stage they had sold Miller Street and they bought in Nelson Street even closer to town. At that stage TABs were available because Nana was a great racing lady. She’d reared all these kids so she thought she deserved it. She just loved it. She was also a drinker, that’s why they left the Te Aute Hotel. (Laughter). But Pop would go out there every day because he still had his old dog out there and a caravan. He’d plant pumpkins and he’d spend the whole day there. He’d just wander up and down the river bank. He was a great shooter actually. I may just read this little bit here because a cousin and myself organised a reunion for them in 1985 for the Burgess family. At that stage Nana and Pop were dead and gone but I got the whole family together, all the first cousins because there’s a lot of them and I won’t go through all the names but there were a lot of girls involved and they’re still very good. Pop bought this boarding house in Mangaweka which was a two storey wooden house. It had accommodation for 20 people, underneath it had a greengrocer’s shop which Pop ran all of these things and he also had a tobacconist shop. He was born in Kaponga, Taranaki and he was brought up to a farming family and then he bought a farm, he was given some money, he had a farm of his own which he eventually sold and then he went to Mangaweka and bought this place and then he sold that and shifted on. “Mr Burgess has been a member of the Harbour Mounted Rifles, the Rowan School Committee, Inglewood Lodge of Foresters, and a member of the Mangaweka Rifle Club. In July 1906 he married Ethel Garrett of Rowan.
Well, that’s about that. The thing was Nana had two brothers, George and Gordon, they were both First World War returnees. They both got damaged and they both spent most of their working life working for Pop. One of them just cut wood to feed the coal range which did all the cooking. Nana did all the cooking. The boys did all the work on the farm. There was always enough for everybody to do and the girls. I think the girls might have taken jobs in the end. I think Mona, Mrs Falconer, might have worked in Roach’s. I don’t really know about that.
Now as I said in Nana’s family she had 2 sisters, Maud and Mabel, but Nana was the white swan of the family. Nana got the best of everything. Her sisters got all the hand-me-downs. But Nana did her thing and had 10 kids, so she remained very famous. Now she had two brothers who I said were damaged in the war and after the war they spent all of their time with Pop. During the depression the first cousins, the Evanses from Wellington. They worked in the bush, saw doctors and all that sort of thing. I was very close to them because me being the eldest grandson I was the favourite boy. My eldest sister, Beverley, who was a very attractive girl, she was the favourite girl. Bev could never do a thing wrong, never ever and a classic example of Nana’s adoration of us kids, the two of us – uncle Jack at one stage, Dad’s brother who was the second eldest of the boys, he had three boys and a very attractive girl, Margaret Burgess who played hockey and she’s still the same. Got a beautiful skin, blonde hair and she’s a lovely person. Uncle Jack made the mistake of saying to Nana “Mum, (can’t remember the name) is getting more like Don every day”. Nana’s response was “There will never be another Don”. But the Evanses used to come down and work for Pop during the depression. They couldn’t get work anywhere else and they would come down and work for keep because there was always something happening. The Burgess boys always had, he paid them nothing, he’d give them 2/6d each if they were going out on Saturday nights but they had a car. He bought them a car. There weren’t too many people who had cars in those days but they had this old Essex that used to sit in the shed and the turkeys would poop on it every night and they’d get it and brush this off and off they’d go. They’d all go. Charlie Evans he used to be here, he was the Waikoau Mill. He got that going. He was a saw doctor and I’ve seen him operating. The Mill was running at a loss. Holts got him in there and said fix it. He said well give me three weeks or something and he took all the saws apart and regulleted them, reset them and sharpened them. By the way they said they wanted bigger motors. That’s all they needed for the saws to be sharpened properly. So he became quite famous for that. He played wing forward for the King Country which is going back a bit.
What year was that?
Charlie, well he was older than Dad. I couldn’t tell you off-hand. I could find out. He used to work in the bush and he had this block of wood that he had taken the corners off and he’d dribble that because it was a dribbling game in those days and that was that.
I was christened Gordon Leonard, Gordon after Dad’s Uncle Gordon who was a hopeless drunkard, fighting, womanising fellow and he was called Gordie and Mum was convinced that I would be called Gordie as a nickname because all the girls had nicknames, the boys didn’t. But all the girls had nicknames and I’ll tell you them in a minute so Mum thought he’d be called Gordie and end up like this other hopeless reprobate so she immediately called me Don and Mum never ever called me Gordon that I can recall. I went to school and it had to be Gordon and came home I was Don. So getting back to Dad’s sisters. The first one was Muriel and she was called Perk because she was a perky little kid. The next one was Iris and she was called Ted. The next one was Jean and she was called Skitch. The next one was Mrs Falconer, Mona, she was called Skim, like skim milk. The last one Linda, she never got a nickname. She was Mrs Terry, Trevor Terry’s wife and she was the last of the kids.
Now perhaps a little about the school days. I started at Parkvale School and you had to walk to school of course and didn’t like it very much. Mum used to take me there but I couldn’t get my shoes off quick enough and be barefooted like the rest of the kids. When I was in about Standard 5 which was about the end of the war Don Hembrow arrived here from Christchurch. I met his brother first who was Maurie we were tray boys at the Embassy together. He took me home, I met Don and he has been my best friend ever since. I still see him weekly. We were tray boys and we got interested in model aeroplanes and stamps and we got right into that and when we got to High School we both started together and at that stage I’d got in tow with Graeme Potts too. He lived a long way away. He lived up in Duke Street. Don was just around the corner in Louie Street. So when we got to High School we had this interest in model aeroplanes so there was Graeme Potts, Don Hembrow and myself. The Hastings Model Aero Club had existed before the war so we got it going again. There was Roland Wong who is still flying model aeroplanes. There was Jack & Bob Godfrey, they were at school the same time as us. There was Brian Amner and we had this meeting and we got it going and we used to go out to Irongate Road and fly these model aeroplanes every Sunday morning in the winter when there was no wind. There was no radio control then it was all free flight but I bought a motor for myself. Don got a petrol motor for a big Bill Barnes aircraft, 6ft wing span and I bought this diesel motor off Frank Garden and it cost me £5.10.0. for a third former at High School. My father wasn’t getting that for milking the cows for his father. We did that for many years and we left High School.
We both knew what we wanted to do. Don served an apprenticeship with his father as a plumber, his brother was a plumber, and he ended up getting the business and running it. I served my time as a cabinet maker. I always wanted to make things in wood because I idolised my Uncle John who was my mother’s youngest sister’s husband. He was an ex-navy fellow and he was a cabinet maker and joiner. I didn’t realise it at the time that they were two totally different trades but I served my time at Fowler, Drummond and Waddell and enjoyed every minute of it. Ended up with my advanced Trades Certificate which eventually took me into teaching but that is another bit that we’ll get on to shortly. So that was our time at High School and model aeroplanes and as I say we made these things, I’ve got one on the roof there now which is exactly the same as the one that I made but prior to that I got the plans out from England – 3/-. I waited for ages. I lost track of the plans and a fellow rang me from Australia, a chap Adrian Drayson, and said guess what I found cleaning up Don, the plans of your Ethereal Lady. I said well send over a copy and I will make another one. Which I did.
Now I had one aeroplane that was very successful and I’d bring it home every Sunday still in one piece. Usually we’d bring home a heap of junk. This is when we were at High School. So we’d have to put it together again and so get them all ready for flying the next day. You didn’t do your homework, you fixed your model aeroplane first. So anyway we got a little bit sick of this so we took it out there to the polo grounds and we decided we were going to crash it so I gave it some positive incidence under the front of the wings and filled the little tank up of the diesel with fuel which was a no-no – you would normally put a little bit in and put her on the ground – I’ve got a photograph somewhere of this – launched it. It was going to loop into the ground. And we all gathered round, the whole lot of us, it was called hoopla, it would spiral right up into the air, motor running right and trimmed right. So it cleared the ground by about that much and then it cleared the ground a little bit more and then with all the vibration going on, the little bit of balsa wood in the front of the wings fell out which meant it was trimmed for competition flying. So we stood there and we listened as this red aircraft with the yellow stripes on it. In the end we couldn’t see it. It was way up in the still air and all we could hear was the little motor going and all of a sudden the motor coughed and we thought it had caught a thermal or something at this stage and felt well that’s very unsuccessful. We didn’t have a clue where it was going, where it was drifting to. So all came home, very unsuccessful crash, but I didn’t have my aeroplane or the motor. Had a phone number on the aeroplane and it was picked up at Takapau, on the Takapau plains. A guy rang me and said he was out in the paddock with his son cutting thistles he said and his son said look Dad and in glided this beautiful aircraft. I said it wouldn’t have hit a fence or thistle would it and he said no it didn’t. So I said the boy can keep it. Send me back the motor. So that’s what happened to that. That was good days.
You think it got into a thermal.
Oh yes. A lot of time – 30% coming off the ground. It would have because it circled and it would drift and somewhere it would catch a thermal and the guys who fly – my cousin for instance who has a glider – he can see them. He can see where they are and you can feel it. You’ll fly into it, and it just quivers the whole thing. So that was the model aeroplane days.
We then got into motor bikes. We had a crash after ATC that’s the first thing. We were 16, Don was 15, I was 16. Coming home from ATC (Air Training Corp). We were both members of the No. 11 squadron and on the main road on his brother’s bike, racing Ron somebody from Havelock North here. He had a motor bike and we raced him down the Main Road. He didn’t have a dogs show. Stopped and turned round. I saw him coming and I said to Don “don’t turn now” and Don swung like that and the bike hit us right in the middle. I’m up in the air and on the road so there’s two of us unconscious on the road, him with a broken arm and me with a suspected broken leg, broken jaw and concussion and all I ended up after two weeks was a loose tooth and concussion which had its effect on me there’s no doubt about that. So that was the end of that. Mum wasn’t very keen on motor bikes after that. As a matter of fact I have a photograph in there of me and my two sisters when I came out of hospital and Mum told me years later that she said I had a chat to your father and I said now the way this boy is going he may not be around for long so I want to get a photograph of him with his sisters in case something happens. She was convinced that it was going to be the end of me.
So I bought Dad’s old 1924 Austin car which he picked up at £10 and it was immaculate. It had done 2000 miles, but all the hood had broken on it. Had that for a while but in the end I got my wish and I got a motor bike. Don had a Triumph 310. I bought this Triumph 500CC speed twin. I bought it off Ian Hortop. He bought it brand new. It’s good you knowing all these names. He bought it brand new. He had a crash in the Manawatu Gorge which put the IT’s up him so he sold it. His mother said “You’ve got to sell it”, so he sold it to me. I paid £120 for it and I didn’t have all it. I had £15 and I had to pay the rest off. I paid him every week because I was getting a bit older – about 18 I suppose and earning a bit more money. Because we earned money all the time, weekends we worked, didn’t stop. Made things for people, worked for Jim Horne in the orchard, lopped his trees and milked his cow and all sorts of things. So we were never idle.
So I got that and that was the start of it. Now Don and I went off down south on the motor bikes . We did a South Island tour in 1952 the year of the wharf strike and we went down there and had a great time. That was the start of it. Then I came home, sold the motor bikes of course, did all sorts of other things and in the meantime Dad gave me a set of dance band drums and we were at the bachelor and spinsters dance one night and Tommy Banks went over to the pub and didn’t come back so a guy, Cec Williams was playing piano, Len Giles was playing sax and they knew that I had these drums at home so Len came down to see me and said “Don come up ad you’ll never get him out of the house. So we scrubbed that. Anyway I played with all those guys and I bought an American set of Premier drums off Gordon Gray who played with John Mullany at the Cabaret Cabana. He was shifting away from here and he had these beautiful Premier brass band drums and I paid £80 for them. Can you imagine that!! I must have done a lot of extra work. I could earn as much in a night’s playing the drums as I could working as an apprentice and give us a hand will you and play these drums because our drummer’s on the booze over the whatsaname”. And they said you’ve got the job.
So I had these old drums and that was the start of it. I was never really good because I never used to practise but I was the youngest guy playing in the bands in Hawke’s Bay. There was nobody younger. I played with all the older guys. Some of the guys I played with were John Mullany who had the top band around here. Harry Brown, he was the top band in Napier. Harry wanted me to play with him and Gordon Redwood and form a 3-piece band in the end. After I gave up, because I had to sell my drums to get out of it. The guys would ring up and I’d say well I don’t play anymore. They’d say we’re stuck Don. And I’d say well I haven’t got any drums any more. And they would say well we have. So it was like that. I played with Syd Kamo, Les Culver, Les Henry, Fred Huzzay, he was Jazz drum champion in 1948. He wanted me to take me under his wing and teach me but Dad said No because Fred was a pickle head and you’ll never get him out of the house. So we scrubbed that. Anyway I played with all those guys and I bought an American set of Premier drums off Gordon Gray who played with John Mullany at the Cabaret Cabana. He was shifting away from here and he had these beautiful Premier brass band drums and I paid £80 for them. Can you imagine that!! I must have done a lot of extra work. I could earn as much in a night’s playing the drums as I could working as an apprentice. So that was the dance band days. They went on and on.
I sold those when I went to Training College actually. I was 27. And there’s a story attached to them where I got highjacked into this playing. It was one of the last jobs I ever did. It was at the main ballroom in Hastings and my wife was pregnant with our second child and we were in the house at the end of the road here. This is getting ahead of things a little bit. And these guys were really stuck so I had a chat to Pam and she said “No I’ll be all right”. So her brother came out and stayed with her while I went to this dance and I told the guys if my brother-in-law appears at the end of that road, because Colin Blackmore was going to bring him in if I was needed. I said if his face appears at the end of that road I’m gone and that’s all there is to it. So they brought me home and Pam woke me up the next morning early and said I’m ready to go into the Home. I said good and went back to sleep. It didn’t even register. So she woke me up, got me out of bed and we hopped into the old De Soto and went in. That was the end of my dance band days. It was the only way I could get out of it. I became interested in motor bikes.
This was after you had the accident?
Oh a long time. I was a married man at this stage. I never got them out of my system so I bought an old Triumph motor bike that was a motocross bike, an absolute wreck, you wouldn’t believe what it looked like. The guy that owned it committed suicide in the end. Shot himself. You’d know his name if I could remember it. I bought it off him and I found all the bits and pieces and made it. Put it back together as original and I did it inside here in the foyer until it got to the stage when the motor went in and I had the time of my life. I made a lot of lovely friends out of it. I got that one and then I got a Tiger 100 which I did which is out in the shed there. Then I got a TBird Tiger 110 and I did all of those bikes over a series of many years. I infected my mates, Graeme Potts. I bought one for him. I rang him up in Australia and said I’ve got a motor bike for you and he picked up parts for it all over the world. He got these contacts in England. He used to go into British bikes in England and get them. He had an old friend in Italy in Rome called Bill Ugderdamenis that he said had this 2-storey house with all these parts he’d bought up after the war and he said you could stand on the other side of the road and you could see motor bike bits sticking out of the broken top windows of this building which was in a very pricey area of Rome in actual fact. So I bought this bike for Graeme and then it all started.
Don and I having done a trip we were keen to do some more. Don got himself a bike too. We stood here one day, I supplied the motor bikes and Graeme Potts was here and he said well are we going south or not. So I said yes we will. So we just up anchors and off we went. Now that was the start of everything. We did Australia, lots of the east coast of Australia, right up as far as you could go until it becomes no-mans-land up the top and you had to have accompaniment to go up there. You couldn’t go up on your own. It was real 4-wheel drive stuff and real rugged country. So we didn’t go up there. We did that all the time.
We got that out of our system a bit and then I lost Pam in 1994 and I retired at the end of 1995 from teaching. That’s another part I will have to cover and Graeme Potts rang me from Australia and said there’s a better chap over here, Mike Ferris, who runs trips to India. Do you want to go? I said I don’t know Graeme. I didn’t know whether I had the courage or not so because it was a challenge I spoke to my daughters and they said “Yes, go Dad” so I rang Graeme back and said “Yes, I’ll go”. There was just stunned silence on the end of the phone and so I went. Now we flew into Delhi, this was in 1996 and made our way from there to several different places, one was Manali which used to be the seat of Government. The Indian government used to shift up there for the hot months of the year for three months every year. They would put everything on a couple of trains and go from Delhi up to Manali and that’s where they operated from in the hottest part of the year. We carried on from there up to a place called Leh which is in Ladakh. Ladakh is the very top of India, it’s actually in Tibet. It is the only part of Tibet that India still administers because the Chinese moved into the rest of Ladakh and ousted the Dalai Lama, told him to go to hell, which he did. He’s still in exile and still alive too actually. He was over here not long ago. So it is a very beautiful place. Once we were in Ladakh. You can fly in there and it’s the dope capital of the world. It’s growing on the side of the road and you can smoke it as much as you like. A lot of young people go there and we went up to a place which is the highest road in the Himalaya and went over it called the Khardung La. It is 18,350 feet above sea level. I met that old fellow (showing photograph) on the way back from there. It is the highest road you can take a vehicle over. (Showing a photograph of the group). I have a photograph of us all sitting around. That’s up the top. That’s 5000 metres. You multiply that by 2.8 and you get feet so that 18,350 feet above sea level. Without oxygen we went up and came down. You couldn’t stay there. That road is only open for 3 months of the year because the rest of it is snowed right in. Ladakh is too. That was a very interesting little bit. We went to an annual festival in Ladakh where they all dress up, the different tribes, they come in from miles around dressed up (shows a photograph). All their finery , their beads and everything else like that and they have a polo game. I think the Indians started the game of polo and I think the English learnt it from them. I think that is correct but I’m not sure. They have this little weeny ponies with the guys sitting on them with their feet just about on the ground. And these little things race around and they have a great time. I have a photograph of Graeme and I sitting in amongst a whole lot of Tibetan monks. They beckoned us up and said we could sit there and we sat there and had our photos taken with those people.
That was a wonderful memory. We really did something and when we left Delhi to take off to come home because we went up there on the motor bikes we had a vehicle went with us that carried motor cycle parts, and had a cook and that guy supplied us with our meals and we had a motor cycle mechanic. There were three of them actually that went with us. The meals were good. You’d get up into these very remote places and you’d see a heap of rocks built up around to build up some sort of a wall about a metre high, a pole in the middle with an ex-army tent over the top. And a guy in there with his little gas cooker cooking up food.
Here’s me again, 27 years of age, a married man with two little kids, just moved into my house, hadn’t been in the house long at No. 6 Nimon Street. It wasn’t even finished. My father-in-law was making noises about me taking over the workshop, the joinery shop, doing that and the only thing I had to do was to do their work first and take in anything else I wanted. That didn’t appeal to me because as a young boy, one of my first girlfriends was Alison Hogan, a well-known swimmer around here and she went off to Ardmore College. Came back from there, told me it was all over, she’d found this other fellow, and she had on this lovely red blazer and I thought I would like to do that, I would love to do that. So anyway I saw this ad in the paper where qualified young tradesmen interested in teaching were invited to apply to go on a teaching course in Auckland and train as technical teachers. Now I applied for it, I was 27 years old, heard back within days to say that the inspectors would be at Hastings Boys’ High School the next week and they would love to interview me. So I went along, was interviewed, accepted and offered a job. They said there was a job for you Mr Burgess in Wellington if you would like to do it, untrained. It was from July until Christmas. They said if you survive that you’ll make it in teaching. That’s where you are going to find out if you are cut out for it or not. Now they were challenging me and at that stage of my life I still had that little bit in me that didn’t back down. They gave me a month to make up my mind and I contacted them and accepted. It was teaching in Porirua. I stayed with my Dad’s cousin in Tawa and I travelled backwards and forwards.
Now Leigh was out of the home about 3 weeks, our second daughter, that was tough. So I had to discuss it with Pam and she said go for it. So off I went and did that and absolutely loved it. I had another teacher who was handy, who helped me, and I survived it. Next year, 1961, off to Training College and loved it. Left something like £25 a week to go to Training College for £12.10.0. a week for 12 months. Had my own house here. I sold my drums, got £75 for that, that’s all I had in the Bank. Put people into my house down there and into that house went Kay Cooper and her husband, they had just got married. They went in first and when they shifted out Neville Norwell and his wife, Delcie Westerman, shifted into the house so the house was let all the time that I was away and that was it. Now when I came back, when I finished my time I had to get a job. I had done sections at Hastings Boys’ High School and there was a job there but it was a jackup. They had notified a guy in Australia and said there was a job over here for you if you want it, come and get it. So on the way up to Training College I called in at Reporoa to see Len & Myra Giles because de Pelichet McLeod’s had bought a building in there, they’d bought the grocery shop and the shop across the road, next to the butcher’s shop which is a milliner’s where they sold books and papers and clothing. Len & Myra were in charge of the clothing and Roy Wilkinson was in charge of the grocery, so I knew all these guys. I got to know the principal in the school and I was offered a job there before I had even trained. So I was sort of in clover. So I finished my time up there and in the meantime I was offered a job at the Auckland Polytech by one of our instructors which flattered me something terrible. My ego was going through the roof, because he asked to see me and I went over to see him and he said there was a job coming up here teaching apprentices at the end of the year. He said I would like you to apply. He wrote books and everything. He took us for maths too and I found I could do all sorts of things I couldn’t do when I was at school because I was 27 you see. Made a difference but it’s important. So I said I haven’t any qualifications in carpentry and joinery even though I have more experience in that than I have in the other but my qualifications are in cabinet making. I said I can’t step into a class even though I could do it I said it’s not right. He said you’ve got a point there, I’m sorry about that. He said it could be a bit of a sticky problem. So I couldn’t do that. So anyway I ended up teaching at Reporoa District High School. That was in 1962. I started there a little bit late and I had a new school house, a married man with two kids. I had a bus run, I had a night class and I was getting big money. I was getting more than the principal was getting at the primary school because I was secondary trained and I was on about £1250 a year with all this other stuff going on with the night class and all so I was rolling in it. Still had my 1930 de Soto car which I sold to one of the prefects and then I had been there, I just loved it, it was in the middle of trout fishing and hunting and I bred Irish Setters there. It was all go and Trudy was born there so she’s a Rotorua girl and Sharon started school there, she was 5.
Now my brother-in-law Gordon was in F L Bone’s in Hastings one day and Bernie Hay who was at Karamu High School as head of the Technical Department. He said to Gordon is Don keen to come back to Hastings. Gordon said “Yes he is”. He’s still got his house in Havelock and Bernie said well tell Don there has been a job in the Gazette. We worded it a bit differently because it was tech drawing and maths, no woodwork . He said we’ve been waiting for an application from him and nothing has come forward. Tell him the job is available. So Gordon rang me up and told me so I got on the phone and rang Norm Wilde who was the principal of the school then and he said Don can you come through and it was on a Wednesday and I said well I’ve got a bus run and I’ll come after that. So I did that, came through, I had a Zephyr 6 at that stage which I had bought and I came through and Norm had a chat to me and said Bernie wants you and I can vaguely remember you from school now. He couldn’t because I was never in his class. He had the top science class but he remembered me because of Donny Hembrow. Don was a good athlete, a good student and he had records in the school and we were never apart. So anyway I can tell you now the job is yours. But anyway the same thing that happened to me at Boys’ High the opposite thing happened to me at Karamu. I was jacked up for the job. So I went home and told Pam we had got a job and we were going home, back to our house. And that was it. So I started at Karamu in 1965 and I ended up head of department there and I did all sorts of things. I coached First 15 Rugby in winter and I was in charge of rugby at Karamu. I looked after the rowing, I didn’t coach it. Tony Bone did the coaching but I did all the leg work and held them all together. I did that in the summer. I ran the school dances. I was responsible for them. I was in charge of movable furniture. I had a night class. Everything fell into place. It was an excellent time of my life.
As far as the rugby went, I said I was in charge of it at school and we were at that stage, the secondary schools were running their own rugby. It wasn’t done by the Rugby Union. So I was the secondary schools’ delegate to the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union with Jimmy O’Connor and all those boys and I used to go along to their meetings and tell them what was happening and I also did the draw for all the secondary schools in Hastings, Napier and Waipukurau and got that to the referees on a Tuesday so they could have it for their meeting on a Tuesday night so they could allocate the refs to go in the paper. So I was a busy boy.
At the same time I ended up with the rowing. I was the East Coast delegate for the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Rowing Association which meant meetings in Wellington where I was flown to Wellington but I had to say look I’ve never rowed in my life. I know a bit about it but what do you want me to do. How am I going to do this. I’ve got this responsibility. I’ve got to go back and say to these guys this is going to happen. So they took me under their wing, and they were lovely about it. But I still had that job which was a real ego booster for me. It was good.
Prior to that of course we had been on the Waimarama Domain Board when we were about 18, Donny Hembrow and I, Harry Poppelwell, Jack Blake and all the big kids. We were surf lifesaving representatives. We were responsible for planting all the trees along the front there, all the Ngaios and that. We built our own club house out there. Don did the plumbing, I made all the kitchen joinery so we were giving our bit back that’s for sure. That’s covered Karamu. I taught back there, I lost Pam in July 1994 and I taught for another year which I shouldn’t have done because I was a bit knocked around. It was a three year process and we knew what was ahead of us and we handled it pretty well but it had its effect on me. So I retired.
I was then head hunted by Havelock North High School after about a year. Because I did nothing for a bit over a year and I became a Board Member for the Maraekakaho School because I had three grandchildren there and there’s another one there now. My great-granddaughter is started there now. She’s a McNiece and she’s famous already. She’s going to be dux, nothing surer. Her grandfather was dux. Her aunty was dux. Her father was well up there. He went through 7th form at Boys’ High. So anyway I was on the board of the Maraekakaho School, and we decided to have a money raiser for them. So they were going to have this day out there and one of the teachers had been to England and said that they had this what they called a cow pat bingo over there. So she gave me the outline of it and I said I’ll do it. I ran this cow pat bingo which was absolutely fabulous. The guts of it was there were 1000 tickets at $5 each and I had to mark the field out and organise the selling of the tickets. So getting close to the time when the festival was on I marked the field out into 1000 squares. Now that’s 100 metres square. Well 100 metres squared gives you 1000 square metres. I don’t know whether I reduced the size or what but it had an electric fence around it and then we’d take Daisy in, mark it all out with a lawn marker, white lines, clearly marked, and sold the tickets so which meant there was $5000. The first prize was $1000 and that was donated. So there was $5000 profit for us. So we made $17,000 total for the whole day and I made about a third of the money just for the one thing. We sold all the tickets, sold them down the village here, and that was on the front page of the Dominion. It went all over the country so I became quite famous over it because kids from Dunedin cut it out and sent it up to their parents and didn’t think we would know about it and their parents whose kids had been through Karamu High School said Mr Burgess has got his photograph on the front of the paper. So what we did, we let Daisy in and she wandered around and did her job and then I had to count the squares. I’d say right it’s three squares in from that boundary and fifteen in from there. It’s No. 56 or 64 or something like that. And I had a 2200 x 1200 board with 1000 squares on it with all numbers on it because it was just random. They didn’t get a choice of the number and so I could just go 3 down from there 15 in from there number 64 and that’s the winner. So we announced that and if they were there they got an extra $300 which again was donated. And if they weren’t actually there the girl that had won it was away in Taupo so they got $1300 for it. It was a real money spinner.
Now the young farmers heard about it and Pete Longstaff told me this. So the young farmers decided they would have one and they got this little skittish heifer into the outfit and that thing feeds lambs. They raise lambs with those, that jersey and her offspring. Those things at Maraekakaho. They have 4 lambs on one cow. A constant milk supply. And anyway they let their little calf loose in this thing and she bolted, over the fence, jumped everything and disappeared somewhere in the Showgrounds so they had to put all the numbers into a hat and draw one out. (Laughter). So that was the young farmers cowpat bingo. Hilarious.
Peter Coorey was the fellow who used to pick up his milk from us on the farm. He had a town supply and we used to milk 40 cows and he took all the milk whereas at Meeanee they had a town supply too. Ron used to do that. He organised the milk run. I’ll go back a little bit there. Prior to them coming to Meeanee they had… When Pop first shifted from the Te Aute Hotel they went to Glenvale Winery. He had 300 acres there and this lovely house. Grandma Garrett died there. Ted said she was there for a week and she said the smell was something terrible.
He had 300 acres there and they all went to the Paki school so he bought or leased this land which was at Ohish [?] which was part of the Kaweka block. He leased 3000 acres. Now he took Dad away from school in Std 4 in the end he took Dad away from school because Dad used to ride from there because it wasn’t far, just where the Sugar Loaf is around past Bay View and then the road goes over a little bridge and the road to Wairoa goes that way and there’s a road cuts back in there. They were in there. There wasn’t a lot of flat land but they milked the cows there. They had a two cow plant which would have probably been the first milking machines in Hawke’s Bay and Uncle George and Dad milked the cows, Dad helped in the morning and he helped at night and he had to ride Doggie his horse to school. Each day he had to ride 6 miles to school across the river there and as he said when the river was up a bit sometimes Doggie would have to swim, he’d arrive at school soaking wet. Now I took Dad in there to examine this place shortly before (Mum and Dad were alive there) I took him in there and we drove up that road and there was a farmer beside the road. It was pretty remote sort of place and Dad used to have to bring the horse out with the milk cans on and deposit them at the corner of the main road every morning. The guy was sort of questioning wondering what we wanted. He came over to the fence. So I stopped the car and went over and said my name is Don Burgess. I’ve got my father in the car. He’s now 78 or something like that. As a young boy he lived up here with his old uncle and milked cows. He said there was a cow shed up there. And the guy said Burgess, I’ve heard my grandfather talk about the family, which was interesting. So we were in straight away. So he said go up the road there, go through a gate by the maize paddock, drive along the side of the maize paddock and up the end there your father will start to recognise it and he said part of the concrete floor is still there. So we went up and got a piece of this concrete floor because they wanted to mix it up with wheelbarrows or something I don’t know what – pour the concrete floor and put the cowshed on it – and he said that was there for years, so that was a very interesting part of it. He was aware of the Burgess family being there and Dad said that on a Sunday Pop would come out from Glenvale, the winery there with the family in a gig and they would go out to where they were and they’d park under the trees up there. They’d park up there in a bit of a flat area. He said we’d have a picnic there. Nana and Pop would bring the girls out because the Burgess family became quite famous as they started to grow up because there were ten of them and when they came over from Meeanee over here Linda was about 13, the youngest, and some of them had left home but all the other kids used to congregate at their place because they had heaps of kids to play with and all these lovely girls.
He decided he was going to sell the Clydesdale horses – Belle and Guy. Belle was quite special. She could open a hasp & staple on a gate and she would just shoulder the gate open and go out on the road for a feed. She was an expert at it. When Pop bought the tractor he decided he would sell the Clydesdales and so he drove his 1934 Buick car from Leithmore and I rode Belle, no saddle or anything like that and led Guy who was as skittish as buggery, all the way up to the saleyards and sold them and I could hardly walk and I was about 10. But he expected these things. He expected you to be able to do these things. No question of it, just do it. So that was the end of the horses and I told McDonald, Mac here who put the big building on the end there by the creek, the engineering business. He was into Clydesdale horses and I told him the names of them and he said he would be able to trace them, just by the names. I’ll tell you what happened to them. He never did.
Pam was 20 and I was 24 when we got married and Pam was in an unfinished house. She had a husband and was pregnant and that all for her 21st birthday.
When they were at Ohish they possibly sold the other one too, sold the winery, but they went into a place in from Waikare, you turned at the Waikare hotel and went inland. He was a real gypsy my grandfather. He went right into the coast. I’ve been in there and I just had this tingling feeling in my body as if… I’d never been there before but I felt as if there was some connection because Nana was taken out from there. A ship came, a coaster or something, pulled in out there and they took Nana out in a rowing boat. She was expecting Linda then because she was the last of the family and they rowed her out to the boat, put her in one of these big rope nets and winched her over the side of the boat, took her to Napier and put her in hospital. She was in there for 3 months. I discussed that with a doctor just recently in Taupo and he said that’s was quite common in those days Don because a lot of the women were lost at child birth. If there were complications and they were out in the bush or away from help he said it was the end, they bled to death. So that was that part.
I went out there with David Craft. He took me out there duck shooting. Some guy that was in the fishing club, his name evades me, he farmed out there, when I say farmed he didn’t do anything, but he worked out there so we went right out there and I just had this feeling about the place. Right in from Waikare.
As an 18 year old there were 75 of us, went to Hobsonville. I went air frames mechanic. I was told that I was going air crew because I was a flight sergeant in the ATC but that didn’t matter but I did not do well in the interview. I didn’t. I was 16 years old when I did that and I was just too immature. They asked me things which I knew. I knew what a differential on a car was for. I was intimidated by three top brass guys. I didn’t relax enough. There again the concussion might have had a lot to do with that. The concussion I’d had, where I actually cracked my skull, these days you’d be in hospital, the neurological department and they’d remove a clot of blood or something. Anyway, as I say, I didn’t. That made a man of me. I was the only one who was still 18 in a group of 75 guys. A lot of them were a lot older than I was. There were Dutchmen who had come to NZ and been involved with the Dutch Air Force or something.
Okay Don, thank you very much indeed. A very eventful life you had and very nice to hear about your parents and moving to Havelock and I think everyone will be very interested in that talk. On behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank based in Omahu Road in Hastings we would like to thank you very much.
You’re very welcome. There’s one more thing I can tell you and that is because Dad led such a sheltered life with Nana. Nana was the boss. She for instance when I turned 21 wanted to tell me to vote National and I said “Nana I am going to read up as much as I can about the various political parties and I will vote for who I wish.” And she loved me for that. And you know what I did, I voted Social Credit.
Dad, incidentally, because he had led a very sheltered life with his mother being the boss, and I never ever saw anybody argue with Pop. They did what they were told the lot of them and so when Pop sold the farm Dad went driving trucks, he went driving buses and he drove the checker buses in Hastings here. He drove for the Hawke’s Bay Motor Company. He drove the Railway buses. It suited him down to the ground. It was paid well and he had his own house so he did a lot of that. And then he ended up working for George England in the orchard just across the road. That was his retirement thing.
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Interviewer : Jim Newbigin