Graham Alister Riach & Barbara Isobel Riach Interview

Today is the 8 September 2016 and I’m interviewing Graham and Barbara Riach on the life and times of their family. Graham came from a family very well-known in Hawke’s Bay as tile drainage contractors. Graham, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family?

Thank you. I would go back to my grandfather, who was born and brought up in the Highlands in Scotland, coming out to New Zealand. He married a New Zealand lady and they had three children. My father was the middle of the three so he had an older brother and a younger sister. Dad was actually born in Hastings in Davis Street, and his father was an accountant at the freezing works at Pakipaki.

After a few years there they moved up to Auckland and Dad actually started his school life at Bainfield [Bayfield] School I think it was, in Auckland. And by this time when he did start school his mother had passed away. His younger sister was sent down to some older aunts in Dunedin where she was brought up – stayed there all her life.

Dad eventually left school apparently when he was aged about thirteen or fourteen.

Now your father’s name was Don?

My father’s name was Donald Innes Riach, yeah.

And his sister was ..?

Was Betty, and his older brother was Jack.

Dad left Auckland and went down to the Waikato and started work down there, on a dairy farm. Used to tell us quite a bit about the life, the fog, going out looking for cows that you couldn’t see two feet in front of you. And his older brother … I’m not really sure what Uncle Jack used to do. But Dad came on down to Hawke’s Bay, to Otane at the age of eighteen, and he had a cousin here in Otane, Mavis Riach. And Mavis had married a guy in Otane, Charlie Wedd, who happened to end up by being Dad’s brother-in-law, ‘cause Dad eventually married Charlie’s younger sister, Susan. They started their life in Otane and stayed there for many years, and Dad and Charlie Wedd started doing harvesting contracting. They had the first automatic-tie hay baler in the district.

My mum, Susan – she eventually looked after her ageing parents and I don’t quite know what year … eventually – her mother was the last one, the last survivor – I don’t know what year she passed away, I can’t remember … but we stayed on in the main homestead, the Wedd homestead and I can remember – oh, okay – better go back.

Mum and Dad, Don and Susan had three children, my older sister Diane, myself in the middle and a younger sister Margaret. I can remember starting school from up on the main homestead in Otane, down to the Otane Primary School.

Just where was the main homestead?

The main homestead was just off the bridge, almost opposite the Otane turn-off but you just go past the Hastings side of the Otane turn-off, there’s a bridge and you used to turn up to the hillside there, and the house was up on the hill.

1948 I think it was my father purchased a house down in the Otane township from a Miss Mundell. It was the house on the corner of Henderson Street and Dee Street. We had a great view of the Otane Railway Station and the sheep and cattle yards where I saw many a sheep and cattle getting loaded on to the rail down there. In fact as a school kid I used to go down and help the farmers push the sheep and cattle on to the …

Sort of a changing pastoral scene …

Yes. Yes, it was, yeah.

My father split the partnership with Charlie Wedd in about 1950 with the harvesting contracting, and Dad, because Charlie his brother-in-law had lost a leg when he was only … fifteen I think he was, in an accident – he did all the Otane area with the harvesting contracting – Dad took over and said he would do all the outlying areas, Waipawa, Onga Onga, Tikokino and right out to the ranges at Wakarara.

What sort of gear were they using those days, if you can remember?

Yeah, okay – always a New Holland hay baler. The tractor that I remember Dad starting out with was a Massey Harris 101 – had a six-cylinder petrol engine in it. Actually it could fly along the road, that thing, it was … amazing speed. He used to employ another contractor from Waipawa, a Toby Moulder, to do the cutting of the hay and raking – Dad would only be doing the baling of the hay. To keep himself busy through the winter months he bought himself a … in those days we called it a digger. It was a Hopto, was the name of it, made by the Badger Corporation of Canada. It was a trailer model on a couple of wheel, and he used to hook it on behind the Massey Harris tractor and go out to farms and started digging drains. That was 1952 he bought that.

As time went on I can remember as a young fellow going out with Dad, baling hay in the winter, and of course was going out and digging drains. Most of the time I would spend down in the bottom of the drain to make sure the levels were fairly right down there. And then gradually I was promoted – I was allowed to start using the levers on this digger. By 1964 Dad had purchased another digger which he fully mounted on the back of a Caterpillar D4 – much superior, for the simple reason a wheel tractor with a trailer model digger on the back would be getting stuck in all the bog and everything, but a crawler tractor certainly got across a lot more swampier ground.

Yes, and as I was growing up I remember Dad also in the harvesting season, he bought a threshing mill. The first one was a Massey Harris, and in 1964 … ‘65 he bought a self-propelled threshing mill, and the name always used to amuse people. I can remember riding down on the bagging platform down the main highway, and people would drive past and they’d start laughing. The name of the machine was a Cockshutt, and that was always amusing to a lot of people around.


Yes, that was Canadian. He also had bought in about 1964 a Nuffield tractor with a front-end loader on it and was doing work for the … in those days, the Ministry of Works … cleaning up roadsides.

Had you left school?

Yes, in 1959 I left school and was told by my father that … ‘cause I left without letting my mother and father know … arrived home from school, the rugby season had finished, August school holidays, and I said “I’m not going back to school again”. I was promptly told by my father, “well don’t think you’ll get a job from me”, so I promptly turned round and told him I wouldn’t work for him if he was the last employer in New Zealand. [Chuckle]

So I found myself a job with a chap in Otane, Peter Collins, who was farming just on the eastern side of the village, and it was always driving tractors with Peter doing cultivation work and what-have-you. I was still allowed to live at home. Half my wage went in board.

Now Peter – what was his wife’s name? Did he used to live later at the kennels?

Yes, that’s right. Then as the harvesting season, or let’s say the summer, started to get closer Peter said to me one day, “Graham – look, I’m running out of work on the farm, I’m sorry. You’ll have to find another job by ‘bout the end of the week”. So then of course I have to go home and tell my parents that I have no job. The first thing Dad says – “where do you think you are going to get another one”. I said “oh, no problem, I’ll get on my push bike and go down the road”, to a gentleman who farms just out of Otane, Eric White. And he had quite a bit of land and did a lot of harvesting and cultivation work and what-have-you. So I finished work with Peter Collins on a Saturday at midday. I went home, and I remember being woken up on the Sunday morning by my father saying “come on, get out of bed, you’ve got to come with me”. And I said “where am I going?” And he said “we’re going out to Tikokino to bale a particular paddock of hay for somebody”. And that was it – I was employed from then on.

In 1961 Dad sold the harvesting business and went into drainage, and that’s when he started getting in to tile drainage. He had been down to Palmerston North and learnt how to use a level and work out gradients from a gentleman, Mr Kerry Mayo, who worked for the Department of Agriculture in those days, and Dad was taught how to work levels and everything. So then Dad was teaching me, and it was round about – yes, it would have been 1961, a gentleman, Selwyn Wilson, who eventually became … well what we called ‘Mr Drainage of Hawke’s Bay’. Selwyn turned up at my father’s house in Otane, and they must have had a great discussion. I was out at work that particular day so I didn’t meet Selwyn the first day he came, but when I got home Dad was telling me about this gentleman, Selwyn Wilson – and I’d have to add there, he was a gentleman … a real gentleman. He was shifting from Palmerston North to Hastings to become the Drainage Adviser for the Department of Agriculture and in those days it was a free service to the farmers. Now it must have been round about – I’d have to go back and say 1961 … 62 when I happened to meet a lovely lady … young girl at that time like I was young … Barbara Nilsson, at Kairakau Beach. I did come out to the beach occasionally through the summer – not very much because it’s always a busy time of the year, but I can always remember going to a dance that was held at Kairakau beach hall every Saturday night, and yes, that’s where I met Barbara and eventually in 1963 we got married.

Okay. Barbara would you like to tell us something about your parents, where they came from, and just develop up to today.

Barbara: My Mum and Dad grew up in Otane too. My grandfather came out from England and they went to several places in New Zealand but settled in Otane and what I’ve heard of him … language … first name just eluding me. And they built a nice house, and they actually had an orchard. And apparently my grandfather was the one who instigated the Anglican Church and the hall. And he used to grow vegetables and everything for the area, and apparently looked after the returned servicemen and their wives and everyone very well.

My grandmother, of course she got married to Arthur Robottom. Her name was Leonie Mary, and she had four … there’s four of them in the family, Aunty Ana …

Graham: Three girls and a boy.

Barbara: Yes. Anyhow, my grandmother married Arthur Robottom and he had come from Napier – I’m not exactly sure where he came from originally. But his father would go out and work cutting down trees, and his mother used to look after them in Napier. And anyhow, one day he went home to find that she had disappeared – gone off with a fellow – and left the two children, Aunty Jessie and Arthur, with a neighbour. Anyhow, the neighbour took on looking after them both while he still worked, and then when he got old enough he just got out the window one time and just decided that he’d had enough of school, and I … from what I understand he was only about fifteen. And he came to Otane and that’s where he actually stayed, I think with the Wedds, and got to know the people around Otane a bit. And there was an elderly lady up the road whose husband had been very sick – this is Argyll Road – and so he went and worked for her as a cowman, and he did all the odd jobs and helped the farmer. Anyhow the fellow … and I’m not sure of the time frame … but he passed away and she didn’t know what to do. And he said “well I know everything – well, you know – how to run the farm now”. So he continued on with her for years, and she didn’t really have much money to pay him so in the end, when it came to her having to shift – or needed to shift – she said, “well this is a lot of back wages”. But he did pay her back in finances apparently afterwards, and helped all her care – apparently he did really care for her and made sure she was fed and everything.

Anyhow, so he took over the farm and he of course married – can’t even think of his name at the moment … Arthur Robottom. He was about thirty-two, and he’d had his eye on my grandmother. They used to call her Nonie but she was actually Leonie, and she was only just turned twenty-one or something, and they got married and went for a honeymoon over to Melbourne. And when they came back they called the place ‘Melbourne’, because they loved it so much.

They were your grandparents?

They were my grandparents.

All of these people were all interconnected through the association with the …

That’s right. Oh, we’re even closer than that. [Chuckles] Because my grandparents, the Lawsons [Nilssons], Magnus and Isobel … my grandmother and Aunty Jean [Jane] Scrimgeour …

Graham: Who was a Wedd.

Barbara: … who was a Wedd, were brother [?] and sister. She married Frank Scrimgeour – Aunty Jean married Frank.

Graham: Aunty Jean Wedd, who was mum’s sister, married a Frank Scrimgeour, and Frank Scrimgeour’s sister married Barbara’s …

Barbara: Grandmother.

Graham: No, your grandfather. She was your grandmother. So …

Barbara: Gets complicated, that’s why I have to try and work it out. So anyhow …

Graham: Your father was farming in Otane – well originally he was Otane, right opposite where …

Barbara: Yeah … mum and dad lived. That’s where they first met.

Graham: Your mum was, and that’s where he met your mum.

So he was the Nilsson.

Barbara: Yes, he was the Nilsson. [Speaking together]

Graham: He was the Nilsson, yeah. The Robottom.


Barbara: So just back to my grandparents in Otane, Arthur and Leonie, because they had mother … mum, they had Aunty Phil – and she married Mick Fredsberg – Aunty Trixie, and Tom – Tom Robottom who still lives up – well, the family still lives at the Wakarara. Bill’s still there, and his son, yeah – okay?

Right, so we got married – we’ll put it that way – we got married and went to Otane and rented a house, and in the house it had a double bed, a single bed and a table that was much bigger than this one here. They couldn’t actually get it out of the house – a very old house – and they had three chairs and that was it. And we were given some money for wedding presents and ended up buying a refrigerator and a washing machine.

Now we’ll just pause there for a second because you’ve jumped – your father and mother moved from Otane to Middle Road at some stage. Did you move there and grow up ..?

Graham: That’s where Barbara was …

Barbara: … born.

We need to talk about moving from Otane to Middle Road, and your brothers.


Graham: Yeah, your Mum and Dad had how many children?

Barbara: Well, I’ve got Ian, and Tony, and myself and my sister Christine. And we lived in the cottage, and it was just … sort of the war came just after that. And my Dad …

Graham: No, you’ve jumped a little bit there. The Nilssons bought property in Middle Road. How many boys were there?

Barbara: No, we have to just go back to … [recording paused]

So I’ve got my two brothers and my sister, and we lived in Middle Road. And we used to live in the cottage in Middle Road, and then there was a wool boom that came and my Dad found that he was able to purchase or build a new house. He took the top off the hill just above us where we used to live in the cottage, and he built this beautiful home. And he bought a beautiful Bel Air car that came out, a huge big thing. And we had a new baby, my sister Christine – she’s eight years younger than I am.

So we all went to school on the bus. First of all mother used to take us down to the corner at Middle Road and Mutiny Road, and we would catch the bus to go in to the Havelock North Primary School. Later on she didn’t have to do that. The bus used to come up to Rose Road which was only about another k [kilometre] up the road, and get the Phillips and different people from up the road … the Fields and that.

High school I went to Iona College, and … oh, I was going to say … my brothers, they actually went over to the Napier Boys’ High, and they used to live with my Aunty Trixie, Mum’s younger sister. And she had a son, David … also David Nilsson … because she married Gordon Nilsson and he got killed in the war. So she would look after Tony and Ian during the week, and mother would go down and pick them up and bring them home for the weekend and then take them back again.

Always remember, Mum used to just absolutely laden [load] the car. Dad would make sure there was meat for everyone because Aunty Jessie and Aunty Ana, Nana’s sisters – grandmother’s sisters – lived there. So mother would go laden with all these goodies – she would bake cakes, she would have flowers, she would … just anything. She’d even take extra material or something that they could do, and always looked after them, just made sure everything was there that they needed.

Aunty Jessie used to make material mats – cut up material … old clothes and make them into mats. And they were something quite treasured in those days, and she used to sell them to get a little bit of money too. They all tried to help themselves. Aunty Ana – she used to always play the piano and she was amazing at that for the Church and for functions.

Back to Christine, because she was that much younger than me she of course just went off to Havelock North, and she went to Iona College but she was only eleven when I got married.

And I started off for my first year of leaving school learning to be a hairdresser. When I was at Iona College I used to cut the girls’ hair all the time, so when I got into hairdressing it was just like another [chuckle] day at school. But it was interesting – I learnt how to do non-electric perms, and I don’t know whether anyone has ever had one – I wouldn’t think so, but they are actually heated rods which burnt your fingers terribly when you tried to roll them up and roll the hair into it. And then of course you had to be careful not to burn the person that you were rolling their hair in. And it used to become tight little balls all over their head like an afro, you know. But anyhow, as the days went by it dropped out a little bit more and a little bit more. But Cora, the lady I worked for, she was very good and showed me all the works and showed me how to do everything. It was good. And then that’s when I met Graham. Oh, I boarded in Hastings too ‘cause I couldn’t go home each week. I boarded with a lady.

So did you ever have your hair permed with these things, Graham?

Graham: I don’t think I ever had hair quite long enough to be able to do it, Frank. [Chuckle]

Barbara: He used to have curly hair – black curly hair.

You mentioned David Nilsson – was he the butcher?

Graham: Yes.

Okay, well thank you Barbara – I’ll carry on now with Graham. You were married?

Graham: Yes – married. Working for my father, and I think at about the same time as we were married my father decided to bring me into a partnership with him, so he formed a company known as D I Riach & Son Ltd.

1961 was a tremendously wet year – the wettest winter that Hawke’s Bay had known. Up until that particular time we only worked around on sheep and cattle farms, cropping farms in the Central Hawke’s Bay area, but after the very wet winter of 1961 we ended up by going down to Hastings to do some work. There’d been some tremendous losses of peach trees, apple trees, and suchlike. And I remember driving … was 1961 … my father had purchased a trenching machine, and this had an endless chain on it which dug out the dirt and a bin was dragged along behind keeping the levels and we used to lay the pipes inside this bin and they would self-lay as we drove along. It was a four-wheel drive thing with a Fordson tractor up the front, and I remember driving that down to Hastings in about August of 1961 to the very first job that we were going to do, which was in Henderson Road for a gentleman who grew asparagus, Peter Heeney. And in those days they used to mould the asparagus up, but some places the moulds would be … I don’t know, four hundred – four hundred and fifty mls [millimetres] high at least. You couldn’t see the top of the moulds – the place was under water. So Dad just said “right – cover the machine up, we’re going home, back to Otane”, and I don’t think we went down there to do that job probably until the end of September. We did a bit of maintenance work and other stuff at home, but had a bit of a winter break.

From there Selwyn Wilson – as I say being Mr Drainage of Hawke’s Bay – he was getting around talking to landowners a lot around Hastings or the Heretaunga Plains from then on, because of having such a wet winter and so many trees were lost.

Barbara and I had our first daughter and then in 1964 my father decided he’d go through … Don would go, and Susan my mother would go … through to Hastings and buy a house there, and he could be then working in a bit closer with Selwyn Wilson. And Barbara and I shifted up into my mum and dad’s house in Henderson Street in Otane.

So I was in charge of all the labour that we employed. They all lived in Otane and Dad would be out with Selwyn Wilson pegging out the jobs, surveying and Dad used to order the pipes. And the clay pipes that we were using in those days came from Wairoa. And of course in the early days they had to be sent down by rail, as trucks were only allowed to go, I think, seventy miles against the rail, and I think Hastings used to be about seventy-five or seventy-six miles if I remember right.

So it was quite a job organising getting these pipes sent down by the rail, and then having farmers to pick them up themselves, or their contractors … trucking firms … to pick them up and take them out and lay them out along the lines that my father Don and Selwyn Wilson had pegged out. Eventually, because the first trenching machine that we owned was on four wheels, or tractor wheels, we used to get stuck fairly regular, and then of course not being able to get along we’d have to knock off for the winters. So my father decided that we should convert a machine over on to … In fact he found out about a gentleman down in Pahiatua that was building a trenching machine on – oh, it was a half track, a Fordson half track. He ended up by getting one made – that arrived in about 1964. That allowed us to work into the winter a little bit longer.

1965 – ‘66 Dad said “no, we’ve got to work even longer into winter”. So we converted that particular trenching machine on to the back of an Allis Chalmers HD5 crawler tractor with a 2-stroke motor in the front of it, a General Motors 2-stroke diesel – 2 cylinder 2-stroke.

What that the one that was converted in John Beale’s workshop?

In Napier Road down at Havelock North – yes. Then of course there was the matter of course of transporting it around and things like that, which created a few headaches. Elms Transport – they had a truck that we were able to get the machine onto … looked a bit unwieldy with all the trenching machine parts hanging out over the back of the truck. But in those days you just put a “Long Load” sign on and pretty much off down the road you went.

I’d have to go back and say in 1962 Dad ventured up to Gisborne, and we did quite a bit of land drainage up there and then Wairoa. And that part of the business grew and grew and it was always the summer months that we were going up there. And eventually by 1975 – the last year we were up there 1974, we were away for two months and we were travelling as far as Tolaga Bay and even further north. And I remember asking my father one day – we were staying in a hotel, the Bridge Hotel, just south of Gisborne. I said to him one night “would you travel from Otane to Wellington to go to work?” He said “what – are you crazy?” I said “yes, we are, because that’s approximately how far we’re travelling these days to go north of Gisborne”. So then he decided that we should set up another company up there which he did in 1975.

Barbara and myself … we ended up by having five children, but in 1970 we shifted down to Hastings. Sold out.

Barbara: The house wasn’t big enough.

This is from Henderson ..?

This is from Henderson Road in Otane, we moved down to Hastings. In fact Dad had bought a property just opposite where he and Mum lived in Karaitiana Road, and we ended up by purchasing thirty acres from Alec Stead out on Te Aute Road and we were going to be building a new house out there.

Our fifth child which was a boy, Paul – he was born on the …

Barbara: January 10th.

Graham: Huge earthquake that particular night. Sitting up in the Memorial and all of a sudden it started rocking.

Barbara: It was the chickens first.

Graham: Oh yeah, I heard the chickens – the noise was incredible, coming. And the old Memorial …

Barbara: Moved.

Graham: Yeah – the curtains blew in. There was this little breeze and the curtains blew in and we started rocking, and I thought ‘my gosh, where’s Barbara?’ She’s in the prep room or wherever, in the middle of the building. Anyway, eventually they said “righto Graham, you can come and be with your wife when she has this child of yours”, and I walked in and the doctor looked at me, Bruce Paton … Doctor Bruce Paton … said to me “what are you going to call him?” He’d just arrived. “Rocky?” [Chuckle] No, that wasn’t going to be his name. Three or four days later we moved to our new house out in Te Aute Road.

Barbara: Which was built in three months from the bottom to the finish, and also, they cut everything … did everything except the blockwork. Malcolm Tibbles did it.

Yes. Whereabouts in Te Aute Road?

Graham: No, I don’t remember the number. Going out Te Aute Road towards Pakipaki you went past Longlands Road. And in those days there was Bill Stevens with racehorses, there was … so we were about the third or fourth house. [Speaking together]

Alan Reid was …

Graham: Right next door. [Speaking together] He was right next door to us.

Barbara: … the neighbour, same drive – they used our drive.

Graham: And drainage was just growing and growing. Dad and Selwyn Wilson were so busy trying to keep the planning ahead of us, get pipes – buying clay pipes became a problem because there were other contractors had come in, and naturally they were buying pipes from Wairoa. We ended up by buying pipes from Auckland, and by this time you were able to truck them all the way down so they were coming from Auckland, they were coming from Carterton, Palmerston North, Marton, and Dad even tried getting two railway carriages from Invercargill just to try and keep us going. The hours of work were tremendous. We had a great crew of people working for us.

And of course your machines had become very efficient.

Yes – we were all the time just improving them. We could see slight improvements and yes, they were getting better all the time.

Sadly on the 11th of the 11th 1976 my father passed away very suddenly. He’d been up to Gisborne to see the operation up there and arrived home after two or three days in Gisborne and rang me up. “How’s things going?” “Yep, we’re flat out, things are going all right”.

Barbara: Brought us some oranges.

Graham: Yes. So next morning I had a phone call from my sister saying that Dad, my father Don, had had a massive heart attack and passed away.

So then the operation fell on my shoulders. Wasn’t quite expecting that to happen so soon, but anyway into that we went.

And Selwyn Wilson still did all the planning. His input into improving the Heretaunga Plains especially was incredible. He also worked down in Central Hawke’s Bay, Southern Hawke’s Bay … did a lot of sheep and cattle farms down in that direction. He was an incredible guy. He could walk on to a job and the farmer would be telling Selwyn how to drain this particular paddock. And having been in the drainage line myself for a little while – or for quite a few years – knowing and being told and brought up by Selwyn if you like, he would walk round the paddock and by the time we got back to the gate Selwyn had turned the farmer’s thinking around to the right way of which way you would drain the paddock, but it came from the farmer. The farmer was the one that eventually said “well, we’ll drain it this way, Selwyn”, but it was Selwyn’s idea all the way. He was so good at it, and as I say, always a real gentleman. So then my role, from operating machines and what-have-you, I started out going out with Selwyn Wilson doing the pegging and the planning like my father did.

We had a great time in our new house in Te Aute Road … the five kids growing up.

Barbara: Swimming pool?

Graham: Yes, we put a swimming pool in. But I was thinking about when we … going back, first moved down to Hastings we had only Wendy I think it was – or Mark might have been going to school. They went to Frimley School, then when we shifted out to Te Aute Road they were going to Havelock North Primary. But Barbara would have to take them down in the morning to Pukahu to catch the bus, just one and a half ks [kilometres] down the road. Anyway, I remember when our neighbour, Alan Reid, came he had three or four children ready to start school, we rang the Education Board and said “what about a bus coming past our gateway?” And they said “oh no”. The criteria in those days was that the children had to find their way a kilometre I think it was, to the school bus. So Alan and I got in the car, we went down to where the school bus would pick the children up and we drove along the road and we got to about .9 of a kilometre and we drove up our driveway, which made it 1.1 kilometres. [Chuckles] So we were very happy to ring them and tell them, and it wasn’t very long after that they started sending the school bus around past our gate and of course went on down to Crystall Road, over to Middle Road, and back up.

Now your children’s names?

Okay, children’s names. Wendy – our eldest daughter …

Barbara: Now fifty-one.

Graham: Mark, then Leonie, Quentin and Paul.

Well Leonie worked at Tremain’s for a while.

Graham: Yes.

Barbara: And she now sells medical alarms.

Graham: She does the medical alarms for St John.

Yes, well she’s been with St John’s for a long time.

She has been, yes.

Yes, Barbara was just mentioning about the kids going down the driveway to catch the bus at the road. ‘Course boys being boys I suppose … us guys with a welder and what-have-you … we built a three-wheeler go-kart thing. I think you could buy a machine called a met. That’s where we got the idea from, but we had just a couple of tyres on the back. The front wheel was actually a wheel off – oh, well that was about the same size, but the steering part was a long lever that came off a motor mower. And we put a little Briggs & Stratton motor on the back and three kids could climb on that and go down to catch the bus.

Well it was a long way from your gate back to where the house was.

Oh yes. [Chuckle]

Barbara: And they needed it [speaking together]

‘Specially on a wet day.

Barbara: … when the bus was waiting.

Graham: Yeah. [Chuckle] So we did – we had a great time up there, and grew asparagus, and went into cropping and all sorts of things like that.

Barbara: That’s when Dad gave me some money and we bought property …

Graham: We bought property down on Crystall Road, just over the bridge on the right-hand side off Te Aute Road, just over the Awanui stream. So we bought thirty acres down there.

Barbara: And then the McKeowns …

Graham: And then in 1981 we sold Te Aute Road property and bought a property off Jack McKeown in Crystall Road.

Still carrying on with drainage, by then our oldest daughter Wendy had gone through horticultural cadetship and she came home and started to run the orchard. She married, and her husband was helping. Anyway, it was still a very busy time and in 1981 land drainage was still booming, and I sold half the shares of – it was still called D I Riach & Son at that stage – half the shares to Hawke’s Bay Farmers Co-op and we renamed the company to Riach Drainage. A gentleman, Ali McKay – Alistair McKay – was the horticultural man in Hawke’s Bay Farmers Co-op, and Hawke’s Bay Farmers wanted to get into horticulture because it was becoming [a] pretty big item then. That worked all right for a while.

Selwyn Wilson retired from the Department of Agriculture – I think by that time it had become Department of Agriculture & Fisheries. Selwyn retired, he still helped us out occasionally but I’d taken on another gentleman called John Gray from Taradale, and John had worked in the Department of Agriculture & Fisheries and he’d been taught drainage by Selwyn. So John came on board and was employed full time by Riach Drainage. Still owned the company up in Gisborne and occasionally we would be sending our team from Hawke’s Bay with the trenching machine up to Wairoa and the guys from Gisborne would come down with their machine – there’d be that much work on. We had both machines up there so we could be doing all the planning and everything together.

Still quite a headache at buying pipes, the clay pipes. But also by this time there was plastic pipes starting to come on the market, and we were never very keen on the plastic pipe. We thought we could see quite a few downfalls with it – mainly being corrugated, that if you laid it on too flat a gradient it would silt up – which other contractors were doing and it did happen. Took about five years, and we were then re-doing some jobs that had been done by other contractors with corrugated plastic tubing. And of course we were putting in a smooth bore pipe which pretty much doesn’t silt up.

John Gray continued working through. We sold the orchard in ‘92 and moved to a new property in Stock Road out Bridge Pa and eventually sold … I should say that our oldest son, yeah, actually came and started work for us from about 1988-1990 he started to come, and was pretty much chief operator of the machinery.

Barbara: Stock Road in 1994.

Graham: Yeah. So it was about 1994 we shifted into Stock Road and then in 1995 we actually sold the business and I changed the name. Well, the name went with the business, and he was … a chap Paul Atkins, and he continued operating out of our yard for twelve months and then he changed the name of the company to Hawke’s Bay Drainage. And I’d formed another company called Riach Consultants and I would go out doing what Selwyn Wilson used to do – giving advice on drainage, and taking levels and all the rest of it – and doing planning for the new company of Hawke’s Bay Drainage.

Today I still have all the plans of every job that Selwyn Wilson planned, and all the plans of every job that John Gray had planned and myself, so I have boxes and boxes of plans of drainage. Every now and again you get a ring from a particular person – a landowner would say “oh, did you do the drainage on so-and-so’s property?” “Yep”. “Would you have the plans?” “Yes”. And I’m able to go away and find the plans.

You must have a big garage somewhere?

Oh, they’re all upstairs under the roof up there, yeah. Yes, there’s a lot of paperwork there that’s for sure.

Barbara and Graham Riach then went into – after selling the drainage business …

Barbara: Just back to Growers’ Cannery.

Graham: Oh, yes.

Barbara: Because that’s really important. [Speaking together]

Graham: Yeah – Grower Canneries … when we were living in Te Aute Road growing asparagus Alan Reid, our next-door neighbour, was growing asparagus. He actually was contracting to pick our asparagus because I was flat out on drainage. And he was selling a lot to the Auckland market and what-have-you. And Wattie’s Canneries were always very difficult with their second grade, and chopping butts off, and Alan got to the stage where he said “oh man, it’s difficult”. And the next thing he arrived home and he said to me “I’ve found some …” particular gentleman – I can’t remember his name … who was bottling asparagus up Omahu Road. And he said “I’ve had quite a talk with him”, he said “I think we could start up a cannery up there”. “Oooh, is that right Alan – okay”. He found another young guy that was prepared to sort of run the thing. There was [were] twelve of us put money in and we started Grower Canneries. Grower Canneries grew a bit too fast in a way, that twelve of us couldn’t keep up with it if you like, so we sold out to … Sir Russell Pettigrew actually bought the big shares and he expanded up the road still calling it Grower Canneries which eventually sold to McCain’s. So that was just another little experience. It was interesting while it all went on – it was just another little experience in your life.

Barbara: But it’s still here really. It’s still here as McCain’s.

Graham: Yeah. But in 1995-’96, thereabouts, Barbara and Graham Riach decided to start a tour company, so we named it Town & Country Tours. We started off with …

Barbara: Started off with a Pajero.

Graham: Oh yes, a Pajero and another van, a Mazda, whatever it was … mainly on wine tours, taking people around the wineries and what-have-you.

Barbara: And then going up to Auckland …

Graham: Yes – eventually we bought a sixteen-seater coach. Went down to Dunedin and bought this coach and I was able to see my aunty – that’s my father’s younger sister – who lived in Dunedin all her life. So we had a night or two with her, and then one morning jumped in this coach which was [a] Japanese import of course. I always remember walking through it, and it had cigarette holders on the back of the seats and it was still full of butts. Yeah.

Was this when you bought it?

This is when we bought it down …

They hadn’t been emptied?

Nup – nothing had been cleaned inside. So we drove it from Dunedin up on to the ferry, and on up to Hastings and tidied it all up. We eventually then bought a ten-seater coach – a Ford van which we had converted into a coach and what-have-you, and ended up with a limousine as well. So between the two of us we were sort of pretty busy running about five vehicles, or whatever it was.

But it was a great thing meeting so many different people. Both of us would be ringing a company called Gannets Safaris Overland – they were taking people overland out to see the gannets over Summerlee Station in those days. And it was run by Michael Neilson and Lyn Allen, and with us booking people on, eventually I was asked one day by Michael “oh, would you drive a bus for us?” “Yeah – okay”. So I drove out to the gannets occasionally, then they’d get too busy and they’d ask me to drive our van out. They were going out in four-wheel drive buses and I’m taking out a two-wheel drive van. Interesting at times, but anyway, it was enjoyable.

Barbara: And I joined them.

Graham: Yes, Barbara came out. With having a passenger service licence she was able to drive their van, and our van occasionally. So we sort of got … yeah, pretty busy with them, busy with the limousine doing weddings and taking people to dinner in different places – wherever they’d booked in – and …

Barbara: To Auckland, to shows.

Graham: Yes, we went to Auckland to shows, down to Wellington to shows, and we continued through until 2001.

Barbara: And we shifted to Williams Street.

Graham: Yeah, we sold the property in Stock Road, shifted into Williams Street so at night when you’re driving the limo, that if you go and drop people off in Napier you didn’t have to drive quite so far.

Yeah – we moved into Williams Street and we stayed there operating through until as I say, 2001 when we sold out to a company called Bay Tours & Charters which I drove for a little bit, occasionally. I was working for a friend on his orchard, Wayne Evans, out at Twyford. Oh gosh, I had a whole heap of little jobs – I remember doing hundreds of acres discing up tomatoes for … hmm, some contractor – I can’t think of his name now.

Then we moved from Williams Street out to Havelock North. By the time we got to Williams Street I think all our family had been married and left home – well and truly. So we moved out to … [speaking together]

Barbara: There’s one still not married.

Graham:Havelock North …

Barbara: Palm Brook.

Graham: Yeah, to Palm Brook, and I was – even from there I was helping, or working for Wayne Evans on his orchard. I would be driving through the summer months out to Cape Kidnappers with Gannets Safaris Overland. I even drove a school bus for a while for Waipawa Buses, which was a very interesting operation. Well, the school children were interesting.

Barbara: To Pakipaki.

Graham: Yes.

Then eventually we decided – by this time of course, going a way back, Barbara had shifted her parents’ house off the beachfront here at Kairakau, over to the back of the new subdivision. Did it all up, and we had that for quite a few years. Then with her parents passing on she ended up with their house which they had in the section over the back here. And eventually I said to Barbara one day “you know – we’re going out there, we’re mowing two lots of lawns, paying two lots of rates – why don’t we come down to one house?” And this particular house that we’re sitting in right at this very moment, which had been built in 1990 by Barbara’s cousin, Murray Pierce, came on the market. So we ended up by selling two houses and actually bought two houses on the one section. It’s like a town house, this one here. So then I said “well, we’ve still got two houses, one at the beach, one in Havelock North – I think we’ll sell the one in Havelock North”, which we did, and moved out here to Kairakau. And at the same time we were moving out, our son Mark, who was living in Auckland, was working for a company called Heb Construction in Auckland, and they were going to be doing a subdivision on the Coromandel at a place called Matarangi. And Mark’s in-laws who are English came out, and Mark said “you had better come up and see them”. So we shifted everything out – just plonked it in the house here at Kairakau – got in the car, drove to Matarangi on the Coromandel and met the in-laws. But I’d sort of gone over to Mark’s portacom office and there’s a great big Case tractor sitting outside, with a big level bar – big four-wheel drive thing, air-conditioned cab, got everything. And I said “man! I could go for a drive in that”, and he said “well go on then, away you go”. So I got in it, started it up – he said “you just go round and round, level all the sand out – that’s all you have to do”. “Okay”. So after about a quarter of an hour or so of playing around with that I drove back, and there’s the guy standing at the door of the office, and he’s looking quite serious. I walk over and this particular gentleman said to me “when are you going to start?” I said “no – I’m not starting anything”. Well he said “you can handle that machine very well”, he said “the job’s yours”. I said “no … we’ve just come up to meet … say gidday to Mark’s in-laws. We’re off back … we‘ve got to settle into our house that we’ve just shifted into”. “I’ll give you a week”. So we came home, organised ourselves down here and we went back up there and worked for three months driving this tractor. But I not only drove the tractor of course, I could handle an excavator which I did a bit of that big Moxy machine, thirty-tonner thing – oh, beautiful getting in one of those and driving them around, carting sand.

Barbara: And I helped.

Graham: Yeah, Barbara was helping in different places. Anyway, we actually went … well I said that I had to come home, because I was working full time by this time with Gannets Safaris Overland. The season’s starting, so we came home. I did the season, and then Mark is on the phone again “oh, we’ve got the next subdivision to do, but I want you and Mum to come and actually work for the company I work for, not the other contractor”. I said “oh, okay”.

So we hired a house up there and we went up. Anyway, one of our main jobs was to … they were doing drainage, but they weren’t doing it with clay pipes, they were doing it with plastic pipes. They were buying six metre lengths of plastic pipe and we had to put slots in it – two rows of slots, eighty slots per pipe, and we had kilometres of this to do. So we carried these pipes in – we had a saw set up – I’d be pushing it down, Barbara’d be pushing the pipe …

Oh, it wasn’t automated?

Not automated at all.

Barbara: No – novice estimator.

Graham: It was the old arm, up and down forty times.

Barbara: And I’d push, and then I’d turn it over and bring it back, and take it out.

Graham: Take it out and put it back in a pallet and what-have-you. I think we ended up … oh, I’ve got it written down, but … [Chuckle] I think there was something like about four kilometres of pipe we did.

But we did all sorts of things – Barbara was the lollypop girl one day because they were tar-sealing across a road. Oh, we did everything. Yep – we had a great time – it was really enjoyable. We spent six months that year up there, and then of course at the finish of it we came home and went back and worked for Gannets Safaris Overland which I still do. And the season’s just started again and I’m due to go out for my first trip this season any time now.

So that’s fascinating … just one question – is Hawke’s Bay Drainage still going?

No. Hawke’s Bay Drainage sold out to Infracom. And is Infracom still going? No.

So it just fizzled out.

It fizzled out, and even today I don’t know where the trenching machines – there was [were] two of them left over – I don’t know where they went to … I don’t know.

Interesting. I always remember the Allis sitting in John Beale‘s workshop – it seemed years but it wasn’t, but John always took a bit of time to do certain jobs.

Dad would say to him “oh, how many hours you spent on this today, John?” “Well …” He probably said “Frank Cooper came in and wanted a little job done so I’d do that, and then the Meickle Farm Trust – the Meickle boys from over the road – they’d come in …” But he had a great brain on him. Yeah, a great brain. Yeah. He was incredible.

Barbara: The trees that … we had the orchard … seemed to miss that out somehow.

Graham: Oh, yeah, well I said Wendy had come home and was running the orchard. So yes, we were into quite a few acres of orcharding.

So you retired here. I’m sitting at the dining table looking at the most beautiful mosaic wall created out of beautiful plates – crockery pieces of real plates – and it really is … this is world class. It is absolutely amazing. It’s interesting – that gateway goes to where?

Oh, the door? That’s the door to nowhere.

And the mosaic wall – is that on the neighbours’ ..?

Barbara: Double garage. I started off doing it because I was bored. We came here and I had been so busy doing other work and counselling and everything and helping people and stuff. And when we got here there was nothing to do. And I thought ‘well it can’t be that hard’, so I went and got a book out of the library. Came home and had a read and I thought ‘oh, well – there’s a chopping block there – I’ll cover that’.

There’s so many pieces, it’s not just a few big pieces – there’s thousands.

Barbara: Yeah – ‘tis.

Graham: Actually Frank, you say that we’ve come and retired here. [Chuckles]

Barbara: That’s a laugh.

Graham: I own a ride-on mower. I mow ten lawns for people around here; we trim trees – Mo Pierce who lives out here full time – he’s got a tractor with a front-end loader on it; we put a bin on the front – we trim the tops of trees; we do all sorts of things. We have Kairakau Development Society – I’m a committee member on there, and Kairakau Development Society runs a camp here with twenty-seven sites, and you know, it sort of keeps you busy – you’re going round just tidying up and keeping things running.

Barbara: Just put a whole lot of new cylinder and water system in …

Graham: Oh, yes, well …

Barbara: We’ve just been doing that. In the winter he keeps the toilet open and he keeps it clean for the public.

This is the one down at the end of the road?

Barbara: Just down here, yes.

Graham: The Council said “oh – close the toilet up”, and we said “no, you can’t do that”. And we keep the paraplegic one open and I keep it tidy. 

Right – well that probably …

Pretty much sums it up.

 … pretty much covers up the life and times of your family. So thank you very much for the opportunity. Once it’s all done we’ll let you know when it goes on to the website and you can enjoy it all over again. 

Graham: Thank you.

Barbara: Might be frightening. [Chuckle]


Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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