Grant, Timothy George (Tim) Interview

Today is the 19th June 2017. I’m interviewing Tim Grant of Wairoa, a retired Mercantile Manager for Williams & Kettle, age ninety-one. Tim is going to tell us about the life and times of his family.

Yes, thank you, Frank. Well, I’ve been in Wairoa my whole life, ninety-one years. My mother came from Ireland. She came out to New Zealand in 1898 with my grandfather, Tim Toomey, and his wife Brigid. They landed in Port Chalmers and made their way to Wairoa because his wife’s brother, Pat Barrett, already lived in Wairoa so that brought Tim Toomey and his wife to Wairoa.

My mother was about nine months old when she came to New Zealand. There’s three of us in the family – my sister Molly lived in Hastings; my brother Jim also lived … well, he lived in lots of places. He worked in Wairoa as a messenger boy in the Post Office and then was transferred out to Nuhaka to be on the exchange out there. From there he went to Waipawa, to Shannon and back to Hastings, and he married a girl from Waipawa, one of the Cables. They had two daughters Janice and Corinne, and they both live in Hastings now.

I started as a grocer boy – well, it was actually 1939, in October 1939 I went to work and I worked for a chap who had a grocery shop on the Marine Parade in Wairoa. His name was Len Frude. He sold the business to Mick Barrett, and I worked for Mick for six months and then I got a job in 1940 I think … well I started at W&K [Williams & Kettle] on the 3rd December 1940, and I worked there for forty-six years.

Just going back a bit, Tim. Did you go to primary school and high School in Wairoa?

Yes. Yes, I went to school in 1931. I was due to go to school at the end of January in 1931. That was the year of the earthquake, but the earthquake delayed things and I didn’t get to school until about April or May of 1931. And I went to St Joseph’s Convent and was taught by the nuns. I left school straight after the … the war started in September 1939 and that’s when I left school, straight away – oh, in October I left school and went to work in October 1939.

So you would have been too young to go to war?

I was examined for the war in 1918, [1938] but I think Hitler knew I was coming, so …

Yes, I was the grocer’s boy at W&K. You know, you’ve got to start at the bottom of course. I worked for ten years as a grocer and then I became a clerk in the office, and I was a clerk for ten years, a costing clerk and merchandise clerk and then I became Merchandise Manager in 1960. And I was Merchandise Manager ’til 1986, and I retired at sixty.

I was married in 1949 … oh, 1947 I’m sorry … and I was married for sixty-six years before my wife died.

What was her name, Tim?

Her name was Barbara Nickland. Her father owned the brickworks – him and his brother owned the brickworks.

That’s out here?

Yes, that’s down towards the beach.

Where the made the field tiles as well?

Yes, field tiles and bricks.

Interesting. I used to come and cart field tiles from here back to Hastings to drain our farm.

Yes. Yes, there were thousands and thousands of bricks and field tiles, and I can remember the old man – old Bill Nickland, Barbara’s father – he had real big hands and they were from flanging the tops of pipes, the sewerage pipes and that sort of thing. Yes. Her father died … I just don’t remember the year or the date, but … and his brother-in-law died exactly the same day, so we had two funerals on the one day. One was in the Anglican Church, and one was in the Presbyterian Church.

Right. When you were at school did you play any sport at all? You must have played rugby.

I played rugby, but oh, I played rugby when I was about sixteen – seventeen, but I was pretty light – I was only about nine stone, and those big Maori fellows here that used to play rugby, they’d knock you around. So it wasn’t very enjoyable, and I’m afraid to say I wasn’t much good at rugby, I – I was more scared of the Maori boys than anything else.

Yes, well we had the Te Aute boys in Hastings. I don’t think any of them had birth certificates because we reckoned most of them were in their twenties when they were playing us when we were fourteen or fifteen.

Yes, oh some of the Maori boys that I played against, they were real big fellows, you know. Some of then were sixteen and eighteen stone, you know, and well, if you got hit by them you’d come up with a broken bone somewhere. Broken nose – I’ve had a broken nose about three times, a broken shoulder, and yes, they were just a bit too big and strong for me.

I took up golf in latter years and that was my forte I suppose you could say. I won the championship four times, two intermediates and two junior A’s, but I really enjoyed the game. It was my second home. I can recall my wife when I went home and told her that I had been made a life member she said “well so they should – you’ve lived there all your life”.

Yes, look you obviously put a lot back into it too, because you said you were the handicapper for – how many years?

Thirty-six years, and then in charge of the nineteenth – stocking up and doing the purchasing, stocktaking every Monday to see that the money was always there. Yes, I quite enjoyed it – really enjoyed that part of it.

Well coming back to Williams & Kettle. Stock firms, or mercantile firms those days, were quite – they were almost like big supermarkets weren’t they?

Well, today of course supermarkets are always saying ‘this is on special, save so much’. Well, how do you know what the price was in the first place, because they have a monopoly. So you don’t know whether you’re being …

Haven’t got a clue.

No, not really. No, I really enjoyed my stay at W&K because the people I dealt with when I was Merchandise Manager were really … oh, some very fine people amongst them.

And of course mercantile covered weed sprays, fertilisers, seeds. It covered all the things that a farmer needed.

Yes. Oh yes, we had a big grocery business. We had excellent hardware and we had very good fellows working for us in the hardware, and we had a lovely china department and we had a very efficient lady working for us in the china department.

You wouldn’t have had a seed dressing plant in Wairoa would you?

We had a seed mixing plant. Yes, we used to sell a lot of seed, and you know, some quite big acreages. You could get an order for fifty acres or perhaps a hundred acres.

Those days stock firms and all their field reps were all identities in the community weren’t they?

Yes.

A lot of farmers – they didn’t even decide when to plant or when to spray – their mercantile rep managed the crop. And the other thing that amazed me was that so many of the farmers had a Williams & Kettle cheque book.

Yes, yes – the red cheques.

That’s right. It was a different world, and today we say to ourselves “where did the stock firms go to?” And I suppose a lot of the farmers had been supported at the time of the earthquake and the slump and the stock firms carried them through.

Yes, well quite a lot of the farmers asked for seasonal finance until the wool was sold. Course the wool today is – you might as well give it away, it’s not worth anything. I mean today … a farmer was telling me not so long ago that his wool clip only paid for the shearing. I can recall back in 1950 or ’51 there was a big wool boom and W&K paid all their staff a big bonus which was very handy at the time. Yes. We had some very good stock agents here, we had a fellow named McCulloch – Dave McCulloch – very well known, and of course Stuart Birrell. Stuie was pretty well known around here and his son today, Mason Birrell, works for PGs, [PGG Wrightson] and he’s very well known – he’s got a very good reputation.

They had the trust of farmers, totally. So you must have seen a lot of changes over the period that you were a mercantile rep. ‘Cause you went through a bit of a boom here with the maize industry didn’t you?

Oh yes. Yes. Well I had a big acreage of maize and of course you had to inspect it regularly to see when it wanted to be side dressed with urea and that sort of thing. And cornea worm and all those sort of things you had to look out for, and we had aerial topdressing of course. I can recall one Maori farmer I had him put ’bout ten acres of maize in and he had a beautiful crop and he used to ring me and ask me how my maize was. “How’s my maize?” [Chuckle] I used to say “it’s looking very good, excellent – you’ve got a good crop”. Well then about – just before it was due to be harvested about the beginning of June we had a terrific storm, and it blew the maize just about flat. We did manage to get a little bit out of it, but when this chap saw his maize, as he called it ‘my maize’, then all of a sudden it became my maize. “How’s your maize?” he would say. Those were sort of … funny sort of little incidents.

And of course you would have had identities being a farming area …

Oh, yes.

… ‘specially away from the big cities.

Yes. I had a regular golf match at least once a month with two fellows from Tuai, both farmers, which was a regular monthly occurrence.

What were their names?

Alec Mitchell and Donald McDonald.

Yes, my doctor used to own Tapui Station …

Oh, Abernethy.

Yes, Ian.

He had a manager. And that’s where the golf course was …

That’s right.

… Waikaremoana Golf Course. Oh, it was a terrible golf course. If your golf ball hit a rock you’d never know where it went.

And so did you ever spend any time at Waikaremoana?

Well I used to go up there for golf tournaments and go to visit you know, clients up there, Don and Alec Mitchell, and Alan Little and Brian Shotton. And I used to go to Wilson’s Mill at Tuai. H N Wilson, he had a mill there, he used to cut a lot of rimu.

Where was that mill?

Marumaru Station it’s called, as you go past Tuai, go up to, oh, virtually towards Onepoto. Yes, it was a good mill. And when I went up there to see Mr Wilson I always had to go and have a cup of tea with Mrs Wilson, and she would have been one of the best snooker players I’ve struck. We always had a game of snooker – always the best of three, and I don’t think I ever [chuckle] … I might have won a couple. And I wasn’t a bad snooker player myself actually, I won the Championship at the Wairoa Club once in snooker. But Mrs Wilson was a … she was a gun.

For those of us who just pass through Wairoa, the changes over time … you know, you had the bridge wash out, you’ve had – all sorts of things have happened here, but Wairoa still keeps on going. You’ve had problems with the freezing works.

Yes, we had the second earthquake – of course that was in 1932, and that’s when we lost the original Wairoa bridge. That finally went into the river, and then we got the new bridge which – I recall, I think they’d started it because I have a photograph somewhere here of one span leaning down into the river. The earthquake pulled it off the abutments. Yes, I can recall the back of the Gaiety theatre when I was playing in the blacksmith’s yard – a friend of mine that we lived next door to, him and I were in the blacksmith’s yard and we were sitting in an old gig that was in there for repair. And it started to move backwards and forwards, and of course we’d thought we were making it move. And then we saw the policeman coming out of the Station across the road and we thought we’d done something wrong, so we high-tailed it across the fence and home. And it was the earthquake doing it, yes, and the plaster on the back of the Gaiety started to crumble off. And when I got home of course there was nobody home, and the house was sort of … and the kitchen table – the kitchen was all a wreck.

So what was it like growing up in Wairoa as a young man?

Oh, pretty good. You did what you … you know … you got up to a bit of mischief, pinching watermelons and that sort of thing. That was a boys’ trick I suppose. We raided one Maori fellow’s watermelons – well we thought they were watermelons because he had tin cans and all that around to make a noise if anybody got in there, but we got about four melons and headed off down towards the sale yards to eat them, and they were pie melons. Yes, we had these beautiful pie melons, yes, and his watermelon patch was further over – we didn’t see it.

Those days I suppose, most of you got around on bikes the same as we did?

Yes. I had two paper runs. I had a paper run at 6 o’clock in the morning for Mr Hannan – he was the bookseller here … the newsagent … and that was the Daily Mail. That was a Hastings paper and I used to deliver that and then went to school. And then at night I’d get my papers – the Daily Telegraph – off the railcar which came in at twenty minutes to eight, and I delivered the papers to North Clyde and the Main Street. And I got 5/- [five shillings] a week from Mr Hannan, and 5/6d [five shillings and sixpence] a week from the Daily Telegraph. And I had to buy a bike of course – bought a bike from the Farmers’ Trading Company in Auckland. I think it was … I recall £3/12/6d I think the bike was, and my mother used to pay that off at – we used to send a postal note for 5/- the end of every month to pay it off. A Monarch Special. That was the Farmers’ … they were good bikes. Oh yes, I had a Raleigh before … I never owned a car until I was oh, must have been thirty … going into the thirties before I had a car.

Now you said you were married for sixty-six years before your wife passed. Where did you meet your wife?

She worked in a confectionery shop called the ‘Nibble Nook’, and it used to cater for the patrons at the Regent Theatre. Yes, that’s where I met her because I used to deliver the bags of sugar and icing sugar and that sort of thing down to that shop, ’cause they used to make the chocolate and that to dip the icecream in the chocolate.

Was she a Wairoa person too?

Well, they came from all over. She was actually born in Aramoho in Whanganui, and they went and worked at Johnsonville, Trentham and then to Gisborne, and she came to Wairoa when she was seven. She was a long time here.

And I take it she wasn’t a golfer?

No.

Did she play any sports?

Too busy looking after five children.

The children. What are their names?

Well there’s Elizabeth who lives in Gisborne; there’s Peter who lives in Paihia; John lives in Wellington but he works in Australia, but he comes home every … he works over in the mines in the Pilbarra in Western Australia. He drives a train. Then I’ve got Susan, she works for Tarrant Cotter. Susan has only had one job. Forty years at Tarrant Cotter … well, it used to be McCulloch, Butler & Spence. Old John was the … part of Tarrant Cotter. And then I’ve got Anthony. He’s my baby. He’s a lawn mowing contractor.

Is he local?

Yes, yes, he lives locally. Two of them still live here, and Elizabeth comes down from Gisborne quite often.

And have you been over to see your son in Western Australia?

Well I’ve never been over to see him, no, but we did travel quite a bit. We went to the States and Canada and Niagara Falls. We were actually in New York when the twin towers were …

So you had trouble getting out?

Well we didn’t see half of the sights we wanted to see – Coney Island – we weren’t allowed over there; Statue of Liberty, we didn’t get there; Empire State building, we weren’t allowed in there. And we weren’t allowed to go near the bomb site of course. And the hotel we were supposed to stay in, that was within the perimeter of where the explosions were so we had to shift out of there into another hotel, and we had trouble getting out of the country because the flights were …

All cancelled.

Well we spent an extra couple of days waiting for flights to go to London. We went over to London, and I went over to Ireland to see where my mother was born.

Where was that?

That was in Mitchelstown in County Cork. That’s Dublin … round about that area there. No, Ireland was quite lovely actually. We liked Ireland. We sort of thought it was quite similar to New Zealand in lots of ways. We saw … went to Kildare to the horse stud to have a look. I loved racehorses. And we went to Guinness brewery of course, had a look at that. Waterford – Waterford, the crystal … Waterford crystal.

Coming back to your horse interest. You just had an interest in them racing?

Yes, yes. I’ve got a system. I back number 11 in every last race, and the idea is that I can’t lose any more money if it loses, because there are no more races. It works quite well sometimes.

I worked for Tremains, and if we made a lot of money for the company they took us to Australia or Raratonga, and we’d go to a racecourse somewhere. And sometimes we used to put the pin through the paper, and Tim, it was just as effective as the people who’d been told by the jockey “bet on this one”.

I always say that jockeys are the worst judges. Kelvin Tremain worked for W&K. Yes, I knew Kelvin, he used to come up here. He was a farm advisor. Oh, he was a really nice fellow, Kelvin.

There must have been some funny things happened in Wairoa over time. Mason Horne was an amazing …

Oh yes, yes.

… he was an identity.

Yes. Yes, I went to Mason’s farewell at the Wairoa Club a couple of weeks ago, and I told them about an instance of … the W&K Manager and I were looking through some old ledgers and we came across this entry. It was a taxi fare – Saber’s Taxis to Putere, Mason Horne. And I think the price was £1/10/6d – I may be wrong there but I think that’s the figure. And further down two or three months later, here’s another entry but it was for £3/1 shilling, because it was to take Mason back to Putere from the Wairoa … the Wairoa Club rang up Saber’s to get him a taxi to take him home. I don’t think he liked driving in the dark, [chuckle] and Ray Saber, a friend of mine, took him home and I think probably Mason invited him in for a glass of water or something like that when he got him there, and Ray had to stay the night. Anyway the £3/1/- was a return fare because he brought Mason back to town the next day to get his vehicle.

When you think of the other thing that happened during your stewardship at Williams & Kettle the aerial topdressing all came of age.

Yes, we sold literally thousands of tons of super old Bill Cookson spread for W&K clients. Mr Bayley was one of our big fertiliser clients. He had quite a few stations around here, there was Okare and Cricklewood, Pihanui, Kokohu, Te Puna – yes. Today Pihanui, Kokohu and Te Puna are no longer with the Bayleys, but they have more property up the Ohuka. Yes, he was a big … he was a very big client of W&K, John Bayley. And his father before that, Humphrey.

Yes. With the interviewing of people from these areas, you all of a sudden find there was another group of people underneath and that was the top dressers.

Yes – oh, we had two companies here. We had Cookson and Fieldair. Fieldair were run from Gisborne.

Actually I used to go up to Tapuni station and last time I was there they had three planes from one company all working. And the trucks were coming in about every three hours. But when we were there we must have seen nine hundred – a thousand tons go up in one day, and they said it would all be spread.

Yes. Sam Stone was the manager when I was in Kettles, and then Ray Cromby.

But Sam Stone, we used to have troubles with Sam. The old devil used to let the cattle out.

Did you know a chap McKnight … Alan McKnight?

Everyone knows Alan, the butcher.

Yes, I think he’s still up there.

He is. Also the chap that owned the butchers shop before Alan, who was the mayor here …

Livingstone. Old Jack, yes.

But the butcher, he’s the most hospitable man.

Alan? Yes, nice little fellow, Alan. Yes, old Jack Livingston – I remember years and years ago when he tried to join the Gentlemen’s Club … the County Club. Somebody must have nominated him to become a member, and old Jim Gillespie – he was the chemist here – and old Jim tried to have him blackballed. He said “oh, we don’t want a common butcher in here” …

You’re joking?

… “as a member”.

He became the Mayor later didn’t he?

He did, yes, and he did get into the Club and then not long after that became the Mayor. He was quite a good Mayor too, old Jack.

Any other things you can think of? 

Oh, not really. My grandfather was pretty well known around Wairoa, old Tim Toomey. And I always tell the story about … I always used to say “my grandfather, Tim Toomey, was a very well known man around Wairoa – at one time he had three hundred people under him”. Then I’d have to say “’cause he worked at the cemetery”.

So Toomey – that’s a name in Hastings too, some accountants in Hastings. 

Are they T-doubleo or T-w? [Pronounces letters]

T-doubleo. 

My grandfather, when he came out from Ireland he was T-w-doubleo-m-e-y, but so the story goes, that there was a mix up down in … when he registered in Dunedin – must have been coming into the country – the ‘w’ … they sort of said “doubleoo”. Well it was T-doubleoo-doubleoo-m-e-y, and the clerk wrote it down as T-doubleoo-m-e-y, and that’s what he became, Toomey.

Now, grandchildren? 

Yes, I’ve got nine grandchildren and I’ve got twenty-one great grandchildren. If there’s any more I’ll give them a number instead of a name. Yes, I’ve got two grandchildren live in Paihia – they’re Kathryn and Janine. I’ve got one … oh, three live in Australia – I’ve got Amanda, Stephanie and Victoria – live in different parts of Australia, Victoria, Melbourne, one lives up the … Queensland. And I’ve got a boy, a grandson in Wellington, Damon. And I have a grandson who’s a policeman at Pukekohe, that’s Ross, and I’ve got Dean, lives in Gisborne and he’s a policeman too. And there’s twenty-one great grandchildren. My son in Australia that drives the trains in the mines – he’s well over $150,000 – you know, it’s big money.

So, here you are … how long have you been on your own, Tim?

Ah, ’bout three and a half years. Yes, so since I’ve been on my own I’ve learnt to cook, but before that there was a demarcation line – I wasn’t allowed to cross that to go to the kitchen so I had to start from scratch and learn to cook but I’ve become … well, I’m still alive – my tucker must be pretty good.

And I suppose you’re like all of us, your friends are thinning out as well.

Oh, well that’s what I’m getting scared of – I’ll be the only one left shortly – a lot of my friends are dying. There was five of us all going to be ninety last year, and three of them have died since and there’s only one chap and myself left out of the nineties. We’re both ninety-one now, so it’ll be a competition between him and I, who outlasts each other.

Well you obviously have good health because you look and sound good.  

Oh, yes, I keep pretty good. My walking getting … that’s not so good. But I’ve got walking … people say to me “well why don’t you get a walking stick?” I tell them walking sticks are for old people.

Do you watch the yachting at all, or rugby? 

No, it’s a bit early for me, five o’clock in the morning. I do watch the replay and listen to the news at 9 o’clock and get the result.

 It’s difficult when you see these yachts – they’re neither an aeroplane or a boat. 

True. I heard the lady on the air the other day talking to Leighton Smith, and she said the America’s Cup was no longer a yachting race because the boats they sail today aren’t really yachts. She said she liked to see them when they put the spinnaker out and that sort of thing.

Nothing will ever be the same as it was.

Well as long as that fellow – what’s his name – Larry Nelson, with all his money – he’ll just keep changing the rules.

I hope they don’t. I hope that if we win it we win it fair and square.

Yes, well we’ve got a bit of a lead at the moment, haven’t we?

Sure have. Okay, well I think probably we’ve covered most of the … But coming into Wairoa, it looks as if Wairoa’s got a new lease of life. It looks good, and you know, the streets are busy down on the Parade.

Well unfortunately there’s a lot of empty shops – it’s a shame, like we haven’t got a butchers’ shop.

Haven’t you?

No, only the super… and we’ve only got one supermarket – oh, well there’s another little supermarket in town but he’s neither here nor there because he’s too small. And there’s no shoe shop and there’s no menswear, there’s no ladies’ … oh, well there is a place further down. We have a furniture shop, as I say, no shoe shops, and no greengrocers, and no grocers.

See Havelock, it’s booming at the moment – it has more cafes and dining outlets. It doesn’t have a men’s outfitter.

The Warehouse is the only place you can go.

Yes – you’ve got a Warehouse here, have you?

No. They did look to building one here one part of it, but I don’t think they can get enough land. Well there was land available but it wasn’t for sale.

Just as a finish, I met you through Stuart Birrell. You’ve obviously been friends …

Oh yes.

… for a long time. And we will get an interview with him one of these days, I’m sure we will.  

Stuart and I used to make a … we were both retired and were reasonably fit. We used to go out chopping firewood for the winter, and he … Stuart had a little truck, bigger than a ute, and when we’d filled our own sheds up for the winter – I had enough firewood for four or five winters I suppose – we started to sell it. People asked us for a load a wood, and I can recall coming to town one day with the truck load of wood and I said to Stuart “what are we going to do with this?” And Stuart was pretty big hearted. He’d say “oh, Sam Cooper wants a load of wood – he can’t go and get it – we’ll drop this load off to Sam Cooper.” And it wasn’t just drop the load off, you stacked it in Sam’s shed and you know … Mark Burridge wants a load of wood – oh, poor old Mark, he can’t go and get firewood. So this day we were coming to town, and I said “what are we going to do with this load Stu?” And he said “I know where I can take this, I’ll take it up to the Nuns in Queen Street”. So we got up there and Sister Mary came out and we asked her would she like the load of wood and she said “oh, how much would it be?” And Stuart said straight away, he said “oh, $30.” Hell! We usually sell it for anything from $50 to $80, you know, for this truck load good truck load for $80. And so Sister went in and she came out and she brought the cheque out for $30 and Stuart straight away tore it up. He said “I’ll tell you what, Sister, you can sing at my funeral”. And Sister Mary is still alive and she lives in Hastings. Whether she’d be able to sing … but she had a beautiful voice.

Isn’t that a nice story?  Well you know, one of the greatest things you can do in life is to give, isn’t it?

Yes.

And you don’t need to be thanked for it. It’s giving that gives you the satisfaction.

That’s what Michael Jones, the footballer said. “It’s better to give than take”.

All right, unless you can think of …

No, I think we’ve covered a fair bit of it. I’ll probably think of lots of things when you’ve gone.

Yes, okay.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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