Harding, Timothy (Tim) John Interview

Good morning. Today is Tuesday 3rd August 2021. I’m Lyn Sturm, and I’ve been given the pleasure of interviewing Timothy Harding from Waipukurau, Central Hawke’s Bay.

Right, thank you. Where would you like me to start?

Your date of birth?

19th October ‘46; born in Waipawa, lived on the farm … well, ‘til I moved off on my own. I remember growing up in a rather old dilapidated cottage on the farm that Mum and Dad first moved into. We had a flush loo but it was well outside. [Chuckle] But we had power and a heater; the coal range did most of the cooking still. And then from there … well, I grew up, my brother David and I were the ones that … and John later came. We must’ve been there about five, six, seven years perhaps; then moved into what’s now the Tarewa home on Mt Vernon. Peter Collinge lives there now.

So from there we went to school … Waipukurau Primary. Interesting, Mum was sort of bogged down with young ones, and I suppose I walked down to the gate occasionally and my grandfather would pick me up there in an old, old car that he had .. old by nowadays standards. Fairly gruff sort of a guy and gave me an absolute rocket one day because when I got in – he was a man of few words – he said, “Oh, shut the door.” And I said, “It is.” “Don’t you contradict me!” So that was the first big word I ever learnt. [Chuckles] So that went on, and yeah, I had a fairly distant sort of relationship with him, you know, he was fairly … dry old beggar. So that was that.

And anyway, those years David and I used to get up to a fair bit of mischief on our own there, and tear off around the place. Poor old Mum with John as a baby used to struggle a bit to keep the kids in hand; Dad seemed to be too busy on the farm in those days. But no, we had a lot of fun – we tore around everywhere like a couple of idiots at times, but no, it was good fun, you know, happy days.

And from there I went off to Hereworth at about … must’ve been about eleven. And I enjoyed those … I got more out of that actually as a school, than I did at … you know, up to that point. I found it was good, it taught us manners, and you met new people, probably a similar sort of background to you as well. You know, that sounds a bit toffee, but it wasn’t – I don’t mean it like that – but you got on pretty well there.

And then off to Wanganui which I found was a wee bit different; we had a lot more freedom. And I was only a little fellow and so I didn’t get involved with rugby and a lot of sports. In those days I was pretty small, and I sort of, you know, played a bit of tennis and played a bit of hockey basically, were the two sports I did play. Swimming was okay; so did all of that. Academically, the year I went to sit School C [Certificate] I came down with hepatitis, which I picked up … funnily enough, they traced it back to the cafe at the Newmans Bus Depot in Palmerston [North], which I must’ve picked up on the way through and on the way to school. So that precluded me sitting School C that year, so I sat it you know, in my second year round … passed it enough.

From there back onto the farm; I got home in 1963, and no sooner had I got home and I was into the Peter Pan ice cream factory. I’d always wanted and I’d always planned that I was going to follow my uncles, the Wilson brothers, because they did what I wanted … I wanted to follow their pattern. They had set up as a contracting business working together, and David and I were going to do this work, hay baling and grain harvesting and stuff like that. So I worked in the ice cream factory – long, long hours – I did seventy-two hours one week, and I got the equivalent of $18. [Chuckle] So it wasn’t huge. Peter Coghill, a friend of mine … long standing family friend … he put his age as eighteen, and got a heck of a lot more pay than I did, [chuckles] which I was a bit pipped about.

So anyway, yeah … no, I did that and by that autumn, by Easter, I had the hay baler sitting in the shed ready for the next season, and I’d lined up my clients and what-have-you for that side of it. So I did quite a good few years of that on the sideline, because the farm couldn’t afford too many … we had a married man on the farm as well, and it just couldn’t … two into one didn’t go, and we had too many mouths to feed; so I tried to go out on my own and do this.

The year we changed into decimal currency I had the combine harvester there and we started doing grain; and then later I was into silage as well, so I had all of that.

Well in the meantime I got married in 1970 so … had to think then … ’73 our first child arrived, Rebecca. And from there I decided that, you know … funnily enough there was [were] comments made behind my back that … you know, ‘We want someone with sons if they’re going to inherit the farm or anything like that.’ That was the reality of that generation. And so I thought, ‘No … be blowed.’ It wasn’t what they said to me, it was what they said about other people who had daughters, and it sunk in. And I thought, ‘No, bother you; I’ll have to keep that in mind and look for something else.’

And the opportunity came up for a dairy farm down Ford Road, and so I bought that with a hundred percent mortgage. [Chuckle] So in those days it was … vendor finance was all that could swing it; it was the only way I could get it. I had enough money to … ‘cause I had no income really to speak of. It had an orchard on it but no income coming in for nearly twelve months, so I had to sort of have a fair bit of cash reserves to sort of get in on that. So luckily the vendor came to the party there, and looked after it; ten percent interest, which wasn’t too bad, but after two years it went up to eighteen [percent], so those were the days when interest rates went through the roof. I’ve got a bank statement – haven’t framed it because I haven’t been able to find it – I put it away somewhere – but I’ve got another one where my interest rate was twenty-seven percent, and this one I’ve tried to find is thirty-two [percent] or something for a penalty rate; so you know, if you went over the thing. And we had occasions when … you know, when the hail storm went through one year, and you had no income.

But you know, as far as the orcharding went, we drained this whole place; quite a big mission, and that’s where I got a lot of income. I borrowed money from State Advances, or Rural Bank as it was, and we drained the place. Then I came and planted up; I put in frost protection which they came to the party with at four and a half percent money, which was you know, a real concession and really worth using. But interesting – we developed up, in acres, about thirty-five acres of orchard. And we had a very good crop of asparagus which we grew. That was high producing, very high producing; and when HortResearch [Horticulture and Food Research Institute of New Zealand] did a survey on crop yields and things throughout Hawke’s Bay it was about five times, or six times the average crop in Hawke’s Bay that I was getting off this block. And that was where they started to look into why. And I was spraying the [?] with Maxicrop and Solar Salt and urea, and I had the most amazing ferns on these things and they produced a big crop. So that got a few of the scientists interested, but they took one look at it and … I don’t think they could get the funding, because the chemical companies certainly weren’t going to fund it. [Chuckles] So that was rather interesting. And I sat there and I had to tackle some of the guys sometimes about it, and say, “Well look – how come I can do this, and you’re only talking that figure?” “Well you’re just a one off”, or something they’d say to me. So I got frustrated with that actually. But anyway …

So I did that and then you know, that cost of that money was getting absolutely hideously expensive, so I decided then to approach the Rural Bank and see what could happen if I sold off part of the orchard, which I’d always planned to do. It was ninety acres and I was planning to sell it off in three thirty acre blocks; and so I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll go and approach … look up the manager in Napier’. And he said, “No, yeah”, he said, “we can do that all right, but”, he said, “the interest rate’ll go from four and a half to eighteen [percent] on the balance.” [Chuckle] So I thought, ‘Well that’s no good’; so with that I turned round and … you know, it wasn’t what I’d planned for another five years or so, was to sell half of the orchard … the old original half with the asparagus and what-have-you … and in the meantime I’d have another block to move onto, another thirty acres of good … by that stage it should’ve been good producing orchard, so okay, that worked. Well it didn’t work; I couldn’t sustain that sort of interest rate, so I sold off and cleared basically all my debts, but I still had to go another couple of years without a heck of a lot of production.

And this is all in Muldoon’s day when he was taxing anyone who … he was aiming at getting at the city people who were spending up large on farmland and stuff, and using this as a tax dodge and things. But we got caught up in that net, if you like, and so that was … yeah, that was quite character building; a bit of a hiccup along the way. And it was something I never forgave Muldoon for, and actually got bailed up one day with him in a room on my own for half an hour with his wife. And once he knew I was a farmer he didn’t want to have a bar of me. [Chuckles] But that’s beside the point.

So after that, yeah, I had approximately thirty acres of orchard that I was farming, which were mostly new trees, new varieties; and we were one of the first growers in New Zealand with the Braeburn variety. We put in eighteen hundred trees the year they released the trees for planting, and did very well out of those until they became more of a commodity variety if you like …

Where was your market?

Through Apple & Pear Board in those days.

And the asparagus?

I bought out five supermarkets in Central Hawke’s Bay, or five grocery stores that sold asparagus in Waipuk [Waipukurau] and Waipawa. So there were five of those and they took quite a lot, and the rest went to Wattie’s; so about three times a week I’d go to Hastings with a load for Wattie’s. The local market here took the rest.

So that was another tie, because by the time I did that … and Mary-Anne was tied up with little ones in the meantime … but fortunately if I could give Mary-Anne a break I could strap one of the little ones in on the seat and take them, just take them for an outing. So it was quite good in that respect.

From then on the orcharding side of it was more straightforward; we just had apples, basically – all the eggs in one basket though. And yeah, it was good staff and managed very well with that did very well out of them. Until we got hit one year with a hail storm. And I sat in the truck where I could see it coming … sat in the truck and watched, and I’ve never ever seen so much rain. Ninety-something ml [millilitres] in twenty minutes. And that demolished our whole crop that year, the whole crop just went out the window.

Did you have insurance?

Yes I did, but it didn’t cover the whole works; you had to carry … can’t remember the exact percentage, but it was quite a high percentage you had to carry yourself. And then the rest of it … you still had to get it off the tree. A lot of it was damaged … most of it was damaged; some of it had big chunks taken out, and it was absolutely horrific. After that we had to get the fruit off the tree, then we had to prune them again. And in those days it was about $140,000 to take one crop off and get ready for the next one. So there’s where our issues came in.

Then we later on had another hail storm, minor one, and we had very minor damage, and ENZA [Europe New Zealand Apples] came along to us and said “Look, we’ll take all this fruit – it’s not exportable but we’ve got a good local market for it.” So they paid us 12c a kilo up front, and we were aiming at about 45, 47c a kilo for the rest of it. I’m talking several hundred tonnes; so with that I thought. ‘Oh no, that’s not a bad deal, we’ll do that.’ So packed it all into bins, and went into cool storage. And then come the season when we should’ve been being paid for it ENZA said, “No sorry. we should be sending you a bill for storing it. The market’s flooded with the stuff”; stuff that they couldn’t export properly and over-sized fruit that they put onto the market. And they paid the exporter. ENZA … their charter was to look after export growers. We became a local grower once we took that export fruit out of it, even though it was handled by ENZA. Their charter said that they had to look after the export market, and what they did is they flooded the market with some late fruit that they couldn’t export and it left our fruit. And incidentally, I was up in Tauranga at Countdown up there one day – my daughter lives up there – and I was in there and I spotted my cartons with my grower number on them for $2.40 a kilo, and I got 12c. So [chuckle] I was a little bit hostile; [chuckle] and it was just absolute coincidence that I came across my fruit with the very minor hail damage on it, just little wee blemishes. Yeah, those are the little things that you get on the way through that sort of didn’t exactly help. You know, we were expecting another $40-50,000 worth. “We could actually send you a bill”, they said, and they sent me on my way. So that was tough, and having to go to the bank manager, you know, after showing him on my budget – and I’d only sort of allowed for half of it, not the whole forty-something thousand and then having to go cap in hand and saying, “Well look, it’s not going to happen.” So that was not very nice at all.

So those are the little hassles we had – we had a lot of debt; we make no bones about it. But when the wheels fell off it became too much, so in the end we got caught up with ANZ, from some pronouncement that came out of Melbourne that’d been threatening to come for ages; that they had to offload a certain number of properties up the East Coast of the North Island, and funnily enough, we were one of them. They paid us out, you know, they compensated us reasonably well for taking us over. They took all our debt, and they didn’t have security over all my machinery so I offloaded the whole lot of that; and wind machines and things like that, bunged that in another bank and got on with life; and just thought, ‘Well okay; I’ve got to get on.’

Where did we go from there? Well … yeah, we moved off the orchard at that point. We came out of it, and from that point on I went and worked for the lab [laboratory] in Waipawa … soil testing lab; out on the field there, taking soil samples, going back and doing the reports for the farmers.

What was the name of that?

Quantum Laboratories. It’s Q Laboratory [Qlabs] now, I see. But anyway, we [I] worked there; I enjoyed it for twelve months or so. It was just something got me out and about and meeting farmers and growers and what-have-you. I was in my element really, I loved it.

From there I went up to the composting operation up at Awatoto, and was marketing that product; and I was doing a little bit of research on some of the things which I actually funded myself, to prove that what we were trying to say about it had some validity. So I did a bit of work with HortResearch over that; that’s got me into work with HortResearch and got me … you know, slippers under the bed so to speak, with them, and developed a rapport with them. And so I did that for a couple of years, and then went out on my own marketing product really for the organic guys. And I’d switched my orchard, actually just before it sold … I’d switched that to organics. So with that, you know, I took my knowledge of organics with me with that, and then went and trained under a guy by the name of Dr Arden Anderson from the US [United States] who used to come out here every year and there was a group of about twenty or thirty of us used to work with him. And I used to go to Australia a bit and work over there with them – another group of the same sort of people – picking up on ideas of how to push this forward without … he referred to it as ‘beyond organics’. It was where you just let nature and natural plant health take over, rather than having to spray with anything and what-have-you; so it was rather fascinating; not necessarily very practical, but yeah, okay, we could question it and we could modify a lot of that teaching to actually work quite well. And it still holds today; a lot of what they’re teaching now still holds, but it’s got to be practical to get an average farmer to take anything like that on. But a lot of organic guys were pretty good.

Later, going back to my orcharding, a lot of the chemicals we used then – you know, there was another group I was involved with there – was trying to deal with the Americans over their quarantine issues and the number of sprays we had to put … we had to put about five or six organo-phosphates on fruit destined for the US; we had to put all those on each year, and it really was just a non-tariff trade barrier. They wanted to make it as expensive as possible for us to actually produce so that we couldn’t compete with that. So that was another one of those other issues that came in with the chemical side of it, which made me a little bit sort of, anti the chemicals. And then I switched to organics, because I thought that might be another way of, you know … I did it in conjunction with Rob Wilson, a cousin of mine who was very much into organics on a pretty large scale.

So anyway, we went into that – and I’ve sort of digressed a wee bit here; I was making up liquid composts and brews like that, and we used to market those mostly to the big vineyards. They were big purchasers of it, and it was a brew that … it was a compost tea; it had to be sold and used within six hours. So I was making it fresh in batches; it was fifteen litres, and these guys would turn up in the morning with their thousand litre tanks on the back of their trucks, utes, and we’d pump this stuff out of my machinery into theirs and they’d go out and apply it straight away.

The reason was ..?

Because it was live culture, and it went anaerobic very quickly so you had to keep the air through it. It was made under huge aeration, huge volumes of air pumped through it while it was brewing.

Was it expensive?

No. No, well I used to market it at about 35c a litre, so it was, but you relied on the bulk – big quantities. You know, they’d come and buy it in a thousand litres plus; as I say, it had to be on within six hours.

And the results?

Oh, pretty good. You know, the vineyards, and Villa Maria in particular are extremely good clients; but Montana, or Pernod-Ricard as they became, they were quite good clients as well, and some of the others were too. And several organic ones were good clients. But when I went to an end of season function that Villa Maria put on, I was chatting to the wine makers, and they [I] said, “Do you notice any difference?” And he said, “We pretend we don’t notice any difference, but” he said, “we’re all fighting over your product.” [Chuckles] Fighting over the fruit that’s had my stuff on it; so I felt really good after that – I started to walk on air. [Chuckles]

I don’t blame you …

‘Cause that’s what I needed, some encouragement; and that was it – they were so rapt with it.

As I say, I did that for a few years and I felt I wasn’t going anywhere further with it. The pure organic guys, funnily enough, weren’t actually big consumers; it was that fringe area like the big … Villa Maria in particular had a hundred and thirty acres or a hundred and forty acres of grapes that were organic, and the manager there was very fond of using the product. And then I was marketing the compost as well at that stage, through [?] Rich or [BioRich]; they were at Awatoto. And we were using it in conjunction with a lot of compost as well. Pasks were another quite good supporter.

Anyway, from there I did my … well before I actually left the orchard actually, the assistant to the Dean at Massey Ag & Hort [Agriculture and Horticulture] Department rang me and said, “Look, I’ve heard you might be interested in doing this course we’ve got – Graduate Diploma in Rural Studies.” So I said, “Well, what’s involved?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m interested in that; I’ll give it some thought.” I was working sixty hours plus a week [chuckle] in the orchard. [Chuckle] I thought, ‘Yeah, okay’; and she said, “It’s part time; you don’t have to rush it.” So anyway, and I thought [said], “I’ll give it some thought.” And oh, just before the closing date this woman rang me again; she said, “I haven’t got your application.” [Chuckles] So she said, “Can I put it in?” And I said, “Well, I suppose … you know, may as well have a go.” So with that I did that – majored in sports turf funnily enough; I consider sports turf a very high intensity crop because there’s very little room for error. It was in the days when we transitioned from black & white TV [television] to colour, and it was no longer acceptable to have muddy football fields or hockey pitches on colour telly. So they put a lot of effort into finding out why and how they were going to do this on a natural green surface, without the mud. [Chuckle] So my field covered everything. I walked two or three times round the Awapuni Racetrack, looking at various issues of race tracks; and bowling greens and golf courses and everything like that, so I covered a heck of a lot of that. And I also had a passion in my own mind … my father was the same; we both loved our lawns done [in] perfectly nice stripes, and all this precision mowing. So it fell right into my lap, that one. And so I had to do all the other programmes that went with that, the chemical side of it and the soil science side of it, so I covered all that.

So did you spend time at Massey?

I’d go down for blocks, you know, not quite a week during the holidays and spend about four or five days with hands on, face to face. Got into a lot of mischief with some of the lecturers ‘cause we had the staff club there that we could use for lunch ‘cause there was [were] no students around. So we’d go and have lunch with the staff there [chuckle] and a few beers. [Chuckles] So that got quite relaxed in the afternoons … [Laughter] But there were times, especially on the horticultural side of it, that the lecturer would look at me and he said, “You’re doubting me, aren’t you?” And I said, “No, I just said I’d do it slightly differently.” He’d put me in the front of the class and go [?], “Do it my way.” [Laughter] Because it came in the early days that the user pays, and if someone was doing research and being paid to do it by someone, he could not pass that information on to the other lecturers until it was published. And that was rather interesting; and this guy – I had far more up to date information because I’d got it through my industry sources – than these guys did, who were trying to teach the up and coming students. And that was an eye-opener, it really was … bit shocked. So that was quite good – I chattered away and then they put me in the front of the class and said, “Now you can tell them your way of doing it.” I thoroughly enjoyed that.

And then I hosted bus loads of tours from Massey; hort students. One lecturer that got into a bit of trouble with us – he took one look at me … “You, you bugger!” he said, [laughter] when he realised it was me. [Laughter] So I took it as a positive. [Chuckle] But anyway, we walked round the orchard and they looked at all this; those days I think I was down to about thirty acres … eighteen hectares or so. Anyway, we got chatting with him, and he said, “Now, you lot, you think you’re having trouble. Tim gets all his assignments in to us on time, and he’s got this as well.” [Laughter] And there was sort of a blank look on their faces, so I felt quite good about that one.

It was fortunate for your lecturers that you were in the class …

Yeah. And it was the same lecturers that used to bring the same students, so it was quite good; I kept in touch with them.

And then I got a lot of information about various problems there were within the industry, and one was … I can’t think of the name; the big composting company in Wellington. There was a real issue there of a particular chemical that became rather widespread use [widely used] for thistles in New Zealand, and Hawke’s Bay in particular. And so that had been used for Parks & Reserves in Wellington; clippings had been put into the compost stream, the compost then killed thousands if not millions of tomato plants in the Wairarapa in greenhouses. So there was a huge big court case that Hort Research filled me in on because these guys were sort of trying to work it out. And I’d said to them, “Well I can tell you the chemical; I can almost tell you straight away which one it’ll be”, and pointed it out to them. And I said, “Down to a few parts per million”, I said, “it’s pretty toxic.” Anyway, I saw them a couple of years later and I said, “How did you get on with that?” He said, “You didn’t tell us how toxic it was! It was down to fractions of a part per million that it cleaned up these tomato plants with.” I’d actually alerted them to the problem with that particular chemical in America through one of my American contacts, so I was aware of it; it was a Monsanto product – very effective, but not nice on the environment at all.

When I was doing my consultancy with this work, and after I got my Massey qualifications – I got a Graduate Diploma in Rural Studies – I then worked a bit more round doing what I was doing … a bit more advisory work. And then all of a sudden I’d think, you know, ‘Why bother doing any more of this? There’s got to be a bit of adventure.’ I’d never travelled because I’d been too busy with all my other jobs; so I said to Mary-Anne, “We’ve got to find another way of doing this.” And I’d heard about this being able to work in Britain with an ancestral visa … work visa, so I applied for that and we had an interview with them in Wellington at the High Commission down there and we got our work visa; five years, and I thought, ‘Ah, whacko!’ In the meantime I had to hunt out a bit of stuff – my grandmother was a Jersey Islander, so I had to ring them up over there and ask for her birth certificate and her marriage records. So I rang them up and this delightful woman said, “Ooh”, she said, “we don’t get many people from New Zealand” [chuckles] “ringing us for that.” Anyway, I asked for what I needed; and got it back in the mail – it was the most exquisitely hand-written scribe of all the details I wanted. It was absolutely exquisite; it was all beautifully scripted. Anyway, took that down to the High Commission in Wellington and both of us got our work visa[s], and we went and worked for a company in England then … marched off over there with nothing planned apart from an appointment to go and meet these people.

How big was your suitcase?

[Chuckles] Reasonably big. [Chuckles] Anyway, so we had a meeting with a company called Animal Aunts, which had people like us who had a bit of experience with animals and what-have-you, and we’d go into people’s homes while they went on holiday and we could look after their homes and look after their animals. It wasn’t a heck of a lot of pay, but the idea being that we could go and get a week or fortnight on one of these places; we weren’t tied up terribly. It wasn’t onerous work or anything, but it was the free roof over our head[s]. We could go and explore various areas, so we’d get posted for a week in one area and we’d go and explore it and all around it and what-have-you, and come away with a bit of cash. So that was good and so we got that job; and then we got posted various different places.

Our first job was just out of Rugby, and I still keep in touch with that very first guy; ring him several times a year and have a chat. He’s very fond of New Zealanders, and he’ll say – when we got beaten in the World Cup, “Pity about the Blacks”, he says. [Chuckles] But I’ll ring him after the Olympics are over and I’ll have a wee skite about that. He’s pretty ancient now, but he’s sharp as a tack. His wife’s in a wheelchair – she’s got MS, [multiple sclerosis] poor thing. Once a month, the whole time we were in England, even when we went back several times when we had jobs, he would ring up: “You all right? There’s always a bed here if you’re running out of money or anything.” And he took a real interest in me; he couldn’t believe that we could go over to England, not having any family over there, and make a go of it. And so that was … yeah, rather fascinating, and I’ve always appreciated that and I’ve always kept in touch with him, and he’s been an absolute delight, that guy. But there were several others; there was [were] quite a few right in round [the] edge of London, mostly semi-rural.

Then we ended up with Animal Aunts, funnily enough, on the Great Tew Estate, which is a four thousand acre very, very nice Cotswold block of land there, and a very nice estate. And we worked for the owners of that, or the son of the owner and his wife, and took over there. They’d come back from one holiday and they were off on another one … off to the Caribbean with their kids. Anyway, this was at Christmas, and Nick, their son, said, “Oh, by the way”, he said, “Dad’s looking for somewhere to go for Christmas – do you mind having him?” I said, “I don’t mind at all.” So a few days later he drove up, and said, “What can I bring you for Christmas?” You know … “I’ve got some Shetland lamb here; my wife rescued some of the animals off the Shetland Islands before they exterminated all the rest.” So she had her own little flock, and she’d since died but the flock was still there. He turned up with this meat, and it looked like game actually, had no fat on it whatsoever, but boy! It was beautiful. So he came along, and we developed a wonderful relationship with him; we kept in touch with him, we’d go and have lunch with him and … there was no ‘them and us’ about any of this at all. We fitted in ‘cause we could just talk farming. And later on when he was a little bit less reliable driving, we’d take him into the various farmers’ markets on different weekends. He’d go in for his “line-caught sea bass”, he always had to insist on. None of this net stuff [chuckle] – he wanted line-caught. [Chuckle] Less stressed. [Chuckle]

So I was walking the estate dogs, and we were catching up with various people out in the villages; but we were never quite trusted in the village because they saw us as being too close to the owner. So when you go to the pub [I] think they sort of were a little bit stand-offish; they probably didn’t know what we might be passing on, so [we] felt a little bit on the outer on that one, funnily enough.

So anyway, we did that for … this particular time it was about a fortnight or three weeks; and Linda, the wife there – I was busy mopping this flagstone floor which was a shocking thing; it was rough as guts. [Chuckle] Anyway, she said, “Tim, if you don’t get a job over here”, she said, “we have failed you.” She said. “You’re far too good to be sending home.” [Chuckles] So they gave us the most amazing references through this Staff of Distinction – there was one in Bath that we got work with; and then the other one was Greycoat Placements which was another top London employment agency, and we were listed with both of them and regarded extremely highly by them both. So that sort of opened a few doors, and we started to get a bit choosy then as to what we really wanted. Some of those jobs were absolutely up my alley but Mary-Anne wouldn’t have liked them one bit. She’d been a kindergarten teacher, and no way was she going to start looking after little kids again, and getting up early in the morning and feeding them, and getting them off to school and things; so no; the pay was good … the pay was very good, but no.

So in the end we got a cousin of … the Johnstons they were, at Great Tew Estate … and they were there having lunch one day and they obviously got talking. And we’d come home because we had one of the daughters getting married. And they’d said beforehand – just warned us, they said, “We might give you a call yet, we might have a need for you. Our couple working for us might be going away.” So with that we thought, ‘Okay, we’ll see what happens’, and sure enough, no sooner got home than we got an email saying, ‘Can you come back?’ And so with that we did – we shot off back there after the wedding, and worked on … it was basically eleven acres of gardens and parklands, and lakes and streams and things; it was just a magnificent spot, and a big barn conversion. And so went and worked for them and absolutely loved it. We both did; and when they introduced us we were sways friends who worked for them. Pooch, the wife, was a granddaughter of Daphne Du Maurier, and so a lot of literazzi would turn up there, keeping in touch with them. And you know, I’d be wandering around in the garden one evening, sort of wandering round on a nice evening and chatting; and the next minute a woman would come bowling down the steps, “Oh Tim! I’ve got to meet you.” And she was Rosamund Pilcher’s daughter. [Chuckle] And you’d get all of these sort of interesting people, and they’d just treat you like long-lost friends. They were so nice, and we just felt absolutely in the groove – we just loved it.

Our boss there used to insure the Cook Strait Ferries, funnily enough. And we sat down one day and he gave us a whole lot of brochures and things and said, “Look, I’ve had a visitor from them today, coming to insure all their product.” He was specialising in coastal shipping right round the world; they were insured through British Marine it was, and he was the head of British Marine. And then on the weekends he’d come back; and he’d get out, and I’d have to cart the gear inside. And he’d say, “Tim, what’ve you been up to?” I’d say, “Oh, I’ve been doing a bit of …” “Oh”, he said, “let’s go and have a look.” So we’d wander off round all the land and have a look; and I’d go along, and I said, “You know, [??], we could probably do something with that”, and he says, “Oh well, you’re the boss – do it.”

So you had free rein?

Yes, absolutely free rein. And I paid for everything and then billed him for it; no questions asked. He just took everything, absolutely anything I wanted – machinery, anything. Any ideas – I had to make sure that I was going to be round there long enough to finish some of these things, so I was just a little bit coy about getting too grandiose. But no, they loved what I was doing.

Most of the winters … well, two winters in a row we had fourteen inches of snow around, so there was nothing much I could do. The funniest part of the lot was they had two little pug bitches that we looked after a bit. Even when they were home I had to go and uncover some grass, because they’d only wee on lawn; so [chuckle] I had to go and get the shovel out and clear some snow so that they could go and have a wee. [Laughter]

Beyond the call of duty …

So [chuckle] anyway, I was wrapped up to the nines. And we had to throw a lot of salt around to keep the driveway open, otherwise you’d never get up the driveway. And the paths around the house, we threw salt all over them to keep them so you wouldn’t slide over on ice; and that was quite hard work, but not a lot else to do. So we decided we’d come home for the bulk of the winters and go back in the spring, and that was quite good. In the end they wanted us so badly they paid our airfares to get home; to get back again too, so that was rather nice.

When they had another new couple after we’d left … we did four summers with them and we had two Christmases with them. And then after that I went back to visit basically, and we were wandering around the garden having a look at things, and he says, “Oh Tim, it’s not up to your standard sadly.” Anyway, I said, “Oh well” … I dropped some hint, I said, “perhaps my arm could be twisted.” No sooner [had] I got off the plane, opened my emails in Auckland – “Tim, if we pay your airfares will you come back again [chuckle] and fill in for a while?” [Chuckle] Yeah, we felt really good; it was the first time in our lives we hadn’t – it was absolutely stress-free, and having someone who appreciated us so much – it was just an absolute treat.

And then down the back of their place, over a back fence, was Great Tew Estate land; there was this massive big development for Soho Farms, which is the big Soho [House] Group. And they were spending something like £200 million doing this, on land just below us over our back fence. So I spent a fair bit of time with them chatting away; and one of them was a Kiwi married to an English girl. Got on well with them; and the guy who was overseeing the whole lot was a Greek guy and I got on wonderfully with him as well; we chatted away.

But they spent money like you’ve no idea, and most of the money was coming from the President of Kazakhstan’s daughter, so I don’t know what sort of laundry that would’ve all been through. [Chuckle] Then they started to run out of money at one stage – that guy put £140 million into it – and then they ran out of money towards the end, doing further developments and things. They had a big lake, and there were cottages built … rustic looking cottages, but inside they were absolutely magnificent, but on the outside they had rusty old corrugated iron. But it was just so the Londoners could go out there and think they were out in the bush basically … out in the country. There was [were] no cars allowed on site, you had to park off at a big car park there, and they had a camera on the road; it was a one way road into it, and they used to have number plate recognition software there that brought up on the computer in the office who it was, so they could greet them by their first names. [Chuckle]

But they did all these buildings up; you could go for pony rides; they had bikes all on site; you could have your meals delivered – they had these electric milk carts like the old milkman used to have over there, electric milk carts – they’d have those all set up with cookers and things. They’d come along and park outside your cabin and dish you up breakfast. Absolutely [chuckle] all over the top, big money, but they all thought they were roughing it. But there was nothing rough about it. They cleaned up a lot of the old antique shops in England of all the old antique furniture and furnished all these properties with old furniture, which was rather interesting because you know, Mary-Anne and I were very much into antiques. We chased the antiques fairs quite often while we were there.

That was all being built; then I got involved … the local council over there wanted me involved, you know … they wanted to put a sixty metre long bridge across the bottom of our block, across what was the aboretum, the stream and things. And so we had this meeting with the council, and they said, “Well we’re not going to allow you to put a bridge in there.” And I said, “Well, why not?” They said, “Well, because if this crowd go bung they’ll leave a bridge there, and we’ve got to maintain it … keep it.” So we said, “Okay; what are we going to do?” We had to put these big culverts in. So they got these huge big culvert pipes and put them through, and they carted in huge tonnage … hundreds of tonnes of fill from away over near Bristol which is, in a truck, probably two hours away of all this spoil to form this causeway instead of a bridge. And it was a good … probably close to about two hundred metres long, and it was like we’d see here on a riverbank … stop bank. It was built like that with a road on top. So I stood there with absolute awe, wondering where the money was coming from. [Chuckle] And this was just a pedestrian and cycle … no vehicles on it at all.

So we got this built, and they got it finished just as I was about to leave; and I said to Robert, our boss, “Look, they could really do with a hedge along the top because this is a public walkway, and this is all your property over here. We could screen it all off with a hedge.” So the boss said, “Yep, that’s a good idea, we’ll do that.” So I approached these guys and said, “Now look, I’m going to put a hornbeam hedge” – like it’s a type of beech – “along the top of this bank.” “Yeah fine, what do you want?” And I said, “Well, we’ll need two or three hundred hedge plants to go along the top.” “Yep, how big?” I said, “Oh, a metre or so.” He said, “Well I can do you three metres if you want them.” [Chuckle] So money was no object, because those three metre ones would‘ve been damn dear. [Chuckle] So, “No, we’ll put the three metre in”; not to mention the fact that I cut them in half anyway, when we planted them. [Chuckle] But they were nice good solid trees. So I got all of those planted, and then realised then that I’m not leaving all those young trees in there without a water supply. So then I had to go and find some irrigation water from quite a long way away; I had to lay some pipes in a hurry ‘cause it was the day before I left, [chuckle] and hook up some irrigation for them. So I did all that that day, it was a real rush; and then I left these guys to plant all the banks as well, with plants that’d hold the soil in place and what-have-you, so I organised all that before I left. But anything I suggested about this, my boss just said, “Well you’re the boss; do it”, you know … “I’ll back you.”

So can you go back again with your visa, or not?

No, my visa’s run out, but even though it’s run out I can still go back; we still get paid under the table. [Chuckle] So … yeah, they just credit my Visa card, [chuckle] so you know, it’s been no problem there. But I do get £14 a week from the British government towards my pension for the work I did over there. But we got free healthcare, subsidised dental care the whole time we were there; you know, we had a vehicle provided, we could go anywhere. We’d take it up to Scotland if we wanted to go up there and do what we wanted when we had a few days off.

In other words Tim, you got rewarded for all the other work you’d done previously?

Exactly. And as soon as they saw my turf qualifications and you know, those qualifications, they all wanted me; the whole lot basically, except one or two of them … we put them off because we’d stipulated a bit more than they were prepared to pay, or a bit less onerous work than they prepared … So no, and especially with Mary-Anne with the childcare side of it … she was past that, so no, that was not going to be the case, so no.

This place had five bedrooms, and a nice little tradition over there, apparently with the posher people, is that when their guests leave, they leave a £20 note by the bed. Mary-Anne found that rather intriguing, but loved it. [Chuckles]

That was your tip?

That was the housekeeper’s tip; yeah, so It was rather interesting, that one … took a bit to get my head around that one. But no, Mary-Anne questioned it. She said, “Look, someone’s left £20 there”, and they said, “No – that’s yours.” And she said, “Well why do they do that?” She said, “That’s the way we do things.” [Chuckle] Little things we learnt [chuckle] so yeah, we loved that, and we still keep in touch with friends we made. We did trips over to Europe for long weekends and things like that, and into Germany – it was Christmas markets and things like that we did while we were there.

And then … yeah, when we finished with them another Kiwi couple took over from us, funnily enough; weren’t very well received as it turned out. But we didn’t give them a reference ‘cause … well Mary-Anne did kindergarten training with one of them. But no, they were later described as the couple from hell, [chuckle] so I’m glad we didn’t endorse them. [Chuckle] So yeah, that was interesting.

But no, we actually took over from a Polish couple when we took that job on. He couldn’t even speak English and he had no gardening experience or anything. As I say, when one of the other couples they had was leaving and they were waiting for someone else to come and take over – they were Hungarians, funnily enough [who] took over from us eventually; but there was three or four months there, and I said, “Well we can give you three or four months.” And that’s just after I’d got that letter to say can we come back; yeah, so we packed up and off we went again. It was just like going home, you know, they’d upgraded the flat since we were there before that. And we made a lot of English friends over there in those days too, so we’ve had them to stay, and we meet up with other English friends; and we still do, when we go back over there we get together up in the Yorkshire Dales or the Yorkshire Moors, and get a cottage, and the six of us’ll all get together and that sort of thing. It’s very much home – slotted in.

So while you were away from home, what was happening back in New Zealand?

We shut the door; the HRV [heat recovery ventilation] working there kept the place ventilated. No, you wouldn’t notice that we’d been away; so it was great. So yeah, one summer we were away from here and the garden suffered like heck, so we weren’t going to do that again; that’s why we came home for their winters – get our garden back into shape again, so yeah, that was all good.

When we finished that we came home, and then doing more gardening and things, worked down here at the Mt Herbert House, the Rest Home. And then I went and worked doing deliveries and maintenance at the local medical centre. I did both of those jobs; yeah, and then I decided no, I’ll fully retire, thank you. [Chuckles]

What age were you then?

Seventy-one. So no, I’ve only been retired for ‘bout [a] couple of years … well, I’m seventy-five soon … next birthday. Yeah – I miss that, I miss seeing the people [and] what-have-you, but there comes a point when you’ve got to hang your boots up.

So my mother’s full name – she was Mary Jocelyn Wilson; date of birth, I think was 6th January either 1922 or 1923; born I presume, in Waipawa. My grandparents, her parents … when Mum was bogged down with young kids I used to get farmed out to my grandparents quite a lot. I’ve got one uncle, Peter Wilson, who’s only fifteen years older than me, so he was almost like a big brother to me – we got on like a house on fire – and then the other brother, so I got [had] a fair bit to do with Mum’s sister, June Hewitt. We saw a lot of them; we had a lot of family gatherings in those days, we were a very close family. Mum’s brothers – talking about them being like big brothers – when I left school they took me under their wing and gave me work on the farm, hay making and all this sort of stuff. And even during the school holidays I’d go out there and be driving tractors at a very young age, doing all these things that Dad would never trust me to do.

My grandparents … I’d go mow their lawn, and my grandmother used to give me a packet of rifle ammunition as payment, and I’d go off with a rifle and go shooting magpies and this sort of thing; so things I could never ever do at home with all my younger siblings. So they were all a treat; and being allowed to go and drive the tractors and things like this – things that I could never do at home because of my younger siblings getting in the way. So anyway … and Graham and Peter Wilson, and David – they were all like big brothers in a way to me, and Graham in particular; very good with his advice. And they paid – when I had my contract, bought my combine harvester – they paid a whole season in advance for the harvesting so that I could help pay for the machinery and that sort of thing, so … incredibly appreciated. Yeah, that was very good.

My grandparents on my father’s side – Dad’s father was a starchy old beggar, and children were to be seen and not heard; and if you dared venture an opinion you got shot down in flames pretty quickly. So I have no very fond memories of him at all, funnily enough. Grandmother, Madge, was a fairly spoilt … from fairly well-to-do English stock I would think. Although she was born on Jersey Island I think she was educated in England. But anyway, yeah – I didn’t have anywhere near the rapport with them that I had with my Mum’s parents.

Did they live in the big house? [Now known as Mt Vernon Villa]

No, that was out of action all my life because it was … you know, Napier earthquake. That was out of action for twenty-six years until Mum and Dad came along and started restoring it. So yeah, that came later.

This was in what they call Tarewa; it was the house we moved into after my grandfather died and my grandmother went into a house in town, and we moved into Tarewa as a family. ‘Bout [a] six or seven bedroom house … quite a nice big house. Peter Collinge lives in it now, he bought it. My brother Richard had it, and they had a house fire in the house that caused it to be written off. And then Peter bought it from there, and he’s done it up, so it’s looking pretty good.

So that was Tarewa; our orchard was called Tarewa, it was named after the Tarewa bush that was down below on the main road, down [near] what was the overhead bridge in those days. So [I] had a lot of interesting discussions in my farming days, especially when I had the shop and various … what I thought were fairly learned Māori … would come; I’d ask them how they interpreted the word ‘Tarewa’, [spells] and we got all sorts of different messages and meanings and what-have-you, but the one I settled for which sounded the most plausible, was The mist that hangs over the tops of the trees in the mornings’ ; that fog that the trees seem to generate. So I was quite happy with that and left it at that.

But anyway, going back to my grandparents. When my grandfather, J W Harding, died we moved into the house they had; and then from there my parents did up the homestead. I think they spent about £26,000 on it in those days, which was a huge lot, and they still haven’t done the whole lot up. But it’s since been done up, after it was sold again, by Tim Coddington who’s the present owner; he’s spent an absolute fortune on it, doing the whole place up; totally rewiring it, fire sprinklers, the whole works – everything we couldn’t afford to do – if we wanted to have guests, you know, you had to close the wonderful staircase in and put doors top and bottom, and we had to put fire sprinklers in. Retrofitting fire sprinklers is no mean feat, and he did it very well, they’re all concealed. He’s put in a whole lot of extra bathrooms and what-have-you, so … done a brilliant job.

And is he living in it?

Yes he is, but he’s a film producer; when Covid doesn’t interfere he spends most of his time in Singapore, so he’s not home a lot.

Is he a Coddington from out [at] Wanstead?

Yeah, yeah – he’s one of the younger ones. I knew his older brothers – I didn’t know Tim. I knew his older brothers quite well. So he’s bought that; doing it up; he’s made an absolute amazing job, and he’s still working on it. He’s re-grassed the lawn, he’s put pop-up sprinklers in the lawns and … he’s spent millions. New floor in the cellar; whole lot of extra drainage right down deep because the cellar used to flood from water coming up underneath, so he’s put down drains that are about probably nearly three metres deep along the sides of the house to take the water out from underneath the house, and all this sort of thing. So yeah, spent a packet, but we appreciate what he’s done.

Still got the tennis court in front?

Yes, he’s redone all this as well.

And the lions?

Yes, they’re there. Yep. Just as an aside, when Sister Denham had Woburn [Rest Home] one of our lions disappeared for a while. It turned out she’d shoved it in the boot of her car – it was heavy, and she must have really struggled to lift it. Put it in the boot of her car, took it away, had a mould made, and the product of the mould are those two that are outside the Woburn Home now. She had one of them all sandblasted and it was all repainted and everything else, so it didn’t do it any harm; but she didn’t ask, she just did it. [Chuckles] So those two that are outside Woburn are concrete, not cast iron; but that’s how they got there and how [chuckles] they’re copies. [Chuckles] So yeah, there were lots of little things like that.

When the home was still in its semi-derelict state we used to get possums and things in there, and the farm dogs used to get after the possums. Well one of the funniest sights one day was … we lifted some floorboards in the hallway because the dogs had said there was something under the floorboards. Some of them were screwed in because of the electrical wiring; unscrewed one, lifted the floor, and out shot this opossum – straight out, across the balcony, over the edge of the balcony, and [of] course the dog followed, [chuckle] down onto the driveway, [chuckle] and it’s a fall of about four metres. The dog survived and kept on chasing the damn possum. [Laughter] So they were funny things.

Funnily enough, to keep the spiders out of the place we used to burn sulphur … rock sulphur … and apparently they used to do that when people were sick; they’d burn sulphur to sterilise all the surfaces and all the air in the building. And so we used to burn that and it served the purpose of keeping all the spiders out if nothing else.

Another little interesting thing – we’ll go back to the grandparents, Mum’s parents, you know, I kept in touch; we had a lot to do with them over the years. Mum’s mother moved in when my … or they both moved in but my grandfather died soon after … into our Tarewa home, and they lived in there for a good period; and then my grandmother lived there until she died. And when we were first married in 1970 we lived in the cottage down by the wool shed. And when she died we moved into Tarewa, and stayed there for a good few years until we moved into town. We bought the orchard but there was no way I was ever going to live on the orchard; I wanted to live off it, and so it was something I could walk away from each day, and keep out of it. ‘Cause it [there] was a lot of stress went with the orchard. So anyway we moved into town to this present house now. So that’s where we are with that.

Siblings … David and I were the two that were going to go farming, or on the land, and we both did.

You were Young Farmers?

I don’t remember David being a Young Farmer but I certainly was. John came along; John was more the academic. We regarded him as a bit of [a] Mummy’s boy, because … Mum I’ve got to say, was Junior Dux at Iona, and didn’t stay there long enough … the war intervened, and marriage intervened. [Chuckle] Mum got married quite young. So that all intervened there.

*The twins [Richard and Rosie] came along … yeah, they came along not long after my grandfather died. And he’d had twins; my Dad was a twin.  And then John had twins, funnily enough; and Richard … yes, Richard had twins. So there were several lots of twins, and Richard and Rosie were twins as well, so lots of twins … prolific breeders.

Must be the water …

Yeah, must be. So anyway, that’s covered my grandparent[s]. My great-grandparents I never had anything to do with at all; they were gone.

And the occupations – you know, farming; or on the land. Mt Vernon – when I was young we had eleven hundred acres I think it was. When my grandfather died, my uncle – he was in law in Wellington and had no interest in farming; but then he decided he wanted half the farm. So he fought for it and got it in the end, and carved the farm in half. Well that was the beginning of the end, because six hundred acres doesn’t maintain a big old homestead like that. Even back in those days it was nearly $100,000 to paint it. You know, that was the beginning of the end as far as anything like that went. So yeah, that was a shame really; even at eleven hundred acres it would’ve still struggled. And then we weren’t allowed to subdivide or anything along the main road to help, or anything like that; well now, you go up the road there now and there’s houses everywhere – out in the trees out past the homestead there’s houses cluttered in there everywhere. So that’s what’s happened now but it was forced on them really, you could never keep … my brother, Richard, and Nicky moved into Mt Vernon … into the homestead. When Mum and Dad told me that Richard was going to be moving in and taking over the farm, I said, “Well that’s child abuse.” You know, it was a poisoned chalice; he was never going to …

Make anything of it?

… he couldn’t. It was quite literally a poisoned chalice. And he couldn’t handle it; there was no way he was going to make a go of it, and he didn’t. So that ended up on the market.

Home life … Mum with a couple of fairly boisterous young guys, David and I; John was pretty quiet … as I say, he was the academic. David and I were the two that sort of tore around outside like lunatics. They were interesting times, but fun. We did have a flush loo; we shared bedrooms. Neighbours – not a problem. We had plenty of room as far as the farm went in doing things. Chores, we … young enough in those very early days we didn’t do a lot there. We certainly helped on the farm, and as we got a wee bit older, you know, we used to be on the back of the combine harvester sewing bags of grass seed and stuff … very much so. Helping with lambing; a little bit with helping with shearing. You know, once we’d gone off to school we sort of weren’t home for a lot of those functions. Lambing – we were sort of having to head back to school just as lambing was starting with the three term year. They were happy times; we used to go, you know, eeling; we’d dam creeks up; and we’d take some of our townie mates out round the farm and things, and scare the heck out of them sometimes with some of the things we did. [Chuckle] Yeah.

Animals? At home we always had pet dogs; wire haired fox terriers usually. We all looked after pets, and even our wire haired fox terrier we had was very much a farm dog, because he was very much into hunting the possums. And we were all the time – could be several times a night and several times a week – going out to shoot possums that he bailed up a tree somewhere. So they were some things we got used to going out and doing at night.

The very first car we owned was a little Bradford van that Dad had to start with, … little banger of a thing, it was hopeless; gutless little thing. I remember we used to try and get out to the beach in it, but it was a bit of a mission. We did have access to a cottage; Mum’s parents had the cottage at Pourerere, so we did have access to that and I used to go out there with my grandparents quite a lot; stay there with them. But yeah, that was our first car.

The second one we had was a Bedford truck, so we put a crate on the back and a tarpaulin over it when we went to the beach, and that was our transport. [Chuckles] Then when my grandfather died we inherited his Vauxhall, so then things looked up a wee bit. [Chuckles]

Dad apparently had a Model A Ford when Mum was pregnant. Mum kept – with the bulge in her pot she kept on switching some switch off [laughter] – so Dad recalls. [Chuckles] So yeah, they were interesting; but family holidays, yes, generally at the beach. We stayed at the beach house, with a lot of friends and relations and what-have-you [who] used to go out there. First family holiday was one we had just with Dad, taking his mother down to catch the boat to England. We had a lovely time in Wellington with him, just David and I; and those sort of things I remember quite vividly. And watching the big boat sail off with all the ribbons hanging off the side which you hung onto while they went. So yeah, that sort of stuck in my memory.

You know, the family were sort of too big a spread of ages and too big a difference in what interested us I suppose, so we tended to do things a bit more separately, or with my other grandparents a bit too. When I first left school, my Gran Wilson, J G and Isobel – I was down in the South Island; I got palmed off down there in the school holidays or after school – even when I’d left school – to catch up with my rellies down there, Mum’s side of the family; there were quite a lot of them. And I’d go down there and help out with the hay baling and things on the farm down there with some of them; one in particular. And I caught up with them just this winter … caught up with some of that family, reminisced somewhat. That part of the family, Mum’s side we had a lot more to do with ‘cause they had more offspring; we had more in common with them … farm kids basically. We certainly had to do certain things around the farm.

Best family holiday? Well we [weren’t] that sort of family, but when I first flew in an aeroplane was to go down south from Palmerston North in an old DC3, to catch up with some of my relations down south from Mum’s side. That’s when I used to go down and get out on the farm and help out down there.

First day at school – funnily enough, Lyn, you’ve interviewed the first person there who marched me into the school and took me and showed me round, and that was Jeannie Peacock. [Chuckle] She just took me by the hand and left Mum to it; [chuckle] took me and showed me the class room and everything else and what-have-you, and we’ve been good mates ever since, so that goes back a long way. As far as going to school, we used to walk a lot of the time from the farm into …

That’s a fair distance.

Yeah, well we did – we’d go down that long driveway down to [the] end of Ford Road. We used to go down there and then we’d walk along the main road. There was [were] no footpaths or anything, but there wasn’t a lot of traffic either because my brother, David, when he was clowning around, used to walk along the middle of the white line. [Chuckle] But Mum was … ‘specially once the younger ones [were] there, twins and things … there was no way she could pick us up from school. And we never got involved in anything after school sadly, either; because if we wanted a lift home there was only one trip they were going to make and that was after the school bell rang, and that was it. And if you wanted to stay on and play rugby or play cricket or anything like that you had to walk home, and it was quite a disincentive, sadly.

How were we given discipline? Well it was the old strap; [chuckles] and then at boarding school it was the cane.

And the slipper?

And the slipper, yes – that was the House prefects administered that; that was within the house. Anything to do with the school itself was [the] cane.

I was seventeen when I left school, and my first paid occupation was at the Peter Pan ice cream factory. Seventy-two hours one week I did there, and I got paid £36 in the hand; found the payslip when we were shifting home one day, it was in some clothing. [Chuckles] We got a lot of double time – ’cause they were Seventh Day Adventists we never worked Saturdays, [ex]cept we [speaking together] finished at five o’clock on Friday, and we worked on Sundays and we got double time. So you know, seventy-two hours was … you know, long hours. What I was doing there was chocolate dipping ice creams, most of those times. [Chuckles] I always said I was the chief chocolate dipper of the nutty cha-chas. [Chuckles] [The] pay was awful, but it was good, you know, it gave me enough to pay a deposit on a hay baler.

I’m retired now; I’ve given up all that, I just sit back and watch everyone else work nowadays. I play bridge; I play golf croquet; and I used to play tennis – I was president of the tennis club for two years; on the committee for a good few. In the bridge club, I’ve been on the committee there for a while; I’ve just gone off it now because I had an injury just over January last year; fell off a ladder at a working bee at the bridge club and broke my hip; broke my pelvis, so I’m still recovering from that actually. So … damn it! I was out of action for an awful long time over that one, and then after I had a hip replacement I kept popping my hip out. But it’s settled down now … still get into the garden and do the things here.

And your own family? You haven’t talked about your children …

No well our own family now – Rebecca was born in 1972. She is married to a school principal down at Taieri College down in Mosgiel – they live at Outram just out of Mosgiel. He’s principal of a twelve hundred kid school, and they’re doing well. They’ve got two boys and a girl. We don’t see a lot of them because they’ve sort of hooked into her husband’s family rather than her own. We go down … we’ve just not long ago been down there and stayed with them.

We’ve got Annabel, whose husband manages several Landcorp blocks up north of Taupõ. He does the stud cattle side of it, not the dairying.

So she was born in ’73?

She was born a year and a week later, or five days later, so yes, ’73 she was born. One was born on 26th August and the other one was born on the 16th, so not far between them; a year apart.

And then Sophie married a mechanical engineer basically; living out of Tauranga at Ōmokoroa. She’s kindergarten trained. Annabel’s teacher trained … teaching degree. Rebecca is very much into horticulture; worked at various plant places, various horticultural enterprises. She does a bit of landscaping work even now … landscape design and stuff that she does on the side and gets paid quite well. There’s a few gardens round out in the Maniatoto and round Dunedin and Mosgiel that she’s done.

And Felicity, the youngest, she is married to a farmer; dairy farming down in Franz Josef at the moment. They’ve had thirteen years in Tapanui, down in South Otago/northern Southland, and moved last year over to Franz Josef. We’ve just been over to stay with them – they’re milking a whole lot of cows.

So you’ve got no family in this area?

None at all, no. So if we’ve got to go and visit them … and Covid’s been a bit of a pain because we haven’t been able to just hop in and … So this year, Mary-Anne was waiting to have an operation and it got bumped off the list, so we thought, ‘Be blowed!’ We hopped in the car and went down and spent three weeks down south. Caught up with a lot of relations and a lot of her old school friends because she went to Rangi Ruru [Girls’ School] down there, so she had a lot of old school friends that are out in the countryside everywhere. So we catch up with them and stay with them. Yeah, very happy times down there; I feel absolutely at home down in the South Island – bit like I do in England. [Chuckle]

I’ve never had a boss, apart from Robert Johnston in England or if I count the Denne family at the ice cream factory, I suppose. No, I’ve always generally been the employer. I did live at home while I was working … well I lived in my own home; when I had the orchard we lived over there on the farm in the spare house at that stage. Never been flatting as such. Farm pay I might add was absolutely appalling; when we went and bought the orchard – ‘cause that was one of the reasons I got off the place, was we were paying $47 a week and I had three kids. And okay, the house was free, but we still had to pay the power and everything else so that’s why I was out contracting – I had to get out to live. So I could see no real future on that farm.

And these days you get money in your bank for doing nothing, every fortnight … [chuckle]

Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I found a payslip there … well, I looked through it ‘cause I went back on my farm accounts in the end, and that was what I was paid from the farm, you know, and had to pay our own power bill. I got free mutton, that was the only perk, and so I thought, ‘No, this is not sustainable.’ So it’s nothing … you know, you feel you’ve got the elbow by then.

And I might add too, that that generation – I don’t know how many people bring this one up – because I had all daughters, I pick up from various members of the extended family that, “Oh, he’s got no worries – he doesn’t have to buy farms”, and this sort of thing. I thought. ‘Well okay.’ I felt that was one of the ways I got frozen out of the farm.

Cause you had daughters​?

Yeah. And funnily enough I’ve got two daughters farming. The other one, Richard, who took over the farm, none of his family … he’s only got one daughter living in New Zealand. [Chuckle] So yeah …

All comes home to roost, doesn’t it?

Yes. But I overheard comments that my father used to make to his friends, and that they used to make to him. I’ve got another uncle who had four daughters, and I remember him saying, “Oh he’s lucky, he doesn’t have to worry about buying farms.” And I sort of got the vibes at a very young age. So yeah, different – old, starchy, Victorian perhaps, I don’t know – but you know, I didn’t feel I was welcome there at that point … without actually being told so.

But generally speaking you’ve had a pretty good life?

Oh, no complaints whatsoever. No – it’s character building; I feel, you know, what I’ve achieved I’ve achieved off my own back.

Wasn’t given to you on a silver spoon​?

No, nothing at all; absolutely nothing. You know, that was a part of me that I’m proud of.

So you should be.

And I’ve been mindful of that. That’s one of the simple reasons I did my Massey papers and things like that. You know, I had to keep all my options open … more tools in the kit. And whether they all paid off or not I don’t know, but I enjoyed doing them anyway.

Well I’ve covered some of the major changes that have happened I suppose. Main industries in Hawke’s Bay – well they certainly went to the horticultural side of it; that’s always been my prediction, that we’d see a lot of that. And we sure did.

The worst natural disaster had to be the Napier ‘quake, and that demolished the Mt Vernon homestead basically. After the earthquake there was lots of corrugated iron lying around Napier, so they got truckloads of it down and reclad the whole outside of the homestead with corrugated iron to keep it sort of as weatherproof as they could get it. Then they took that off at a later date, my grandfather must’ve done that just before I was born … took all that off and put weatherboard on. ‘Cause it used to be lath and plaster, and that all fell off in the earthquake, both inside and out. It was about that deep in rubble inside; just all fell off the walls, and yet it was meant to’ve been … there’s documents there in Mt Vernon saying that this was meant to be one of the products that would stand the earthquakes. The house [with]stood the earthquake; but not the linings and the walls, [chuckle] and the outside. The house itself, apart from the chimneys moving a little bit, and one little corner got out of alignment, but the rest of the house was in pretty pristine order, you know, as far as … he just put a weatherboard cladding and relined it, basically. Barrow loads and barrow loads and barrow loads of stuff came out.

What do I think of the future of our province? Good question. And I’d get onto fairly dodgy ground on that one, so I might [chuckles] … yeah. I don’t know, I really don’t know … I just don’t know. It worries me, some of the land issues at the moment with Māori that, I’m afraid, unsettles me big time. And I’ve had some fine Māori that I class as good friends; bloke I sold the orchard to was a cousin of Tipene O’Regan [Ngāi Tahu] down south, and he was wise to a lot of their shenanigans. There was [were] a lot of shenanigans went on within those big tribal councils, and he was horrified by it himself. But yeah – I don’t like that; I don’t like … I think we’re separating ourselves off, and we shouldn’t be doing that. It’s all very well saying we’re one people, but it’s a bit of a cliché; but we are one country.

We have to be.

Yeah, and we’re not a big enough country to go being idiots; we’ve all got to co-exist and get on, and the sooner we do that the better. I enjoyed getting that off my chest. [Chuckle]

[Break; interview resumes]

Okay, now my mother’s father was JG Wilson. He was the historian; he wrote the history of Hawke’s Bay. He was very good. I used to go out with him when he used to go and interview people when he was doing his trips around; and one of his little booklets that he wrote was ‘The Road to Porangahau’. And while I was about a six or seven year old, I’d sit in the car, and he would go out and he’d sit himself down on a chair on a Māori verandah; one of the local resident Māori out along the road. And he’d chat away to them, and had a wonderful rapport with them. Then we’d sign off there and we’d move on up the road a bit further, and have another chat, and he would be writing all this down – there was [were] no recorders or anything, he’d just write notes all the time, and he produced these little booklets and things. And I used to sit and watch him, and he wrote everything he did in red pen, dipping it in red ink. And nowadays of course, that would be a problem scanning, because red ink doesn’t scan; so goodness knows. But all these notes were written on letter pads … lined pads in red ink, and he had absolutely dozens and dozens of these pads of the history of Hawke’s Bay and what-have-you; and that was all done on these pads – no computer, nothing.

And he had a wonderful liking of wildlife like I did – I just love the native birds and things; I’ve got them all through the garden here at the moment, we just love them and look after them. And he made me, at quite a young age, a life member of Forest & Bird Society. So I’m a life member there, but I fell out with them a wee bit over our local dam up the river here; I had a few terse words to say there. That sort of clashed with my professional side of my upbringing. [Chuckle]

And the other person … Mary-Anne Harty she was, who was related to the Hartys around here, funnily enough, but was a Christchurch girl – I married her in 1970, and we’ve been married now coming up seventy-one [fifty-one] years, so … wonderful times. That’s one thing I just needed to put in there.

1967 was the year we turned into decimal currency because I went into the Army – did my military training there in Waiouru. And funnily enough, my wages on the farm were crap; but it was quite good – everything doubled when I was in the Army when we changed to decimal currency on 10th July that year. Yeah – no, I had happy days of being up there; it was freezing cold in the middle of winter. And now as I say, Veterans Affairs look after me and do all these odd jobs and things around the house that I shouldn’t be doing, like being up ladders and things. So it’s very nice, thank you.

So were you called in [up] because of your birthday?

Compulsory, yeah. But I had no regrets whatsoever, I loved it, yeah. Did my thirteen weeks there, and then we had our various weekends and what-have-you that we did while we were at home.

What squadron [battalion] did you belong to?

Oh, goodness knows! It was [a] battalion, one of the local battalions, I can’t remember the name of it. It went by a number – we always referred to it by number.

So were you a grunt?

I was a grunt. [Chuckles] But I loved it. I love shooting and I was actually quite a good marksman, and so I loved all that part; and cross-country – when I was at school I hated cross-country, but in the Army I absolutely excelled. I was fit as a trout by the time we’d done that so I really did enjoy that part of it, and I enjoyed the shooting side of it. No, we had a lot of fun.

The Railways went on strike while we were there, so we had very little coal to give us any … we had no central heating for a while, and we just had hot water for showers; that was all they rationed it to so … character-building, I think. But I used to wear a bush singlet under my other clothes, and I washed it out one night and put it on a coat hanger and hung it by the window by my bed, and in the morning I could stand it up and lean it on the bed. [Laughter] It was frozen solid. So we didn’t exactly have the lap of luxury. [Chuckle] But no, we used to get dropped off out in … we spent a night out in the bush once, on a navigation thing in the dark, and we were just told to find our way from A to B. And so I just dug myself a nest under some pine trees and covered myself in pine needles, and spent the night that way. So yeah, I enjoyed that, it was right up my alley.

Well done. Well Tim, thank you so much for the time, I really appreciate it. Thank you very, very much, and we wish you all the very best for the future.

Oh, thank you very much.

*Clarification and Correction:  Tim’s parents had six children:  one girl and six boys.  Only one of the boys was a twin – Richard, with his sister Rosie.  Tim mentions above that John had twins, and this is incorrect.

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Interviewer:  Lyn Sturm

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