Harold (Harry) Charles Marett Interview
Today is the 3rd of March 2016, and I’m interviewing Harry Marett. Harry is a retired shipping line manager and he’s going to tell us about the life and times of his family.
Well, thank you Frank. There’s quite a lot to tell in that there’s a lot to go through, but I will start with the Bee side of our family. The first Bee to come to New Zealand was Francis – Francis Bee was born in Nottingham in 1820. He married Ann Harrison in 1842 and they sailed to New Zealand on the ship ‘London’, which arrived in Wellington the 1st of May 1842. They had their baby daughter Ellen with them.
Francis was a miller by trade and he brought with him his two millstones from Nottingham. He started a bakery in Wellington, then ran the Nelson Inn in Lambton Quay. Francis then tried his hand, like a lot of other people, at the gold rush in Australia, while Ann kept the Inn going and managing the four children that they had. He returned empty-handed, like a lot of people, from Australia. Later he took up a sheep run on the Hawke’s Bay east coast. He drove a Merino flock up the coast and arrived at Waikoukou which is really Ocean Beach, where he had leased a block from the Maoris. They settled there and brought [broke] this farm in. And they had nine children … in order, Ellen was the daughter they came out with; born in New Zealand was Ann, Frances, George, Francis (again) Elizabeth and Phoebe, Kate and Maria – seven girls and two boys. Girls have actually run in the family from that point.
It’s a little bit disjointed here. In 1864 Francis’s brother George and wife Mary and family, arrived on the ‘Rangoon’. This was twenty-four years later. Mary had eight children, six of whom were girls. Anyhow, what actually happened is that from our line, George, the son of Francis, married his cousin Ellen, and it becomes a bit complicated from thereon.
Was she a Bee too?
She was a Bee too – a cousin, and we’re descended from that line.
So did they continue farming at Waimarama?
They continued farming, and later George – George Bee, who was referred to as Shardy and all our relations would call him Shardy – he took up land at Mohaka … he leased land, and like … as the pioneers did in those days … they burnt fern, and there were runs and they put sheep on.
Yes, ’cause a lot of the land in those days was leased, they didn’t have ownership of it.
That’s true. Actually the holdings that they acquired, which was really in the Maungaharururu block, was three stations – one was Putorino, one was Kakariki and the other was Mohaka. It’s a bit difficult – I could read this.
So he was your great-grandfather?
He was my great-grandfather.
Are there any family still farming that area, or was that all sold up?
I’ll carry on and tell you this. The family were at Mohaka at the time of Te Kooti’s raid in 1869, and Te Kooti’s Hauhaus attacked the Mohaka Pa. A young Maori boy swam the river to the Bee farm to warn Francis and Annie and six daughters. They fled to a limestone cave in the bush, they had provisioned for such an eventuality. George … Shardy – I’ll refer to him as Shardy ’cause that’s how its written – was away at the Maungaharuru run and he didn’t arrive back until after the massacre, but he found his family safe in this limestone cave. It’s probably well recorded, but sixty people were killed including Maoris, in particular the Lavin family and Alfred John Cooper, who was a neighbour. Unlike some other settlers in the district they did not sell up and shift to safer areas – quite a few got out of Mohaka after this. They stuck it out.
With the unrest land values dropped, so Francis took the opportunity to buy land and increase the size of his flock. In 1874 Shardy married … I found it difficult to pick out the chronological run of the Bee family from the Pirani Reunion booklet, but I’d refer to the section in which most of it is covered – ‘The Bee History’ by David Marett, my brother. This covers the arrival in New Zealand and farming at Waikoukou, and thence the Maungaharuru Range at Mohaka. I will give Frank the book, and you can read most of it from that –‘The Pirani Reunion 4th-5th March 2006’.
My mother was – her name was Elsie. I should at this stage mention that Ann, the eldest daughter of the Bee girls, married Arthur Samuel Pirani. There were five girls and one boy, and my mother Elsie was the third born – she was actually born in Napier in 1904. I can then refer to my own contribution to the Reunion booklet … ‘The Marett Family’.
Elsie Frances Pirani married Leonard Alfred Marett, my father, in 1930. She died, for the record, on 12th of May 1991.
So where did your father come from then? Where were his folks from?
My father was born in Napier. His father Alfred Charles Marett, my grandfather, came to New Zealand in 1880 via Australia. He arrived in Wellington on the vessel ‘Rotomahana’ in 1880. He farmed for a period in New Plymouth and then came to Napier. [Leonard] Alfred Marett was born at Greenmeadows in 1900. It’s quite easy to refer to his life – we know that he was born in 1900. He was baptised at All Saints Church, Taradale.
His working life – he worked as a cadet at Tutira Station under the famous naturalist farmer, Guthrie-Smith, and he then managed a twelve thousand acre block, namely [Anaura?], which bounded Willow Flat which was owned by the Bees. His father, Alfred Marett, had bought this is conjunction with J J Burke, a Wellington wool scourer. There was six thousand acres of freehold and six thousand of leasehold. It had reverted back to fern and scrub – it had been burnt over many, many times, and run-holders had grazed it for years, and it was difficult. Later his two brothers, Cyril and Harold, came to help, but things were pretty bad at that stage, and I can remember my father telling me that they rounded up a mob of cattle and they drove them from Anaura, Kotemaori down to Stortford Lodge sale. It’s quite a long trek down, and they put them up at the sales at Stortford Lodge and they didn’t get a bid. So they had to get grazing around Stortford Lodge, and they finally took them back and they let them go on Anaura, which was poorly fenced, and they went wild. And they then paid the Maoris a pound a beast to retrieve them, and even the Maoris couldn’t get them. Those cattle were still running wild when I was hunting in that area in the fifties. They ran into the Depression in the early twenties and the farm was sold.
My father then took on a job with the Hawke’s Bay Forests, planting the forest at Waikahau. The development of pinus insignis was the brainchild of David Nelson, his brother-in-law, and he, together with – I think it was McCulloch Butler & Spence – and Guthrie Smith raised money to form a company and my father planted the forest there. From memory there are about six hundred acres. The planting lasted for about six years, then he was no longer required.
At this stage I’ll just refer to the 1931 earthquake. He was there. He was ploughing a fire break when the earthquake occurred. Prior to the earthquake the horses started – the horses became unsettled, and the pheasants crowed around, and all of a sudden the earthquake hit. He immediately let the horses go, and he finally walked to Napier – he followed the railway line and arrived, probably at Westshore, and he saw Napier, Bluff Hill, under a cloud of smoke.
Getting back … after leaving the forestry at Waikahau he took up a five acre block at Richmond Block and I’ll refer to this in ‘The Pirani Reunion Booklet, 4th-5th March 2006’. I provided the history of the Marett Family.
I should just fill in a little bit. My sister Marie was born while we were at Waikahau and I was too, but we shifted virtually when I was about six weeks.
So where was the Richmond Block then – is that in Napier?
Richmond Block was … this is the description I wrote about Richmond Block:
‘Richmond Block was a Government-promoted village settlement on the outskirts of Napier, comprising thirty-eight home farms, (home farms) each of five acres, on Napier Harbour Board land reclaimed after the disastrous 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake. Napier was being rebuilt and the country was in the midst of a major Depression, with unemployment at record levels. The Government, in return for a lease at a nominal rental, provided materials and supervision as a loan to the Harbour Board. From this initiative five acre units were made available for settlement, with the land fenced into three paddocks, a new three bedroomed house, a fowl run with twenty-five fowls, a cow bale and three to four milking cows. It was hoped the scheme would also earn some money for the new settlers by the sale of surplus crops in Napier. Encouraged by the apparently successful beginning, the Government made plans for more settlements. However the village soon ran into trouble when men, unable to find work outside, fell behind with their rents. Their plight discouraged future settlers and the Government abandoned its plans for other settlements when it realised that farms of this size were too small for a profitable occupation.’
I’m giving you a copy of this document. But we settled at Richmond Block and the other members of our family were born while we were at Richmond Block, being my sister Fay; brother David; also John, who was later adopted by my aunt, Marjorie Chrystal.
So are you related to the Chrystals as well?
We are – we are related to the Chrystals. Gerald Chrystal married Marjorie Pirani, my mother’s sister.
I have described Richmond block.
Just – where was it relative to ..?
It’s really where Maraenui is now. From memory there were thirty-eight five acre blocks. I know ours was the biggest, because I did a research for the Te Awa School Jubilee, and I obtained the original plan which had all the survey and roads of the proposed development. And I also inserted all the names of the original owners, and also their offspring. So I still have that document, which could be quite valuable.
‘Cause a very few of those five acre blocks … they’ve all been amalgamated, or absorbed into other farms.
Yeah, no doubt. Well – taken over by Maraenui – if you go to Maraenui today you will see the old cottages. They stand out. Just one point I think, the Tutaekuri River used to run past Richmond Block and was later diverted.
So you grew up at … started your earlier lives, you and the rest of the family, at Richmond Block on the small allotment with some cows and some chooks and some other … ground crops obviously you grew?
We did. At the age of the War, it’s very easy to think back ’cause as I said, Len Marett was born in 1900. The Second World War he was in his forties, and he tried … he was very keen to go away to the War. He was too young for the First World War – he was only sixteen … in his teens … and he tried very hard, and he finally got accepted by the Royal New Zealand Navy. He went into camp – he didn’t go overseas – the War finished. And at that stage he was unsettled and he decided to sell Richmond Block. And at probably about forty-two we sold Richmond Block and he went back to shepherding, and he became the Head Shepherd on Kahika Station at Tutira. This was land where he had shepherded before, he knew pretty well, and we went back to Tutira. And I can remember it vividly – I had started Intermediate School, had been selected for the Ross Shield, and we had to pack up and go to Tutira. The kids didn’t know how to play rugby there. Anyhow I missed out on that – that’s one of my sore points in my life.
We later came back to Napier, and he worked for Jas J Nivens in the pattern shop, and he was a leading hand there. And I think he retired form work there. In describing Len – he was a very fit person. He was a very hard worker and he expected his sons to be the same. He was very strict on his sons, but he adored his daughters and they could do no wrong.
I can remember Richmond Block. We had plenty of room to play, and the house was in a big area of lawn. And I was a little bastard as a young kid. I found that I could quickly … I could get my father worked up pretty easily and I played on it, and I would get him worked up and he would chase me. And one circuit of the house and I could get ahead of him enough to make a break, and I usually made a break through a big macrocarpa hedge which he didn’t have a show of getting in.
[Chuckle] No wonder you became such a good rugby player [chuckle] – that’s where you trained.
So when you came back and your father was working at Nivens, were you at High School then?
I came back and started at Napier Boys’ High School.
And your brothers went there as well?
They did, my brothers went there. I could refer back to the Napier earthquake when my father was on the forestry. My mother was pregnant with Marie, my sister … their first child. And she was evacuated, like a lot of women, particularly pregnant women, to other places, but she went to Wanganui. She had an aunt in Wanganui and Marie was born in Wanganui. Marie, my elder sister, later did her nursing in Wanganui and got very friendly with her aunt.
That she’d lived with …
Napier Boys’ High School, seeing we’ve started on that – I was three years at Napier Boys’ High School. I excelled at sport there. I was junior athletic champion, and intermediate, and I was never beaten in any race. [Chuckle] I could have gone back and won the senior title but I didn’t. I was First XV, and left Napier Boys’ High School, and I have another document which is the potted history of myself. It covers my education, work history and sporting achievements and later on when I married Shirley Rixon in 1960.
I have listed the schools, being Te Awa School, which was the closest school to Richmond Block, and I went to Standard 4. I left in Standard 4 to go to Tutira School. Thinking back, naturally we think about rugby – we were very fortunate to have an ex-Hawke’s Bay rep, Maurie Cody, as a first school teacher at Te Awa, and through the first time in the first XV he led us, he coached us. Other prominent Hawke’s Bay footballers that went there was [were] David Kibble, John McKinnon, they were all in the same team. So that’s memories of Te Awa School.
Napier Intermediate I only went for about six months. I managed to get into the first XV there. The season, the rugby season had started and I was living at Taradale and I had to catch the bus to Taradale, so I couldn’t stay too late for practice, but at times I had to establish myself, so I stayed. And how I got home I’m not sure, but the Phys Ed teacher was Charlie Dyke. and Charlie had played cricket for New Zealand, and he had played rugby for Otago, and he was a very, very good coach. And I attended a training and he asked my name – we were all gathered there – and someone said “Dick”, which is my nickname … one or two knew me as Dick. And someone said “Harold”, and he said “what is your name – Tom, Dick or Harry?” I said “Harry.” So that’s how I became known as Harry.
I was able to perform there and I was put in the first XV, and as I remarked before it broke my heart when he had to go back to Tutira. I was virtually in the Ross Shield team but we went back, I had to go with the family. Later I marked Toughy Dyke, who was Charlie’s son, against the South Island, that was about 1957. That’s at Napier Boys’ High School.
Work history. My first employment was the BP Oil Company which had just started their development in New Zealand. They were partly Government owned and they had built an installation at Napier. They had installations and depots. Installation was when they had a pipeline and they could pump the petrol … petroleum products direct from a ship, from the wharf. I was in Napier for a year then I was transferred to Wellington. By that time I was playing rugby for Hawke’s Bay – I’d just started, and the Wellington manager … Wellington was the Head Office by the way … had played for Wellington. And somehow I feel that I was captured and placed in Wellington. [Chuckle] And it was my first time in the big city and I was employed as a cadet and I went to Head Office in the accounts department in BP. And I was only there a week and they had an installation at Waiwhetu, and the operations manager who used to direct all the tankers to the various petrol stations had an accident, and of course they put me out there. I didn’t know the Wellington area at all and I had to be led by the drivers. So I was at Waiwhetu for probably six months before I came back into Head Office at Wellington.
Then I was offered a job in Hawke’s Bay again to play rugby again for Napier High School Old Boys, and I came back and joined Williams & Kettle, initially in the wool department. I was then transferred to the shipping department. Williams & Kettle were Port Line Agents. They were co-agents with Hawke’s Bay Farmers. Williams & Kettle were the senior agents if that meant anything. At that stage it was traditional for overseas British shipping lines to appoint stock and station agents as their agents, because they had direct source to the wool clip, and that was one of the main cargoes in the early days.
I was later transferred to the shipping department. The shipping department paid the store employers – there were a lot of casual employers in the season – up to eighty, they would employ. So I became the pay clerk. Fairly responsible job. And in the shipping department at that stage was Stan Ayling who’d been shipping manager for many years for Williams & Kettle. He was seventy-six, and he was still working there. His assistant was a chap called Hector Austin, and he was close to sixty-five. And I was transferred – Stan Ayling left, they finally got rid of him – and I was promoted to assistant. Within six months Hector Austin died – he died of cancer, virtually died in his seat. And over that period we had ships, and it was my first introduction to working ships and I had very little help from Hector Austin who was a very sick man. Anyhow Hector Austin died and we were left with one junior, virtually, in holding the fort.
And that was you.
I should add at that age … I was about 19. And we before we could organise ourselves and get extra staff, we had two vessels arrive – Port Line vessels – and there was no way out of it, I had to handle them. In those days in Port Line you ordered all the cargo … the meat, the wool … you ordered it – the agent ordered it – so you had to be in close contact with the stevedore and know what was going on. The first vessel we had was the ‘Port Vindex’. It was on the West Indies run. Cargo was consigned to all the little islands in the West Indies. There could be ten cartons of beef; two carcasses of goats which would be trans-shipped to an island, and they would probably come from up to eight freezing works, from Auckland to Wellington. And you had to order that cargo to be block stowed to enable it to be discharged in some sort of order from eight freezing works. It was an impossible task. And as it happened it rained for a week ,and I had cargo coming from eight freezing works. And you had to work on the basis that it wasn’t going to rain, otherwise you didn’t have any cargo for five gangs of about fifteen men. If you didn’t have any cargo they would be idle, so you couldn’t stop it. And we got to the stage where the wharf was absolutely cluttered with half [chuckle] … half-empty wagons of meat, because you had to go from one to the other to marry up the cargo and block stow it. And it got to the stage where the stevedore just didn’t know where he was – I didn’t know where he was. I was dealing with people all over the North Island. So what we did – any half trucks we sent them back to the Works and started afresh. Finally the rain stopped, and we got the cargo loaded. But unfortunately, the aftermath went on for probably eighteen months, because it was always an issue afterwards – did the agent over order? Or was it weather? And why was … responsible that the meat was sent back to the Works?
Did you know Bruce Jenkinson who was at Whakatu, Works Manager? He told me a similar story of these wagons all coming back to the Works.
Well the man I dealt with, Frank, at Whakatu was Cyril Cushing.
Yes, he was the Chief.
Selwyn’s father. And he was hard to deal with. He certainly worked for his employer. I don’t think I won with Cyril Cushing, but I certainly got to know the various Works Managers.
So once you’d resolved this problem – sending the wagons back at this point – then you obviously were getting a feel for the job?
Well I learnt the hard way. I was given a 2IC – there was a guy called Gary Morrissey – Gary was a real character, very likeable but totally inexperienced like myself. Head Office finally shifted Phil Giblin who was the Head Clerk in the wool department, and Phil didn’t know anything about shipping, [chuckle] a lot less than I did, so Phil became Manager and I was his assistant. Phil was promoted to Branch Manager in Gisborne … Gisborne was one of our bigger branches. And at the age of twenty-eight I was appointed Shipping Manager for Williams & Kettle.
Prior to that I had played rugby for Hawke’s Bay, and I had played for the North Island team when I was twenty. And Williams & Kettle were a great firm, they were a good firm. They encouraged you if you were playing sport, and I can always remember that Ted Burkett – Ted Burkett was the General Manager of W&K – and I used to, in training, run over the hill to work and occasionally he’d be driving along Battery Road and he’d see me and he’d pick me up. And he congratulated me on being in the North Island team – it just happened that he picked me up the day after. And he told me, he said “we can’t let your job interfere with your sporting career”. [Chuckle] And that came from the General Manager of Williams & Kettle. They were welcome words.
In the probably seventies … 1970s … containerisation came in, and it just happened that Port Line and Blue Star merged. They were total opposition but they saw it was necessary to merge, and they merged as Blue Port. I was No 1 in Williams & Kettle in Port Line in Napier, and I had the opportunity then to become No 3 in the new company. Anyhow, I was offered a job by a good friend of mine who was Shipping Manager for the Wool Board. And I thought it was an opportunity so I joined the Wool Board as Shipping Officer, and that was 1969. And at that stage the Wool Board had decided to form a company – an establishment company – called the New Zealand Wool Marketing Establishment Company, and acquire the total clip and market it. Prior to that the Wool Board was just purely advisory. And I arrived at the stage where they were drafting all the legislation, and I spent a long time with law draftsmen assisting with some of the legislation that referred to the wool side of it, and wool brokering side of it.
It then happened that … it was probably in 1972 – 1972, Wool Marketing Corporation … they had a referendum. Some of their grower groups didn’t want acquisition and at the last minute they had a referendum and surprisingly out-voted acquisition. So by that stage we had been transferred to the New Zealand Wool Marketing Corporation, and Wilson Whineray had been appointed General Manager. He was on loan from Alex Harvey Industries for two years to set up as a figure head to get things going. And we really all had non jobs and in particular probably, Wilson Whineray, in the fact that he was coaching Grammar on Tuesday night, he’d come to Wellington on Wednesday, and he would go home on Friday, and I used to pick him up [chuckle] at the airport in his car.
Anyhow, we then had to sit back and do the things that we were doing under the Wool Board, which was basically advisory. We administered the Wool Freight Council, which was a global council, and there were meetings in Brussels every second year I think. And the Wool Board was responsible for negotiating the wool freight rates from New Zealand to destinations with the shipping lines.
We were looking for projects, and one that was put in my lap was – Bangladesh was at war, and Bangladesh was the sole supplier of jute wool packs. Probably about ten percent of the wool packs were supplied by Foxton – flax wool packs – not very popular, but they were a standby. The others were all jute packs all imported from Bangladesh. Well our supply of wool packs virtually stopped, and we had to turn to synthetic, so I was given the role to develop a specification to introduce wool packs to the industry. Australia by that stage had moved to … partly to synthetic wool packs, and together with DSIR we developed a suitable pack. And one of the characteristics that took a long time to settle was the ability of the synthetic wool pack to be stable during transit, on a truck. We had to develop an anti-slip coating that was better than jute and we developed this ,and we had suppliers of synthetic wool packs from all over the world … probably mainly from Asia, on our doorstep.
And we set the specification, and we had trouble with the New Zealand Road Carriers’ Association. They were anti the synthetic wool pack, and one of the staff had made the comment “what happens if a synthetic pack bale falls on a boy riding a bike?” And of course everyone got scared, and it needed the ability of Wilson Whineray to convince them. Wilson Whineray said “you’ve got a problem there”, he said “we’ll go and meet them.” So we met them, and we walked out and they were convinced that synthetic wool packs would be stable in transit on the road.
So during this period that you were with the Wool Board, you had obviously finished playing rugby for Hawke’s Bay?
Yes, I had.
Well let’s go back to your Hawke’s Bay rugby playing days while you were at Williams & Kettle, because they were, you know, very worthy of a mention.
Very much so. I have to say that Williams & Kettle were very, very good, ’cause I had time off for rep games. But I was still playing for Hawke’s Bay when I was Shipping Manager, so I gave myself the time off. [Chuckle] In fact Le Quesne used to come down and have a talk. And during that time, Williams & Kettle employed Kelvin Tremain who was an All Black. I’m not quite sure if he was an All Black then, but he was certainly playing for Hawke’s Bay and I was coaching. I later coached Napier High School Old Boys – Kelvin was captain of Napier High School Old Boys, and I was the coach.
So I think working at Kettles was interesting. We had one or two characters there. We had a real character – his name was Vic O’Leary. He was a New Zealander but had spent a long time in Australia. He’d been a professional boxer, professional wrestler, and a professional runner, and he was a masseur as well. And he was the scales clerk. In those days the store staff used to start early, go down to the local hotel for morning tea, and a lot of them went for lunch to the hotel as well, and then in the afternoon. But Vic was a good beer drinker, and he became my coach in athletics. He was a good masseur … very good. In fact, in the early days of playing and working in the wool department, it was seasonal and we had a long period during the winter where we had very little to do. And Vic would rub me down during working time, and I always used to go and have a massage before any Hawke’s Bay rep game.
I was running at … the Hawke’s Bay Athletic Champs were at Wairoa … not very often held at Wairoa. But my second cousin – his name was George Bee – he was a surveyor, and he was the track surveyor, and the champs were there. George Scott, who was the Wool Manager – his son was a good athlete, Ray Scott. And we all went to Wairoa. Prior to going up Vic O’Leary had said “well”, he said “I think you should buy your old trainer a bottle of whisky because you know, we’ve done quite a bit for you.” So anyhow I went to merchandise and bought a bottle of Bell’s Whisky and duly we went up there – I stayed with an old great aunt in Wairoa, and won the heats of the 100, 200 and the 110 metre hurdles. And – a very hot day in Wairoa, and needless to say that George Scott and Vic O’Leary, my trainer, had gone to the pub in the lunch hour, and they came back and I was ordered to warm up thoroughly and report back to the changing room, which I did. Then Vic said “well, you’ve got that bottle of whisky there haven’t you?” Fortunately I’d put it in my gear bag, and he then proceeded to rub me from head to foot in whisky. [Chuckle] And also George Scott’s son, who was a middle distance runner, he did the same. Well I went out and I couldn’t even feel my legs moving. In other words I was partly intoxicated, it had gone straight to me. And I duly attended the start of the 100 metres, and of course my fellow competitors looked at me [chuckle] ’cause they could smell whisky on me. I won the 100 in 10.1, [seconds] and won the … it was the 100 yards in those days … and 220 yards, and also the hurdles. I’ve digressed a little bit here. And afterwards – I was staying overnight, Scott and O’Leary were going back – and we went to the Wairoa Hotel. At that stage I had played rugby for the North Island, and All Blacks versus the Rest of New Zealand, and Terry McLean had written in his column a little snippet about me – that I had damaged a muscle in my thigh and I had to have it grafted. How he got it I don’t know, but it was totally … someone had made it up. And in the Wairoa Pub Vic O’Leary decided to compose a letter to Terry McLean, and he denied that I had this injury. He ended up by saying that the scribe should be recommended to a psychiatrist. I like a fool signed it, [chuckle] and it was sent. From that day Terry McLean never [chuckle] had much time for me.
But Williams & Kettle were a great firm in that day.
So you played rugby for Hawke’s Bay for what period?
From 1952 – I dislocated my shoulder in 1953 which inhibited my ability to perform properly. And in 1959 Gerald Taine came back from Harley Street as a qualified orthopaedic surgeon and they had perfected on a shoulder re-constructure called the Patyplus, where they interwove the tendons into the muscles, and tightened up the shoulder. Anyhow I had the operation in ’59 and I didn’t play that year. And to just continue on, I played 1960 and in 1961, and tossed it in then.
That was a long period though.
It was. I was eighteen when I first played though.
Now during this period of playing rugby, and working at Williams & Kettle and the Wool Board, you met Shirley?
Yes, I met Shirley, and we married in 1960.
Shirley would you like to tell us something about yourself? So we’re at the stage where Harry has admitted meeting you. So where did you come from … where did you grow up?
Shirley: I came from Hastings. I haven’t moved far.
Where did your folks come from?
My mother came from Dannevirke and my father came from Shag Point out of Dunedin and then the family moved to the West Coast to Seddonville, and then back to Dunedin. And then my father ended up coming and working in Hawke’s Bay for McCulloch Butler & Spence – he was an accountant. And then he ended up as Richmond’s accountant.
The meat company?
And so where did you go to school?
And Akina? Or Hastings High School?
Oh, Hastings High School, yes.
‘Cause it was mixed those days, wasn’t it? Was it called Akina those days?
No. So I can go to all the boys’ school reunions.
And so when you left school, what did you do?
I went to Aerial Mapping to start with, and then I had a very brief period with Dr Cashmore, and then I ended up in the lab at Wattie’s.
And so, you married the lad?
In 1960, yes.
And you’ve got how many children?
Two boys, Tony and Jamie.
And they must be in their forties?
Yes – Jamie’s late forties, Tony’s early fifties.
Three grandchildren … Tony’s got two girls and Jamie’s got one boy.
So do you have any other interests besides Harry?
[Chuckles] I used to have quite a lot, you know – I used to be involved … I was the first non-playing member of the Hawke’s Bay Swing Club. [Chuckle] And I used to have a lot of interest in music, mostly as a spectator. And I used to draw a bit.
But every activity needs a spectator … they wouldn’t have anything to do if they didn’t have someone to play to.
Yes, I interviewed Janet Shaw – do you know Janet Shaw?
Sixty-two years of teaching music in Hawke’s Bay.
Harry: I think Frank, that Shirley is too modest. She is a very good portrait artist.
Have you done a portrait of the master here?
Shirley: No, I did one of his father.
So I’ll carry on now with Harry … thank you.
Yeah, okay Frank. Talking about work history – getting back to the New Zealand Wool Board, or the New Zealand Wool Marketing Corporation, the writing was on the wall with the Board at that time and I was approached to come back, which I did. I started with Williams & Kettle, which we’ve just touched on. I took a position with the Owens Group – Bob Owens from Tauranga – to set up a branch in Napier. Being familiar with shipping in Napier, and an ex-shipping manager, he obviously thought I was suited, and I took the opportunity and came back. We didn’t buy a house. David, my brother, had taken a teaching position in the South Island and his house was available in Taradale … Greenmeadows actually, and we shifted into that and I took up the job as shipping manager. It was pretty basic. Bob Owens had a stevedoring operation in Napier at that stage, but most of them were living out of suitcases. The personnel were brought from other ports all the time, there was a lot of travelling. We didn’t buy a house, we bought twenty acres on Te Mata – Mangateretere Road. And we cropped it for a start – we were living at Taradale, and it was quite a way from Napier to come out, but we cropped it … peas for a start. And the second year … actually we had quite a good crop of peas that year. The next year we started planting a pip and stone fruit orchard, and we planted half in pip fruit – in apples – and we continued cropping the balance. We had our ups and downs with cropping. We had army worm right on the eve of harvesting with a crop of sweetcorn, but we’d double cropped that year, which is a bit of a risk. We finally shifted a new skyline garage onto the twenty acres, and that helped – we had a base.
Unexpectedly David my brother came back from … he was in Fox Hill in Nelson … and he came back and of course he wanted his house. We were very lucky, we managed to get the old Fulford homestead in Fulford Road. It had the pottery next door to it. And obviously we were closer to attend to the orchard.
We’d half planted, as I mentioned, in pip fruit and we obviously wanted to build a house, we needed to borrow most of the money. So we obviously went to the main source of money for horticulture … we went to the Rural Bank. It so happened that my ex-third grade rugby coach was the manager of the Rural Bank.
Anyhow, we were turned down. They said we were inexperienced, and that was it. So we then went to our local MP who was Harrison I think, in those days, and he couldn’t do anything to help us. We then wrote to Duncan McIntyre, and he wrote back eventually and said no, he couldn’t do anything. At that stage finance was tight, the banks weren’t lending, particularly as we weren’t experienced, but we had in a short time gained a lot of experience. Most of the trees we’d planted had been root stock which we grafted ourselves. Anyhow not to be beaten, Shirley – a very good letter writer – wrote to Rob Muldoon. We knew he was out of the country at that stage. Within three days of receiving Shirley’s letter he replied, and he said he would refer the letter and the request to his Minister, who was Duncan McIntyre, Minister of Agriculture. We didn’t think we’d have much hope, but word came from my ex-third grade coach, [chuckle] who was the manager of the Rural Bank, that an appraiser was coming out to the orchard and he wanted to see Shirley and I out at the orchard. And he said “what do you know about orcharding?” You know … in other words, we haven’t got a show. Anyhow the appraiser was pretty tough and Shirley and he didn’t see eye to eye.
Who was the Manager of the Rural Bank?
Oh, Ernie Smith.
So anyhow, we had the appraisal … the meeting, and we didn’t hold very much hope. And we had a box at Havelock at that stage and I cleared it on the way home from work – a letter from the Prime Minister’s Department … well from the Prime Minister, addressed to Shirley Marett. I took it home and I didn’t open it, I left it to Shirley – a letter from Rob Muldoon saying that they had re-assessed our situation, and he was pleased to let us know that the Rural Bank would be lending us £20,000 to build a house.
Staying with us was my old man, my father, who obviously was about seventy-eight then … seventy-six I think … and he was a life member of the Labour Party. He’d voted Labour all his life, ’cause he’d been through the Depression. And Shirley showed him the letter – he read it and he said “well, good on ‘im.” The first words I’ve ever heard my father say that were pleasing about Muldoon.
We built the house. One of my third grade players, a guy called Allan McLean, a very good builder, built it. I helped when I could. And Neil Titter was our bricklayer – a very good bricklayer. So anyhow we built the house and we shifted into it in 1979, and we obviously shifted from Fulford Road.
That was great news.
Later, some years later, my uncle Cyril was living in Wellington. He worked for Wright Stephenson’s and he was land Manager for Wright Stephenson’s and later developed his own real estate company. He was very interested in what we were doing and he asked whether we would send a presentation of apples when we were in production, down to him and he would take it to Muldoon. So he duly did this, he actually rang him up and told him, and anyhow Muldoon wrote back to us and thanked us. We have three letters, maybe four, I could show you, from Muldoon. So you know, if anyone says anything against Muldoon I argue against them.
So from then on we developed the orchard and Shirley was at home on the orchard and she did a lot of work. And I’d employed another staff member, a typist in Napier, and she only lasted a week and didn’t turn up [chuckle] after that week. So we were desperate so I said to Shirley “would you mind coming in?” So Shirley came in and she ended up staying for two years. The salary helped us a lot. But she turned out probably the best typist I’ve ever had, but she could do other things as well which was very helpful.
And so who – did you have someone on the orchard at the same time?
No we didn’t, but Tony for a start went to Massey. And to do an orchard diploma you had to have two years … a period of experience on an orchard which he did with Keith Spackman. And he then went to varsity and when he’d finished he came and he managed it for a year. And later on Jamie did a horticulture cadetship and he came back, and managed it for six months. They then both went overseas.
And then once you got into full production you sold it and moved to …
Well, it’s a depressing tale. We were close to good production – not full production – and we got completely devastated by a hailstorm in January, and I did something I regret I’ve regretted for the rest of my life. I had a very good super scheme which had been transferred from the Wool Board to the Owens Group, and I cashed in on it and propped ourselves up, and that obviously went down the gurgler. We got hail nearly as bad, not quite as bad, the next year and that really knocked us … we never recovered. But we persevered, and we had the orchard in full production and we sold it in 1990. Well, it was actually 1989, but we shifted during the …
We were in the same situation with the Bola storm. So then you left there and moved to Pukahu.
We sold the orchard and we moved to Te Aute Road, to Pukahu. It was a berry farm in full production. We shifted in in January but the most of the berries had been harvested. And Shirley wasn’t happy with berries, it was a lot of work. The raspberries were the trailing variety, which you had to start off again every year with leaders, so we decided to spray them with Roundup and pull them out. So we did that. Actually Tony did that, and we planted pasture. And bordering within our boundary we had sixteen – I reckon about eighty year old walnut trees – of which the previous owner used to harvest, and he used to mow the bank, and he had outlets for the walnuts. I then planted olives, which were the rage at that stage … everyone was planting olives. And the only variety I could get was Barnao which is an Israeli cultivar, and not self pollinating – you have to rely on the nice calm days with a nice breeze to pollinate. We got to the stage where we cropped, we pressed them – three years in a row – we strained the oil and bottled it next door in the Riverbend … Church on Riverbend in their registered kitchen – to qualify as bottled in a registered kitchen – and sold it. And our brand name was Marette … Maretti. We just put an ‘e’ on Marett – it should be pronounced Marette, but Maretti … and we sold the oil, but we gave a lot away, it was really a hobby farm.
And I cropped – I grew potatoes, I grew pumpkins, I grew beans and we had outlets. And we also grew gherkins which grew on the orchard, which were hard work, but we did. And we kept the shop open … there was a shop when we bought the place.
Then once you were looking to less work, you moved to here.
Well obviously retirement came, and I enjoyed working …
So were you still working for the Owens Group ’til you came to here?
No I wasn’t. No, I was retired – I retired in ’96.
You’d been in Pukahu for a few years at that stage?
Yes. We’d been there since ’79.
’89 you moved to Pukahu?
Harry: Yeah, I beg your pardon ’89. Just as well somebody’s wide awake.
So that probably pretty well covers most of the things, but if there’s other things you want to tell me about we could do that.
Well there’s probably one thing that has always been held in the back of my mind … is when we first shifted to our block on Te Mata – Mangateretere Road, Eddie Lay was leasing the adjoining block and he was on the tractor – he’d had a crop of onions – and he stopped and he introduced himself, and his first words were … he was a Cockney by the way … he said “listen boy, in this game you haven’t had a good year till your money’s in the bank.” And those words have …
He was the most generous … well the whole Lay family were …
He gave me about twenty or thirty bins, you know? He gave them to me. Apple bins.
That was another story, when you think of all the bins that you sent away … you didn’t always get your own bins back. You’d see them in someone else’s orchard, or you’d have other people’s bins in your place and you’d just … as long as you had the right number at the end of the season you didn’t do too much about it.
Especially in the years when they were short of bins. There’d been a strike or something and … became difficult.
Well they used to limit bins, didn’t they, because they just didn’t have enough – everything was full.
Well Frank, there’s probably an interesting part of my life I’d like to relate in working for the Owens Group. When I joined Seatrans, which is the shipping division of the Owens Group, one of our agencies was BHP Transport. BHP Australia, The Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, had vessels on the trans-Tasman, bringing their bigger steel over. Union Company had the monopoly on the trans-Tasman. All the big shippers, both sides, they had tied up in contracts. All the other smaller cargo was handled by freight forwarders who were loyal to Union Company.
In the early seventies … mid seventies there was a strike, a wharf strike in Melbourne, and BHP’s cargo was left on the wharf. The Union Company left it in preference to other cargo. In particular there was stillages of tinplate. BHP had probably about eighty percent of the tinplate used in canneries in New Zealand, in particular Wattie’s in Hastings, and they were very concerned, so they decided to put their own ships on. They had a reasonably big fleet and they chartered numerous vessels, bulk carriers, to carry iron ore and other stuff to Asia and around the World. And in fact at one stage they were bigger than P&O – BHP – and they also were shipbuilders in Whyalla. They built the Union ‘Rotorua’ and its sister ship, and they also built minesweepers for the British Navy in the Second World War.
Anyhow, they decided to bring their own cargo over, so they established the route and they went back in ballast, empty. When I joined them, this was the case. They didn’t work the weekends, they didn’t work Saturday morning – that was unheard of on the wharf. They didn’t think it was necessary to work Saturday morning. BHP themselves were … they were manned by Australians, there was a few foreigners … few English people that had entered the ranks as officers, and they were very loyal to the company and they were very interested in what the company did.
So they carried on bringing these steel products over and going back in ballast, and there was the opportunity – everyone could see it – to back load, and particularly from Napier where we had Wattie’s, who had had established Australia as a big market – both ways. They were growing tomatoes over there, and there was a two-way traffic for Wattie’s. And BHP were very friendly with Wattie’s, they looked after them well and entertained them. I saw the opportunity and I kept on pushing it and around about ’78 BHP decided to look at it. It coincided with the appointment of John Prescott as BHP Transport General Manager, and he was keen to diversify and get into liner trade operations, and he had successfully got into liner trade operations on the West Coast of North America.
Anyhow there was a lot of letters passed by emails – or faxes and our teleprinter in those days – and the Harbour Board got behind it … Napier Harbour Board … and they backed it fully, and they assisted and it developed to the stage where BHP decided they would look at it. They sent out John Prescott, who was the newly appointed Manager, a guy called Derek Holton, who had a connection with Napier – he married the daughter of the jailer of the Napier Prison – and John Whittle, who was the other traffic manager assistant, BHP Transport. And they came out, entertained me at the Travelodge and discussed it over a meal. At about two o’clock in the morning I said “I’m going home.” John Prescott said “no, you’re not, you’re coming to talk to me.” I got away [chuckle] from that about four o’clock in the morning. It was a very deep, searching conversation.
Then things started to happen. We did a survey of trade – we had presented details of potential trade and a costing for BHP, but BHP wanted to know more. They organised a business planning meeting in Australia. It was attended by two hundred people. I was on the agenda for speaking – unfortunately I was the first speaker. And I can always remember – I felt that in the presentation your introduction is very important, so I did a bit of investigation, and I looked up details on trade and I found that the Australian Year Book was still produced annually and it still invited New Zealand to become a State of Australia. So I suggested that it may be advantageous to BHP if we became a State of Australia, and it would have a rub off for us too because our ten percent Maori population would be reduced to 0.1. [Chuckle] Anyhow, it went over their heads. I’ll leave that.
The business planning meeting was successful. It was well handled by BHP who were very experienced at running meetings like this. I went back home, and in a weekend – I can always remember the day, it was the day we played Wairarapa on Queen’s Birthday. I wasn’t playing, I went to watch; I came home; Derek Holton, the traffic manager, phoned me – he knew I was going out to watch this game – and he said “I’ll be brief. I think we should give it a go.” And I said “I think you bloody well should too.” He said “all right, I’ll see you jail.” [Chuckle]
Anyhow things started to move from there. BHP weren’t experienced in liner shipping. They didn’t hire equipment like containers – ’cause we were into containers – they had their own system. They had bolsters which weighed 4.5 tons and they were built like a brick shithouse, and they folded down each end and folded down each side. They were built to carry ingots on a roll-on, roll-off vessel which they built themselves. That’s how big BHP were. And we had to be very careful, we said “you’ve got to hire containers.” Anyhow they had a surplus of these bolsters so they decided to send them over. They sent them over in one ship and we had to store them somewhere. If we’d put them on the wharf we’d be paying storage. So Grow Earth Canneries were very, very keen to back BHP and Brian Kelly who was the manager, I rang him and he said ”yes – oh, we’ll take the lot.” And there were a hundred and fifty containers dropped off at Napier, and they all had very high quality covers, beautiful covers. So we dropped them all out there. And in the weekend I realised – I went past and I saw them all lined along their drive, and I went in and about twenty covers had gone. [Chuckle] But anyhow – that’s one side of the story.
We then obviously started canvassing for cargo. We toured New Zealand – every timber mill, ’cause timber was a cargo that Union Company didn’t like. And we went down to the South Island … we found that there was numerous opportunities for mills down there to ship to Australia, but they didn’t have a service. So we initially decided we had to come to Auckland, because Auckland is the main port and most of the imports end up going to Auckland, and we could pick up containers from Auckland … empties. And Napier had to be included in the itinerary, and we were pushed into serving Nelson as well. So originally it was Auckland, Napier, Nelson and Lyttelton and we decided to go to Bluff because there were big quantities of timber and they were down to earth people down there and you could sign a contact with a handshake.
And so we started the service. Union Company obviously didn’t think we’d last, but they realised that BHP was far too big to fight against and they were still carrying BHP cargo as well. The freight forwarders got all tight about it, and there was some big freight forwarders – in fact the Owens Group owned Mogul, one of the biggest freight forwarders. Anyhow, it started off successfully, we got good support and we had full loads and BHP learnt very quickly – their personnel. And it got to the stage where Union Company started making noises, and I should have known – I knew that we had shares in Union Company – but at a function I was cornered by Bob Owens. And he asked me … he said “what are you doing?” He said “we’re doing very well as the biggest New Zealand shareholder in Union Company, and you’re [chuckle] setting up a service and you work for Bob Owens.” [Chuckle] And I said “well, Mr Owens, you’ve always wanted to get into Australia” … and he’d tried to get into Australia with his other divisions, being stevedoring and road transport. And he was close friends with Abel who was a big freight forwarder in Australia. And he said “well, make sure you keep me informed, what you’re doing.”
So I had to be very careful and Head Office were running scared. But fortunately there was one guy, he was the General Manager actually, who backed it, backed it fully. We firstly had to compete against Union Company Freight Forwarders … the freight forwarders, so I employed a qualified Customs Agent, housed in our own office, and we appointed firstly a Customs Agent in Sydney, real Aussie character, and we were able to do the documentation which was done for all trans-Tasman shippers by the freight forwarder, even though they had a contract for the cargo. And we could do the service – not in a big way – we could do it at Napier.
Anyhow, it happened that Bob Owens saw his opportunity and McArthur Shipping had been the biggest Ships’ Agency Company in Australia. It had, it had representation at just about every port – had a lot of deadwood too – and we bought McArthur Shipping, lock stock and barrel.
I was then appointed Australasian Manager and my first job was to sort out the deadwood.
Oh my God.
Anyhow, it became obvious that we needed someone on that side, so they appointed a Line Manager in Australia, and I was New Zealand Line Manager. But it involved probably monthly, twice a month flights to Australia, and a lot of them I’d go over for the day and come back the same day. But we had branches in every major port in New Zealand and we were represented in every port in Australia, so we could compete against Union Company. And it got nasty. I got threatened – I won’t go into that – and Union Company were really, really sour.
And we carried on and it was a success. BHP chartered two more vessels, big container vessels, and we put them on the run and we got some big accounts. One in particular was Cedenco in Gisborne, who were just entering the export to Australia. We helped them. We organised their inventories. I sent a guy up to help them up there – we became great friends and it developed. We concentrated on the personal touch – if we had to fly to Bluff and meet a timber mill guy at the sawmill at … it’s a remote place … we did it.
In fact, we didn’t turn down cargo. We were approached to take cargo that Union Company wouldn’t look at. There was a circus in Napier and they approached us … “would you take the circus back?” BHP looked at it, the Master said “yes, we can do it.” So there was about four elephants, there was giraffes, lions and all the rest of it. Fortunately they had their own containers except for the elephants and the giraffes. So we improvised … great improvisers, BHP … we cut the side out of an ordinary twenty foot container, and we had a window for the giraffes, [chuckle] and we had open top containers, and we took the circus back. I’ve got photos here still, of that.
We didn’t turned cargo down, we looked at it. They shifted the big iron sand equipment, which was on the West Coast out from Wanganui … sort of Patea way, and we looked at that cargo and there was some massive heavy lifts there. BHP had heavy lift ships, we quoted for it and we took that. Owens Road got the contract to take it to a port for export, so that side, Owens Road, were getting business. So Bob Owens realised that, you know, what I’d done had really helped him, and achieved what he wanted.
Is that still going?
No, what actually happened – Australia entered a depression. BHP – the price of coal and the all rest of it – a lot of it went to China. And John Prescott retired. BHP offered me his car … anyhow, that’s another story. And they employed top men in those jobs, and they got a Yank, his name was Anderson – can’t remember his first name. But he went through all the activities of BHP Transport, and that included all round Australia, coastal, rail movement and truck movement of cargo, and he found that quite a lot of the divisions weren’t making ten percent profit. That was the line – anything under ten percent … And he was known as the hatchet man. At that stage the BHP service was … there was another – a New Zealand line had come in as competition operating off Christchurch – and our cargoes had dropped a bit, and he decided to cut out shipping. Most of their iron ore would be charge shipping, totally. So BHP Transport … the personnel were made redundant. My mate I dealt with, David Dixon – they all had shares in BHP and the severance wasn’t too harsh financially. So it virtually coincided – this was after I left that they cut out the trans-Tasman shipping – after I left, but it was a very interesting period of my work life. [Siren outside] We used to have a meeting in Oakland USA, ’cause BHP had a service from Australia serving the West Coast and also Vancouver. We would meet there annually. So that coincided with my orchard development – fortunately the orchard was developed then.
But interesting how your work and experience developed and took you to being head of a big trans-Tasman …
Now is there anything else you can think of?
There’s probably things that will come up after.
Yes, there will be.
I intend writing something about this BHP period. I have a book which was published by BHP, and it covers their entry into shipping, which goes back a long long time – goes back to the First World War days. But they were a very good crowd, and I learnt a lot with BHP.
And they obviously learnt something from you too, otherwise it wouldn’t have been successful.
Well one instance that – I went over there and the guys from BHP … I had my car stolen at Te Aute Road. I had my uncle who was in Waiapu Retirement Village, and I had picked him up to take him for a drive and I brought him home for a cup of tea, and he was a bit unstable on his feet, so I left my wallet and everything – keys – went out and helped him inside. Got inside and … talking, forgot about my keys and wallet. We watched a bit of rugby, and I said “I’ll take you home”. Walked outside – there was no bloody car [chuckle] and no wallet. And Tony was there, and the first thing he said … I had hands free kit in my phone in the car … he said “have you phoned your phone in the car?” I said “no”. So I phoned it and I got the car, someone answered – I forget what they said – but I said “you’ve got my bloody car”. I said “ where are you?” And being bad of hearing in my left ear – he said “on the moon”, and I couldn’t understand. I said “could you repeat it?” And he said “on the moon” – I still couldn’t hear what he was saying – the car was going … static actually, background noise … and then he spelt it out – “M-O-O-N”, and hung up. I got it back later
Well that’s really great Harry, thank you very very much for that.
Well, thank you Frank. I apologise for the first part, I won’t try and read from a document again! Thank you Frank.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper