Harris, Margaret Jean & Maxwell Interview

I am Erica Tenquist interviewing Margaret Harris, and she’s going to tell me about her life; Margaret Jean Harris and Max Harris.

My name is Margaret Jean Harris. I live at Parkvale, Hastings. My occupation was a medical receptionist, now retired; and the date today is 24th November 2018.

I was born in Lower Hutt and we moved to Hawke’s Bay when I was about four or five years old. My father worked for New Zealand Railways as a bus driver, later to become an Inspector for New Zealand Railways. My mother was a nurse, but stayed at home to look after us children.

Their names please, Margaret?

My mother was Ethel Jean Coombe, and my father was Arthur Norman Coombe.

I went to Parkvale School, Havelock North and Mayfair Primary Schools, Heretaunga Intermediate and Hastings Girls’ High School. On leaving school I worked as an office worker at the Hastings Hospital. After being married I worked as a medical receptionist for thirty-eight years, really enjoying my job.

And which medical centre was that?

It was then Dr Alastair Whyte and then it became Dr Chris Moughan, which became the Knight Street Medical Centre. And when the Hastings Health Centre was built and all the doctors moved in there, I shifted out to Te Mata Peak practice at Havelock North.

I married Max Harris on 26th October 1963. Max came from Hamilton. He went to Franklin School, Whitiora Intermediate and Hamilton Technical College, did an apprenticeship as a butcher and has remained a butcher for most of his life, working in many different butcher shops.

Did he move from Hamilton down here? Is that where you met him?

No, I met him in Hamilton. We lived in Hamilton for one year and then decided to come down here where there were more opportunities for work.

What year would that have been?

Probably about ’64.

Then you had some children?

We had three children. We had Cheryl, who is now a senior registered legal executive for Gifford Devine in Hastings; Karen, who is a loving mother and wife and worked for Village Kids, which now has a name change to Octopus; and Andrew, who is a lawyer in Waipawa; works for Gifford Devine and comes through to Hastings about once a week or twice a week.

We have grandchildren – Hamish Whitworth, who went to Massey University and did Human Resource; Campbell Whitworth, who worked engineering at Opus and is going to university in Wellington this year, aged twenty-five, to do computer science. Blake Williams, who is doing computer robotics at Auckland; Devon Williams, who is doing commerce at Victoria University; Penelope Harris, who is at Victoria University doing computer programming; and Sam Harris, who is going to Auckland University this year to do music and commerce. He was also a member of the New Zealand Secondary Students’ Choir.

Now Margaret, tell us a bit about your interests – did you belong to any clubs or organisations?

I belonged to the Kindergarten Committee; I was a Brownie leader …

Did you go on camps with them?

Yes, only one camp; and I remained a Brownie leader while my children were in Brownies, and then moved on.

And what about Max, did he play cricket or football? Anything like that?

No, he wasn’t …

Max: Actually, Erica, I played some rugby when I was at school, but I was quite handicapped by the asthma that I had.

Oh, that’d be bad.

That wasn’t good, and that restricted me very considerably.

Can you tell us a bit, Max, about how you left school?

Yes, it was … when I attended Hamilton Technical College my dad placed me in a professional class, and as a result I was competing with the duxes of many schools. We were a small unique class, and there were about four or five male pupils who had about the same level of academic ability. As a result we were near the bottom all the time, and my school reports reflected my poor performance – I was just way out of my depth. My dad in his wisdom decided that I would be a butcher, and he got permission from the Education Department [for me] to leave school, and as a result I left school when I was fourteen and a half; and Dad had arranged a butchering apprenticeship for me.

Anything in sports or clubs when you married and lived down here?

No, not really.

You’d support the children?

Oh yes, that’s right. I believe myself I was a very good father and parent of my children. Margaret too, they were never short of money; I saw that they had everything they wanted. I had very modest demands on myself.

So we’ll go back now; Margaret, tell us about the family when they first came out to New Zealand.

Margaret: The grandparents on my father’s side came to New Zealand on the ship ‘Waiapu’ in 1848. My grandfather married an Italian lady whose name was Camilla Marie Pescini, and they were big market gardeners just out of Wellington. They had to sell the market gardens there because of the housing encroaching on the area, and they shifted to Levin. My grandparents bought an orchard in Te Mata Road, Havelock North.

The Knowledge Bank have the Coombe family tree, and if you look back there you can link the surname in there. The orchard was between James Cook Street and Durham Drive. The driveway into the orchard went along where Everest Avenue is now. I know they grew a lot of apples and plums and I remember making wooden boxes to put the fruit in when we were kids – three nails this side, three nails that side.

We’ll have the parents next …

Maternal grandparents were born in New Zealand. My grandfather worked for the New Zealand Railways as a train driver. He was married to Ethel Enza Ash, and you can refer to his name in the information you have at the Knowledge Bank. He was a very hard man, was my grandfather, and he died at a very early age, round about fifty-ish.

And what about the grandmother?

The grandmother – she lived on her own in the original house in Petone where we went as children and had many happy holidays. In later years she lived in a retirement village or a retirement home.

We had special holidays every year with our children taking them all over New Zealand. I don’t think there was a part of New Zealand that they haven’t been to; all down South – we had a wonderful holiday down there; right up to North Cape, New Plymouth, Wanganui …

And most of the travelling would you do in a car?

Yes, we went in the car, and we stayed in cabins mostly.

In camping grounds?


And would you take fishing lines and things?

Fishing lines. We didn’t have any tents; or otherwise we stayed with friends.

Would that be mostly Christmas or New Year, or would it be during the year as well?

Well, some of them were in the winter and some of them were in the summer, depending when Max could get time off work.

And we haven’t said where Max was working; did he work for an individual butcher or mainly for the supermarkets?

He worked for Birdseye when he first came to Hastings, and then he went to the Tomoana Freezing Works where he worked from half past two in the morning ‘til five o’clock at night, five days a week. And from there he worked in the Tomoana butcher’s shop which is [was] attached to the freezing works. When that closed down he went to Pak’n’Save in Tamatea.

Max: That’s right – I was there for about three or four years.

And did you go and live over there at that stage?


Margaret: No. Hastings was where we were living then.

Max: At that time we were living in Allerton Street.

Margaret: Allerton Street in Hastings.

Max: Yeah, Stortford Lodge.

Margaret: Stortford Lodge. And then a vacancy came up at Pak’n’Save in Hastings, so he moved over to Pak’n’Save in Hastings where he worked his last …

Max: Until retirement.

Margaret: How many years were you there?

Max: I was there twenty-two years.

Has much changed over that time?

Yes. I would just like to make the comment here … industrial relations and the free market … they had a big effect upon my working life. When I retired I was forcibly retired. The management had a major restructure, and as a result all the senior butchers of the department were all laid off, including me. One chap there had been there nearly twenty-eight years, and he was laid off as well.

What year was that?

Margaret: ‘Bout seven years ago.

Max: That’s right.

And then you went back doing temporary work there, didn’t you?

No. Not really, no. Once I retired that was it. Perhaps I should’ve; I was having health problems at the time – I had two knee replacements, and I was getting over that and the desire to work was no longer there. But the point I wanted to make in this here, [is] that after twenty-two years of service I had a choice of what day I wanted to finish up, and I told them the particular day. There was no handshake, there was no farewell, no presentation, no collection, no nothing. I just had a normal day’s work, washed my gear at the end of the day; I hung it up … “See you later, folks, I’m out of here.” That was it.

That was it? That’s shocking!

That’s right, that’s shocking. And I still carry a strong resentment, as other members of the staff do who were with me at that particular time, who were laid off.

This is Pak’n’Save?

This is Pak’n’Save.

So do you think you could’ve appealed it?

Margaret: Didn’t want to.

Max: Not really – I didn’t really want to. I was seventy-four at the time, and in the years up to my retirement I was just working on a part-time basis; I was doing a couple of days a week or whatever, and as I said, I was having knee trouble and …

Everything else was happening.

Yeah. Yeah. I’m a firm believer in fate and destiny. I thought, ‘Well okay, I’ve had a good run; this is fate telling me it’s time to get out.’

How long have you had Pebbles the dog?


How old is she?

She’s thirteen.

And you take her for her daily walks?

Oh, I usually take her for a walk twice a day. Yeah, it’s good for her, it’s good for me.

Margaret: Pepper was our son’s dog, and she chose to live with us.

Max: Yeah.

Margaret: That’s the short story of it.

Max: Yeah, that’s right. Our son and his wife, they live …oh …

Margaret: Round the corner.

Max: … ‘bout five, ten minutes’ walk away. And the dog quickly decided that she was better off staying with us than she was [chuckle] with my son, and she chose to come and live with us.

So I’m now going to say thank you to Margaret and Max for giving us such a [an] overall view of their family, and hope that people will be able to fill in the pieces missed out from looking at all the valuable family trees that they’ve given to [the] Knowledge Bank as part of this overview.

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist


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