Hawley, James Christopher (Chris) & Christine Margaret Interview

Today is 27th August 2018. Today I’m interviewing Chris and Christine Hawley on their family. They have a long association growing strawberries, and as pioneer mushroom growers, in Havelock North. Chris, would you like to tell us something about your family, please?

Okay. My grandparents, Fred and Elizabeth, moved to Arataki Road in 1935, bought a [an] experimental horticulture block, which was on a government ninety-nine-year lease. And the orchard was replanted; from what I understand from what I’ve read, the orchard was pulled out when they took over, and was replanted.

Grandfather originally came from England and was schooled in Wellington; Grandmother was a local girl. And from there they had one child which [who] was my father, Philip John, who went to, no doubt, Havelock School and Hastings Boys’ High School, I assume. During the First World War, Grandfather was too young to go but he served in the New Zealand Home Guard.

And anyway, after 1935 when they purchased the Arataki block, Dad married his next-door neighbour, Phyllis Wilson in, we’re assuming, 1942 – I’m not sure of the date. Dad went to Canada as a trainee bomb aimer for the New Zealand Air Force; didn’t actually get to war because his training finished as war finished.

When he came back home he worked for the State Advances in Napier for a period, and then left State Advances to become a postie in Havelock North, so he could work on the orchard at home in his spare hours during the day. [At] some stage after that he shifted a house from Karamu Road in Hastings where Toyota is today; it was cut into sections and transported to Havelock, and eventually erected on his parents’ orchard.

[At] some stage or other after that along came my sister, Carolyn, and then I followed a little while later. During this time Dad dabbled with strawberries, and eventually over the years strawberries became the main focus of the property. [From] the original homestead block, they purchased the alongside title from the Grooby family, who were long residents of Arataki Road. And prior to me leaving school in … I’m not sure when … purchased the title on the corner of Arataki and Brookvale Road, which we live in at this stage.

My sister Carolyn has had two girls, Leanne and Joyce, and we’ve had four girls, Paula, Michelle, Katrina and Charlotte.

Now, just going back a bit … you went to school in Havelock North?

I went to school at Havelock North Primary School until the year Te Mata School opened, and I was the oldest class that started at Te Mata School under the principal of Dudley Shepherd. I had three years at Te Mata School before I went to Hastings Boys’ High School. Christine went to Parkvale School, then she went to Hastings Girls’ High School.

Christine: I went to Hastings Intermediate.

Chris: Oh, Hastings Intermediate, sorry, and then Hastings Girls’ High School. Neither of us went through to university; I came home and worked when I left school. Dad offered me a chance to come home and work with him, and that was part of the reason that he bought the existing property that we currently live in.

Why did he choose strawberries?

That I’m not sure. I think it was to try and create a little bit more income, because the orchard didn’t create a lot of income. And they started off with just a few strawberries, and I think, if I remember rightly, a few raspberries. Also had a glasshouse which was shifted from Williams Street in Hastings, [in] which they grew hothouse tomatoes. So it turned out to be a mixed block of land.

Must’ve been very hard initially to’ve grown stuff on, because water wasn’t plentiful here. Where did you get your water from?

The first attempt to get water was at a well behind the packing shed; and the drill broke. So Dad had purchased a property that is now the existing Te Mata Mushrooms, and a well was sunk on that property and pumped up to a swimming pool which Dad built, and then the land was irrigated from that.

That was a block of land that lay between the Hawley land and the Satherley land, was it?

Yes. There was four county holding stockyards in between.

That’s right, yes.

It also had peach trees, mainly … a few plums.

You forget these things over time.

Yeah. Yeah. That’s before Christine’s time. [Chuckles]

Christine: Yeah. I came to pick strawberries for a bit …

And so you started working with your father, Phil … where did you meet Christine?

Christine: [Chuckle]

Chris: Well, unbeknown to me, Christine had come to work for Mum and Dad picking strawberries. To be truthful, she got the sack. [Chuckles]

Christine: I was at Intermediate, and they didn’t want Intermediate kids anyway.

So anyway, to cut a long story short, I eventually met Christine at midnight one night in Hastings at what used to be called the Nic Nak. Christine was on her way home from the dance in …

Christine: In Napier.

Chris: In Napier … Top Hat. She was having something to eat and I helped myself to some of her food.

And that’s how it started?

Christine: [Chuckle]

Quite surprising how many started at a places like the Nic Nak, and Top Hat. I interviewed Bernie Meredith recently who used to own the Top Hat and they used to have eighteen hundred people there on a Friday night.

Christine: I never used to go there very often, but this night …

They used to have to shut the door.

Mmm. But there’s nothing for young ones like that, today.

So now Christine, where did you parents come from to Hawke’s Bay? Were they local people?

Christine: No, no, I was born in Nelson. Yeah, I was born in Nelson. Mum was born in Collingwood, over Takaka way, and she grew up in Takaka [way], at Pohara Beach. Dad was born in Christchurch, and he grew up … in 1900, he was born … and he grew up there; and I’m not when he moved; then he moved to Nelson. But he was [a] beautiful ballroom dancer when he was young, and he used to work in one of the – I’m not sure whether it’s Beath’s – there was [were] two big clothing department stores and he used to be window dressing and things like that in those days.

In Nelson?

No, in Christchurch. Yeah, all his family were from Christchurch. But then his sister and her husband ended up going to Nelson and having a hotel – they had the Trafalgar Hotel.

It’s a well-known place …

Mmm – it was a lovely old place. And Dad met Mum at the Trafalgar. Dad had been married previously in Christchurch and had a son, and his sister tended to have more to do with bringing up Eddie than Dad did in time. But Dad divorced his first wife when he met Mum in Nelson. Mum went from Takaka to Nelson to work and she was the housekeeper … cleaning, working in the hotel. I’m not sure what … I can’t remember when Mum and Dad got married, but we were in Nelson.

So did you go to school in Nelson?

I went to Auckland Point School until I left in …

Is that in Nelson?

Yeah, it’s a primary school in Nelson. Yeah, Auckland Point; it’s round the other … you go round … Trafalgar Park’s not far from it, and you go round to the port; it’s sort of that area. We lived on a bit of a hill; Arrow Street I lived in, near Washington Valley. And then … yeah, my sister went to Auckland Point and to Nelson Intermediate. Then we left in ‘bout November 1958.

And came straight to Hastings?

Yeah, well … sort of. They were looking, and we stayed with my nana in Waipawa for a few weeks; had a couple of weeks at school in Waipawa until they found a house in Hastings. And then after that it was Hastings and then here.

And so what did you do when you left school?

Oh, I worked at McAra’s.

Did you? Isn’t it amazing – old names, you forget about them.

Yeah, I was working at McAra’s.

On the corner?

Yeah. Yeah, well he had the three shops; he had the main one, and I worked there. Sometimes I’d go down to the Separates shop on the other corner opposite the railway lines; and then in the sixties, a bit later, he opened a little shop called Seventeen, for the young fashion. And I’d go in there and then I’d help Miss Johnson do the accounts, do the banking. And then met him, and then …

Did you play any sport when you were at school?

Yeah, I used to love running; athletics. Sprinting mainly, and high jumping.

Do you have any cups?

No. But I played hockey; I did gymnastics. I did a lot of gymnastics in Nelson before we shifted up here. I used to love swinging on the bars; I was a monkey. [Chuckle]

Yes, I think it might have been the Carran family bought a walking …

Chris: Beam.

Both: Oh, yes.

Chris: We had that for Paula.

But you couldn’t run fast enough to get away from the lad? [Chuckle]

Christine: No. I used to like playing hockey and playing softball. I was playing those when I met him.

That brings us back to reality and work and the things that happened from that point. Righto, Chris, it’s all yours again.

Chris: Yes, so eventually we had strawberries in both the Grooby block and, if I remember rightly now, it was Tea House that had this place, that Dad bought it off [from]; and we had strawberries right up to the boundary of our house.

Is that a duck pond or a swimming pool?

Both: It’s a pond.

Chris: It’s a fish pond. We had a shag come in and … to cut a long story short, we came home from Mexico three months ago, and we had a shag in there helping itself to the fish. So I covered it, and then we took the cover off about two weeks ago, and …

Christine: He showed his face again.

Chris: … showed his face again, so I covered it up again. [Chuckles] Yeah.

So anyway, we get back to the strawberries; and eventually – Dad had a very good friend, Stewart Speeden, who had a block of strawberries opposite what used to be Nimon’s bus sheds in Middle Road … on the corner of Lucknow and Middle Road … and they had the strawberry block across the road. And eventually, from there they went to Te Mata-Mangateretere Road and had strawberries there as well. And Dad and Stewart started growing strawberry runners, which are the plants that you plant each year, together in a block of land in River Road … belonged to Sandy Lowe. From there, they formed a partnership called Te Mata Nurseries in 1969, which eventually became Te Mata Growers in 1970. And in 1969, ‘70, they built … I’ll just come back a little bit; around about that time they had a total of twenty-six acres of strawberries between the two of them. They leased a block of land from my Uncle Bob, who was Mum’s brother, and Frank’s mother’s brother.

Mm hmm.

So it’s a real family area round here. So they had two paddocks of strawberries there. They had a very wet summer one year and lost a lot of income, so during the winter Stewart and Dad went for a trip around New Zealand to decide what else they could grow. They were looking at mushrooms ‘cause Stewart had grown mushrooms in England just after the war. So eventually they came back from their trip around the North Island and decided that they would invest in some mushrooms.

The first shed that they had was back on the block of Sandy Lowe’s; that was a shed that he built himself a yacht in, which he eventually sailed around the world. And the trays were three foot by two foot, stacked seven high by hand. I helped at that stage and then from there they … I think it was only twelve months later … they built a block of sheds on Stewart’s block on Te Mata-Mangateretere Road … four growing sheds; and a block of sheds on Dad’s Arataki Road block.

Just pause there for a second and go back to the strawberries. It was a very big operation. How did you get rid of them? Were they sent to auction?

In those days the strawberries, if they were packaged into punnets, ninety-nine percent went to auction, in virtually all the markets in the North Island. The ice cream companies – we had contracts of so many ton, so we were doing Tip Top and Blue Moon and there was another one I can’t think of. But they were some major contracts which got rid of some of the rain-damaged or whatever, fruit. Staff was not the easiest thing to get. At one stage when we had the twenty-six acres they ran a Nimon’s bus from Hastings to bring the staff out to start work at six in the morning. Picked seven days a week except for Christmas Day.

What sort of tonnages were you talking about?

I can’t remember how many tons of strawberries we picked, but I know for the Christmas markets we would have two or three ton of strawberries packaged, just ready to go to auction for the main auction day prior to Christmas. We were probably picking, with the twenty-six acres of strawberries, at least a hundred ton of strawberries.

And how did you get those to the various markets?

We transported them by truck to the Hastings Railway Station, and then in the days of efficient railway – well, as efficient railway as you could get – they were then transported north and south to the various markets.

Yes, because we pass over the strawberry growing effort, but it was one of the biggest strawberry growing enterprises in Hawke’s Bay, if not New Zealand.

Oh – it was the biggest in Hawke’s Bay by a hundred percent at least. Bill Scott’s block down Te Aute Road was the second biggest, and is still actually producing strawberries today. They probably would’ve been within the top five strawberry producing blocks in the country.

And so then once you were phasing out of strawberries, the story starts again …

Yep. So at the same time as running these four blocks, or these sheds of mushrooms, we also had pick your own peas, kumaras, Golden Queens, tomatoes and various other crops.

Compost was all produced at Arataki Road, and then the filled trays were transported to Stewart’s block in Te Mata-Mangateretere Road; and when they were finished cropping there they were brought back to Arataki Road, and the trays were emptied and carried on. The initial sheds at Sandy Lowe’s were only in production there probably for two or three years. The growing sheds in Arataki Road and Te Mata-Mangateretere Road continued for some time afterwards. Probably within two years of building those ones, the block of land where Te Mata Mushrooms is now, they erected ten more growing sheds, and the trays were transferred still by truck, down the hill each week.

In the early stages when they first started there were sixty-seven mushroom production farms in New Zealand. This would eventually reduce to … when we sold the farm … I think there was eight. The farm was sold to Michael Whittaker three years ago.

To achieve the extra sheds you built, you bought an adjoining property belonging to the Satherley estate, didn’t you?

It had been sold from the Satherley’s estate to … Tim Thompson had one block and Gordon Kinnear had the other. They bought it off [from] … I’m not sure whether it was subdivided by David Hunt; no, it must have been by the Satherley estate. And a new compost yard was established on one of those titles allowing us to eventually produce twenty ton of mushrooms a week. The Te Mata Mushrooms name was established in 1990, and still is current; the farm has been growing mushrooms for over fifty years now.

So you would’ve provided a lot of employment for a lot of part time people?

Well with both the strawberries and the mushrooms, probably twenty-five percent of the kids in Havelock have worked for the enterprises over the years. [A] lot of the local families … their children … have all started work as either strawberry pickers or strawberry packers or mushroom pickers.

That’s right …

The mushroom farm when we sold, we had about twenty permanent workers and a hundred casual workers. Probably today he’s still got approximately the same staff … might be slightly less.

You used to transport these mushrooms to the market with your own truck at one stage.

Yes. Originally they were either transported by refrigerated truck by private trucking companies. In the initial stages – and the same applied to strawberries – the two main markets in New Zealand were Monday morning and Thursday morning. So the bulk of your produce was arranged to arrive for both those two sales with very limited quantities going for the other days. At one stage because of our production on the mushrooms we ran our own truck to Auckland for numerous number of years, twice a week; leaving here four o’clock on Sunday to arrive in Auckland in time for the markets on Monday morning, and returning on Monday – back home Monday night. And the same driver would go back to Auckland again on Wednesday for Thursday’s market. Eventually, the supermarkets dictated that they required fresh produce six or seven days a week; so this basically ruled out running our own truck, because we didn’t have the quantities, and we couldn’t run the truck seven days a week. So it then changed to going with, in the early stages, Roadair … transported a lot, and various other refrigerated companies.

Just going back to Phil and Phyllis, your parents – Phil spent quite a lot of time in the Havelock North Rotary Club. And the other thing that he used to do – and I think you may’ve caught some of this off him – and that’s travelling around countries in big buses …

No, we don’t like travelling in campervans. We’ve travelled numerous parts of the world, but campervans are not our … My sister, yes – they live in a campervan … in a bus, and have basically had campervans for several years.

You have a …

No, Dad had a camper.

Oh, it wasn’t a camper, it was a great big moving house!

Yeah, no, we never actually owned one; Carolyn and Roger inherited that off [from] Dad.

But you’ve got a caravan, though?

We have a caravan at Clifton.

An immobile one?

Yes, we have an annex alongside it; and we also fish with a floating trailer out at Clifton.

Right. So there came a point in time, as you said, to make a change from mushrooms and …

The Te Mata Mushrooms company was originally started by my father and Stewart Speeden, with my mother and Mary Speeden as shareholders. And then Michael Speeden, son of Stewart, and myself became partners; and at a later date, Martin. The shareholding was always a fifty-fifty split between the two families, so after Stewart passed away and Mary passed away, and Dad had passed away and Mum had passed away, the company was run by Michael, Martin and myself. The holding was still based on the original fifty-fifty family split; fifty percent Speedens, fifty percent Hawley. As we were all approaching … as we should say, retirement age … all getting into our sixties, [chuckles] we decided that we … we had eighteen months of virus on the farm, which very nearly sent us broke.

In the mushrooms?

In the mushrooms. From there we recovered, and decided that we would put it on the market. We had various interests, from con men to people that wanted to swap sections on Kawau Island; and eventually it was purchased by Michael Whittaker, the son of ex Mayor of Havelock, Jeff Whittaker. So the business has stayed within ownership of Havelock North. I was retained for a minimum of eighteen months, and Martin became CEO of the new company. Michael retired approximately three months after the sale. I retired nearly three years after the company was sold, yeah, and haven’t regretted it.

Now your four daughters; what are they doing these days, and what age are they now?

Christine: Well Paula’s the eldest, she’s forty-eight. And she’s married to Jason and they have a son, Daniel, and a daughter, Emily. Daniel will be twenty-one in January, Emily’s just turned eighteen. And she, Paula, works at Best Travel in Hastings and has been there for … hmmm …

Chris: Over twenty years. She’s always been in travel, she left school and worked at Murray Greens.

That’s a name we’ve all forgotten too.

Christine: And then Maxine … she bought it. And then Paula … her [she] and Jason went overseas, and then when she came home Christine and Bill wanted her at Best Travel, and … yeah. But she’s also very involved with dancing ‘cause Emily is a dancer, and she helps at the dance studio, Paula; she helps with the teaching; all sorts of things. And Emily’s just done a dance production, which is great.

And then we have Michelle, and she shares a birthday date with Emily on the 23rd August, and she’s just turned forty-six. She’s married to Marcus … big, tall redhead, and they have two children. They have Jessica, she’s fourteen going on fifteen.

Any redheads?

Jess is like, more strawberry blonde than red-red like her Dad. And Lachlan, he’ll be twelve in December. And they’re in Napier.

So they’re all around home then?

Those two. Then we come to Katrina who’s forty-three; ‘75, she was born. And she’s in Australia; and she married Na who’s Rarotongan, they lived in Alice Springs for quite a while before they shifted down Brisbane way. And they have a son, TJ, and he’s twelve.

And then we have Charlotte. She’s thirty-eight; and Charlotte has been a busy girl. When she left home she was about nineteen, and she went to Australia. Prior to that she was in Tauranga and did marine biology.

Chris: Prior to that she spent twelve months in Chile as an exchange student.

Christine: Oh, so did Michelle, too – I forgot about hers; Michelle did an exchange back in the nineties in Canada. But coming back to Charlotte – she has had … after Australia, four years in the Maldives, working for the Four Seasons as their registered marine biologist. Lovely place.

Have you been there?

Chris: Yeah.

Christine: We did, while she was there.

Chris: Cost us $12 for ten days.

Christine: Yeah, all we had to do was find our airfares and go; we didn’t have to pay for anything, it was all on Charlotte. [Chuckle]

Yes, so she did that, and then she got a bit restless there and came home for a few months; and decided she wanted to buy a business that she’d seen in Mexico. [Chuckle] And me and her [she and I] tootled off to Cabo San Lucas and had a look, and she decided she would buy it. And so she went to Cabo, and she is still in Cabo. In between times she met a man, and they’ve been together for a bit and have two little boys.

And so what sort of shop did she buy?

A dive centre … to take people out. She’s had a bad run though, with hurricanes … three big hurricanes.

Chris: And corrupt Mexicans.

Christine: Oh, yes. Yes, she’s had a few corrupt … Yes. And so Oscar’s her man’s name, and little Oscar, the eldest one, is three next birthday, in April. And little Matteo, he’ll be one in December.

Well that’s an incentive to go to Mexico, isn’t it?

Oh, we’ve been a few times.

Chris: We go about every six months at the moment. [Chuckle]

So no wonder you’re enjoying your …

So anyway, the sporting achievements of the kids – you may as well have that. Paula did gymnastics – represented New Zealand in Australia and Hawaii.

Christine: And in New Zealand; three times she’s been in the New Zealand team for gymnastics. [Speaking together]

Chris: And Michelle – she rode horses; got into [the] Timberlands team for Hawke’s Bay. She also ran for Havelock High School in various competitions around the country.

Christine: Road racing and cross country, and she did very well at the school nationals.

Chris: Katrina was a highland dancer; and Charlotte did horse riding, hockey …

Christine: Oh, well all three, Michelle, Katrina and Charlotte all played hockey.

Chris: So yeah, we had a busy Saturday. And Paula used to train originally at Fitchley in Havelock, and then eventually she went to Omni [Gymnastic Centre] in Napier for most of her training and her competition days.

[Speaking together] Christine: That would’ve been about four days a week or something. And when she turned fifteen and was able to learn to drive, she took herself. [Chuckles]

So what things haven’t you told me about?

Chris: There’s probably lots. [Chuckles]

Certainly your family moved here and stayed here; you’re very stable in area …

Oh, well actually it’s a very stable street because my grandparents moved here in ‘35; Ron Satherley who’s the next one up has been here longer than that; and then Berrys at the Honey House further up the road, are all long term stayers, which is probably fairly rare today.

Okay. Well it’s rather pleasant sitting here looking out on the live duck show [chuckles] at the edge of the garden.

Christine: It’s a wonder there hasn’t been a tui come in; [there’s a] tui feeder there and the waxeyes have been in, eating.

All right. I think we’ve gained most of … so thank you, Chris and Christine, for sharing with Hawke’s Bay … who were these people. Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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