Hawthorne, Selwyn Innes Interview
Today is 14th January 2019. I’m interviewing Selwyn Innes Hawthorne; Selwyn, would you like to tell us something about your family?
Yes, there’s a very strong background from Ireland in my family, and perhaps a little bit embarrassing because prior to being in Ireland, my great-great-great-grandparents came from Scotland. And I think they were the part of the Plantation[s], which was when Irish people were booted off their land and supplemented with the Scottish connection. And having seen a movie, ‘The Wind in the Barley’, [‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’] it was quite an embarrassing moment just to see how all that happened. But okay, I can’t change any of that; I live with it. I’m proud of the Irish connection, I’m proud of the Scottish connection.
On the Hawthorne and the Power side[s] which were my two grandparents … paternal grandparents … the Powers arrived in Bluff in 1862 on ‘Queen of the Mersey’ and progressively moved their way towards Hawke’s Bay, with a fairly long stay at Ashley just out of Christchurch, and then coming through here where my grandfather, according to [the] death certificate, was a cordial maker. But I know that he spent a lot of time on farms, and in fact he met my grandmother when he was working on a farm down at – it was called Kaikora then, but it’s now called Otane. And she was a Power, Sarah Power. She was one of eight children, five of whom came to New Zealand as children, and three – Sarah, her sister, Louisa and her brother, William – were born in New Zealand, so that was a bit of a mixed family there.
That side of the family – she had a haberdashery shop in Hastings below the Assembly Hall, which has now all been strengthened. But they were very strong, and had a very strong part of my life because they were very staunch Presbyterians, and we were brought up with pretty strong church connections. My father was in the choir at St Andrew’s in Hastings. So that’s my paternal side of things.
My mother was a Garner. Her great-grandfather came out to New Zealand; he arrived in 1864 in Wellington, and three days later he was in Napier and [a] couple of days after that he was out at the Omarunui Battle, and he served under Colonel Whitmore in the land forces of the time. Bit of a character actually – he rose to rank of Major; but I’ve got court martial papers [chuckle] here; not being very happy with a junior rank, and I think actually the term was, ‘He struck him’. It also was the end of his army career. [Chuckle] But as a Major … not the behaviour that’s expected. [Chuckle]
He then went on to become an accountant, and he set up a department store in Palmerston North, Garner’s, which was similar [to] department stores of the day, all sorts of household … well, clothing and …
Stuff that people needed …
Yes, yes, yeah. And that business carried on. My mother was brought up in Auckland; my father was brought up in Hastings. But when they actually met my father was working in newspapers in Wellington. My mother lived in Auckland. Whenever he could he would catch the overnight – I think it was called the Limited – from Wellington to Auckland on a Friday night, and he’d come back on a Sunday night. That had a little bit of effect later on, because getting towards the end of his life I decided I’d take him on a trip around the North Island to all the places where he had had a connection. And he’d always said he’d never seen the centre of the North Island … central North Island … in daylight, because he was always travelling in the middle of the night. So we had a wonderful trip to Auckland and return in daylight, over a period of a couple of days. But they got married in 1936; they had my brother, Lance Christopher, in 1939; I was born in 1942 and my sister, Julia Florence, was born in 1944, all in Napier.
Are they still here?
My brother passed away in September 2017; my sister is itinerant … they’ve done pretty well and they’ve got houses all over the place, and so they just move around depending on how the fishing is. That’s the wealthy side of the family.
From my birth in Napier in 1942, I’ve got some memories soon after – I think the newest one was having a long summer holiday in 1947. I started school in September ’47; was at school for about three weeks and then didn’t have to go back to school ‘til about April 1948, because [of] the polio … everything was closed down, schools, movie theatres, everything. I can sort of … I’ve got vague memories of it; as I have at one stage there, of a particular plane that is of interest to me – I can remember seeing six Mosquito fighter bombers flying over Napier. And I think I was walking home from Napier Central School to our house in Shakespeare Road, and I think it would’ve been perhaps about 1948. I can still remember it, and [of] course the revival of that particular aircraft, and the input of New Zealanders … amazing input of New Zealanders into the restoration or revival of that type of aircraft.
They’re actually building new ones.
Yes, the first three have gone to America. I was actually at the launch of the first one, the one that Jerry Yagen bought. I’m a member of the Auckland Aviation Forum, and we actually had an interview with Jerry Yagen who came out to our open day, the weekend that the public were introduced to that KA1114 Mosquito. But yeah – so that’s sort of digressing a little bit there, but aircraft are a very important interest that I have.
From there I did the normal things that kids did – had a paper run; 6/3d [six shillings and threepence] a week, which was six days’ delivery plus collection on Saturday morning.
But think how much it would buy, though …
Oh, I bought a brand-new bike in twelve months. Loaned it to my brother after 3 three weeks and it got stolen, but then that’s another story. Think I paid £26 for my first watch which was from a paper run. Did all those sorts of things; got very interested in sailing; member of the Napier Sailing Club, and had a lot of fun down there. In fact my childhood was a dream childhood because we were pretty close to the Municipal Baths in Napier, and Mum would give us 9d [ninepence] and we’d disappear from nine o’clock in the morning ‘til five o’clock at night during the summer; come home brown as berries. Then of course, later when I got interested in sailing, that was outdoors – everything I’ve been interested in has been outdoors. But not so much the competitive sport, because when I was fifteen and a half my parents moved to Patoka out of Napier and bought a country store and bus run, and had the telephone exchange; it was a real country store in those days. And those turned out to be … Patoka’s my dream place; they were great years. My parents wanted me to go to boarding school – I declined as much as I could. So I went private boarding so I could come home every weekend – I think if I’d gone to boarding school I would’ve gone mad being cooped up all weekend, with the regimentation that goes with it. So living in Patoka was great, home every weekend.
Where was the store at Patoka?
On the main road just where Hendley Road turns off, opposite the hall. The building burnt down eighteen months … or a little bit less than eighteen months ago.
You know where Jack Bull used to ..It was the Simmental stud I was thinking of? So it was on that top flat was it?
No, Patoka was further on from Rissington. Jack Bull had two farms; he went down to his father’s farm on Riverbank, just by Rissington School. That land of course has now been bought by Sam Whitelock, the All Black, both farms. Hope it doesn’t go dairying, because it would spoil the Mangaone Stream which runs right through there. So, still have some very, very dear friends who live up there.
I wanted a career in the Navy; I wanted to go in as an officer cadet and I had medical tests in October 1959, and heard in about the second week of January 1960 that I had been declined because of my natural eyesight in my left eye. It really hacked me off, but I’ll say this, that within three days I had signed up to be the apprentice at Gough, Gough & Hamer in Hastings, and that just shows you how easy it was to get a job in those days.
So you must’ve done your time when Rick Frogley was ..?
No, Bob Lowe was my service manager; Jock Laidlaw, Alfie Godwin, Kerry Farquharson …
Is Kerry still around?
Yeah, but not in New Zealand. Kerry was an amazing mechanic. He went and plied his trade on the big projects; it was a place in those days where you could make big money.
Gough Gough’s obviously had very good training discipline because anyone that came out of there seemed to go and find very good jobs.
Well it was the era; but why mechanics were so good in those days, particularly if you were working on different sort of equipment, was import restrictions. You couldn’t just go and grab another part – you weren’t a fitter of new parts; you had to adapt stuff, you had to repair stuff. It was a massive learning curve. You know, we had people round town like Tourist [Tourist Kelt Motors] – their engineering workshops – Eric Jepson, George Paton, all those sorts of guys, who we relied on.
So you did your apprenticeship there. When you finished ..?
Well my parents … the business had expanded quite dramatically, and I went and worked at home for two years helping my parents. We had school buses by then, and the main bus run to town which included the newspaper, the mail, the milk, the bread, passengers … all that sort of thing. And I used to do the run to town about two days a week, but I always did the last part of the run from Patoka to Puketitiri and back to Patoka each evening after my father had done the town run.
So very much part of the local community?
Yes, and it was a very inclusive community, too.
Did you go over to the Dartmoor area?
No, we just came up the main road, Napier-Rissington-Patoka-Puketitiri. And that was RD4 … Rural Delivery 4, plus Private Bag, Napier. And that was always very interesting; you meet some amazing people on the bus. The most amazing thing of course, was ‘Morning Talk’, from the kids. [Chuckles] Yes, I’ve got some wonderful tales I heard from kids – parents’ behaviour and so on – which’ll still remain locked up. Secrets … yeah, yeah.
Morning talk was brilliant! And of course in those days our winters were more severe than they are today, and numerous occasions the road wouldn’t be closed for perhaps more than half a day, but [we] used to get some pretty good snowfalls, Patoka, Puketitiri, in those days. And still I can remember my father saying that getting out to pick up a Private Bag at one farmer’s gate – he climbed out onto the fescue and the fescue gradually lowered him to the ground as it broke, from the ice that was in it. You know, when you think about it, I think Napier had one frost this year.
Anyway, a bit after two years working for my parents, I went and worked on Hawkestone Station for Neil Alexander for one year, and I broke in the last of the scrub land that was on Hawkestone Station. And [it] was at that stage that I thought, ‘Well okay’ – I was getting on to being twenty-four then – so I thought, ‘Oh, well, I wouldn’t mind making a career out of contracting.’ I wasn’t going to go back to my trade. I did very, very little as a journeyman after completing my trade.
So anyway, I married Heather in November 1966, November 26th; it was election day. My mates were a little bit annoyed about it because in those days the pubs were closed on election day.
What was her maiden name?
Heather Doris Stephenson; and our first place we lived in was in Domain Road in Haumoana; an idyllic life there right by the beach, although I was very, very busy with having set up a contracting business. I set up contracting mowing hay for Perry Hingston who was a baling contractor. A bit of a connection there because my mother was deeply involved with Napier basketball, as it was then – it’s now called netball. My mother was president there, and Stella Hingston, Perry’s mother, had a similar position with basketball in Hastings. But decided to go contracting for them and we struck a couple of years similar to the one we’ve just had in Hawke’s Bay, 2018 … summer rain … green summer. We had about three of them. And I decided that I didn’t want to get too involved with hay, so I decided that I might try and revive silage as a means of getting winter storage of feed ‘cause you didn’t have to rely on drying a crop and good weather to actually get it in. So I bought a Brady forage harvester off Hylton Miekle; very, very basic single chop. Didn’t make good silage. Yes, it was a bit of a dog of a machine, really.
But oh, you had to start somewhere.
Yeah, yeah. And so wandering round I’d built up a very long-standing connection with the Walmsley family; and Ralph Walmsley came out one day and said that they were going to become agents for a Gale double chop forage harvester. So I thought, ‘Oh, this’ll do me’, ‘cause you don’t need a lot of horsepower for it. Well that was a bit of a mis[take] – that was a good salesman chat actually, because in Hawke’s Bay with so much rye grass, and being harder to cut and more dense than clover, the very first day I had this forage harvester I almost boiled the oil in my David Brown tractor … David Brown 990. So that required a visit to a different tractor agent and I went to Tourist Kelt – or M J Kelt & Co it was at the time – and bought a David Brown 1200 as having the right PTO [power take-off] horsepower to drive that machine.
Spent some time doing that – couple or three years doing that, and then got involved in ground spreading. Because I’d bought Walmsley’s agricultural contracting business, I inherited a Caterpillar D4 in amongst that which used to do the summer … I had employees, tractor drivers at this stage doing that, and used to do a lot of the contour ploughing for traditional summer crop of chou moellier. Had a very good run on very well-established properties right through Maraekakaho. So in the late autumn when there wasn’t a lot of work going on I used to topdress with the D4 towing an Anderson trailer bin. I got a little bit interested in fertiliser at that stage, and although it was manual handling, that was …
No, no – bulk at that stage. Yeah, but shovel from the truck into the bin, and I’d do two trips from the Fertiliser Works, fourteen tons a day; and I was fit as a buck rat in those days. But I got interested in it, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll give ground spreading on rubber tyres a bit of a go’, and made contact – because I’d done some work down at Mangaorapa Station and I’d seen this ground spreader in the back of the Mangaorapa shed. So I spoke to Don Mouat, and ended up owning an ex-International four-wheel drive ground spreader. I only had that for six months and I ordered a brand new International six-wheeler. It was the second automatic truck on the East Coast of the North Island, and that was one magnificent truck – had amazing capabilities, and … yeah, that was a great move.
But round about 1972 the Arabs started kicking up and wanting more money for their oil. In a petrol V8 truck that did three miles to the gallon empty and three miles to the gallon full … The reason why it only did three miles to the gallon empty was that aerodynamically it was like a brick. But I decided I’d go to diesel and International couldn’t help me in that respect, so I bought a brand new 1113 Mercedes four-wheel drive spreader, but it was nowhere near the truck that Cable Price had intimated that it would [be] by way of performance on the road. Yeah – and then of course it was a prototype – if it’d worked it would’ve been absolutely amazing, because it could throw super a hundred and twenty feet, with a massive turbine in it. But we had problems keeping blades on the turbine, and of course when you lose a blade on a turbine at about 4000 revs it’s a bit late … So at that stage I bailed out of that by selling my business to Farmers Transport, who were very pleased to get some of their clients back, because I hadn’t specifically targeted them, but … yeah.
They wanted to work with you.
That involved a four-year goodwill transfer contract with them, which I left after three years and three hundred and sixty-four days, just to show a little bit of discontent with how things had gone. But anyway …
It was at that stage, because I also ended up with a trade restraint, I thought, ‘Oh well, I’ll just fill in at Tomoana [Freezing] Works for six weeks while I get myself sorted out.’ I went to Tomoana for … I think about twelve weeks; and I’ve always shown great interest in a plant that … still living out at Te Awanga … plant that I used to pass every day to go into town, and that was where Pacific Freezing Works at Whakatu. And [of] course I’d heard quite a lot about Graeme Lowe, who’s a man that to this day, I admire the ground that he walks on.
And so I applied to go and work there for perhaps about a year, just once again while I sorted myself out. That was in 1979, and I retired from there in 2004. I had twenty-five years working for Pacific Freezing, through Lowe Walker; through Richmond Ltd and its various iterations from the original company, and I retired early aged sixty-two, having had wonderful experiences working in that group. I’d gone from starting in the lowest possible job you can get on that plant – it was a crap job. And I ended up … I managed plants on a secondment basis for Richmond at Stortford Lodge, for the New Zealand division; at Paeroa for the bobby calf operations; set up quality control systems at Te Kauwhata for Richmond, and at Otaki when they bought that plant, and also did some work over at Waitotara when that came into the fold.
Yeah, so it was at that stage that I retired. I had two children – Michael was born in 1967 and Sarah was born in 1968. They’re still working locally.
What do they do locally?
Michael is a carpenter … carpenter par excellence. He’ll never be in his own business, but he just builds beautiful houses. And my daughter has had a retrain, and in February 2018 she qualified Bachelor of Nursing, and she’s local at this point in time, but I think she may just utilise it with her children having grown up. I think she might just follow the big money that’s overseas.
So they both have children?
My daughter has my only two grandchildren, Dylan and Jesse. I met both of them this Christmas – Dylan lives in Dunedin; went to Otago University to do a sports degree, qualified – he went down there wearing a pair of shorts and a rugby league singlet. I’ve visited him I think three times now in the middle of winter; he still wears his shorts and a rugby league singlet. But he has got grandparents … his paternal grandparents are in Dunedin. But he’s an Otago boy full stop – he won’t be back. But he was up at New Year, I caught up with him.
Jesse, my youngest – from the age of about two, whenever we walked along Te Awanga beach he’d see a bent piece of wood, and it would be a gun; if it was a long piece of wood it would be a rifle. [Chuckle] And he has just come out of his first introduction to the New Zealand Army – top trainee, top cadet; and he’s signed up for a career in the Infantry in the New Zealand Army. He’ll go a long way – I was just talking to him, I took him out for dinner last Friday, and he couldn’t wait ‘til Saturday to get back to camp. It’s a dream from, as I say, a two year old; he’d pick up any piece of wood, and it would be a gun of some sort.
Have you ever been to Kalgoorlie?
No I haven’t, but from the point of view of machinery I still get two trucking magazines a month and I haven’t owned a truck since 1974. It’s in my blood.
You never forget.
Never forget; and it all rolls into why I’m involved with Little Elms trucking.
So now you’ve retired …
Yes, retired in 2004 – retired early because the company had had a very nasty experience in a takeover from a company in the South Island, PPCS, [Primary Producers Cooperative Society] whose reputation went to the bottom of the heap at the way they tried to buy Richmond out. And the day that PPCS took over Richmond was the day … well, within a week I had left, ‘cause I knew I would be dog tucker. I’d joined a group of people who opposed the takeover – I joined the Bell Group which was a group of farmers. I was the only salaried person within the company who joined that group, and I knew that I would be dog tucker and we came to a very mutual agreement where they paid me the right amount of money and I retired. Sixty-two at the time, and I have no regrets whatsoever, for that move.
But just harking back to Jesse – he will do very, very well in the army. At school age he represented New Zealand in Japan twice at World Karate Championships; he went to Australia for a weekend to look at a tournament over there, and he came back the Australian karate age group champion – he really didn’t go over there to compete. However …
How long did you live in Te Awanga?
Ah, well, for thirty-four years.
That’s a few haircuts ago now.
Well, 2007. We loved it at Te Awanga – myself more than Heather; but no, it was a wonderful place to bring kids up. But – you had to keep an eye on your kids because there was a very strong drug culture in Te Awanga. We kept an eye on our kids, and in fact at one stage we actually broke up a friendship between one of our children and a friend because we could see where that would end up. But there was a lot of drugs out there. But my kids had a ball out there, it was everything outdoors, down at the lagoon and out to the cape, and … yeah.
The Burden family who were quite amazing sort of people but were very much a part of our children’s upbringing at Te Awanga. And [of] course Haumoana School, there were some wonderful people involved with the school – Gordon Bambry on the school committee; Mary Unahi on the school committee; Alex Robin on the school committee, and his wife, Violet, a teacher there for …
The headmaster was ..?
Well Mr Bott, and then John … ‘76, yeah, memory … [a] bit of a problem there. [Chuckle] His father was the headmaster at Taradale High School. Oh dear – I see this gentleman quite often, too.
Anyway, after that you started looking for other projects?
Yes. Well when I left Richmond in 2004 I rang an ex-plant manager, who at that stage was assisting a friend of his in tidying up a business that had expanded far too fast. This was Greg Roberts at Genera, based in Mt Maunganui; and they used to do fumigation of cargoes at sea. And I rang Greg to say could I use him as a reference, just in case anything came up, and he asked me how long I’d been retired, and I said “Oh, six weeks.” He said, “That’s long enough – you’re coming to work for me”, so that got me involved in voyages between various ports in New Zealand to Korea and China on log vessels, fumigating cargo. Because the Chinese didn’t like our soil bacteria we had to fumigate any cargo that went into China. Not so bad going into South Korea, but when I look at China now and think how grubby that country is [chuckle] …
You’d wonder why they’d bother.
Absolutely. But however, that’s trade, and having come through twenty-five years in the meat industry where we had supposed hygiene standards imposed on us from the US [United States] and from the EU, [European Union] which were nothing less than trade barriers actually – they weren’t hygiene barriers – I sort of understood it. So I did that on an intermittent basis; it was an eighteen day trip. After the first one, when I came back I said … because when we got to our destination the company put us up in a rather nice hotel for two to three nights. I said, “I’d rather have the money – I’d rather stay somewhere cheaper and spend longer in the country, and have a look around.” But yes, we used to go eighteen days on the water over there, two or three days in a nice hotel, and then the company would fly us back to New Zealand. So I saw a lot of South Korea, saw a lot of China; loved South Korea … loved the South Korean people, because amongst the older South Korean people, if you wear something that shows a kiwi or New Zealand or something like that, you’re taonga to them – they want to touch you. But it’s a wonderfully vibrant economy; I know … okay, that their political scene isn’t that kosher … a lot of money changes hands doing deals in anything in Korea, but the people at grassroots level are nice. And you see kids going to school; and a couple of young boys going to school and they’ll have their arm across their shoulder – that’s how we went to school.
We weren’t taken in a car.
No. When I was about eight my parents said it was time I went to Sunday School, so [I] go up to St Luke’s. On the way there I met John Beale and Geoff Wiles going to the Presbyterian Church. I was there for two years before mum and … had no idea. [Laughter] And then to top it all off, when Kay and I were married I had to be baptised, at twenty-three. [Chuckle]
Gee, there were some pretty strong views on religion in those days.
Well you know, people like Canon Button were so severe; and we had Canon Waymouth in Havelock.
Oh, Stephen Waymouth, yeah. He ended up as the minister for Patoka, down at Puketapu. No, I can remember because living in Shakespeare Road and going to Napier Central School, we lived pretty close to the Marist and the Convent School up on the hill in Napier. And of course, we’d be going against the flow of the Catholic boys coming to their school – we’d be going in the other direction; and after school, in reverse. And there were one or two good sort of ambush places, [chuckle] and in those days there were quite strong feelings of … Protestant and Catholic …
… and we used to try and rush to get this place; we had the advantage of height plus a clay bank that we could break clay out of to throw at the Catholic boys on their way home from school.
All part of the world coming together …
It was dogma; it was … well, I still remember when Norman Kirk changed … dying on his deathbed, supposedly converted to Catholicism – there was a lot of strong feelings about that, and that was in the seventies.
But anyway, that’s sort of by the by. But I’d had a wonderful life in Hawke’s Bay; Hawke’s Bay’d been very kind to me, and it was the climate; business sector, the farming scene; everything about it. And I thought, ’Well I’ve got to put something back into this.’ And I’d been to a ‘Trucking for Child Cancer’ truck cavalcade day in about 1999. And I got there just a little bit later, not that there was a real start time, you just sort of wandered in. And I was very impressed with what they were doing; and I’ve always been a reasonably generous person, and I couldn’t find anybody to give money to, [chuckle] so I rang Ian Emmerson [a] couple of days later. I said “Geez, Emmo … I couldn’t find anybody to give some money to.” And he intimated then, “Well okay, if you’re that keen on us you’d better join us.”
So I got involved with Trucking for Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer Charitable Trust, which was set up to ensure that the money that was raised in Hawke’s Bay for child cancer was spent in Hawke’s Bay; because the business protocol for Child Cancer Foundation in those days was that if ‘x’ amount of money was raised in an area, fifty percent of it went to head office. We didn’t like that, so we used to dish out the funds that we raised.
And that sort of grew on me a little bit – biannually, every couple of years we’d have another cavalcade, and the numbers were getting bigger and bigger; the number of vehicles participating getting bigger, and consequently the income that we earned was growing quite a bit. So in the end I was asked if I’d be a trustee of the Trucking for Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer Charitable Trust, which has morphed into Little Elms Charitable Trust, largely because it’s a hell of a long name, Trucking for Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer Charitable Trust. [Chuckle] And I have typed that name a thousand times, and each time I type it in brackets I put TFHBCCCT after it, so then all I have to use is the THFBCCCT [TFHBCCCT] when I’m talking about them.
But I like their aims. Only through a friend’s daughter, we’d had contact with leukaemia in 1974; and one of the kid’s school friends died of it. Leukaemia in those days had a survival rate of twenty percent; eighty percent sadly, succumbing to it. And in that time it’s just been so interesting to see where science has progressed it through that it’s now a complete reversal – twenty percent lose the battle, but eighty percent survive, and that’s been very, very pleasing, because it is progress.
But a little bit later, the involvement with Trucking for Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer Charitable Trust … because I do a lot of other charitable work – I assist Maori Wardens, the Ahuriri Maori Wardens, at various functions sort of doing … not so much security because we’re not Security … we do marshalling control and crowd control and all that sort of thing. And I’d been involved in a project where the Carter Building Group through Peter Edwards, the manager of Carters at the time locally, and Certified Builders, had decided to do a fund raiser for Cranford Hospice. And up on the Marine Parade in Napier, at the end of the Marine Parade at Ellison Street there, they thought they’d build a house; having built it, that they’d auction it and the net proceeds from it, pass onto Cranford Hospice. Well I was involved with that for four days, and duly the house was auctioned, and I think somewhere around about $120,000 nett ended up in the hands of Cranford Hospice. [It] was a marvellous effort on behalf of Carters and the Certified Builders group. I actually knew the chap who bought it – Barry Simmonds bought the house at auction.
Not the Barry Simmons?
The Barry Simmons, yeah. So that was a very successful venture, and it’s amazing that when you have a success and you’re helping some charity, that … just the fuzzy feelings that you get, which drive you onto the next thing. But anyway, after that auction, Peter Edwards from Carters, and Richard Kepka from Certified Builders, and I sat down on the beach front and said, “Well – what next?” And I just couldn’t miss the opportunity; I said “Well Trucking for Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer have got a block of land in Hastings” – and I’ll tell you shortly about how we got that block of land – I said, “Child Cancer Foundation local branch want an office built on it.” So I said, “I’ll put that into the ring – would you like to think about what we could do there?”
But anyway, going back to the block of land. Every year prior to having our truck cavalcade, some of the trustees would meet with the Child Cancer Foundation branch in Hastings and ask them what they wanted money for; it might be for funding petrol vouchers for parents who were absolutely distraught over their situation with a sick child, or food parcels, or travel to Auckland to Starship, or that sort of thing. And this particular time the committee of the CCF said, “We’d like an office building.” And on the way back from that meeting, Ian Emmerson and Sandy Walker, two of the five trustees at that stage … the initial trustees were Ian Emmerson, Sandy Walker, Jenny Thompson and Doug Elliott from Conroy Removals, and when Doug moved on I replaced him. But anyway, Ian and Sandy, on their way back from this meeting saw a sign on the Elms’ Transport’s property, ‘For Sale’; and because [of] the Elms’ connection with transport, our connection through Trucking for Child Cancer connection, Ian decided he’d give John a ring … John Elms … because the Elms were a wonderful family in Hastings. They put so much back into Hastings, particularly in the cancer field. They donated Elm Cottage down at Cranford Hospice; John Elms’ wife died of cancer; John eventually himself died of cancer.
Well John said to Ian, “Ian, this place … we’ve got an offer on this property for $450,000 – an Auckland developer wants to buy it. I’ll tell you what I’ll do … you can have it for $360,000.” Now that was a massive discount …
… $90,000 discount. And that showed the calibre of the man.
But … the problem was that was a Monday, and the offer was going unconditional on the Friday; we had to find $360,000. And how that was done through our wonderful solicitor, now a trustee, Robin Bell from Bisson Moss in Napier – he had connections who had been on the fringes of Trucking for Child Cancer for a couple of times with contributions. It was actually Kelly White, and she was Kelly Harris, Sir Lew Harris’ granddaughter; Doug Harris’ daughter. And Robin got this deal for us all in four days; Kelly would give us, through the JD Harrison Family Trust, would donate $150,000, loan [lend] us $150,000, and with the balance, by claiming on the GST, we had the money to buy the property …
Isn’t that wonderful?
… all done in four days. So that deal was done; we ended up owning 310-314 Orchard Road; three sections … 310, 312 and 314, which was the old Elms truck yard. And of course it was this land that I was talking about when [I] discussed it with Peter Edwards from Carters and Richard Kepka from Certified Builders, that we would like to build our office.
Well, somewhere along the line in the enthusiasm, the plan that we ended up with using only half of that land … we ended up building an office, six chalets and a respite house in perhaps one of the most amazing community spirited structures that you could imagine. But anyway, the situation was that we decided to build this office block and the six chalets. The house came in because Peter Edwards from Carters … his words were, “We might as well make it a half decent project; put a house on it as well.” That was a pretty big deal, that was about $1.3m worth of buildings.
Fortuitously, I had contacted a friend of mine from Mosgiel who was going to do a truck rally in the South Island. I said, “I’d like to be on that rally, John.” [A] guy called John Symes who was a vehicle inspector [in] Mosgiel; and he said, “Leave it with me, but get to Nelson on Sunday.” So we had the cavalcade on the Saturday; I went home, had to deal with an incident we’d had on the parade where one of our truck cavalcade entrants had driven into another truck cavalcade entrant – I had to deal with the police on that one.
Anyway, I was on a plane for Nelson the following morning, and I got out to where this rally was starting, and we were going to drive from Nelson to Invercargill via the West Coast. And I got introduced to a guy called Ron Thornley, who owned a 1960 International AS160 4WD ex-Fire Service fire engine. I drove that from Nelson to Invercargill, and on the way we had court sessions for misbehaviour, and all sorts of funny things, and we were fining people; and one stage there in Greymouth it was, that’s right, we actually closed off a street and we wouldn’t let anybody through unless they’d put some money in our bucket. [Chuckle] Well, that was West Coast style, anyway. We did some funny things, it was quite amazing really, but we ended up in Invercargill on the Friday of Labour Weekend – had some wonderful experiences along the way.
We’d gone to Invercargill to celebrate the extension of the Bill Richardson truck collection … wasn’t a museum at that stage, it was a private collection. And for that they had a big truck cavalcade themselves on the Saturday, with our vehicles, the seventy trucks that were in it, were part of that. And once again I had my two buckets; and the wife of one of the truck drivers who had a vehicle in it – we went around Invercargill rattling [the] bucket under peoples’ noses, and we had quite a good collection – I think we got about $600-odd; that added to about $600-odd that we’d collected on the way in fines and so on; it was pretty good. But then Shona Richardson, the widow of Bill Richardson from the massive HWR conglomerate – Allied Concrete, Allied Petroleum – [a] company with about three thousand employees today … she heard what we were doing, and on the final night there was a dinner up at the Ascot Lodge Hotel in Invercargill. She said, “We’ll have an auction”; she said, “we’ll give you the money from the auction.” And they had these wonderful table centrepieces that they’d done up, and all sorts of things that they auctioned off; and on the Monday morning of Labour Day 2007, I got onto the plane with $12,000 – $1200 from the collections. But you know, people like [??] – he paid $1,000 for a table centrepiece.
Isn’t that a wonderful tribute? But it’s the people that were working with him, who have also made a major contribution in his name.
I was there a month before, ‘cause last year I decided to sign off … I’m seventy-six years old now; I’ve been to the South Island countless times, had some wonderful experiences [and] so on. I went to the bottom half of the South Island last year to say farewell to different things. Met up with Shona Richardson with a view to having her come through for the Little Elms tenth anniversary that we had last year. But the collection was absolutely magnificent. And it just shows you how these things grow – you would remember seeing all the ragtop V8 Coupés there – that was given to him, that collection. From 1931 to 1949, every year there is one vehicle of each year that was given to him by an ex-competitor from Tapanui who is now in Australia. And he had this collection – it’s the most amazing collection of vehicles – they’re absolutely brilliant. And for the motorbike collection – they heard a collection of two hundred motorbikes was likely to be sold because of illness … sickness … and they were likely to go overseas. They went and bought two hundred motorbikes and within eighteen months, is it? Or nearly two years, that collection is in Invercargill, and it’s now three hundred motorbikes, and growing. But that’s the Southland style; I always believed … I had a lot to do with Southland people through the ground spread industry … and that’s why I have long nights in Southland, you know?
But it’s a miserable place until you go indoors, and then you’re right.
Well they’ve got these lovely heaters down there – I’m just trying to think of the name of them … Yunca; Yunca Heaters, and they light them in May, or April, and they put the fire out in about November. I think they make cheese rolls on the top of them, too. But the thing about the long nights in Southland … I’ve always had this opinion that I think it’s time for them to go to bed early, and think how they can screw the Inland Revenue Department and the Customs Department, [chuckle] because they are very, very canny people.
Oh, and not only that, they’ve expanded; when you look at what’s happened here. They control Farmlands which started in Hawke’s Bay, set up in New Zealand; Ravensdown, once again the deep south; and the Richardson group have recently bought Farmers Transport, and all that conglomerate. They are very canny investors; they own Hastings Building Society. They are very canny people. But I do love them – they are really nice people.
That’s great. So obviously you still need to fundraise each year to keep the pot boiling?
Yes. Yeah. So building the premises … on October 6th 2008 we started building Little Elms. As I said, an office block with beautiful stone cladding, six chalets and a respite house. It was Monday October 6th at six-thirty am; we had a hundred and twenty carpenters on site. We finished building it on Friday 10th October. In five days we had built the premises, including putting the lawn down and planting the garden, and putting the paving down. It was an amazing display of community spirit. And I’m still harking back to the story – people at all levels contributed. And it was a charity build; and once again, the payment was donated by somebody; from the time that Buck and Jay Shelford were down for the whole week; Money Man, who on TV3 used to cut people’s credit cards up and tell them how to live properly; Greer Robson from Shortland Street and two of her friends were down here for the whole week; and Coxy, who himself now in 2018 is ailing quite sadly from a cancer invasion, who had his own TV show, the Carters’ TV show; they were all down there contributing. The major building supplies firms like James Hardie’s, Fletcher’s … all of those companies contributed. I spent a whole year fundraising for Little Elms after I came back from the South Island; we had input from Kahungunu Iwi Incorporated – they contributed well over $100,000; Freemasons contributed well over $100,000; Eastern & Central …
That’s a group of people who don’t get a great deal of acknowledgement from the community, the Freemasons.
Oh, Freemasons, yeah … absolutely.
Just incredible …
Oh, unbelievable what they contribute! And I’m going back to knock on their door again, because we’ve got room to expand.
Eastern & Central Community Trust funded the respite house; Wenn Trust, the Patoka Family Trust; Tom McCormack’s Family Trust that was, because of his involvement. And just by the way, the Wenn Trust were the first one to … they purchased, over $1million, the MRI scanner that went into [the] hospital, yeah. And that was a massive contribution, you know, that brought Hawke’s Bay’s healthcare a [?] step forward.
So we had all those organisations there, and of course there were the people who … the various Rotary Clubs. But I’d gone around, I’d covered the footprint of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, which was basically Mahia to Takapau. I visited Lions Clubs, Rotary Clubs, Probus, U3A … all sorts of clubs … Townswomen’s Guild, talking to them to get support for the organisation, and the support came in all sorts of ways. But one of the most notable ones for me was a lady rocked up with this little carton with eleven muffins in it. I was a little bit concerned that there were only eleven. This of course was to feed the crew, because all the crew on site were fed with contributions from the community and local food companies and so on. And I said to the woman, “There’s only eleven in here.” She sort of very demurely said, “Ooh”, she said, “I had to try one.” That was where it all came from; we had people donated soft drinks and so on. Hirepool were wonderful with their prices, and sometimes no price at all for local hire equipment. And in doing so, we weren’t quite sure how we could thank the people who had helped us; you know, a letter wouldn’t quite cut the mustard. So we commissioned TV Hawke’s Bay to do a supposed time-lapse DVD of the week-long construction, which they duly did; and we’ve tried to get as many of those DVDs to as many of the people that [who] helped us as possible, as a memorial to, or memory of what was a very, very unique sort of a project.
Big Save came on board in a massive way with regard to the supply of the furnishings, because you imagine – an office, six chalets – and they are quality. Oh yeah, just talking of quality, there’s a group called The Future Proof Group; and where we had a specification for a product in the construction – might have been tapware, might have been carpet or anything like that – they came on board and in many cases they upgraded the standard of that donation to a much higher spec, [specification] so we weren’t really concerned about price of a lot of stuff because we got the highest quality. So anyway, we had an opening on 12th October 2008 – wonderful day. We put on a fun day down at Kirkpatrick Park for the kids, and we had a band there and blow up these sort of slides … yeah, yeah. And the organisation has gone very, very well ever since. We’re still out looking for money.
A little bit later, because we had an L-shaped block – and it was L-shaped because John Elms was still alive at the time, and his house was part of the L – it wasn’t part of … it turned the L into an oblong. And he had intimated to us that we could buy that, once again discounted, which we eventually did in 2012, I think it was, which squared the block off. Now we’ve only built on half the land that we own, but recently, because of the situation that the Cancer Society had in Nelson Street, we have sold the John Elms house block to the Cancer Society for the same price we paid for it in 2012; so they’ve got a good deal. They have since gone on to buy two adjacent back sections of State houses plus a State house, which will give them more land and eliminate the need for so much traffic coming in off Orchard Road which can be a bit of a problem. So they’ve embarked on a project to relocate to the Little Elms area. We’re still Little Elms; in the interim they have a lease of our office block and a lease of the respite house, which is their basic clinic. They’re going to remove the John Elms house, and they’re going to build a big headquarters there which will eventually release the office block and respite house back for us.
We are getting such demand; because just prior to the build, we realised that hey – here we were building something for child cancer, but child cancer’s only one of many ailments … terrible ailments that affect kids … because we are targeted towards kids. So we’ve actually become – instead of Trucking Hawke’s Bay Child Cancer Charitable Trust, we became the Hawke’s Bay Trucking for Child Care Trust, to take into account cystic fibrosis, which is a terrible, terrible thing. So our usage expanded, and we’re there to cover the accommodation for parents of sick children from within the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board footprint, which when we initially built it included the Chatham Islands, and we had a lot of Chatham Islands people coming over. And we also had to expand it because one of the greatest users of our services now, is the SCBU – the Special Care Baby Unit of the District Health Board – where prem [premature] babies, or special care, are sometimes there for you know, five or six weeks. And if they’re from outside the area, the parents or the mother, or both, need to be close by; and here we are, we’re just across the road from the Hastings Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital.
So that service is in demand, and we’re about to embark on building another three chalets, which will fill our land.
And are you still coping with the need?
Yes, yes. But we’re often full right up. There still are the local motels around there. We must have affected them in quite a big way, because we can accommodate about eighteen to twenty people, I think.
And the fees for using them?
If the person is outside of seventy k [kilometres] from the Memorial Hospital, the government through the District Health Board will pay for that. Otherwise we ask for a fee. If it can’t be met well it becomes a contribution.
I was involved with the Elms boys … let’s see, it would’ve been 1950; we used to cart hay. You know, that was such a happy place – those people never, ever looked for another job.
No, they certainly stuck there, didn’t they? Goodness gracious me!
So anyway, you know, all of those people who bring those big trucks are making a contribution through the cost; it’s not free, bringing trucks
Oh, it would actually be a whole lot cheaper for them to give a donation than to take that trip off the road, pay the driver – it’s impossible to actually work out what the cost benefit of that is … unbelievable!
It was the fellowship …
… you lose that; and of course, these guys with their big trucks, you’ve got to show it to people, you’ve got to let people sit in it.
That’s an amazing contribution. The downside of it all is that if this truck from Auckland comes down, he invariably tries to pick up a load that a Hawkes Bay carrier might …
Backload, I know …
There are times about encouraging the wider branch to get people in, you know; but however, that’s the generosity of those guys.
Yes. So do you do anything else for relaxation?
Oh yeah – Heather and I cycled all over New Zealand. We did things like Cape Reinga to Cape Palliser … was one of our trips, cycle touring. We did silly things like – we heard on a TV show … the red-headed woman …
Yes, I know who you mean …
… said that the West Wind Cafe at Rangiora had the best coffee in New Zealand, so we biked down to try the coffee. [The] next year she said the Pleasant Point Cafe made the best custard squares, so we biked down there. We cycled over twelve thousand kilometres in the South Island.
Did you ever go to Fleurs at Moeraki?
Oh, she was at Clyde when we saw her, yeah. Went to Moeraki.
Yes, she went to Oamaru.
We cycled into Milford Sound. Basically the only place that I really wanted to cycle was to cycle from Ohai into Nightcaps – we biked past it; and I also wanted to do the Shenandoah, from Murchison through to Springs Junction.
Amazing isn’t it? You know, it’s all there for the taking, isn’t it? So what haven’t you told me now?
Oh – our interest in tramping through the Heretaunga Tramping Club was a very long connection. We do heaps of tramping, and my 1990 sesquicentennial project was that I’d been told at work that I had too many holidays accrued, and burn them up; and why I had too many holidays accrued was the fact that they used to call me back to do jobs when I was supposed to be holidaying. So I planned a trip. And a tramping mate of mine heard I was doing it and asked if he could come with me. I sort of kicked it over – I wanted to do it on my own, but I said, “Oh no, you can join.” So Heather took us over to Mt Egmont, and we walked home; that was my sesquicentennial project. Took a month. We had a wonderful time. Richmond originally didn’t want me to … when they said I had to use up my holidays and I went home and thought about it; went back and saw my manager the next day. I said, “Yes – I’m going to take January off.” He said, “You can’t do that, it’s the middle of our season.” I said, “Well, you’ve taken my holidays off me; you want me to use a month … I’ll take January off.” And they agreed in the end. So we had perfect weather.
That’s amazing, you know we were members of Heretaunga Tramping Club too. It was amazing.
A change of scenery …
We used to do a summer trip. It was somewhere round about fourteen days; we took the Tramping Club truck, we went down to Kahurangi National Park in Western Nelson, and I think the total cost of that truck including getting across on the ferry was about $110 for fourteen days. We tramped Great Barrier and Little Barrier Islands, once again ‘bout $110 all up, with ferries and everything. Yeah. But that was because we had friends who worked at Birdseye and so on – we got dehydrated food. There are a lot of people there, you know – you go and see signs that have been shot at, and mostly they’re hunters haven’t got something, so what do they do? They shoot signs up.
But anyway, so you retired here in Tamatea?
Yes. Little Elms isn’t my only involvement in charitable work; I’ve raised funds for the Weka Camp, which is the scout camp at Rissington, for their centennial. I managed to pull $100,000 out of a local gaming foundation for their ablution block up there. I do a lot of sporting … I’ve got I think four days this month at cricket; we’re doing ushering. I usher for the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union at McLean Park, and over here at Tremain Field when the … Ross Shield and other competitions like that. Yeah, I’ve kept very, very busy; my calendar is very, very full. I do Horse of the Year – I won’t do six days there, I need a bit of a break. I’ll do five days at Horse of the Year. Yeah, I just enjoy meeting people, seeing people.
Cycling – I’ve just done five days with the Elite Cycling Championships in Napier with the you know, events, plus we had a fun ride, and then on Friday night we had the Criterion in Napier.
Yes, it got quite a lot of publicity about how good it was, and well organised.
So anyway, that’s enough – but in finishing, Selwyn, I’d just like to say thank you for your contribution to Hawke’s Bay and the rest of the country with all of your things you’ve done; it’s this sort of input that makes things happen, so thank you.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
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