Hilda Gretchen White Interview
Today is the 15th of November 2016. I’m interviewing Hilda White. Hilda is the granddaughter of Gertrude and Hector Smith, and also a great-granddaughter of William Nelson.
Granddaughter of Gertrude and Hector, and great-granddaughter of William, of Waikoko.
You tell me about … from your memory … when you first went to school … might be able to remember some things before you went to school?
More from school age. The only things prior to school I remember is staying with my grandparents. I do remember some[thing] about those, and getting a penny for picking up a sack of cones for them. And they were big sacks – big chaff sacks. And I also remember very … very clearly being very homesick when I was staying there.
Why – because they were elderly people?
I think so, partially. And I remember one occasion I was so homesick that I wouldn’t settle down to sleep one night, and I was a way upstairs anyway. And they were down in the lounge chatting away and I kept on going down, and every time I went down I got a flea in my ear, [chuckle] taken back to bed. And in the finish Hilda won the battle, because I wasn’t going to go to sleep I was so homesick, and they rang Mum and Dad to go down and get me. And that was an hour’s drive, and that was a big thing. Mind you, I’d probably gone to bed at five o’clock, [chuckle] not ten o’clock like pre-school do now. Yes, but those are very vivid memories of prior school.
But of course when I got to school age, and having to ride was the only way to get to school … three miles. And I’d have to get up in the morning and catch the pony and feed it before I fed myself. And during the spring when there were lambs to be fed, the lambs were also fed before breakfast and we had to be gone by eight o’clock.
So which school did you go to?
Crownthorpe Primary School. And at that stage when I started both my elder sisters were still going, but then my eldest sister went to boarding school of course, because an hour out of town, there was no other way. And that didn’t go down well either you know, having to board. But after going through primary school, which then went seven years because you did a year in the primary, and then your six standards. So that was war years by then, and you went to school at the beginning of the term and you went home at the end of it. There was no five-day boarding. and you were lucky to see your parents once through the three months of school, and that was only for a day. Petrol rationing and food rationing, and you had your coupons at school anyway.
So while you were at school did you take part in any pony clubs or the Show?
No, no. During the war years there weren’t pony … well, there was [were] pony clubs, yeah, but you couldn’t attend them from boarding school then. But I used to go from Whakamarumaru down to Okawa, which was fifteen miles, and I’d ride down there on a Saturday morning and put in the day at pony club and then ride home again. [Chuckle] But it was always most enjoyable and you picked up friends on the way that were going to do the same thing.
And then come the Show – this was of course after I’d left school. The Show – I did ride from Whakamarumaru to Hastings on one occasion for the Show, and that was twenty-five miles, and then did the Show and rode home again … it was only two day show then … two days later, and I got a red ribbon. [Chuckle]
If you asked them to ride a horse twenty-five miles to the Show and then ride home again, they’d tell you where to go, wouldn’t they? Today.
They’d say “no way! No way, no way”, now. But then because I was married at nineteen, coming up twenty, I didn’t actually train in anything.
Now you met your husband – how did you meet?
He was a musterer – he came up from [the] South Island. He lost his father in the flu epidemic in the first War, so he was only fifteen months old when his father passed away. So he was brought up in Timaru, and he came up to Hawke’s Bay and brought his mother with him, and bought her a house in Hastings. He was mustering on Whakamarumaru for shearing, and I was helping in the shed. [Chuckle] He bought a farm over the river at Patoka and my driving licence was in a three-ton truck [chuckle] after I was married. That was my first licence.
Can you remember what sort of truck it was?
Yes it was a Morris. No, I beg your pardon … beg your pardon … an Austin, a red Austin, and it didn’t have dual wheels and [chuckle] it used to skid at the look of mud … get stuck. And when I was working up to getting my licence we went down to the Mangatutu River to get a load of shingle, and the road up out of the river up onto the Waihau again was pretty steep. There was no synchromesh gear box then, it was all double de-clutch, and if you missed your change you missed your change, which I did, and had to start off from scratch with this load of metal on the back. And I wasn’t allowed to get out and put a rock … [Chuckle] But anyway, I finally got going again and got up to the top, but I never made the same mistake again. I used to rather over-rev it before I changed to then let the motor die down you know, before I changed. But anyway I was brought up the hard way as far as getting your driving licence was concerned.
Well, it must have been quite [a] luxury when you got into a car then?
Well yes. Well we only got a car because with three children by then, the youngest one was getting a bit big to sit on my knee. And two used to sit between us so we didn’t have much option. But anyway, no, it was worth waiting for. That was an Austin station wagon we got then. But no, we used to take wool on the truck down to the port.
So you were the truckie?
Oh yeah. The truck … on one occasion when Ray rolled the tractor he broke his arm, and [chuckle] I’d loved to have known what the men in the workshop at Gough, Gough & Hamer thought when I arrived in with the tractor on the back of the truck – by this time we had a bigger truck of course.
It was a Caterpillar, was it?
Yeah, a Caterpillar 22. And we had a – oh, I forget what the truck was, but that doesn’t matter. But anyway – had to get this tractor onto the truck, which we did, and headed off for Hastings to Gough, Gough & Hamer. And I was driving of course, and by this time I was ‘bout five months pregnant with the fourth one. [Chuckle] And on the way down through Rissington he said “how about we call in and see if Jack would like to come for a ride?” Anyway, Jack came for a ride. So I arrived in at Gough, Gough & Hamer with two men sitting beside me and the tractor on the back. I’d loved to have known what those mechanics thought when they saw that. But anyway, you know, it was different.
So was Crownthorpe School still going for your children?
Not my children. My children all went to Patoka.
That’s when you bought the farm?
Yeah, by that time I was married, yes, and we bought the farm over at Patoka. And my father had a look over the farm prior to Ray buying it, and he said to Ray, he said “well it’s your decision whether you buy it or not, but I can see that you might make a living but you’ll never make a fortune”. It hadn’t been farmed for ten years and rabbits had eaten every blade of grass on it, and it was scrub, kanuka.
Steep or rolling?
No, no – easy to medium.
So he would have worked and resown it all with tractors?
Yes, most of it. Well we were there twenty-five years, so most of it had been by the time we sold and came down to Poraiti twenty-five years later, yeah.
So all the children went school then from –
They all went to Patoka School. It’s much bigger now than it was then of course. Sherenden has gone into it – beg your pardon … sorry, Puketitiri – I’m back on the other side now. And I’m not too sure that when Rissington closed some didn’t go to Patoka, some came down here to Puketapu. But it’s a pity you know. But that Puketitiri School – it was a lovely little back-country school.
Well it was its own community, wasn’t it?
And did your children go to boarding school from ..?
Yeah, from there.
So where did they go?
The boys went to Napier Boys’ High School and the two girls went to Iona. After me. [Chuckle]
What was your husband’s name?
Ray. He went to Timaru Boys’ High School.
Yes, that’s right. So then your girls have all married?
They all have children?
Yeah, they all have children, yes. There was ten years between my eldest ones, and then I had two ten years later. So now, my eldest grandchildren are forty, and the youngest ones are nineteen and twenty-one, ‘cause there was a ten year … so it was a bit like two families.
It was interesting hearing you talk about going to Iona, being away for three months at a time. Quite a few country boys, for seven or eight or nine years of their life, they only ever spent limited holidays at home, and they never really got to know their parents.
No, well you see even now Frank, at Hereworth boys can go right through from when they start school to when they go to high school, or secondary school or whatever. And I don’t know how parents could send their boys to board like that at five years old.
But people that lived at Crownthorpe had to send their children to …
Had no option. Well you see, with petrol rationing they couldn’t afford petrol to come down twenty-five … well, it was thirty out to Havelock, thirty miles, you know … to pick you up and take you home, so they used to come down and we’d spend a day – in the summer time we’d go to the park or the beach or something, but it was only from eight ‘til five. That was one Sunday in the term we didn’t have to go to church – we were at school all the time. And that was mid-term. Either side of the mid-term they could come and see you after church until lunch time – two hours. Well … who was going to go that distance? So consequently, you’d see them for a day or part of a day mid-term if you were lucky. So you know I think ‘well, how times change’. I mean you went to boarding school, you boarded, you didn’t have an option. And of course back then there were no day girls either.
So then life moved on and you sold the farm?
How long ago?
Oh, that was back in ’74.
You moved to Poraiti, now was that just a lifestyle block?
Five, yeah. It was extraordinary, it was ten on one side of the road and five on the other – but anyway, it was five. But we’d only been down there … oh, probably twelve months … when my husband got itchy feet again and he started looking round, you know, for more property. And it had upended me to such an extent coming from Patoka down here, ‘cause I was only forty-five, and he was fifty-six. He was eleven years older than me, so I mean I was just a young woman. And so he bought a property down in Tiraumea, out from Pahiatua. And when the eldest boy left school he went on it, and then the second boy, he went on – the two eldest boys were farming it together for some years, and then when they were both married – he’d bought a property next door, so one stayed on Waterfalls and the other went to Balmoral.
And they’re still farming that now?
Ross is still on Balmoral, but Warren did sell up Waterfalls and he shifted over to Rangiwahia, on the road to Taihape, but then he sold up that and he bought … I think he had about twenty acres out of Fielding. And then he and his wife parted company so he had to sell quite a big block of it, but he’s still there – still on that. And Ross is still on the original Balmoral block but his son has taken that over pretty much.
Well that’s good though, isn’t it – continuity?
Yes. Then the youngest boy … by this time – yes, it must have been when Warren and Ross were both married … we were up here. He bought a block north of Ashhurst up the Pohangina Valley, and the youngest boy, Daniel, went on there. But then he sold that some years ago and bought a block further up the Pohangina. So the three boys are still on farms.
The eldest girl, she lives in Hastings. She works in the hospital still – been there ‘bout … oh, goodness me … forty years I think. And Lynley, the youngest one, she lives out at Pahiatua.
Oh, so they’re all settled nicely?
And then you retained the Poraiti block, and your husband died while you were living on there?
Yes. But I stayed on there until twelve months ago. He died four years ago and I came down here, but I really only came down here because my health took a turn for the worst and I thought, ‘oh well, I’d better make the break while I can still manage’. I mean I couldn’t manage up there now anyway.
Did you have a lot of garden up there?
Oh, huge garden … big garden and a big house.
It always looks good from the outside but there’s some work to do, isn’t there?
Oh a lot … a lot of work, yes. But anyway, so far I mean … you know, people say well you should have help in the garden, you should have help in the house, you should this and you should that. But I’m afraid I’m a pretty independent person, and I like to be able to do what I can while I can.
Well that’s therapy for you, isn’t it?
Yeah, well I think Frank, you know – you don’t have to look far, in fact you’d only have to look down the road, to find somebody so much worse off than yourself. And you think, ‘well, I’ve got nothing to worry about’, and you know … so I just puddle around and what I used to do in a day takes a week, but [chuckle] I mean …
Do you play bowls or anything like that?
No, no. I used to play, and I did intend to take it up again when I came down off the hill, but I did used to play croquet for a while and I really enjoyed that and I kept my mallet and the balls and a hoop I had, but my balance has let me down now and I don’t think I’d be able to …
Did you travel at all?
Yes, yes. My husband and I … we did. The first trip we had was to Japan – in 1970 it was – to the Expo in Osaka in 1970. That was quite an education. And we did have a couple of trips to Australia and also one to the States with friends, and we did the Hoover Dam and – oh yeah, I don’t know … we had about three weeks over there. Yeah, and we went to Arizona and that. No, we did, and we did a trip – I think as far as I was concerned the highlight of the trips we did do was one when we went to England – five weeks on the ‘Oriana’.
Would have been quite a trip.
Oh, I really enjoyed that … I really did enjoy that. That was in the early eighties, and unfortunately, if you think that I’m shy and reserved, well my husband was worse. He couldn’t mix, and it was a pity because there were so many people on the boat that you could talk to you know, as if you’d known all your life. And I actually met a couple that had the Eskdale Fruit Shop, Chris and Molly Frankum – they were on it. And one night after we’d had a meal, when Ray’d go up on the deck and have a pipe and then go to bed, I went to the lounge for a coffee, and this woman was sitting there on her own and I sat down beside her and introduced myself and we got talking. And she said “oh, where do you come from?” And I said “New Zealand”. “Oh yes,” she said “where in New Zealand?” And I said “Hawke’s Bay”. “Oh yeah, Hawke’s Bay” … not knowing that she came from here at this stage. And “oh yes, where in Hawke’s Bay?” I said “Napier”. So then I turned it on her, and I said “well where do you come from?” And she said “Napier”. And I said “where in Napier?” [Chuckle] “Oh”, she said “Chris and I have the Eskdale Fruit Shop”. And I said “well that’s extraordinary, because” I said “I’ve got to be honest that there was something familiar about you when I saw you sitting here, but”, I said “I didn’t associate you with that”, [chuckle] you know … so I mean, it was just so interesting. And there was so much you could do, I mean there was never an idle minute really, if you wanted to fill in your day. But Ray did say to me, you know, he said “oh, if we go away again we’ll fly”. He said :it was too boring”. But then we had eleven hours from Auckland to LA flying, so what was that? [Chuckle]
Did he take part in dog trials or anything like that when he was farming?
Oh, only at Patoka, he didn’t go further afield. But no, he was [a] very keen dog man, or … keen farmer of course, so it was quite interesting.
So any other highlights, Hilda?
I don’t think so, Frank, really. I belonged to the Red Cross for many, many years … belonged to the Red Cross when I was at Patoka.
Your President lived in Patoka … New Zealand President, didn’t she?
Yes, Joan Cockburn. Yes – she’s down here now.
You know the old saying “if you want something done, ask a busy person”. I didn’t do Meals on Wheels from up there, but there were people that used to do … some ladies used to come to town for the day and they used to do a Meals on Wheels run. I did do it all the time … I did it for forty-two years, but I gave up when I came down here – once again unfortunately, because of my health, and I just wasn’t prepared to risk it. |And the other day I was in town – it was blowing so hard I thought ‘oh, thank goodness I gave away Meals on Wheels’. You know, you could hardly keep the door open to get out, let alone have meals in one hand and get out of the car with the other. But I did up at Patoka – we had a Red Cross branch up there, and when I first came down here also, I used to go to Red Cross meetings.
Hilda look, I think that’s wonderful … I think that you’ve given us a side to your family and it’s just outlined some of the things that you did and so thank you very much for allowing me to do this.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper