Hull, Allan Wilfred Interview
Today’s the 2nd of April 2015. I’m interviewing Allan Hull re the Ballantyne Family. Allan would you like to start off and tell us something about where your parents came from and the early parts … memories of your life?
Certainly, yeah. I came from Hastings. My parents had been from Hawke’s Bay. I got named Allan after Allan Ballantyne and that was because Joyce Ballantyne was my mother’s best friend, probably right through her whole life, and Joyce and my mother started nursing together. So, the two families have known each other going right back and indeed I acquired the coffee set that my parents gave to Joyce and Allan when they got married.
Have you really?
So the connection goes quite a long way back. As far as I am aware I think my mother had seen a lot of Joyce during the War years ’cause Joyce was I think first of all up in Gisborne, then she went overseas, and she was working in England for a chunk of the War. But when they came back they sort of met up and Joyce and my mother did an awful lot together.
My first memories of Joyce and Allan were when they came back, which would have been 1947, because Allan had spent a year in the UK doing extra training after he had got back from the prisoner of war camp in Germany. And they were renting a place at Te Awanga. I can remember going around there to their place and hearing the BBC news, the first thing I can remember. And my sister and I ended up staying with Joyce and Allan for a few days because my brother, Tim, had got appendicitis and he’d got rushed away in the middle of the … no, it wasn’t appendicitis, it was pneumonia – and he got rushed away to Napier hospital in the middle of the night. And my sister and I sort of – are staying with Joyce and Allan knowing that something awful had happened and not getting any news for a day or so, which was a long time for kids. But Joyce had looked after both of us then.
But my father started off doing horticulture. He grew the first crop of peas that Wattie canned. He was one of the initial shareholders of Wattie Canneries. He and a bloke by the name of Rainbow were the first people to put in asparagus in Hawke’s Bay. [Speaking together]
Asparagus, that’s right.
Was Tim talking about that?
We were given a film yesterday, a film came back here about Wattie Canneries planting the first peas, sitting down low …
[Chuckle] Yeah. So anyway my father had gone over to France 1935-1936 odd, and went and looked at the asparagus growing in France, and what he found was that the asparagus was best in very free draining soil, and the place that he’d got at the end of Pakowhai Road in fact got flooded every year, but because it was so free draining it didn’t get the rot, which a lot of the places I think later on around Hawke’s Bay got, so I think this Rainbow – my father – I don’t know whether Wattie actually put a block in but not at that stage but a bit later.
Well, they had a place called Asparagus Ltd in St George’s Road, but there was two or three thousand acres of asparagus at one stage here.
Mmm. There was a lot of it, yeah.
So where was this land of your father’s in Pakowhai Road, can you remember?
Right at the end of Pakowhai Road. It’s changed now because the bridges have all changed, but just before you went up over Pakowhai Road on the right hand side, there was a block there – was it Evenden that goes off to the right?
Yes, it goes off to the – depends which way you’re going. To the left if you are going out of Hastings.
No it’s not – must have the wrong road, but anyway … there’s a little road that goes between Pakowhai Road and the main road, and there’s an old creek – sort of swampy creek that goes along past the house – so he was next to the creek and coming back onto the road. Then he had another few acres of peach trees and things on the other side. So he was operating out of there and I can just vaguely remember as a young kid, he had one or two other blocks, one out at – north of Napier, its got vineyards there now … up the wee valley there.
Yep. And he also had a block over the road from Te Aute College, which you couldn’t use for five months of the year because it was too wet. And he used to do a bit of stock dealing at that stage. By the time I can recall he’d actually stopped buying and selling stock.
So anyway they got to know each other and – I’m not quite sure – I think that Joyce and Allan had rented the place out at Te Awanga for some time while they were building a house in St Aubyn Street and they must have been at St Aubyn Street – oh, must have been quite a long time, and I think they sold from there and then came to Stoneycroft from that place there. So that would have been 1950 – do you know the date that Allan and Joyce bought here?
No, no I don’t.
We were just asking about it ’cause somebody was saying it was 1956. I always thought it was a little bit earlier than that.
No I don’t know, no.
So … and I can remember as a kid when they’d bought it we came and all had a look and I can remember there was a wine cellar out on the verandah there.
That’s the one you are looking for is it?
Yeah – that’s right. And the trapdoor there and you went into this very dark and dingy place downstairs and … quite exciting as a kid.
So you were at Mahora School at that stage as a pupil?
So where did you live?
At – what’s the name of the road? It’s the one that goes down to the freezing works.
Yes, Tomoana Road, just on the corner of Cornwall Road and Tomoana Road, over the road from the park, which was a fabulous place as a kid. We used to go over there and hit golf balls and have a fabulous time playing in the park there. So we would have been there for an awful long time, so that place would have been bought by my parents in the 1940s, I think at the start of the war pretty well.
And so from there Allan, did you go to Hereworth?
Yes, I went onto Hereworth after that and I spent two or three years there, and then went over to Wanganui, so I really left Hawke’s Bay I suppose, or Hastings, at a very early age because of going to school out of town. I was really only back for the holidays when we caught up with the Ballantynes. But Joyce would have popped in to see my mother three or four times a week probably.
Gosh, well – so they were close friends.
Yes, they always spent an hour or so chatting away on a pretty frequent basis. Joyce had this absolutely fabulous Morris Minor truck that she bought when they bought the farm out here at Stoneycroft, so she always pottered around town in this little truck which lasted her whole life.
Did it really?
Oh yeah, and – fabulous little vehicle.
Then – I don’t know whether it was because my father was into asparagus, but Joyce and Allan planted asparagus in the land that goes north from here and I think they had about 20 acres or so altogether, and that got sold off when they got out of doing things. I think the asparagus had been contracted out. But it only lasts for a number of years and I think it had reached the stage where it had to be replanted or something else done with it.
Yes, yes, that’s right.
They sold the land at that stage.
And so from there you went to Wanganui?
Yes, Wanganui Collegiate for five years, following my brother’s footsteps. Then I went on to Otago University.
Oh – just before you leave Wanganui – were you a sporting person?
No – I wasn’t half as good – my brother managed to get himself into first XIs and first XVs, but I wasn’t nearly as athletically endowed as he was. However, one of the things that I really enjoyed as a kid was fishing, and Allan Ballantyne was really keen on trout fishing. And when he was in England for the year after the War he went to the Hardie’s factory which had restarted production after the War, and he went and bought three absolutely fabulous split cane rods and reels, and I inherited those.
Yes, that’s one of my prize possessions.
I hope you use them.
Ooh no – you can’t use them …
You’ve got to …
Have you got Hardie reels for them?
Oh yeah, there’s Hardie reels. No, you can’t use the split cane, they break. When they get to a certain age they get a bit brittle and of course the carbon fibre rods now have got three times the power and a quarter of the weight sort of thing.
I’ll just digress there for a minute. I’m a trout fisherman. I’ve only been doing it for around 50 years …
You’re not using split cane rods today?
No, no no, I’ve got some split cane rods, but [chuckle] I’ve got a Hardie Smuggler – that’s the eight piece one?
That I can take anywhere in the world in my satchel.
So, well let’s talk about the Doctor and you and the fishing.
Yeah. The first time I went out fishing with him I was actually using a thread line, because I wasn’t into fly fishing at that stage, and we went out to the Tukituki River, and he had his friend … he had a guy called Arthur somebody, who he used to go fishing with and they were both using tiny little fly spoons which you’re not allowed to use in Taupo.
Yes I know.
And they’d caught a fish or two on that and I had quite a good day out – didn’t get anything. Fascinating, because I really hadn’t seen anybody doing fly fishing before. So eventually we got to go to Taupo and we went and camped over in the Western Bays about three or four years, and this is really terribly exciting for a kid.
He taught you to fish did he?
Yeah. So – taught me the fly fishing. So we were fishing at the mouth of the Waimarino and we’d camped out there. And another year there’s another friend of his who had a launch, so we went out on the launch. The guy who owned the launch had his nephew – who I think Tim knew better than I did – but so there were three boys, and the two adults who went out there. So that was quite a lot of fun … apart from the weather getting up, so we sort of shifted over to the Western Bays from the other side of the lake to get out of the weather, but it came up really badly. And unfortunately it drifted on the anchor. The guy who owned the launch was not keen to start the engine because he was scared of getting pumice …
… so we were sort of shipwrecked. And we got washed up sideways on the shore. Had a radio on board, fiddling around … nobody really knew how to use it but I managed to catch the Taupo Harbourmaster’s frequency and sent out an SOS. The guys came on and said “oh, what you do when you’re doing that …” ‘Cause every time the wave came in the launch would lift up and then come thumping down – he said “what you do is, if you’ve got a bit of rope you get as high as you can on the mast, and tie it round a tree on the shore and roll it up so it doesn’t …” So we did that and that saved the launch from too much destruction but we had to get a rescue party come out the next day to collect us. Again, very exciting for kids! [Chuckle] Not many people can claim to be shipwrecked on Taupo.
Oh, there’s been a few very close. I’ve spent a lot of time on Taupo – don’t worry, I’ve seen people that are … So that’s been a lifelong ..?
Yes, I really got started off with fly fishing by Allan, but latterly … in the last few years after I’ve grown up … I don’t think he did very much fly fishing – I don’t think he got away very much then. I think mainly because he was doing the farming thing on Stoneycroft here.
From Wanganui Collegiate you went to Dunedin and became a doctor.
Yeah. But anyway, both my brother and I private boarded with a lady who was next door to Allan’s family home, who Allan knew, and I think Allan had actually got it organised before my brother went down there. So my brother and I were both boarding with the same lady …
… a Mrs Collier who had the most delightful Scottish accent. I found it very embarrassing when I first went to see her – when I went in she had a friend from down the road and the friend was busy talking and asking me questions, and I couldn’t understand her Scottish accent – it was so deep.
[Chuckle] Dunedin was a great place to be at university. It was the biggest industry – think it still is – the biggest industry in town.
And so did you specialise or did you become a GP or ..?
No, I went into general practice and went to Palmerston North for two years after I’d graduated, and then I went to Levin to work for three months and ended up staying for 40 years. [Chuckle]
As the local GP?
Oh, that’s wonderful though. Yes, we had doctors in Havelock North like that, they came and stayed – Ian Abernethy?
[Chuckle] I was just talking about him the other day – somebody was asking me about him.
Yes, he’s a close friend of mine, close fishing friend, boating friend. His mind’s sharp as anything, but really I’ve had some fun with Ian Abernethy over the years.
I’ve met him, but of course I know Malcolm probably much better.
Yes, yes, yes.
A frequent speaker at GP conferences, and a really nice guy. But whoever was talking to me who knew Ian predominantly was saying Malcolm was a bit of a naughty boy. And he used to get into scrapes – he was detailing one or two.
Yes, well – the Abernethy family are all quite boisterous – the boys are all quite boisterous, strong personalities. He’s been retired probably about four years but he was our GP – wonderful doctor.
Yeah, so … forty years in Levin. That’s, I guess, a country service town isn’t it?
Yes, yeah. Used to be light manufacturing until they took the protection off, so – it was one of the fastest growing towns up until the early 1970s and they had … oh, must have been seven or eight clothing manufacturers, and I think we’ve got one or two left.
Now there was something else about … your love of music – playing the piano – is that you?
No, that’s not me. Allan used to be very keen on playing the piano and I can remember coming here and listening to him play.
Ah that’s it, Allan’s musical … yes.
So I think I can remember his piano … both being upstairs here and in the downstairs room there … and I think they alternated the studies. But this is one that he used as a study at a later stage.
Well that was his working table wasn’t it?
Now are you one of the six godchildren?
No I’m not. My brother is, and I sort of … because of the connection and so on it was easier to explain than I’m a godchild, but in fact I’m not.
Allan’s musical ability – I thought my goodness, we’ve got a …
[Chuckle] Not me.
… Beethoven in the room.
With the Ballantyne’s moving out of their Hastings home into this property, did you people spend much time while they were living here?
Oh yes, we were in and out. In school holidays I’d be seeing Joyce at least two or three times a week, and we would be round here usually on the weekend or something like that.
So it was really like a second home.
So it would have been quite interesting to have come back.
Oh to have a look at this now, yeah. Well, I can remember staying – I can’t remember when it was, but I can remember staying a couple of nights with Joyce at some stage and I was in the bedroom on the far side there – that was her bedroom in the corner there and I don’t think – I think they must have bought the bed in 1947 [laugh] … a lumpy kapok mattress.
Gosh – they probably didn’t want you to stay too long. [Chuckle]
So the whole house was always very original. The kitchen sort of stayed the same as it’d been probably for fifty years before them.
Well it worked you know … it’s interesting, you see people with modern homes now changing the kitchen every fifteen years because they become out of date.
So have you retired or are you still ..?
Do you still fish?
River or ..?
Well, I’m living at Waitarere Beach now.
Oh, the home of the toheroas.
[Chuckle] Not any more. [Chuckle]
Have they all gone or you’re not allowed to take them?
No, there’s a few left. So I was down two or three months ago and there was this bloke down there with a four wheel drive and half a dozen … four or five of his mates. They had a vehicle full and they had spades and they were digging away … so I went along and said “oh, what are you guys doing?” A little bit affronted by this, he said “We actually have a letter from the Kaumatua that we can get the toheroas”. And I said “oh yeah”, you know, so I ended up having a bit of chat with him – he cooled off a little bit. I didn’t like to tell him he was in the area of the beach that didn’t have any toheroas in it at all. [Laughter]
I’m into the fishing off the beach and we’ve got the Kontiki Seahorse – goes out 1.2 km and takes twenty five hooks out.
And is it successful as it is on television?
No, not as good as that, but I haven’t had much luck this season. One of the guys has got an Aero Kontiki. Have you heard of them?
This is a little quad ‘copter sort of thing, and it goes up a couple of hundred feet, drags your dozen baits and weights, flies out to about eight hundred metres out to sea and just drops it off.
Drops it off and then comes back home?
Flies back home. And it’s got its own GPS aboard, and you have a little mat or something you just put on the beach, and so it just comes in [shhew] and lands itself on the mat – brilliant. It’s a guy along the road has got it. ‘Course he’s bought it for his real estate business so that he can actually take the photos from the air.
Oh … that’s right …
But at the weekend of course he does a bit of fishing.
I have a very close friend when we go to Mahia he brings his little fishing machine along and the numbers of times it keeps going out and then coming back further along the beach – big circles.
Waitarere is even worse, it’s got terrible currents.
I know yes. We spent a lot of time at Waitarere when we were in the army at Linton. We used to drive our trucks all through the swamps and sandhills and on the beach … was my first introduction to toheroas actually. You were able to take them those days.
So when the time came – are you one of the trustees of the ..?
Yes, so it must have been quite a thrill for the trustees to see the end use for this building?
Oh yeah, absolutely amazing. But it all goes back – the Medical and Surgical Trust had got set up by Joyce and it had – oh, can’t remember, but not very much money in it – and we were sort of thinking we would sponsor two or three research projects and that would be the end of the money. And we had no idea that … until Joyce had died … that she had actually put all the money from the estate into the Trust, and the house was to go into the Trust as well. And my brother ended up as the executor of the will and the two of us were trustees. And we were sort of rather surprised to find that we’d suddenly got this task. So, it was quite interesting. We’d actually looked to see what to do with the house, and there was somebody who’d actually developed a place down somewhere in Central Hawke’s Bay who was quite willing to buy it. And he brought the architect who’d done the Mission with him and they came and had a look over it, and they were making the offer. But at the same time the Council got keen and were really very interested in buying. But seeing Joyce hadn’t been able to sell it or give it to the Council ten years earlier, the Council were now wanting to buy it. So we thought this is probably exactly what Joyce wanted to do anyway, so we went ahead and sold it to the Council. And we had no idea that James would come along and get all the volunteers going and make such a marvellous job of the place. So it’s absolutely incredible from our point of view how well it’s gone. So from Joyce in particular who was keen on the house – to actually have it preserved and being … and get … have life in it, and carrying on – fabulous.
It’s James’ enthusiasm … I’ve never run across any – I’ve been involved in community … I was overwhelmed when I came – well, I was told to come and see James – he’d probably have something to keep me busy, which I wasn’t looking for. But his enthusiasm was overwhelming to the point that I – in two weeks I submitted, and said “yes, I’ll do oral interviewing, but I won’t work with computers”. And that enthusiasm is permeating through everyone that’s here.
Oh yeah, yeah.
And that’s the exciting thing. It’s not driven by money, its just driven by total interest and enthusiasm. And it’s at a point now – and we’re just going to be dealing with this in the next month or so – we’re at a point that all of a sudden we’re going to have our website, we’re going to have some stuff to put on the website, we’ve got 35 or 38 interviews that are being edited that will be ready to go up on the website – it’s going to come of age. And it’s going to need – these volunteers are almost professionals because of the level they work at, and if you can keep the interest and the enthusiasm going it’ll just go on and on. And James has been very, very good in that he’s designed all the systems that they match the museum in Wellington, you know the archives. no one can do anything different, the system has to operate in line with every other system. And those sorts of things are just invaluable. He was the right man at the right time, but that enthusiasm – it’s catching.
I think, with the way it’s going, it’s going to have a life of its own and certainly the momentum – I can’t see it stopping. And it sort of seems to be a national thing because we’ve got something very similar going in Levin. And there’s one of the … the girls who used to work in the Chronicle … and she’s actually written a history of the people who fought from the area in the first World War. And in the course of doing this they found one family member that had got lost. And this is somebody who died in about 1917, and there must have been another boy born in the same year who was given the same name and they’d forgotten the one who’d actually died in the first World War until they actually came to do this research, and say “hey – who’s this?” And they realised it was a family member that had been sort of left out of the family tree. Quite incredible that sort of thing.
I think that’s a universal thing all around New Zealand. I went to the Dawn Parade down in Wellington with my grandson who suddenly in the last two or three years got keen on going and the crowds there were absolutely immense. In fact there was no way unless you were there a couple of hours early you would have got anywhere near, that you could have seen anything happening. But people of all ages, a lot of children, a lot of babies being carried by their parents. The most enormous thing, it’d gone round the corner and a couple of blocks down Taranaki Street. The crowds were immense.
Well, we had the same in Havelock North – the RSA cancelled our Anzac Day Parade and so half a dozen of us got together and we ran it ourselves, and we had the biggest parade we’ve ever had in the Village, and the most successful. But – it was the mix of people, from littlies through to primary, primary kids were there putting their wreaths – it was just magical. Yeah, it’s interesting, communities when you look at them.
Well, unfortunately I’d gone down to Wellington but a bloke I went to Casino with for the 60th commemoration – and he got up and spoke at the one in Levin. He was telling stories about being in the Battle of Casino, and very real because he talked about you know, two in the afternoon both sides put a white flag up and they’d go out and collect all the wounded and the dead and when that was all over they’d start shooting again. But collecting the wounded and the dead and so on – not the sort of thing that comes up in your average thing. Somebody was saying that you could hear a pin drop, what he was talking about, so he was talking at a very personal level which is quite fascinating.
Yes, now somewhere along … after you graduated and went out to work you got married? And you have some children?
And what do your children do?
I’ve got two daughters who are nurses and Logan who is here – he’s one of the trustees, he’s working for Kiwibank so he’s been back in Wellington for six years. He spent the previous seven in London. At one stage we had sort of one child in Brisbane, one in London and one in Auckland and they are now all back in Wellington, which is very nice. They are all so international now aren’t they?
Oh are they ever. Yes.
But they all want to come home when they’ve got kids is the way I’m reading it.
The other thing is that they are fearless when it comes to saying “no … finished the job”, give up the job they’ve got, a job that most people would kill for, you know, the level they finish at – and come home and then walk into something else just like that. Yes, it’s interesting.
Yes, we would have been frightened to give up jobs in our sort of – well, not from a medical point of view because it’s not too difficult to get other jobs, but ordinary jobs were quite difficult.
And so when you retire would you go and find a nice river to be beside or ..?
Oh, Waitarere Beach, right there. [Chuckle]
You’re right on the … you don’t have to shift at all?
No, not at all. So I’m not doing the fly fishing that I used to do because I’m getting out on the beach more. But I’m going to get my aerocopter going. Gadget crazy. [Chuckle]
Actually I hadn’t heard of the aerocopter.
Couldn’t believe it – sort of down on the beach and this thing going up and out, and three or four minutes later landing itself in the right spot.
Especially landing itself.
So is there anything else Allan you can think of that we may not have covered?
I thought I’d talk about Allan’s war stories, and I don’t know whether they’ll be recorded in there. But he volunteered to remain behind in Crete to look after the wounded there, and he was busy working away in the hospital and the Germans all came in, and called for everybody to stand to attention. But unfortunately one of the blokes was operating so he didn’t stand to attention. This New Zealand surgeon got shot. So that was the sort of start of his thing that sort of … brings war home.
But anyway he then went on and ended up in various camps in Germany, and at the end – the last year or so – he was actually working in hospitals in Berlin and so on, but he’d actually mainly been mixing with Germans and had got to both speak and think in German. So when he came home to Hastings Hospital – the Memorial Hospital – there was a Polish bloke there and because they shared sort of being prisoners in Germany in common, he used to stop and have a chat to him, he was one of the orderlies there. And the Polish guy couldn’t speak English very well so they used to speak in German. So Allan would then go on from talking to this guy and go into the ward, and then he’d start talking to the nurses and patients [chuckle] in German because he’d switched back to thinking in German and sort of gave people a bit of a shock.
I can imagine, yes. Yes, obviously the war didn’t affect him – of course, we don’t know psychologically how he dealt with that himself because it must have been pretty terrible to be a doctor, and more as a person out at the front, still suffering with … Well if you ever need a doctor you don’t have to go far in the family do you? Or a nurse, and I believe someone’s got an orthodontist as well, you’ve got the …
We have another cousin in Auckland who’s a radiologist – he’s had some interesting times … getting to that, he was in the practice that bought the first MRI into New Zealand. So if you want an MRI done, like – I remember one of the patients in Levin I got flown up to Auckland to get an MRI done to look for his brain tumour, and they couldn’t do it any other way back at that stage. Now they’re ten a penny – well ten a million dollars probably.
Yes, I interviewed Ian Abernethy a couple of months ago and it was interesting, some of the things that he brought into the system.
That would have been a fascinating interview.
Allan, the interesting thing is a lot of people are people that I know in the community. I’ve only known them since they were probably twenty five or thirty, but I had no knowledge of what actually made them, where did they grow up, what influenced them. And when you hear some of the stories about how they grew up and what they did, you can understand the man, the strengths.
All right, now if at any stage you want to add to this, we can add to it at any stage. We can just put an addendum on the end of it and we can stitch it because it’s digital – it’s never finished – and if you got home and thought ‘oh God, we didn’t tell them anything about that’, it can always be done.
I’m just going to add the time when Allan Ballantyne went into camp down in Burnham and he had a drill sergeant who was marching the group up and down, and he kept getting yelled all the time for being out of time, or doing this, or doing that, and he started to get a bit aggrieved about all of this. And afterwards the drill sergeant came up to him and said “look I’m sorry Ballantyne – you’re the only person I knew the name of and that’s why you got yelled at all the time – don’t take it to heart.”
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
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