Nilsson, Iona Interview

Erica Tenquist … [this is] Iona Nilsson’s recording, and the date today is the 28th January 2021.

First of all I wanted to talk about Ruataniwha Street, which was quite an important street, being the main [street]. It had a number of houses and there were shops; and there was [were] two doctors lived in Ruataniwha Street, and there was the police station and the police residence; and there was also the chambers of the local barrister and solicitor. His name was Cyril Harker, and he was a rather dapper little man; he later became our local MP. [Member of Parliament]

I don’t remember the name of the girl in my class that I was told to keep away from; she was very much the youngest of, you know, grown up siblings, but she seemed an innocuous and quite nice little girl. But anyway, it must’ve been about fifty years later in the 1990s I solved the mystery of why I was told to keep away from her. It was a book written by Dr Mercer, who was the Wellington pathologist. There was a couple of chapters about the local doctor and Cyril Harker and his defence of a couple of people. I don’t actually remember all the story, but if anybody wants to read about it … what happened in the early forties … I would suggest that they could get that book. You can get books if you try; yeah, it could be in the National Library or something.

And … had her father done something?

No, it wasn’t her father, it was her brother; her brother had killed somebody, and this was the story of what had happened to him and why he was in jail. In fact he wasn’t entirely to blame, the doctors themselves were partly to blame; it was over an abortion. But the family were sort of all tied up because later it … one of her nieces, who was older than she was and in my class at secondary school, so it was very much sort of [?mistakes?] …

It reverberates on everybody.

Yes, unfortunately. But you know, to find out the mystery fifty years later … [Chuckles]

But anyway, Ruataniwha Street was also important in that it had the stock route. There was a stock route to the south which went along the riverbed and out to Tamumu and then [across] the town, and there was another stock route which went up to the west, sort of up into the hills of Waipawa and round and past the Abbotsford Children’s Home, and eventually came out on the main road to the north of Waipawa. But stock was moved in those days, it wasn’t taken [??] when we were at primary school; it must’ve been 1941. A lot of the steers came rushing up the road past the school and into the school grounds, and ran [a]round, and we quickly closed all the doors and windows and what-not until one of the stock men came and got it and got the steer back into the mob again. But you had things like that happen.

What school was that?

That was the primary school. The primary school and secondary school were on two different sections; the primary school was over the railway line and down on the flat, but the secondary school was still up in Waverley Street … on the corner of Waverley Street and Kenilworth Street.

And how old would you’ve been?

I was in form two, so would’ve been about eleven or twelve … ‘bout twelve when that happened.

You know talking about rationing, you know, rationing came in fairly early and lasted ‘til after the war. And we had … I can’t quite remember, but we certainly had clothing rationing.

Yes, you had clothing coupons.

Yeah, we had clothing coupons and you used those every so often.

Did your mother make you clothes too?

Yeah – ah yes, she had to. She was a good knitter, and so everything with wool was, you know, knitted up and then as it wore out and got a bit shabby, she’d unpick it and knit something else. But [it] gradually got smaller. She did that.

Do you remember if there was [were] clothing rations for men as well?

Oh yes. Oh yes, there was, because of course … definitely you know to make do and mend, and patching. And I can remember before high school, we had a class each week [in] which we were taught to darn and to … accomplishment. [Chuckle] I mean nobody darns socks, but in those days, you know; we don’t darn our socks these days because it’s very uncomfortable on the heel. Those were darned, and the other thing I do remember as I got older was the silk stockings. There were silk stockings before the war. They brought in lisle, which was pretty horrible, which we wore them in winter. I remember the long stockings made the back of my knees itchy and sore. [Chuckle] They were horrible. But yes, we treasured those silk stockings; they were only for the best, and if they got a ladder in you darned it all up. [Chuckle]

Now you’re talking about ones that had a back seam?

Ah, no, they had a back seam, because mine were pre-war. My mother had ordered them and they were pre-war. But then they did make stockings with no seams in – you had to go and draw a line and make sure you didn’t get it crooked. [Chuckle] And with the ones with seams, you had to make sure those seams weren’t crooked too. So, I do remember the rationing, all the work and what-not.

Did you have a car by then?

No, my parents never, ever owned a car. [???], but they never ever did.

I’ve got here, the Governor-General and his visit in ‘43; in ‘42 all the street lights went out, you know, there was no street lights on. And I can’t quite remember what happened, but I have the feeling the Japanese got … to come to New Zealand, and I remember they said that you had to have blackout curtains and what-not. And I remember my mother making them and getting upset, because the warden said they weren’t sufficiently blacked out round the edges, and you could see right round the edges, and Mother had to do something about it. But that threat must’ve disappeared again about … I think about 1943, because we got a new Governor-General, and his name was Sir Cyril Newall, and he was always a very posh English man. [Chuckles]

And did he come to your town?

Yes, he came to Waipawa, and he arrived in … oh, it must’ve been about July 1943. At that stage I was in the fourth form at high school, and so all high school pupils were given the morning off to see him and listen to his welcome and what-not and being young and hearty we were sent on the same side of the road as the Governor-General and the welcoming party. We were at the front of the Post Office which was on the railway side of the road. The locals were a bit more canny, they got over on the other side of the road and under the verandas and [chuckle] they were sheltered. So anyway, they closed off High Street and had a row of chairs across High Street. The dais was a two-tiered affair, complete with flag; and anyway, we went ahead with the mayor, Mr Igor and Mr Harker, the MP, and other dignitaries and what-not. And Mr Harker turned up, I remember, in Buckley striped trousers and black jacket, and … well, just like an English businessman. Anyway, he put the bowler hat underneath the seat while they hopefully …

Did you sing ‘God Defend New Zealand?’

Ah, yeah. Well, I’ll come to that shortly.

Oh, sorry.

Yes, anyway he inspected the Guard; inspected the Red Cross and the Boy Scouts and things like that, and then he returned to the dais. But then the bowler hat decided to take off in the wind and it went spinning off down [chuckle] the High Street, and one of the Boy Scouts had to go and rescue it … rush after it [chuckles] and rescue it. Anyway, they had all the speeches and what-not, and at the finish they played the National Anthem. It wasn’t ‘God Defend New Zealand’, it was, you know, ‘God Save the King’. Anyway, they started to play that, and he stood up and took the salute and [chuckle] the flag came round in the wind and caught him off his feet. [Chuckles] Yeah.

Did he give you a holiday from school?

Yes. We got that in the afternoon; we went down to the primary school grounds in the afternoon and he gave us a day off. Years later, I remember, [???] my father came home very embarrassed, because the Governor-General was having a holiday out at the Wairoa, and it was a sort of camping / fishing affair. And of course it was very hard to get telephones in those days, so a couple of the local people that had party lines were able to, you know, use his phone line. Anyway, my father wanted to get in touch with the Governor-General; there was an important message coming through. And there was a lot of chatter on the line, so he said, “You so-and-so”, really quite …

And it was the Governor General?

Yep. It was the Governor General. “Oh, Governor-General here”. [Chuckles] Yeah, it was very embarrassing; called him a few nasty names. [Chuckles]

What year would that’ve been?

Oh, must’ve been about ‘45, I think; it was still war-time so it must’ve been ‘45.

Talking about the Patriotic Society – I can’t remember quite what it was called now, but it was sung by the patron, which [who] was a former Governor-General’s wife; I can’t remember quite who she was, but [she] was an English lady, because they were still … although I think, General Freyberg was actually born in England; he’d been in New Zealand for a long time, so you could sort of regard him as more or less a New Zealander. But it was, well I suppose about ten years before we actually got somebody as a Governor-General that was actually a New Zealander. I think the first one was a doctor, I’m not sure – might not’ve been.

But anyway, getting back – the Patriotic Society; well they worked to look after the troops overseas, and they sent parcels overseas of cakes and ANZAC biscuits, and cigarettes and goodness knows what, and sent parcels over to the troops overseas. They sent the knitting as well, and they knitted … I think women knitted jerseys; well, pullovers I should say, because I think some of them were sleeveless; and gloves and hats … gloves on four needles … and socks and hats and things like that, both for the Air Force and for the Army. And I remember that when I was big enough, I had to go out and do the messages first when I came home from school; then I had to do my homework, and by that time it was tea time and we had to wash up the dishes, and then it was time to sit down and knit. [Chuckle] And I had to knit scarves; and it was rather funny, because my son asked me a couple of years ago to knit him a scarf for the winter. And guess what the pattern was? It was the basket-weave pattern, because it was the same both sides; you didn’t have to turn it over. [Chuckles] So he was quite thrilled with it actually – well it was a pretty old pattern to be doing it with.

And also, in the summer time .. ‘cause Central Hawke’s Bay was very, very dry, like it is at the moment … and because there was still coal-fired engines, they used to set fire to the grass; and I think they also always had to carry water with them to put out the fires in case they caused fires. So, they had to be very, very careful. Yeah, the scrub fires …

So, most of the time you were living in towns, weren’t you?

Yeah. But, you know, when you think about the rationing – the people that lived in small towns and country and things like that, the rationing wasn’t that terribly bad, because, as you say, you could barter your way round, and people’d make cream, and people would make something else and they’d exchange it with you; and so I don’t think we were terribly badly off. I think it might’ve been the people living in towns that suffered more. And as I say, if you really wanted petrol, you know, the neighbours’d have a bit extra at some stage, so it was a matter of working in with other people and I don’t think it was all that bad.

Could you still buy ice cream?

Yes, but not all the year round; it only came out in the summer. And the only ice creams you could buy were the ones in the cones, you know, that came in the big box of ice cream – I think they still do – so I think there might’ve been a couple of flavours, orange or vanilla; but nothing like the flavours we get. But yes – I can’t remember quite how much they were, but I do remember that you could buy a pie for sixpence. I’d come home sometimes and I’d fancy a pie, so I’d trot along to the bakers and get myself a pie. It was only about three doors along the road, so it was very handy.

And if you lost a tooth, did you get a penny or a three-penny bit for your tooth?

Yeah, yeah. Oh, only once the Depression was over. I don’t think you did during the Depression; too little money [a]round.

I’ve been a real nomad in my life. [Chuckles]

I’d like to talk about School Certificate when it was introduced and what it was originally like, because there’ve been some arguments about it. Some people said it started in 1946. I disagree, because we had it in 1944 was when we started off with School Certificate. I’ll explain. It’s not entirely inaccurate, because it was done in pieces, and ‘46 was when everything was in place.

So they brought it in gradually?

Yes, it was brought in over two years, and ‘46 was when it was finally all in place. It was quite a few subjects; we had to sit five; there were five subjects. You had to sit English; you had to sit Arithmetic, and you didn’t have to pass in the Arithmetic, but you needed to sit at least three other subjects. You had to do five to pass, but most of us sat six because you know, if you failed one you still got the exam. I remember that in the case of my mother and father, they, you know, had examinations when they got to Standard 6; had the Proficiency and the Competency exams. Well, children if they passed those exams in Standard 6 could go on to secondary school, but in actual fact very few of them did unless they had scholarships for the labouring class; or that they, you know, had plenty of money. So it seemed to be only the monied people that went on to do secondary education, and then occasionally university work. That remained until sometime in the thirties ’cause I knew my husband sat Proficiency, and he was born in 1922. His sister, who was born eighteen months later, didn’t have to sit it, so it must’ve been abolished sometime in the late 1930s. But it still remained four years secondary education, and applying for Matriculation. There wasn’t much in the way of education in district high schools – well, it was during the war and there was only one course, which was suitable for academic children but not very good for those that weren’t academically inclined. Also, you know, a lot of children simply did not want to stay four years, to get the … My father came from Central Otago and he got Competency. My mother was brighter than Dad, and she got it in Amberley in North Canterbury.

And they used to have the inspectors come round, and … [it] was a big performance apparently. The inspectors used to visit the school and check on all the children and what-not. My father came from a sort of, rather working-class lot of people out of Cromwell; but I know he went to school with one very bright boy who got a scholarship. And later he went to university and became a school inspector. When I was young he actually visited my father was who by then was a Postmaster, and they had a good old chat.

Was that up here in Hawke’s Bay?

That was when we were in the Manawatu.

Before you went to Wairoa?

Oh yes, I went to Wairoa after Waipawa. There was nothing very much done about it except the abolition of the Proficiency until 1944, [at] which time they introduced School Certificate. And I shifted to Wairoa in May ‘44, and the district high school I went to there – they were all the third years sitting School Certificate; and as I was a third year I obviously sat it at the end of 1944. But my friends in Waipawa … the teachers there were much more conservative, and they let the pupils in the third year sit the Public Service exams, or if they were very, very bright, could sit in the second year, in Form 4; one or two of the very bright ones sat then. [Background noise of reversing vehicle]

But anyway, in 1944 they introduced School Certificate. Now it was in the third year and it consisted of five subjects that you had to pass. It was compulsory to sit English and Arithmetic, but you didn’t have to pass Arithmetic, but you did have to pass English. If you didn’t pass English you passed everything else, you still failed. So most of us made sure that … it was very important to get English … but we also, most of us, sat six subjects just in case we failed one and we still had one up our sleeves. The pass mark was thirty, but it was a very strict thirty, and for those people who sat in their fourth year, and had an average of fifty instead of thirty, they were granted Matriculation. So that was the situation – sit in the third year, pass five subjects with an average of thirty, with English compulsory to pass; if you didn’t do that, you didn’t pass.

However, a lot of people were a bit jealous about it, because some of us had got an average of fifty and we felt we were being a bit short-changed. However, in 1945, University Entrance was introduced, and we had to sit in four year[s], but we had to sit three subjects only. Well in 1945 it was sort of very unfair, because children who went to large high schools – proper high schools, not district high schools – if the teacher thought you were worthy you were automatically passed, you didn’t have to sit any exams. Those who were a bit dodgy … weren’t quite sure whether they would pass or not … the children had to sit the exam. And for all children, irrespective of how bright they were, all children who came from district high schools had to sit. So in some cases you didn’t have to sit, in other cases you had to sit; again that seemed very unfair. I didn’t sit; I was granted mine, because I at that stage had gone to Napier, to the Girls’ High School. But a lot of my friends, you know, some of my friends in my class had to sit. They all passed, but it seemed very unfair the way it was done.

Anyway, that was the exam. And after that, from ‘46 onwards, it was three subjects for University Entrance, and five for the School Certificate. Later, over the years, it was altered; the pass mark was fifty and the marking wasn’t quite so severe, and they made it four subjects to pass with for School Certificate; although I’m not very sure whether English had to be passed or not.

When I was there in ‘55, yes, it still had to be.

Was it four years then, or ..?

Four subjects.

Oh well, they brought it down from five to four, and they had put the University Entrance up to four. And then of course, they made more allowance for the sixth form, because very few people ever got to the sixth form; it was four years, and second year fifths, and that was quite enough.

And this is 1946?

No, it was … ‘44 was the introduction of School Certificate; 1945 was the introduction of University Entrance, as well as School Certificate. And 1946 was … well, you know, both.

When did you go to Training college?

Oh, I didn’t go to Training College till 1969. I was forty.

But it meant that there were friends of mine, same age as me, that passed in the third year. Others, because the school was conservative, didn’t pass until the fourth year, and they couldn’t go to Teachers’ College ‘til a year, supposedly, after … if they’d gone to Teachers’ College … supposedly after me. But some years ago there was an argument in the paper, in the Herald about it. And somebody stopped the argument; said there was no further argument because it was introduced in 1946. Well it jolly well isn’t true; in fact, I think, David may’ve thrown it out. But I actually have my School Certificate paper from 1944.

I thought I would conclude the three and a half years we had in Waipawa during the war, and I thought I would mention a couple of things. One that the trains were unreliable. There was a bus to the district high school from Otane, and round the back of Otane in the country, and there was the mail car that took the mail and groceries and things out to Tikokino, and I think there might’ve been a bus to Onga Onga. There was a train, but it was very unreliable. It was a goods train with a carriage on the back, and it did a lot of shunting; and sometimes it would be on time at nine o’clock, and sometimes it would be ten or quarter to ten and things like that. There was also the goods train that went home, and some of them didn’t get home ‘til about five o’clock. But the Head of the secondary department, Mary McDonald – she got in touch with the Railways; and there was a train that came through about a quarter to four, but it didn’t stop at Pukehou. But she got it so that they made a stop at Pukehou to let the pupils off, and it was only in term time. Well anyway, this particular time – must’ve been end of 1943 – the train was late, and the boys were wondering what they should be doing. And it was getting near Guy Fawkes Day, so they decided that they would make gunpowder. [Chuckles] Of course there was a cow bale there, used by the station people. Anyway, they used that to make the gunpowder; and of course the gunpowder exploded, and one of the boys ended up in the Waipukurau hospital; was there for several days – he got quite badly burnt round his face. And another boy – his father was the farm manager of Te Aute College – he lost the seat of his pants; [laughter] they were blown off, so of course he had to go home to change his pants and he missed the train. I do remember that.

How many boys were there catching it?

Oh, well there were about six or seven I suppose. There was quite a few, [at] least three or four boys, and I can think of a couple of girls. Yes, it was quite a few; but they had no way of getting to school except on this wretched goods train which sort of shunted all the way through. Sometimes it had a lot to shunt off, other times it didn’t have much – no set timetable.

I might mention … Waipawa, the cemetery is on the road out to Tikokino, it’s just off the main road, and there’s – on Cemetery Road, ‘No exit’. [Chuckles]

And then after that you moved …

Yes, in May 1944, we moved to Wairoa. ‘Course I’d made good friends and what-not in Waipawa, so I wasn’t very happy about shifting to Wairoa. We went up on the train that went through, you know, [left] Waipawa about quarter to four and went all the way up to Gisborne. I remember having a good weep on the way up, [chuckle] and I never really made any good friends in Wairoa.

Would you be going to the Wairoa College?

No, it wasn’t a college, it was a district high school in those days. It is a college now, of course; there’s no district high schools.


And Waipawa District High school, they did rebuild it where the primary school was, down over the railway in [on] the flats there; but that was closed and they opened Central Hawke’s Bay College at Waipukurau. So the district high schools closed. But anyway, we went up to Wairoa in May.

And were you living in a railway house?

No, it wasn’t a railway house, it was a Post Office house, and it was a very luxurious house, compared with what we’d had in Waipawa, and the one they built which we never actually moved into; we were going to, but then Dad got a shift, and the next post master went into it.

But it was a very luxurious house, and had three bedrooms, built-in wardrobes, and had a small kitchen, but it had a big [?] with a hatch through and a large dining room, with bay windows and, you know …

That sounds much better.

Yes it was. And it had a [an] open fireplace, and we used that as our main living room. We did have a lounge as well, but we didn’t use it very much; it was at the back of the house. And then we had the three very nicely built-in wardrobes in the house and …

Was the toilet and the bathroom in the house?

The bathroom was, but the toilet wasn’t. We didn’t have water closets in those days, it was still the long-drop; and that was out in the garage outside. And I remember eating too may grapes one time and getting [chuckle] diarrhoea in the morning, and being interrupted by the night man, [laughter] coming to empty it; but there was provision for it. And the back was a closed sort of back porch thing, wash house … laundry … opened off it; that had lots of cupboards in it. And we had this enclosed porch at the back, and the toilet was off the porch – well, provision for a toilet; my mother used it for brooms and things – and also had a wood box built in at the back inside, so that we didn’t have to get wet to get wood; and also had a clothes rack which you could, you know, lower or pull up high, so it was a very luxurious house. And when we went there in May the previous postmaster had been a keen collector of chrysanthemums; he was a chrysanthemum fancier, and when we arrived in May of course all the chrysanthemums were out. My mother was quite thrilled, so she had a lot of fun there. And I remember her growing salvia bonfire; she grew the salvia bonfires and they were supposed to be miniature ones, but I think she put horse manure with it, and the things grew and grew and grew. And I was about fifteen when we went there, and they were right up to my shoulder; a really good show. [Chuckle] And my mother also liked having garden fires and what-not, and she wasn’t popular with the neighbours ‘cause she’d have them about nine o’clock when everybody put their washing out, and they were covered with smoke. She’d done her washing a four o’clock and had it all in. [Chuckle] And I remember the policeman coming along one day, and we weren’t supposed to have fires at all, and he said, ‘Oh, I hear your bonfires are very good this year”, to my mother, and she wasn’t quite sure whether he meant the [chuckles] [?] or the flowers. [Chuckles]

So what did your father do when he wasn’t in the Post Office; did he play any sport?

He used to go out fishing sometimes and he liked shooting rabbits and things like that. He came from Central Otago where they had a lot of rabbit shooting and things like that, and people let him go out. By the time he’d done the lawns and what-not he didn’t really have that much time, ‘cause Postmasters were on call twenty-four hours a day.

And did he do JP [Justice of the Peace] work?

I don’t know. He did sit the … [I] know in Shannon he did marriage and things like that; he could marry people. ‘Cause he got into trouble one time because he married somebody that was under age. She said she was … I think you had to be twenty-one to get your parents’ consent, and she didn’t have her parents’ consent. So she put her age up, and they got married and the parents were so annoyed that they took it to court. So my father got into a bit of trouble over that one. But he had a very busy time because there was a shortage of staff, and you were on-call twenty-four hours a day more or less; the stamps got stuck, or something else went wrong.

And I remember on one occasion, I think I might’ve mentioned it before, but out of Wairoa the Governor-General went camping; he went on a fishing expedition and went camping. And [of] course there was a shortage of telephones … of course they were all manual in those days … and there was somebody talking away on the telephone and making a bit of a noise; and my father complained and told him to get off the line, as the Governor-General was wanting to use it. “Oh, this is the Governor-General here.” [Chuckles]

He was already talking on it. [Chuckles]


The Wairoa District High School – I went there in May, and … this of course was 1944, and was the year that School Certificate first came in. Well now Waipawa – they were very conservative, and weren’t going to let you sit School Certificate until fourth year, 1945. But when I went to Wairoa, yes, they were all going to sit in three years which made things a bit difficult for me because I only had two terms to catch up and be able to sit; and so I sort of had to work fairly hard. And I do remember I’d been studying, and I decided I would go out to the river heads. Now it was, you know, a shingle river and what-not, and sometimes [speaking together] [the] bar would go right over, and this was the time when the bar was right over, but the river was backing up well. But anyway, I thought I would walk over to the other side of the river, going over the shingle; and so I went over there and wandered round a bit, and then I thought I’d better get home, which was just as well because the river was just level at the top of the bar, and it was just sort of starting to splash over. So, anyway I got back and got on my bike and I suppose I’d biked a hundred yards when there was a big roar and the bar went and washed everything out, and there was a big …

You were lucky!

Yes, I was very, very lucky. Yeah.

It still does that; you know the build-up comes and then goes so far, and then all of a sudden it just …

Yes, that’s right – enough pressure to wash it out. So I was very, very lucky; I never told my mother. [Chuckles]

Did you have many people in this college?

I suppose we had about three or four classes – I have got pictures actually of it still, somewhere; I don’t know what David’s done with them. I gave pictures of that high school to the Wairoa Museum with names, which they were quite grateful to have; the names on the back and the prefects and what-not, so … that was interesting.

Did you have school socials or anything like that?

Oh yes, we used to have a social once … you know, towards the end of the year and things like that. But you know it was war time and there weren’t very many sort of socials. They didn’t have those much. Yeah.

Where would you do most of your shopping? Wairoa or Napier, or Gisborne?

Yes, that was something I was going to mention – we had the rail cars. And I don’t know whether there were more, but one at least was based in Wairoa, and it used to leave about quarter to six in the morning and it would go down to Napier; get there at somewhere after eight, and then it would turn around about nine o’clock and go back through Wairoa, up to Gisborne, and get to Gisborne about one; and then it would turn around at ‘bout five o’clock and go back to Wairoa and get there about seven. So the tendency was more to go to Gisborne if you were going shopping, because one to five was, you know, much better hours. But it was very embarrassing going to Gisborne with my mother, because she would go through the parks and she would be surreptitiously nipping all sorts of plants [chuckles] and what-not, and cuttings and so forth. [Chuckles]

So they still wouldn’t have had a car?

No, no, they didn’t have a car; they never, ever had a car, and they died in 1970 … ‘71 my mother died and my father died at the beginning of ‘74, and they never, ever had a car.

But it was very pleasant in Wairoa, but I never really … well, I was only there the one year. I went to Wallaceville in 1946, so I went back to Wairoa …

How did you come to get a job there at Wairoa in 1946?

Because we had the people come round and sort of talk about them and advertise for them; and I had been interested in science. And [in] Waipawa we had a very good science teacher; she was extremely good, but I didn’t get a very good – well in fact I didn’t get one at all in Wairoa. There was one man was sort of told to try and teach science, but he science wasn’t his subject. And I remember we made something or other – it had sulphuric acid, and the sulphuric acid boiled over and caught me on the face, right down here. [Of] course these days you’d be carted off to the doctor and goodness knows what, but in those days … I think they actually took me to the chemist, but that was about it. Fortunately, I had my glasses on, so that protected me from getting it actually in the eye. But it was black right down my face. So my mother decided that I would go to Napier Girls’ High School, because she thought I would get science there. But unfortunately, I didn’t; they only did home science, which was cooking and things like that, and so it was really a wasted year.

But however, I went down to Wallaceville Research Station.

Did you live out on the Station, or did you board somewhere?

No, I boarded in … well first of all I started off down at Woburn in the girls’ hostel there, but it was hard work getting from, you know, I had to get from there into Petone, and then from Petone up to Upper Hutt. So I was only there a few weeks and then I got bored; and I got my bicycle and I never looked back.

Did Wairoa have a District Council or County Council?

Oh, we had the mayor. We had the mayor and we had the Town Council and then there would be the County Council.

Were they growing all the fruit trees? Frasertown’s got all that sort of thing out there …

Not at that stage, no. No, I mean what fruit you grew, you grew your own – mostly peaches and nectarines and things like that. Yeah.

Oh yes – I must mention, of course, we had this very flash house in Wairoa, but I remember on one occasion, my mother had been baking. It was hot, and so she put the cake up on the window sill to cool. And then the neighbour’s cat came …


… and was busy eating the cake. [Chuckles] Yeah.

Did you have children your age there that you could play with?

No, they were mostly younger.

But the twenty year olds would have been at war?

Well they had some of the older people going to war by then; they’d’ve been called up, conscripted.

Did you go out to Tuai at all, or Lake Waikaremoana?

Yes, well that was when we had VE Day, [Victory in Europe, World War II] you know. That was in May 1945, and I was home with my parents, and we did take the bus out of Wairoa to Tuai and spent VE Day there; because Dad had a friend he’d known in Shannon and was in the electricity department; they had Tuai as a station. Yes, so we went out there and I did have a photo. I don’t know whether it’s still there or not. Yes, we went out to Tuai for VE Day, and we went to see this man – I can’t think of his name now – there and we were all photographed out there and we had quite a day.

And went by bus?

Yeah, and came home by bus.

[Of] course I went to Napier Girls’ High School in 1945, which was a waste of time because I didn’t get my science anyway. And I did have considerable difficulty settling down, because I’d gone from being a person in a small community to a little girl in a very large school, and it took a while to get used to it, going away from home and boarding and what-not. But I did sufficiently well to be able to get my University Entrance; had that granted to me, not having to sit. But I do remember the VJ Day [Victory over Japan, World War II] because it came about three days before the end of the school term … I think it was a Wednesday … and [of] course they announced VJ Day, and everybody gave up and we all decided that we would go home. And the school gave up and we all went home.

But instead of my going home I decided to stay on for a night, because I wanted to have a look at the Norfolk Pines all lit up; ‘cause they’d put all the coloured lights on them, and they hadn’t been on during the war. But anyway, I went down to have a look at them, but of course it rained like mad. [Chuckles] So I stayed the night and I went home the following morning on the rail car, and did I get into trouble! My mother thought I should’ve gone home the night before; my father had gone over to the railway station and waited for me and oh! [Chuckles] There was a real row about it. I never forgot that. But of course they didn’t have nearly as many Norfolk Pines as they’ve got now, and I think that probably the lights are a lot better. But there was an article some years ago from a German submarine captain, and he reckoned the place was lit up, but it wasn’t. There were no lights, no street lights on at all, so that wasn’t accurate. Napier was the only place I’ve ever really got lost in, because I came home with somebody and they were a bit lazy; and they said, oh, I could walk home myself, you know up on Napier Hill. And I got lost, and I went down the wrong lot of steps in the dark; and I ended up down in Hardinge Road instead of up on Shakespeare Road. And I sort of never forgot that. Well, there’s sort of steps here and steps there, and if you don’t watch you end up in the wrong place. [Chuckles] But it was quite scary wondering where on earth you were in the dark. That’s where I recognised down at the bottom of Hardinge Road, [chuckles] fortunately.

So can we go back to Wairoa, about your in-laws? He was helping with the bridge?

Oh, there’s just a little bit about my father-in-law; his parents actually went from living in Eketahuna to going to Wairoa to live.

And what was their name?

Nilsson. So they went to Wairoa to live; I think two of the brothers, because my father-in-law had cousins and what-not in Wairoa. And we found last year when we went to Wairoa … David and I went to Wairoa … and went to the museum that my father-in-law and his brothers all went to the first world war from Wairoa. And they’ve got, you know, one of these interactive displays and they were showing him and so forth; well anyway, I’ve got a photograph of them taken in 1916, with my mother-in-law, taken in Napier early in 1916. So we sent the photograph up, you know, took a copy of it and sent the photograph up for them so they can put it in there.

[Speaking together] In the museum?

[It] wasn’t very good, because it was behind glass; but it was nice to have a natural photograph of them during the war.

Anyway, to go on with my father-in-law – after the war he went to Warkworth. But there was a Depression, and he and a lot of other farmers had to walk off. So he went down … he had several relatives of his own, and that, and my mother-in-law had a couple of sisters and a brother-in-law, and they helped out. So they went down to Wairoa to live in 1927 or ‘28, and that was the first job that my father-in-law had, was working [on] the railway bridge, putting in the caissons. He used to go along every day and dig away and dig away; it was all done by hand, and eventually the caissons’d go down a bit further and a bit further.

So the caissons had to be cut or drilled down?

Yeah – sort of big holes were dug, and then the caissons’d go down a bit further and so forth, and they put the piles in. But it was really rather heavy work for my father-in-law, and so he got a job with the Wairoa electricity people. And they used to do the minor repairs of toasters and things; they couldn’t’ve been too fussy in those days. And he used to look after the showroom and things like that, and deal with accounts and that sort of thing. So he did that for, I think about three or four years, and then, of course the Depression really bit; and they closed the showroom so he lost his job. However, he was very lucky – well, in some ways – in that his in-laws had died; well one died, round about 1932 or ‘33, I think.

What was their name, do you know?

Coe. C-O-E; and they were in Waipawa. He was a saddler in Waipawa and his wife had come out from County Cork in Ireland, so they settled down there. But they both died; just had their fiftieth wedding anniversary. They both died within about three months of each other. So there was £50 which my mother-in-law got, and they were able to buy a farm in Dannevirke.


£50. They bought a farm in Dannevirke.

To buy a farm at that time would be marvellous.

Yeah. And they were able to add to the farm as time went on.

Was it dairying?

Dairying. And of course the boys were all getting bigger and growing up, and they were also very useful on the farm. So they used to do all the milking and what-not for my father-in-law, and do all the work on the farm. Of course in those days labour was cheap, but materials were expensive. Other way round now.

So they used to run the farm; in fact my father-in-law took ill shortly after they bought the farm and the boys actually ran the farm. My eldest brother-in-law left his job; he had been working for somebody down near Featherston … down that way somewhere … and came back and sort of took over the farm while he and the boys ran it.

But what happened eventually was, in 1944 the war was not going terribly well. Well one of my brothers-in-law, when he left school, he had gone on the farm to help his father; the others had done other things. My eldest brother-in-law in Dannevirke was a truck driver; and Arthur, well he was in the Air Force at that stage; and Des was in the Air Force and he’d been shot down and was a prisoner of war. So it didn’t look like the war was going to end in a hurry; and … well at the beginning of 1944 things were looking down, but then they had the invasion of Europe in ‘bout June or July, and after that [of] course things went from strength to strength. But anyway, my father-in-law decided that he couldn’t keep on; he’d tried to run the farm himself and he couldn’t keep on, so he sold it. And they went to live in Dannevirke for a while, before they eventually went up to Kawakawa and he bought a business and [??].

So you and Arthur, when you were married, where did you live first?

We got married on May the first, 1950. I was at that stage working for the Department of Agriculture, but I was in head office doing office work. Arthur was running the dairy produce grader’s office on the waterfront, and we lived at Pinehaven. Anyway, just before Raymond was born, which was about … he’s about twenty months younger than when we got married … in February we got a – what do you call it? The emergency housing, you know? What do they call it? Trentham …

Trentham Military Camp.

Yeah, Trentham Military Camp. So we rented there, and we had three winters in there before we got a state house.

Things would be very tight at that stage?

Well yes. Yes, there was no …

You’d wish you were back out on the farms.

[Chuckle] No, Arthur didn’t like farming much, so … he liked the country, but he didn’t like the farms. At least when we were in the country he knew how the farms ran, which was, you know, the country people knew that he was a farmer and knew what was going on, so they tended to accept him more than having a townie.

I should explain that I was born in Patea; my maiden name was Semple, and my father came from near Cromwell … from Lowburn Ferry, Central Otago, and my mother came from Amberley in North Canterbury. But when they married in 1923 they went to live in Patea, where my father was the telegraphist at the Post Office. In other words, he sent all the telegrams and recorded all the telegrams that came in and sent the ones out. But in 1931 he got his first Postmaster’s position, and when I was two, I believe on my second birthday, we moved to Shannon in Southern Manawatu. And that’s the longest I lived anywhere, because I lived there for nine and a half years. And then in November 1940 – [of] course war started in September 1939 – we moved to Waipawa, and I’ve told you something of my life there. And we were there for three and a half years; then we went to Wairoa, and I had two terms at the Wairoa District High School, and then in 1945 I spent a year, or a wasted year, at Napier Girls’ High School. And I went back home in 1946 for a about six months, and then I went to Wallaceville Animal Research Station, I worked there in [background noise of fan, continues for some time] Upper Hutt, and I was there ‘til about the end of 1949, beginning of 1950. I did a bit of clerical work there at head office for about six months. I married in [on] 1st May 1950 at Kawakawa, and then I got pregnant about the end of the year; 1950 I stopped working. Then in February 1951 we got a unit in the Trentham Transit Camp. The only … that was a bit grim, because they were just forty-man army huts divided up with dividing walls; they had no ceilings in them, just sark ceilings; and when it was cold in the winter they dripped and …

Oh, hell!

[chuckle] it was really cold. We had no hot water; we had to heat all the hot water, and we had coal ranges that didn’t heat anything; it just let you cook on it. Well then we had three winters in the transit camp, and then we got a state house at Taita in September 1953, and we moved down there, in Taita in Lower Hutt. And in 1954 my husband decided that he wanted to … he was working for the Agriculture Department as a clerk, and he decided he wanted to go teaching. So he did the pressure cooker course … one year pressure cooker course in 1954, and ‘55, and started teaching at the end of ‘55 – third term ‘55. So we were in Taita, I think, for about five years.

And in 1958 we decided we would go to Auckland, because Arthur’s parents were living in Whangarei, and his mother’s health was declining. So we paid our own expenses and went up to Papatoe [Papatoetoe]. We were there for four years, and at that stage, in 1962, Arthur got his first Head teacher’s job at a place called Waimamaku in the Hokianga. It’s just north of the kauri forests, south of Opononi; and we went there and we had two years and a term in there.

How many children did you have now?

The fourth one, David, was born when we were at Waimamaku. Ha, ha! Better not tell you about that; but he was born in beginning of January, and I remember Arthur was over painting his father’s house at Whangarei, and they were not getting on; and [chuckle] I got in the middle of the, sort of the argument, so they were both complaining to me, so I got high blood pressure. So I ended up in hospital for about a week [chuckle] … get away from them, so I could you know, have a bit of a rest.

Anyway, we stayed there for two years and a term, and then Arthur got a job as a senior teacher at junior classes, and he was one of the first men to get this job, and people weren’t very happy about it; they thought it was a ladies’ job and there was a bit of opposition to it. We had a house in Papatoe [Papatoetoe] – we’d bought this state house and we had it let out – but we couldn’t get a house in Tuakau, so we had to go over the river and go to a place called Onewhero. And we spent a couple of years there up in the hills over the other side of the Waikato River; and then we spent 1967 over in long-term relieving job for a principal who had gone to England at Arapohue, which was about six kilometres or so south of Dargaville, just off the main road. Then we went back to Tuakau; and we were able to rent a house in Tuakau; again, we sold the one in Papatoe and bought the one we were in for $6,500. And we paid cash for it, and we were there for nine years – 1967 to the end of 1976; and at that stage Arthur was still at Tuakau, at the job. The older children had gone to Pukekohe High School, but they’d opened a new high school at … or Form 1-6 school at Tuakau … and it wasn’t a particularly good school. David was just wasting his time and not doing well, so we decided – we liked the Principal – but we decided that we’d go to Pukekohe and buy a house over there so that he could go to a proper school. So we did that and we were there ‘til about 1980; both of us took a job – I’d been to Teachers’ College in 1969-’71.

Did you do it by correspondence?

No, I went to Ardmore Teachers’ College. I used to have to drive up and what-not. Anyway, yes – we went to Horoeka, which is out of Dannevirke and halfway between Dannevirke and the coast, and just a couple of miles over the border in the Wellington province. [Chuckle]

Oh … what year was that?

1980. Anyway, Arthur had gallbladder troubles and he ended up in hospital, he was very ill for six weeks and what-not. So he continued ‘til the end of the year, but – no, it must’ve been 1981, that’s right; we went there in third term in 1980 and we had 1981 there, but he was very ill. So he continued to the end of 1981, but he decided that it was too much, so he had two terms on leave. And he turned sixty in 1982 when he could retire, but I think they paid him right up just about until his retirement … August, and he retired in October. So we went on ‘til the end of ‘81, and then we went back to, well more or less, back to Auckland, where he had a job at Waiuk, [Waiuku] out of Pukekohe. And that was supposed to have been for three years, but then the job disappeared because the man that were building a new steel mill, they thought they would come up to Waiuku and the school roll would go up, but instead they decided to stay down in the Waikato at Huntly; and the bus stopped to Waiuku, so the population didn’t come. So I lost my job at the end of 1981; but then I spent 1982 and 1983 as principal of a two-teacher school at Moawhango School, which is on the Napier-Taihape Road – the Taihape end – and I was there for two years. Then I went back to Pakuranga in Auckland. In 1986 I decided I’d had enough teaching and I left teaching, and went to work for Coats Patons as the tea lady, filing clerk, knitting expert in Pakuranga.

And was Arthur still with you then?

Yeah, well he’d retired. He was working as a caretaker for the Pakuranga Heights School, doing a bit of teaching and what-not as well. And after that I really don’t know quite what happened – we sort of moved around an awful lot; we went to Palmerston North for a while. We were there about eighteen months, and we went to Dannevirke and we were there about six months. Somebody came and offered us a good price for our house, and we went back to Auckland.

So you’d have a house, and you’d sell it?


And then you’d move again?

Yeah, we moved again. I …

[Speaking together] How did you decide when to move?

Arthur always wanted to come back to Auckland ‘cause it was warmer. [Chuckle] And I’m not too sure; in the late nineties we were in Pukekohe from about 1993 to 1999. And then we saw a brand new town house in Dannevirke … very handy … when we went down to his brother’s eighty-fourth birthday, and we decided to buy it and we went down there. But then his brother died in 2001 and I had a brother and sister died in 2002; and we had a very cold winter and Arthur was ill, so he said to me he didn’t want to stay any longer, it was too cold. So we went back to Papatoetoe in Auckland.

Did you buy another house up there?

Yep, bought a unit, which was very handy, so we lived in that from two-thousand and three until … I lived there until 2008. Well Arthur died in 2006, and then I came down to Wanganui from 2008 to 2015; and 2015 to now, to Hastings. [Chuckles]

Why come to Hastings; was it because of the warmth?

No, it was because my daughter was … well, I went to Wanganui and my daughter was living in Wanganui, so you know she was keeping an eye on me and what-not. And then they sold their property in Wanganui, in Fordell, and they moved over here, so I had to come over here. So that’s why I came over here. But then of course she died in 2019.

That must have been a dreadful blow to all your family?

Yes, it was.

What was her name?


And her married name?

McLachlan. So that’s roughly the story of my life. What we did between 1987 and … oh, we went to Palmerston North. We went to Dannevirke …

Did all your furniture have wheels on it?

No. [Laughter]

So where have you been happiest?

Probably in …

You had a happy marriage?

Yeah, a reasonably happy marriage. Arthur was a bit difficult; he had Aspergers Syndrome, and it was often hard to explain what was going on. But we got on all right. I think probably round about Pakuranga.

Well today I wanted to talk to you about Horoeka. I’m not sure whether you’re actually interested or not, because Horoeka was just over the border in the Wellington Province. But we went there from Auckland, and we also went through to Dannevirke; we used to go to relatives in Dannevirke. Arthur had been on the farm at Ruaroa, out of Dannevirke, and when we went to Horoeka which was forty-four kilometres east of Dannevirke, halfway between Dannevirke and Akitio, he was quite popular with the locals, because he was considered a local himself, having been on the farm at Ruaroa as a child. So the local farmers were very happy to have him there; not only was he a local, but he was also very handy and he kept all the school grounds and what-not, did all the repairs and what-not, which meant that the school committee didn’t have to do it.

Now it was a very windy place; it was always blowing, and in order to protect the house we had macrocarpas right round the house on three sides of us. And the wind was always blowing and always sort of making a noise, and I remember one day at lunchtime I came out to do my duty.

Cause you were teaching there then?

Yes. We had a two-teacher school; my husband was the principal and I was the teacher to help him. He was due to retire – we came in August 1980 and he was due to retire in 1982 – so we thought we would do the two years there and then go somewhere else. And I remember on one occasion it was very windy, and we had a lot of magpies [a]round in the trees, and I watched a magpie flying and it was so windy the magpie was going backwards. [Chuckles] So it got itself into another gear and still tried to fly into the wind, and it was still going backwards, so it turned round and went off with the wind. And I remember on another occasion – and for once it wasn’t blowing – Arthur’d gone off to another school. And I remember my class, sitting there at lunchtime saying, “Oh, what’s happened to the wind?” They were quite upset; they were so used to the wind and they just couldn’t get over that it was quiet.

How many in your class at that stage?

I think there was something like over twenty. I had from the new entrants up to Standard 1.

It was also on a fault line, and on one occasion we were doing reading. Suddenly I thought I heard somebody running in the classroom, so we got up to monitor the child that was running, and it turned out it was an earthquake, so we all had to [chuckles] get under our desks.

Most of the people went to Dannevirke, rather than to Pahiatua.

That’s for general shopping, or for the school?

Well yes, for the school, but actually, we were in a rather difficult situation because some children went to the south and they were in the telephone book for Pahiatua, and some of them were in the Dannevirke book. So we had to have both books in the class in order to you know, be able to contact the parents.

And it was quite a nice school; I quite liked it. And I remember we had cows next door to us; somebody ran Red Devon cattle, but there was a hole in the fence. And the fence went across, and they were always getting out and they’d be wandering round the road and wandering into our place if we had the gate open. And they were quite attractive cattle. And my brother-in-law and sister-in-law who lived in Dannevirke, they used to like coming out to see us, ‘cause we were about forty-four kilometres from Dannevirke and over the Puketoi Range. So my brother-in-law, he used to come out; and somebody had some Belted Galloways, so he liked to look at the Belted Galloways and was really quite intrigued with them.

Were you far away from the school for the schoolhouse?

I could get from the schoolhouse to my class door in two minutes flat. [Chuckles] And the school was used as a sort of a community centre as well, and I often had people come round in [on] the weekends wanting to play tennis on the tennis court, and being very surprised to come in and find me working. [Chuckle] And we also had the Women’s Division of Federated Farmers used to come in once a month and use the classroom. The Anglican Church used to come in … oh, they came in on the fifth Sunday, if there was a fifth Sunday of the month, and they used it as well. So I used to have to move all the furniture and what-not so that they could …

Have their service? [Chuckle]

The river went round three sides of the school ground went right down – it was in quite a narrow chasm. But in the winter time it used rain, and we had our pump house which [brought] water up to the school swimming bath; and sometimes it was so buried we used to have to dig it out [chuckles] before we could use it.

So we were there, but unfortunately Arthur had … well, he had gall stones, and he had a ruptured gall bladder in May of 1980; and he was in hospital for three or four weeks and then he was home for about six weeks. So he did go back teaching afterwards, but I had to take over as principal while he was out [of] the way. I had a local lady that [who] had been a teacher and she came in and helped out, but I had to do all the clerical work. It was a funny place, because the power was not very good.

Not reliable?

No, it wasn’t reliable; it had been put in by the Pahiatua Power Board. Whereas Dannevirke had three-phase power, they only had two-phase, and if it went out in the night, you know, either wind or what-not, or earthquakes – ‘cause we had a lot of earthquakes – you could guarantee that you wouldn’t have any power ‘til the morning, so we had to have extra things. Fortunately the school had three rooms; one was my classroom, but the older part was Arthur’s classroom, and we had a room in the middle which the pre-school people used to use about once a week.

What’s the name of that school?

It was Horoeka School. [Vehicle warning signal] As I say, you know, we went to Dannevirke and the local people also went to Dannevirke. Nobody went to Pahiatua, but it was stricter

What happened after Arthur was sick?

Well he did go back until the end of the year, but at the end of the year he decided that he’d had enough teaching; [he’d] had a lot of sick leave. Well he was due to retire anyway; so he retired and … well they paid him up until August, and then he retired – I think it was about October 1982, so we were only there about a year … bit over a year.

Anyway, he used to get on well with people. And I remember they opened the new freezing works at Oringi, so a lot of the parents took the children to see Robert Muldoon open the freezing works. And I remember them coming home and saying, “Oh, he was only a little man!” [Chuckles] They were quite surprised about it.

And I do remember when we moved house and the van came to take our stuff away, it got caught up on the phone lines. [Chuckles] Yeah.

Where did you move to then?

Well Arthur retired, and I moved to Waiuku. I was released from my two-year contract because of Arthur’s illness and we went back up to South Auckland, and I went to Waiuku.

Oh, so you moved again?

Yeah. Yes, it was only for about a year and a half.

When did you come back into the Hawke’s Bay area?

Aah, not until … oh, we went to Dannevirke and built a house in Dannevirke; and I think we were there for about eighteen months, round about 1989, 1990; and then we moved back again for three years.

To Auckland?

Oh yes, we moved up there; [and a] few other places.

Did you keep your house in Dannevirke?

No. We sold that; somebody came when we were doing it up, putting in new paths, and we put in a woodshed and things like that, and somebody walked off the road and wanted to buy it. [Chuckle] But we went back at the end of November 1999, and I think we shifted out again about February 2003.

You went back to Dannevirke, and then you left again; and then you went back again?


What were you doing, you know, in between? Had you retired as well?

I’d retired as well and, you know. So we were right in Dannevirke – we were one street back from the main street.

You could walk up to town?

We only had to walk … well we were right in town.

Did you join the Women’s Institute yourself?

No. No, I thought it might be a bit … they asked me but, you know, by the time I’d taught and got all my own things ready and what-not I didn’t …

What about Arthur? Would he go to the club, or go for a walk downtown?

Oh yes, he used to go … in Waiuku he used to go down, and he copied a lot of bits and pieces for the children and … their colouring-in, and various things he did for the [??]. But we went back in 1999 ‘cause Arthur wanted to be with his brother and sister, who lived in Dannevirke.

So family sort of brought you back mostly?

Yeah, yeah. But then his sister, and … let’s see who it was … yeah, there were two – his elder brother, they both died in February 2002 within five days of each other. We had one brother died in 2001; two of them died in 2002; and another sister-in-law died in 2003. So Arthur said, “It’s too cold”, and we looked out and saw snow on the Ruahines, and snow was on the Puketois; well Arthur said, “Oh, I think we’ll go back to Auckland – it’s warmer.” [Chuckle]

When did you come back down here then?

I didn’t come back down here until Arthur had died; in 2008. He died in 2006, and I spent 2007 in Auckland, and then I came down in 2008, ’cause my daughter was down in Wanganui. So I went down there and went into Summerset there and then I came over from Wanganui to Hastings. So I’ve sort of gone the circle. [Chuckle]

Well I don’t think there’s much more I can write about that.

Can you mention your son or your sons – you’ve got one in London?

Yeah. Well he didn’t go until 2010.

So he was still in New Zealand?

No, he was in Australia. [Chuckle] He went to Australia in 1985; he went to Melbourne, and they were in Melbourne. They went to London at the end of 2010.

So you came back for your daughter, and then she got ill?

Yeah, well I came back for her and then they shifted to Hawke’s Bay. I told them that it would be dry, but they wouldn’t believe me. [Chuckle] So that’s how I ended here in Hastings.

Would you say your life was eventful?

We moved around quite a lot, and we had a sort of different … but we were never actually on a farm. Well Arthur was as a child, but we were sort of in the country and rural or country people, but we weren’t actually farming.

And would you do it all again?

I’d say you’d have to. [Chuckle]

That’s Iona, bringing herself and the Knowledge Bank up-to-date to 1st April 2021. [Chuckle]

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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist


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