Jones, Florence Maud (Flora) Interview

Frank Cooper’s my name. Today is the 5 August 2015. I’m interviewing Flora Jones of Wairoa. Flora is 99 years old – almost 100. She’s going to tell us the life and times of her family. Right – would you like to tell us something about your family – where your family came to New Zealand from.

Well my mother belongs to Taupo. She belongs to a tribe up there. The Tuwharetoa tribe which owns acres and acres of land, and my mother came from there and she has had shares in all the land that’s around Taupo. It goes right out to … oh, the bloomin’ sky, ha ha. The big station that is going to be sold now.


Lochinver. Yes, she lived not far from there and my mother was from Taupo so she went to school in Taupo and she met Dad when she was a housemaid at a hotel. The first hotel you come to when you go into Taupo. Three storeys.

De Brett’s?

That’s right. Well she worked there and that’s how she met Dad. So after they married, Mum had some shares in the land and Dad farmed that but he found that when the children were arriving they were too far to go to school. So my sister Kathleen was sent to the Napier Convent and she didn’t like it there – she used to cry most of the time so they had to take her away and Dad had to find another job so that we could be educated. So a farm came up for the Mahanga Station [phone rings] which is not far from here and Dad got the manager’s job there so then we were about 7 miles still to walk to school and it became too much too, when there was 5 of us by then.

Where was Mahanga?

Out at Opoutama or Mahia. And it was 7 miles from Mahanga to get to the Opoutama School so Dad decided he’d have to change his job again because he came from Ireland and he belonged to some royalty people up there in England …


… and his mother and father were … oh, I didn’t know much about them, or learnt much about them.

So you started school …

At the Opoutama School – I was 7 there but I didn’t go to school very often because I was always sick.

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

There were 10 of us.

And you all went to school together?

Yeah, well Kathleen, the eldest one, she had left school and was helping Mum at home, cooking meals and washing and sewing and things like that.

So when you said you were not well … you were ill and missed a lot of school. What was wrong with you?

I was one of the unfortunate ones that got asthma and I’ve passed it on to Howard, Martin’s father. But Martin’s father is lucky so far because it’s a long time since they found that it was asthma that was worrying Howard – cancer, cancer I mean – so he’s managed to fight that off anyway up till now.

So Opoutama must have been a very quiet place when you were there?

Yes, yes. We were all sort of like a big family you know. One helped the other at sports and that sort of thing – everything that was going on. Everybody joined in and did their share towards it, to entertain at the week … week …

And fishing? Did everyone go fishing as well?

Not so much. You only had to go a short way out to get pauas and little shoally snapper, flounders and the pipis – big white pipis.


Yes and those ones too. Used to be able to get all those.

Did you play any sport at school? Did you play …

Yes, I played netball and hockey. I did good at sport. I mustn’t boast [laughter] but I won most of my competitions and I’ve got them on paper cuttings at home up on the walls so the family can see them. No, the only things in my life then was I couldn’t manage was to ride a motorbike and water ski. I could never get my bottom up off the water and I tried and I tried. But all the other things like the go-karts and the speed boats and all that sort of thing I conquered it all – managed that all.

Did you go to High School?


You went straight to work.

Yes, yes … yes. Yes, I’m a Catholic and a Catholic community places you know – to work when you are ready. I married at 21 and had Howard, that’s Martin’s father, then Warren, that was the second son – he developed the cancer. He died in Australia. And Michael which is in Palmerston – he’s a physiotherapist.

So then you were married with these young three boys. So which stations … no, your husband wasn’t always on farms was he? He was a mechanic.

No, he was a mechanic.

That’s right.

He worked mostly with tractors and trucks and I suppose you want to hear more about the flood. Well, the morning of the flood we woke up and everything was under water and we were up on a rise so we were out of it.

Can you remember what year that was?

Somewhere about ’35-’38. And so when we saw that Norman said “oh, we’ll have our breakfast and we’ll go and see what’s happening up the road.” So of course we had breakfast and we got into a truck and away we went and as we got to a bend the road came up like that, and then bent over. As we got to that corner we could see a group of people out on the road and we drove up to there, and we said we wanted to go through to see my Mum and Dad at the farm down the road, and they said “oh, we’re not letting anyone through but seeing it’s your mother and father yes we’ll let you go”. So they let us go down and Mum and Dad were walking over their farm to see what damage was done and Mum came across a culvert, a wide one, and there was a man stuck in wood there, upside down, in this drain. So Dad went off and reported it and they came and got him and he was the man we’d met, and went down and they said “oh, we’ll get him and we’re taking all the bodies to Waikokopu to the Harbour Board shed to be identified and claimed. So that happened then.

Before we went down to the farm we went across the bridge and there was a few men along the road fence and it looked as though there was a bundle of something there so Norman went over and it was a man – a workman. He had washed down to this fence and he was leaning over it holding the top wire like that, and as the water washed him he was going backwards and forwards and ‘course he was all bleeding. So we come to the conclusion that he must have been alive – you know – to be bleeding. We could hardly believe it because No 4 Camp’s away up in that valley and he was washed down to there.

So then the other one that got washed away like that was the housemaid at No 4 Camp. She was Martha Quinn and she was distantly related to us because my brother had married her sister. And when we got back, we thought “can we go up a bit further?” and they said “yes” and we went up and discovered that it was Martha Quinn that was washed right down. Do you know Mahia at all?

Yes I do. We go there for holidays and fishing.

And you know the lake?


Well she was washed down through that lake out to sea at Oraka and had come back up on to the beach. And they found her with just her pyjama cord about 3 days later. So that was the drowning of those ones that we knew.

And then at – No 2 was a camp for workmen. Men that, you know, haven’t got homes and that sort of thing. And my sister Marie was the housemaid and the waitress at No 2. So when she woke up around about 12 o’clock she heard funny noises so she got up and as she stepped out, she stepped into water off her bed. And she was trying to make her way round the house to get on to higher ground and a man came and rescued her. Well believe it or not a few years later he married her.


That was good. That happened at No 2. And No 3 was like a village. It had everything. It was like a little township and they had the sports, and everything that went on was at No 3 camp.

And at No 4 was where they were digging the tunnel through to Gisborne and the ground was pretty rough and the valleys were coming in, you know – instead of being right out nice and wide, they were scooping in like that. My brother Pat he worked a team of four horses. Two would go in and fill up with the soil, bring it out, take it over … and they used to take it to the edge of the valley and it ran down to the creek below. And as they were doing that they were filling up the creek and they were blocking it up.

So down below they made the depots for the trucks … the single men, and they all worked from there. But they moved the creek that came down the valley from that side … from this side to that side, and they had the depot there and they built the men’s huts and cook house and everything over here on the river bed. So when the rain came it washed all the trucks away and it went back to its natural course. And the cook house was put just a bit further away and it missed most of it, but it took right up to the chimney. I don’t know if you know those little fashion ones with iron?

Yes, I do.

Yeah, well that’s what it left on the bank, and there was the lady that ran that and a boy. The cook house and the maids hut they were washed away but it didn’t take all the cook house. It left the chimney you know, it was more stable I think. The boy that was staying with Mrs Cameron, he was up there cuddling up – he dragged her – he got hold of her hand and said “you follow me” and she got up on the roof and they sheltered behind the chimney. And as they were sheltering there the water came rushing down and a man was in the water rushing down and this boy put his hand out and grabbed him and just pulled him in and saved him and he lived. See, the hut was in the wrong place. So that is what happened there.

So how old would you have been in 1938 then?

Oh, I was – we were married. We were probably married about 2 years. 21? I was about 21 when we married. So, I’m going to be 99 in a couple of …

So there were a lot of people lost in that flood weren’t there, from those years?

Not in No 3 because they picked out the best places for the engineers to live, you know – they had them on nice terraces but No 2 and No 4 were just for workmen and they were just ordinary huts. There were dozens and dozens of them.

And so what happened after 1938 then?

Oh, well – things started to quieten down. People were looking for work and most of them from the camp like my two brothers that worked for the Ministry of Works – they moved up to Tuai, to the Waikaremoana, and they worked up there for them until things quietened down and they got themselves settled. It stayed alive for a long time. Tuai did but the camp – the Kopara – everything faded away gradually you know. And now I think there’s one house and the memorial stone which stands about that high – you can hardly see it now – with all the men’s names on it.

And so your husband trained as a mechanic?

Yes, he was working more or less for his brother, but he was in charge of the four trucks and carting all this lime metal from Tahanui. Do you know where ..?

Yes, I know where that is.

From there at Humphrey Bailey’s you know – you come along the main road and there’s a hill and then you follow that? The road goes round that way and goes into the valley. Well that’s where they get the limestone.

My half-brother used to work for Humphrey Bailey.

Did he?

He was Sam Cooper. I asked you about him before, but you don’t remember him at all. He was a cattle … a stock man for Humphrey Bailey.

Yeah, he would have been quite young.

No, no, no, no – he was – he died 8 or 9 years ago. He would be about 110 now – 112.

Yes, he probably would be.

Yes. So your husband was with the trucks – looked after the trucks that carted the … yes.

Carted the metal, yeah. And the best thing my husband did was on Sports day on Saturday they have different sports and competitions. Norman was always proud of it. They used to load the truck with a metre of metal and they had to shovel that off and shovel it on again ha ha. [Speaking together]

And shovel it on again, oh, you’re joking!

to the deck of the truck, and he used to win ha ha. I can still see him.

Did he have his own workshop and garage eventually?


Yes – and where was that in Wairoa?

Oh, at North Clyde.

Over the river.

Do you know where the fish shop is?


Well opposite was Hedley – Brian Hedley was the owner. And then he started there until he bought into a share in metal, and the metal pit was just over the hill from where we lived. And Norman had half shares in that. And then when that finished up he took to bulldozing. He bulldozed the airport – oh, lots of places out at Mahia – right out at Mahia, he made roads and all that sort of thing. You know – as long as it was mechanical …

He was doing it.

… he was happy, yeah.

Did you know Karl Tong? The Tongs?

Yes, yes – I know Karl Tong.

 I went to school with Karl at Napier Boys’ High. ‘Cause they were earthmovers too weren’t they? 

A good family, the Tongs are … they made plenty of money in Wairoa.

Did they? So how long did your husband have the garage then?

Oh, not long. He never owned the garage.

No, but then when he went bulldozing and doing the roads …

Oh, yes – he worked for his brother. His brother really owned the machinery and he worked it. He could have whatever machinery he wanted, a bulldozer or trucks or whatever. As long as it was mechanical he was happy.

 And so – your children all went to school in Wairoa? 

Mine, no. Mine went to school at Opoutama. The school there’s closed now.

You went to school at Opoutama didn’t you? And did your children go to school at Opoutama as well?

Yes, up to a standard, then they had to move from on.

Yes. Your husband carried on earthmoving till he retired?

When he retired? he just stayed at home and pottered round, fixed the fences that had been broken down when we bought it. He just pottered round at home when he retired.

So what other exciting things did you do. Did you go into the bush much?

No. There was … fishing was one of his good hobbies.


No – line.

Whereabouts did he go?

Do you know Portland Island?


Only once we got to the end of Portland Island. HE bought a boat – Norman – and there were three of us, Joe Hedley and me and Norman was there that day, and we got to the end of Portland Island – first time. And I got sick because fishing, and I got some weight and I thought oh, I’ve got something. And I said “I’ve got something “. They said “Well wind it up”. I wind in mine … just about got to the top I think and it got off. So then they had to take me home because I was too sick. But I won competitions fishing – snapper … snapper competitions for the women. I used to win that. Catch a big one. That was his hobby mostly. Then we had go-karts. We used to go with the boys and take them go-karting right up to Tauranga.

Did you go to any of the fish shops at Mahia East? There used to be a fish shop …

No, no – there’s only one fish shop … oh, might have been 1½. Somebody else … privately …

They used to have fish and chips there didn’t they?

Yes, yes.

Can you remember who owned it?

No. It won’t come to me.

No, that’s alright. ‘Cause my wife’s people retired to Mahia. They built a house there and retired so we got to know Mahia very well.

Oh, good.

Because he used to go fishing too, but one day he was in his little 14ft boat out in front of the camping ground and he saw this big shark. It was as big as his boat. So he never went fishing again.

[Laughter] You’d be terrified wouldn’t you?

And every year I go to Mahia for 3 or 4 days – it’s a beautiful place. So, did you go for any other holidays … or did you go to Gisborne at all, or ..?

No, it has improved but they’re not baches any more. They’re houses.

Oh, they are houses.

Martin’s father’s got one, but he’s got a bach. It’s just one storey and it’s got the conveniences and they’re sorting out all the time, places where they could put people to sleep if they come, you know?

Yes, yes.

Oh no, my life was good. I had to work … work through the Catholic Church, you know … for women who were expecting babies and things like that. Nothing really exciting until I met Norman – then we had a bit of fun.

And so you lost Norman 10 years ago was it?


And here you are 99 and you’ve just had a hip replacement …


… at the Hastings Hospital. Your memory is just so sharp, isn’t it?

I don’t know.

It is. Martin, is there anything that your grandmother hasn’t told us about?

(Martin): Yeah, you could ask her about when Grandad worked for the Ministry of Works and he used to go to Portland Island and service the lighthouse.

Oh yes. Norman, yes – he went to the lighthouse, yes. I went across – the pilot – Bill Cookson – he came along and he said to me “Would you like to go for a ride?” and I said “Where?” and he said “I’ll take you over to Portland Island”. I said “Oh, yes, Norman’s over there, I’d love it”. He said “I’m taking over their food”. You know, groceries. And I said “yeah”. He said “be ready at such and such a time” and away we went. And it was good. Flying across the sea … straight across to Portland Island he said “What do you like, sausage rolls or just rolls?”. I said “Oh, I think rolls would be better”. And he turned around and said “there you are, you’ve had your roll”. Ha ha. He was a trick that man.

Oh, yes, I met him many years ago.

(Martin): And the lighthouse keeper used to like Drandad going to service the lighthouse because he milked the cow.

Did you hear that about the lighthouse keeper loved your husband going to the lighthouse because he milked the cow?

Yeah, he did, yes, that’s right. I think Martin’s got him up on the wall with that long [?].

(Martin): I have, yes. It’s how I know about it.

I said that’s where we made the mistake, Martin ’cause all those photos you got and put on the cross-cut saw … a lot of his grandfather. He’s done it up and it’s lovely. But I thought after that’s where the mistake was made like Norman sitting out in the paddock milking the cow. We should have had something underneath it saying this is Norman at Portland Island. Because other people, they wouldn’t have a clue.

I’ve landed at Portland Island. We went over by boat about 3 years ago and landed where the old shearing shed is …

Yes, that’d be down the bottom.

… and then we walked up to the lighthouse from there. It’s quite a big island isn’t it?

Yes, yes it is. Some nice treasures there … collectibles, shells and that. Lovely. Can get some nice things and – you know, interesting.

I know. When we came in to the little landing by the old woolshed, out on the beach there were all the shells on the beach and there in the shells was a skull, and it was part of a skeleton. And it had been washed out over the years by the rain and the sea and we didn’t disturb it … we left it there because it had been there for a long time. But one of our chaps was absolutely terrified there might have been a tapu on it, and the taniwha might have got after him. And I wrote him a letter saying – as if I was the skeleton – saying ‘thank you for visiting me today’ and – put the willies up. I don’t think he’d ever go there again. No, we used to go to the camping ground when the Fultons owned it. Were they there when you were at Wairoa? 

(Martin): Les Fulton, Nana. Les Fulton?

Fultons? They had the camping ground. They were there when we used to go there.

Oh yes.

 So, if there … I think that’s pretty well all …

(Martin): Only other thing I think that …

I think that Mahia – you could get a good story out there because the Army boats all came there during the war.


You know, they all settled there and they had their camp back towards the cemetery and they were supposed to have some marvellous things buried out there but nobody’s found them. Because when it was time to go they didn’t want to take them, you know? So they dug a big pit and put them all in.

They were funny, those Americans. My Mum and I – our transport was horses – we used to ride. So Mum said “oh, we’ll go down and have a look at the boats”. The boat was settled right out at sea, and they came in on big flat decks.

Yes – like landing crafts.

Yes. And the men would come in on that. And when we were there they came in and we got talking to them and they said “oh, have you got any horses handy?” and Mum said “Yes, why?” “Oh we’d like to have a ride”.

Yes, so anyway, that probably gives us a pretty good story of your life, doesn’t it?

I’ve had a good life. I had no problems with my marriage life. We used to disagree sometimes but then …

That’s normal though.

But we never fought or anything like that. We’d talk things over. If we could afford to get a car we’d get a car, but Norman wouldn’t go out and buy one and come home with … not telling me.

What sort of car? Can you remember the sort of cars you had?

Yeah, we had a Hudson. The Hudson – I must tell you this little bit. Howard – was courting a girl from Gisborne, and so he wanted to take her back to Gisborne so her and Howard’s wife decided they would get in the boot of the car and go there and then I’d be in the cab. And we got to Gisborne … it was quite a long time, when somebody said “where’s Joan? ”. “Oh, she’s in the boot of the car”. They’d forgotten that they’d shut her in.

What other sort of cars?

That’s a standard joke with them ha ha.

Can you remember any other cars?

Yes, a Hudson, a Hillman … Vauxhall – that was the one I liked. It was an English car wasn’t it?

Yes. Did you drive?

Yes. Up till we got a … what was it Martin, the latest one?

(Martin): Mitsubishi Gallant. Nana, can you tell Frank about the time you raced along – had a race – did 100 miles an hour – that was a Jag, wasn’t it? Can you tell that story?

He’s always having me on about the cars. Norman used to come out our back door – I’ve got a couple of seats there and any men come they sit down there and have a chat and a cup of tea.

Oh yes, yes, ‘Cause on the Frasertown Road there’s a nice stretch you know, and we raced along there, but we never got caught. We should have been. And then – that’s right, Norman used to sit on one of these chairs and watch me drive out and he was always afraid that I was going to crash the car. And I got tired of him watching me drive out the drive so I thought the best thing for me to do is to give up until we get a smaller car, and I did, and I’ve never driven since.

Even when you got the smaller car you didn’t drive again.

Yeah, wouldn’t have driven it, because he didn’t want his car scratched.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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