Kay Isobel Cooper Interview
Today is 25th September 2017. I’m interviewing Kay Isobel Cooper of Hastings. Kay is going to tell us about her family. Kay would you like to ..?
I’m going to talk about my father, Robert, first. He was born on the 3rd of February 1906 in Ecclesfield, in the County of York, West Riding, England. He was [from] a long line of Robert Brighams; as far as I’ve got, I’ve got them back to 1795. And there’s been other ones from each family; the oldest boys called their son Robert as well.
My father came to New Zealand as an eight-year-old and only child, and his father died not long after that. They were farming in Whangarei. Dad went to Whangarei Boys’ High School as a boarder from 1921 until 1925. He was in the rugby team each year. The 1925 Year Book referred to the First XV rugby team going to Auckland to play Mt Albert Grammar School, and that was a smooth trip. They actually went on a ship; the ship went from Whangarei port into Auckland port; and the train left Whangarei to get to the Onehara [Onerahi] Harbour, and then they went six to a cabin on the ship. Their match was at Eden Park, a curtain raiser to Auckland University and Wellington University and it was followed by a formal dinner and then sightseeing on Sunday. They left Auckland at eight pm Sunday, and were back at school by midday on Monday. He was a prefect in his senior years. I have photos of him as a prefect, and in athletic and rugby teams, and medals for the same. In Dad’s album is a school class photo labelled ‘Hukerenui South School, 1919’, with a young Dad standing at the back, so I presume that is the primary school he went to.
Dad was very active in the community, both in Eketahuna where … I was born in Dannevirke, but I don’t know what age I was when we moved to Eketahuna … and then we lived in Nelson for a while. He started up the St John Ambulance Brigade in Eketahuna in 1941, and was involved in being on duty at sports games and activities where the officers were needed. Dad had a large black painted wooden equal-sided suitcase that he made himself, with compartments and a perspex cover hooked over them on each side. The compartments were filled with bandages and medication in case needed. He was also a volunteer at St John; Divisional Superintendent for Eketahuna and Nelson until 1950 when he became Superintendent for the Nelson Cadet Ambulance Division.
He was posted to the Reserve in 1953. He attended the rugby matches in Nelson and my two brothers, Rob and Ian, and I often went with him. On two different occasions Ian and I were knocked out with a flying rugby ball, and our father used smelling salts to bring us round. He was also very active in scouting in Eketahuna, and became one of the major leaders, and organised groups and camping trips and seminars. He formed a Rover group there. He was also a member of the Masonic Lodge but we children knew nothing about what he did as he used to fob us off by saying that they rode goats. I recall that he went each Thursday night dressed in a dinner suit, with a white apron rolled up in a bag. He was Vice President of the Nelson South Swimming Club and actively helped at our swimming club nights and carnivals. He was also a member of the Nelson Bowling Club.
Dad had nicknames for all the family. Mum was Big Blossom; I was Little Blossom; Rob was Scob; and Ian, Ianabeanabainawoop; and Carol, Snowflake. Because he was born in Yorkshire in England, he teased us with words like ‘glim’ for light and ‘bung’ for cheese.
For some years dad was at the Wairarapa Farmers Limited in Eketahuna before opening a cycle and sports goods shop business there on his own account. On transferring to Nelson to manage the sports good department store at Burtons Limited, he later was employed by Wilkinson Field Limited before taking over Snowshill dairy and milk bar as an owner. Dad was very good at sport and must have enjoyed working with sports goods. At home he would string tennis rackets for sportsmen in his workshop at our house, and make leather sports bags. He made me a leather sheet music bag when I was learning to play the piano accordion, and then the piano.
His vegetable garden covered the whole of our backyard with every kind of vegetable. Raspberries, loganberries, gooseberries grew up one side of the section; at the front of the house was a large lawn with trees and flower gardens that the children played ball in, made high jumps and daisy chain necklaces. During winter nights Dad joined us in one of our activities playing a type of indoor cricket in the entrance hall of our house. We had a large two storeyed house, and the stairs went up one side of the hall; and we played with mache balls and softball bats, and more than once the lightbulb was broken. I don’t recall my mother growling at us. He also had a very large collection of European and Maori smoking pipes in his workshop that he had collected. Dad made home brew beer and experimented with all kinds of fruit wines which we were allowed to sip on special occasions. He loved having friends in for parties and singing all the popular songs around the piano. He could not play the piano himself, but a friend, Tony Scott, could play anything at all. I used to sneak out of bed and sit in my bedroom doorway listening to the music.
Dad was a keen car enthusiast, and we seemed to change our cars very frequently; and in fact when I was in my early teens and not keen to go on the usual every Sunday drives, I did not get to ride in one or two of the cars. The Sunday drives we all loved as children, because part of the ritual was taking the thermette in a small sack with kindling and paper to light a fire under it when we got to the destination, and that boiled water for our afternoon tea drinks.
We usually went to the beach at Tahunanui or Kaiteriteri Beach and the Maitai River. After we had played for about an hour or so we were called for afternoon tea, with a hot drink and home-made cake and biscuits baked by mum each week. Occasionally we were allowed to buy an ice cream at the store at the beach. We had lovely holidays; one that I remember when still living in Eketahuna, was camping under the pine trees at Foxton Beach. Mum and Dad had a large tent for their sleeping, and family eating. Rob, Ian and I slept in a trailer that had a large metal frame covered with canvas over it, much like the cowboy and Indian films that we saw. Being under the pines in what seemed like a forest to me, and the tent and the cowboys and Indians trailer’s all that I remember about the holiday. About two years ago I took Melissa, our youngest child, and her children to look around Foxton Beach as I had not been there since I was a child, and I reminisced about that childhood memory.
Other times Dad organised home swaps with other families who had homes in Wellington and Christchurch and we were able to explore new territory in cities. I was about twelve years old I think, when we were in Christchurch, and I went raspberry picking to buy myself a Tip Top watch. I had been given a watch by my parents when I was younger, but it had a large face and wide strap which I did not think fashionable, and I wanted one like everyone else had. In later years I could not bear to be the same as everyone else.
Another exciting holiday was to Takaka, Collingwood and Farewell Spit. We stayed in the only hotel in Collingwood which was a wooden two storeyed old building with metal fire escape ladders down one side. I embarrassed myself badly when my parents were having before-dinner drinks in the lounge bar, and I was fiddling with my white bead necklace around my neck when the string broke, and they scattered all over the wooden floor. I think I was ten years old and was feeling very grown up and privileged. Once again I flushed bright red. We visited Pupū [Te Waikoropupū] Springs, the largest springs in the Southern Hemisphere; tame eels that we fed with blancmange on a spoon; stalactite and stalagmite caves near Takaka. At Farewell Spit dad raced down the beach in his car with us children screaming with encouragement.
Dad died in 1957 when he was fifty-one, of a coronary infarction. He had had his normal early morning cold shower in the upstairs bathroom when he felt enormous pain, and Mum called an ambulance. He died in hospital after a few days, and since then great strides have been made for this condition.
My mother was Winifred Beryl Davis, known as Beryl, and she was born on the 14th January 1916, in Ashburton. She died in 1996 at eighty years old, in Hastings. She and my father married on the 25th February 1939 in Ashburton. She was the youngest of three children to George Edmund, born 19th January 1883, and Sarah Ellen Davis née Rowberry, born 1885. My mother lived her early years in Christchurch, and reminisced; as a child, walked over the hills to Lyttelton for picnics with her family, and commented how far it was. When still young her father was transferred to Dannevirke as the Gasworks Manager, and he died there in 1925 when my mother was nine years old. Her brother, Hugh, was born in March 1910, and he was six years older; and then my mother’s sister, Enid, was four years older, born 10th September 1911.
Hugh’s first wife, Pamela, died only a few years after they were married, and we children only knew Aunty Billie … Noeleen, the second wife … whom he married soon after. They had no children and they were very well off as Uncle Hugh made a lot of money early in his life by fixing motorbikes and buying hotel properties. They treated us like adults when we children visited and were allowed a small glass of port to drink before dinner, and to smoke a cigarette if we wished. That was amazing. Amazingly, only Ian out of the four of us ever took up smoking for a brief time. I have a very annoying habit to other family members which I feel I inherited from Uncle Hugh, because he had to have every speck of fat taken from his meat before eating it, and I used to do the same; I still do, actually. Consequently, we were behind everybody else at the table, finishing our meals. I actually rarely eat red meat now although not because of the fat. I was told in my twenties that red meat went putrid in one’s stomach before being expelled, and I have mostly eaten white meat and fish ever since. Another reason was that I had severe migraines at that time too, and I was experimenting eliminating certain foods from my diet to see whether that helped.
My mother’s mother was widowed early, and they managed frugally after the First World War when there was no father in their lives, until Hugh started working. And he helped his mother financially. My mother worked in a legal office in Dannevirke when she left school. In her late teens Mum had rheumatoid arthritis in her feet, and was bedridden for a year. She knitted lots of garments during her confinement and won prizes for her effort. Later, when married and throughout our childhood, she knitted dresses for Carol and I in different colours and jerseys for all of her family. She taught us to be proficient knitters, too; as well as teaching us to sew our own clothes in our teens, which I did through my married life. And I knitted clothes and sewed for my three children too.
Mum had all her teeth removed as a supposed cure for arthritis, in those days when she had the arthritis; and now, in 2017, it does not bear thinking about those archaic methods. She was left with deformed hammer toes and enlarged big toe joints and her feet gave her enormous pain for the rest of her life. Uncomplaining, it was only when one of us children accidentally bumped or knocked against her feet that we realised what pain she had. She always had trouble getting soft shoes that fitted her feet and was very conscious of how they looked. They very quickly became misshapen. I know that she tried to wear fashionable shoes when I was in my teens, as I was able to fit them too and loved wearing them around the house playing ‘ladies’.
When we moved to Hastings, Mum went to a specialist, Mr Tane, and he suggested cutting off three toes on each foot and reducing the bone on each big toe. She agreed, and he removed the three smaller toes on each foot, intending to remove the ones next to the big toe and big bone at a later date. However, Mum was in such terrible pain in recovery there was no way she was going back. In fact the amputations did not improve her pain or being able to get shoes. The remaining toes bent towards the stumps left, and made balance and wearing shoes even more difficult. A shoe shop in Mahora, Hastings, [was] opened by Noel and Margaret Sutherland about the early to mid-seventies, where mum was able to buy a particular brand of soft shoe that she could wear and tolerate when out socially; but it was still the first thing she discarded on her return home. When the shop closed after a few years her only option then was to get specially made shoes from Napier Hospital. She loathed these ugly shoes and felt very conspicuous in them. She got Parkinsons at age seventy, and because that creates low blood pressure she had difficulty in staying on her deformed feet; and in the last two years of her life wore knitted booties as she could not bear shoes on her feet and needed a walking frame.
Back to 1959 – when Mum had been widowed for two years or so, Mum married Eric Lawrence Taylor after Dad had died. And Eric was [at] an RSA reunion in Wellington two years beforehand; and Dad’s stepbrother, whom I have mentioned we did not know, suggested that he introduce himself to Mum as she had been recently widowed. When my siblings and I asked questions about our father and our lives with him before his death, she would put us off by saying, “Not now, dear”, as she did not want to talk in front of Eric about our father. Naturally Rob, Ian and I were very resentful that this man had come into our lives, and we were rather unpleasant to him. When I was a mother myself, I realised how good he was to Mum, and how difficult it would have been for her, left alone with three teenagers and a much younger child at forty-one years old. Eric had not been married before. Thinking back now I realise how difficult it would have been for him too, coping with belligerent and resentful teenagers. Carol was only seven when Dad died, and [being] much younger she accepted him much more readily.
Eric Lawrence Taylor was born on the 17th February 1916, and after the war he started Overland Transport with Bruce Halstead, carting Cascade beer over the Taihape Road. He later worked at the Heretaunga Dairy Company and the Pakowhai Shingle Company. He was a middleweight champion boxer and wrestler, and used the name Eric King. He was also nicknamed ‘Pinky’. He volunteered for World War II when he was 18 years old and served in Egypt, Greece, Cassino and Crete. Eric told us a story of while he was in Greece – the soldiers, he included, were drinking red wine from the large wine vats, and one of them fell in and drowned and the rest of them kept drinking.
Nicknames – Mum was called Bill and Billie by Auntie Enid because she could not say Beryl when they were children. And as I have mentioned dad called her Blossom – in fact it became Big Bloss, as he called me Little Blossom. Eric, our stepfather, called my mother Henry; I don’t know why he did that.
Mum had a group of friends both in Nelson and then Hastings when the ladies or girls they called themselves took turns having afternoon tea. When we children arrived home after school we were allowed into the sitting room to say good afternoon to her friends, and to choose two pieces of cake or biscuit from the afternoon tea trolley. When we were older and even into adulthood, we teased Mum about when she said she was going to ‘girls’, or ‘the girls were coming to her’, and they were probably in their late sixties, seventies and nearly eighties at that stage.
She was supportive to older women on their own who lived near us and she was always visiting, taking food and caring for them. She was very good friends with Joan Dawson, who she first met in Dannevirke about 1941 through Auntie Enid. Later by chance they met up again in Eketahuna, as Joan went to live with her in-laws while Andrew, her husband, was serving [in] World War II. Joan tells me that she and Mum went to the movies every Saturday night with a blanket and a hot water bottle each, as the hall had no heating in those days. They kept in touch while we lived in Nelson. Again coincidentally, they lived in Hastings at the same time, and were able to see each other frequently and talk over problems over the telephone. Joan said she considered Mum to be the sister she did not have. When we lived in Eketahuna, I remember Mum doing exercises on the lounge floor on a pale, creamy fawn shag pile carpet. This was in 1949, and I used to lie with her and copy every movement she made. Mum had a very good figure and upright bearing and wore very fashionable clothes. I was mortified more than once when adults commented that she and I could be taken for sisters; this was when I was in my mid-teens. We were both slim and had red curly hair, and I didn’t know till later on that at that time Mum was obviously pregnant with Carol; and when we moved to Nelson Carol was born only a few months later, so she was still doing exercises obviously when she was pregnant.
In the morning she wore what she called ‘morning clothes’ for the house chores, and in the afternoon she changed into ‘afternoon clothes’ with fresh lipstick to greet dad when he arrived home from work. Another memory is when we were obviously packing up house to move to Nelson from Eketahuna. Mum was burning rubbish on the family room fire when the chimney caught alight, and she threw an enormous amount of salt onto it to successfully dampen it down. The fire brigade station was not far from us, but I do not remember them coming.
Dad was already seven months in Nelson; he had moved there earlier and bought a house for us all to move. I inadvertently set the chimney alight years later in 1979 at Thompson Road, and remembered my mother’s solution, which was also successful.
I don’t remember exactly, but one or two years after we moved to Hastings, Mum started working for Farmers Trading Company as a fashion buyer for women’s clothing, which I realised in later years was very resourceful of her, as she had not worked in paid employment all the years of her marriage to Dad. She went on clothes buying trips to Auckland, and because of her dislike and fear of flying she went by train from Hastings to Palmerston North where she had to change to get another train from Palmerston North to Auckland, and return the same way. When we flew from Wellington when we were leaving Eketahuna, we flew on a Fokker Friendship – I think that’s what they’re called – and [it] seemed very bare inside; like all tin around, and my mother was absolutely horrified. And that’s why she had this fear of flying, she said never again was she going to do that. I went on a holiday once from Nelson to Wellington, and they had the boat called the ‘Ngaio’ then, that went overnight.
Mum seemed to have loss and tragedy in her life when her father died when she was so young; the rheumatoid arthritis; then her mother was killed tragically a few months after my dad died; and then Dad dying when she was only forty-one; then Robert, my older brother, died when he was thirty-six; and finally she outlived Eric, her second husband. She seemed to be a calm and a cheerful, contented person, although I think she kept the peace, and a lot to herself.
I’ve already mentioned – and this is probably a bit disjointed – but my father died … Bob he was called as a nickname … in June 1957 when I was 16 and my mother at forty-one years of age was left with three teenagers and one seven year old, and obviously so devastated she would not talk about her life with Dad to us. In those days, in the ‘stiff upper lip’ English tradition, adults did not talk about or include children in the deaths of their parents. In fact Carol, my sister, was seven at the time and was thought too young to attend the funeral; something she’s never forgotten about and still feels resentful.
A few months after Dad’s death, Mum sold the large, wooden two storeyed – probably early 1900s – house in Nelson, and uprooted us all to Hastings where we all stayed with Auntie Enid, her husband and our uncle, Ernie, and youngest daughter and our oldest cousin, Brenda. Also living there was Nana, my mother’s mother and Enid’s mother. She was too frail to live in her own flat in Palmerston North. The plan was that she would live six months with Auntie Enid in Hawke’s Bay and six months in Nelson with our family. However, after her first trip to Nelson, she vowed she would never fly to us again in the Fokker Friendship planes of the day, so Auntie Enid had her full time. So one of the reasons my mother moved to Hastings was that she could once again take her turn in having Nana for the six months of each year. The other reason for moving to Hastings was my mother had always felt very isolated in Nelson, from her mother, sister, brother and families all living in the North Island, because the only way to get to the North Island was by air; and I’ve already mentioned about the overnight ship, the ‘Ngaio’, but that was discontinued, presumably because it was uneconomic. Actually my mother was also terrified of flying for the rest of her life.
Oh – I’ve got here that we went in an old Douglas Dakota DC3 to Nelson in the first place; so I’ve got the wrong plane – with no air pressure and very bumpy. And I’ve said already Dad was in Nelson, so it was doubly terrifying for Mum with the three children and heavily pregnant.
Mum disliked the house in Nelson, as Dad had bought it previous to the move from Eketahuna as men seemed to do in those days, without consultation of [with] wives. Mum was seven months pregnant with Carol, and the rest of us – me eight years, Rob seven and Ian nearly six – it would’ve been impossible for her to travel to Nelson prior to living there to help choose a house. On arrival I can remember my mother being shocked at this large, cold-seeming two storeyed house with big verandahs on two sides.
After Dad died I often think about how we Brighams descended on Auntie Enid and her family, and took over her large old home. My two brothers slept in a tent in the backyard as it was summertime. Within six months my mother had bought a section in Riverslea Road South, and a new, compact, three-bedroomed and open living bungalow was built by Morgan Brothers, a firm well-known in Hastings, and we moved there about April or May 1958. I realise now that [at] an early stage of my life I was introduced to death and the trauma of loss of loved ones when I was young, because with Nana dying only a few months later.
I’m Kay Cooper, and I was born in Dannevirke on the 4th April 1941. I was the first children to Robert and Beryl Brigham. My parents married on the 25th of February 1939 in Ashhurst [?Ashburton?] when Dad was thirty-five and Mum twenty-five. Her brother Hugh was best man, and her sister Enid the bridesmaid; and her daughter, Doreen, who was four or five years old, was flower girl. Mum wore a cream satin slim gown and carried white lilies. I don’t know the colours of the attendants’ dresses. For the occasion, sepia photographs show the men wearing lounge suits carrying what looked like white gloves. The dresses were long with wide stripes, dark and light, so as I said I don’t know the colours. My parents had four children – there was me, then Robert Hugh, born on 27th August 1942, Ian Raymond, born 18th October 1943, and six years later Carol Lynley, born 2nd November 1949. I inherited very red, very curly hair with pale English skin which freckled in the sun; in fact I have often thought I looked a bit like Janet Frame, the author, with her bushy red hair. Mum also had red hair but no freckles and she assured me that when I was in my late teens they would disappear. Lies. They never did.
We lived in Dannevirke for two and a half years, and Eketahuna until I was eight, when the family moved to Nelson, which I’ve mentioned; and we lived there for eight years. Dad died in [on] 20th June 1957 when I was sixteen. After he died it left a huge hole in my life, and took a long time to accept. In fact a short time after Dad’s death, and in August 1957 when the family had moved to Hastings, my brother Rob and I got arthritis in our feet, which made them very painful and swollen. This could’ve been on account of the stress we felt at the time; we were a disjointed family without a father, and it did affect us all badly. My feet got better because I was competitively swimming over six months or so, and Rob was in hospital for a very long time; and he was taking aspirin by the handfuls. Months later my feet improved and got better over the summer, swimming. Rob’s feet were so painful that he was not able to walk, and spent months in Hastings Memorial Hospital and then Rotorua Hospital. During the winter of 1958 he came back walking again which we thought of as a miracle, but he had to swallow handfuls of aspirin for pain. And he died of cancer at thirty-six years old, leaving a wife and four small children; and I firmly believe it was started off with bleeding from the kidneys after he’d been taking all these Aspro. I have had stress-related problems ever since then, like migraines, iritis, which is a stickiness at the back of the eye, and untreated can cause blindness; and is a type of arthritis.
Our first year in Hastings was horrible and a difficult time in many ways for me. However, I was employed straight away and was welcomed by the Heretaunga Swimming Club through contacts from Nelson. I have fond memories of meeting Robyn Skittrup and her family who welcomed me to their home on many occasions. Robyn and I became good friends and later she became my bridesmaid when I married.
I worked in office administration when I left school, at Roach’s Department Store, which was also organised by a firm in Nelson. And then I worked at Farm Mechanisation, with part-time fashion modelling for two retailers, McKay’s Department Store in Nelson, and Roach’s Limited, Hastings; and fundraising for charities. In 1959 I went to the Blossom Festival dance with friends and met Frank Cooper. I was seventeen years old. Little did I know then the impact of that occasion; two years later we became engaged, and married when I was twenty years old, on 3rd June 1961, at St Matthew’s Church in Hastings. Frank was Presbyterian, and Reverend Button from the Anglican Church insisted that Frank be baptised before he married me. Frank always felt rather resentful about that. We’d planned to build a house on the farm, and had plans drawn up with Frank’s eighty-four year old father’s agreement; but he reneged at the last minute. In fact, Frank’s very controlling father had refused to meet me or attend our wedding. He told Frank he thought him too young at twenty-three years old to marry. Four years later I drove to the farm with Craig, our first baby in my arms, and introduced myself nervously to the father at the milking shed. He was very pleasant; and after a few minutes told me they had “Work to do, girly”, and I’d better be off.
To start married life we rented a house in Nimon Street, Havelock North for six months while owners Don and Pam Burgess were overseas. For the next two years after that we rented the Robertson’s old family home in Brookvale Road, as they had built a new home on another part of their orchard. That meant we were nearer to the dairy farm where Frank was employed by his father in Thompson Road, Havelock North.
Frank had not received wages from his father – also Frank – for his years of working on Spring Farm. There was a promise of inheritance which did not eventuate, but that is another story. In lieu of wages, his father purchased a Ferguson tractor, mower, rake and discs, for Frank to set up a business spraying crops and grasses for farmers around the Hawke’s Bay plains. An agreement was set up with his uncle, Bob Wilson, to mow his grass for hay each season. The business was Cooper Specialised Weed Control and gave us our income. His father died at ninety-three years old in 1970, and his mother, who now owned the farm, paid Frank and Jim for their work on the family farm.
I loved being in Brookvale Road where we had chooks, bobby calves and a cat and a dog. There was a stand of plum trees on the section which I sold at the weekend from the gate to passing public, as well as watermelons that Frank grew on the farm. Finally in March 1964 we were able to put a deposit on a small wooden three-bedroomed house in Pufflett Road, from money that Frank’s mother, Maisie, gave us from an inheritance she had received.
I was seven months pregnant with Craig when I left my employment at Farm Mechanisation Ltd. During the last month of pregnancy and with extraordinary energy, I painted the outside of our newly acquired house. I can still remember it being [a] pale creamy colour with white trim around the windows. Craig was born on 16th May 1964, and Garth was born one year later on 21st May 1965. I had acute back problems after birthing Garth, and was hospitalised for treatment and wore a back brace for several years until it improved. Mum was wonderful support during those years; that was so helpful as Frank was working very long hours, seven days a week. Because of ongoing pain and problems I was advised by my doctor, Ian Abernethy, not to have more children.
Frank and I didn’t feel our family was complete, and made inquiries to adopt. In May 1967 rather earlier than we had planned we were advised about a baby girl born in Waipukurau Hospital. She was six weeks old. It was an exciting trip, with Frank and I and the small boys in their pyjamas, driving down one evening and seeing her for the first time. She was a blonde, golden-skinned baby, and we just could not leave her behind. With cooperation from nursing staff at the hospital, she travelled home with us the same evening. After six months waiting period in case her birth mother changed her mind, we were able to legally adopt Melissa.
Keirunga Gardens was across the road from our home in Pufflett Road, and we enjoyed many hours and happy recreational times in this lovely reserve. The property, circa 1905, had an interesting history, and the owners of the property, the Nelson Trust, gave the land and house to the then Havelock North Borough Council. In the mid 1960s they could not afford the upkeep. I became part of a group of volunteers who gardened and tidied the grounds, and I spent hours there while Melissa was in the pushchair or running around when the boys were at school and kindergarten. We had happy years in Pufflett Road with the children and we all made good friends. Frank and I were both involved with the children’s activities and I had played badminton and then got keen on squash where we made more friends.
In 1976 the architect, Peter Holland, designed a three-bedroom concrete block and timber framed house for a site in Thompson Road. While the house was being built, we lived in two caravans on the site for eight months, because our house in Pufflett Road had sold more quickly than anticipated. We moved in in August 1976. I designed and created a very large garden, landscaping the converted paddocks. I planted lots of roses, spring bulbs, and English-style trees over a three-acre area. Frank built a large water pond from natural springs which the family call ‘The Lake’.
Earlier, in the mid 1970s, because dairy farming was no longer viable with increasing land values, Frank and his brother, Jim, planted apples for export, grapes for McWilliams Wines and peaches, tomatoes and squash for Wattie Canneries, to increase and create viable income for three families to live on. In [the] 1977 fruit season I decided again to pack export apples for a neighbouring orchard. In the years from 1959 to 1963, Frank and I and my brother Ian had all worked packing export apples and pears for Archie Palmers, for four hours each evening as well as working our daytime jobs.
‘Bout 1981 I started working for Brian Townsend Furnishers. I was a consultant on interior concepts, and advising on colour schemes and selecting curtains and upholstery. Also I was doing the monthly accounts for him. This was in a part-time capacity, as Melissa was still at high school. In March 1985 I started working full time at Whakatu Wool Scour Limited, to work in the office, and I was there twenty-three years.
The family had settled easily and happily to living and being involved on the land, instead of being bystanders to Frank’s working life; and all seemed to be well until the recession hit New Zealand in the middle to late 1980s. The sharemarket crashed, interest rates and land values had increased greatly, jobs disappeared, houses and farming land had to be sold. In our case, because we had borrowed heavily for the developments ten years earlier, it became difficult to keep the farm financially viable, and we had to sell under pressure in 1989. The previous few years had been shaky because of the increasingly high interest paid to the bank. It was like – 28%! I also wrote letters to the government of the day, the Labour Party, saying how difficult it was for farmers paying that kind of money; but it doesn’t make any difference, does it? Wattie’s no longer wanted local peaches only three years after we had planted; they could get them cheaper from China. And also, we had a contract with McWilliams Wines to supply Sauvignon Blanc to them; they realised after two years being planted that they had too many grapes, and offered growers $4 a vine to pull them out, which our accountant suggested we do. This had been an enormously stressful time for a few years, trying to hang in there.
After the sale of the farm, with no money left, Frank and I moved to a town house in Ballantyne Street in Hastings, where we stayed for four years. However, it was not the happiest time in our lives, and after the trauma of leaving the farm and our home there, I was exceptionally unhappy.
I decided in 1990 to travel to Britain for a working holiday for five months. I was able to take time off from my employment at Whakatu Wool Scour, as it had been changed from Robert Ferrier, I think. I lived-in as a companion for elderly people in Central London, then Deal, and then the New Forest, with time to explore and sight see each day. It was actually a wonderful time, because I worked in the mornings, had the afternoons free and then did breakfast and meals at night; and they didn’t eat very much.
After two months Melissa joined me and we backpacked and stayed in hostels through Ireland, United Kingdom and Europe. And it was my first time backpacking; I didn’t have a proper pack, but it worked out really well. It was a wonderful time and I was very reluctant to come back to New Zealand.
In December 1993, I moved from Ballantyne Street to live on my own in Queen Street, Hastings. After one year Frank and I attempted reconciliation but it was not successful. Although I am still married to him, we have not lived together since December 2003. Today I am well settled in my 1926 old character house. I am an avid reader and have belonged to book discussion groups for a long time. I love films of all kinds, including international films; I take an interest in local politics, and right now we’ve just come through the 217  politics, which is still not decided … which side is going to win the polls.
Over the years I’ve taken part in many community affairs, like Anglican Young Wives, share investment groups, school committees, the Suffrage and International Women’s Committee, and a businesswomen’s group. Also I was president of Plunket Mothers and the Women’s Dinner Club. I have tried all sorts of hobbies like painting, basket weaving, pottery, art, history, etc, at night classes. In the 1970s as part of the Anglican Young Wives Group we played tennis in the summer at Fox Roger’s private courts in Greenwood Road, taking turns to look after our young children while mothers played. In the winter we played badminton at the St Luke’s Hall (which is now no longer standing), and the children were looked after by the other mothers in the supper room. Sport had played a big part in my life; as well as swimming, I had played netball, badminton, squash and golf, all with passion, and I managed to achieve a 9 handicap at golf. I have been a volunteer for Women’s Refuge, Meals on Wheels, school reading, taking boys’ sewing at Havelock Intermediate, and Connections Hospice Shop, the Cancer Society, and children’s reading at Riverslea School.
Other than visiting Australia numerous times over the years, as brother Ian and his family have lived there since the late 1960s, I didn’t start travelling on my own to further countries until 1990 when I was forty-nine years old. Since then I have explored countries new to me and would like to think there will be new adventures in the future.
I’ve written down a few special memories, so I’ll start talking about those if I remember things. I must’ve been between eighteen months and two and a half years old when the family moved to Eketahuna, as my brother Robert was born in August 1942 in Dannevirke, and it was October 1943 when my second brother Ian was born in Eketahuna. My first memories were in Alfredton Road, Eketahuna, and we were living in a wooden style bungalow with the passage up the centre of the house and rooms each side, with a big living room/kitchen at the back. My own bedroom had a tallboy with a hinged lid with a set-in mirror; and on it a green flower vase with embossed flowers that got broken. I now think that happened when the lid came down accidentally, so … it’s just a little memory.
Another memory that has always stuck in my mind was early one dark morning, Rob was in his cot and Dad had left for work and Mum was chasing and shouting at sheep that had got into our vegetable garden.
Another one was a little boy next door called David Hansen, I think his name was. We were playing doctors and nurses and I poked a stick in his ear and got into trouble from his mother.
When I started school I was not allowed – on doctor’s orders – to sit on the floor mat as all new entrants did in those days, because of a kidney chill. At home I remember laying on a wooden armed, cushioned couch in the kitchen/living room to convalesce. Only years later did I find out that Nana Davis has Bright’s kidney disease, and Mum was worried that I may have inherited the same.
When I was about six years old I had my first experience in a huge thunderstorm which absolutely terrified me. When my mother was comforting me, she explained that it was the fairies moving house and the packers had dropped the piano down the stairs. A totally believable story for me. I told it to my own children and then my grandchildren who were more sceptical.
During 1947 history tells me there was a polio epidemic in New Zealand, although I have no memory of this; and only when I moved to Nelson and met Yvonne Rollo’s older sister, Nancy, who had the withered leg and a big boot from polio, which I did not know anything about at that time. Friends my age today, in 2017, cannot believe I knew nothing about it; but as I have mentioned I seem to have gone through a dreamy or protected life as a young girl. [Chuckle] I was probably still reading all the time.
Still in Eketahuna we then moved to a more modern house in Church Street, which was opposite the local swimming baths where my father taught me to swim. Because he had the key we were able to go there very frequently, and I soon became a very proficient and competitive swimmer, winning provincial and school titles from them on until I was seventeen years old. My father taught me to swim, as far as I can remember, but he put a canvas belt around my middle which had a hook in it, and he used a long pole that he held on to while I swam backwards and forwards on the width – obviously until I could swim without the pole.
When I was eight the family moved to Nelson to live in the early 1900s two-storeyed house at Waimea Road where we were there for eight years; and then Dad died, as I’ve said. I feel that life in Nelson was uneventful but was obviously enjoyable and happy as all I can remember are happy memories. On our first day at the Nelson Hampden Street School after we had moved, Rob, Ian and I were sent off on our own, which may have been normal in those days; not like today where often both parents see their little darlings to inside the classroom on their first day. Perhaps Mum was pregnant with Carol, and Dad having gone to work made a difference, but I still cannot work out why we were going on our own. I was extremely lucky, although I didn’t know it at the time; when I was met outside my home by Yvonne Rollo, who lived two doors down and asked me if I’d like to walk to school with her. Obviously that was my saving grace, as my brothers, Rob and Ian, were so scared of going to school alone that they hid behind the Rising Sun Hotel, which was between home and school. I did not know about this at the time and heard the story years later. I think I was a very unobservant child as I seemed to be unaware of lots of happenings during my childhood.
During these years we had been taught lots of rules and regulations like always wear clean underwear in case you have an accident; don’t cut toenails and fingernails on Sunday; only common girls have pierced ears or ankle bracelets – a rage when I was in my early teens; and then only rough girls play hockey; and only wear black for funerals, and so on. I must’ve been a reasonable pupil as I seemed to manage well the subjects of academia, and apart from talking too much, don’t recall being in trouble at any time. I was at the Hampden Street School until Standard 4. I then started at Nelson Intermediate where I was streamed into the second highest class which was Room 6 with Mrs Kane, my teacher, a short, stout, white-haired woman.
Next door to us lived the Spencer family with five boys who all played the bagpipes as did their father. They used to practise the reed in the evenings, walking up and down their back path. Tears still come to my eyes whenever I hear and see the bagpipes.
I was a good all-rounder at athletics as well as swimming, so was reasonably popular. For some reason I disliked sewing at Intermediate School, and one time my teacher made me bicycle back home about three miles to get my sewing that I had left behind. Her perseverance must’ve worked, as in my teens I made dresses at home for the swimming socials, as we girls chose to have a new dress each time. For years I sewed for myself and beautiful clothes for Melissa, and knitted for all the family and for friends who could not knit.
My secondary years were spent at Nelson College for Girls where I took commercial classes, as my father felt that office work would be a suitable occupation for girls. Why he did not suggest nursing or teaching as lots of girls my age were choosing I do not know – not that I had any leaning towards either, anyway. Because I was good at sport I had a wide group of friends at school, but my special friends were Yvonne, whom I met when I first arrived in Nelson at eight, and Maylene and Annette who all swam competitively so we saw lots of each other; after school hours too. I still keep in touch and quite often with Yvonne and Maylene.
Now I’m going to talk about swimming, because that was my huge love for eight years … eight or nine or something. Swimming was my love; from eight years old until seventeen I trained each morning at six am for an hour, and again in the evening for another hour. We didn’t swim in the winter time in those days like they do now because there was [were] no pools; they were all outside cold water pools. I belonged to Nelson South Swimming Club in Hampden Street, and swam in the competitions each week; and also at Nelson Swimming Club for carnivals. The club went to Blenheim for us to compete against the Marlborough Swimming Club, and each year we competed at the Nelson-Marlborough Swimming Championships where I invariably won breaststroke and butterfly races. My claim to fame was being breaststroke and butterfly champion for Nelson-Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay most years, and competing in Dunedin at the New Zealand Championships, but only managed a third there.
When living in Eketahuna from when I was five to eight, we lived across the road from the swimming pool, so using the pole is a bit like learning to ride a bicycle; when the teacher holds onto the seat and lets go, they feel the learner can manage on their own. I presume we children in our family were all taught to swim in that way, but only Ian became interested as well as I; and he was also a breaststroke champion and butterfly swimmer for Nelson and Hawke’s Bay.
Dad had encouraged us in all sports, and joined us to a tennis club even when we were quite young. Again, only Ian and I showed any aptitude to sport and we were also good at athletics. As mentioned, my speciality from my early years was breaststroke, and I was improving at a rapid rate at primary school and at the swimming club because of the recognition I was getting then. I remember standing at morning assembly at Hampden Street Primary School on the tennis court as there was no assembly hall and I was called out as the most improved swimmer. I felt so embarrassed at being called out and when bright pink. The ultimate embarrassment and shame was not knowing which hand to hold out for the headmaster to shake; I soon learned, because in the next ten years I had to go and get prizes or silver cups frequently for swimming; unfortunately not for academia. I also became proficient at butterfly which was a reasonably new swimming stroke in New Zealand at that time, and we swam it in those days with a breaststroke kick which was easy for me; and I won competitions for that stroke too. It wasn’t until I was about sixteen years old that the dolphin kick came into fashion, and I found that I did not have the strength to swim that proficiently. Maylene swam backstroke, Annette was a breaststroke swimmer like me, and Yvonne was a diver; and besides training together, we biked together and socialised during weekends and after school. I still keep in close contact with Maylene, who is in Maroochydore, Australia; and Yvonne still in Nelson.
In Nelson the social side the swimming club was very important, especially at the start of our teenage years as we spent every day of every weekend swimming and playing at and in the pool with a big group of boys and girls. We also had frequent evening socials on Saturday night during the winter at the school hall. On Saturday afternoon the girls made thin sliced white bread sandwiches filled with tinned spaghetti of all things, for supper. We danced the evenings away and got pashes [crushes] on different boys in turn. It all seemed very innocent, and great times.
During the season on carnival and club nights trestle tables were set up beside the pool, and helper parents offered cups of tea and scones or pikelets to swimmers and spectators alike. For us younger children it was a great excuse to stay up later, as in my siblings’ and my case our parents were very strict on early to bed rules – certainly compared to my friends. Both my mother and father were the volunteers for making the suppers afterwards as well at the pool, and very involved. When we went to Blenheim for carnivals, we travelled in a hired bus together with coaches and swimmers singing popular songs or being silly, as teenagers do. [It] was wonderful, and we were still mindful that we were competing and wanting to win when we got there.
When Mum, Rob, Ian, Carol and I moved to Hastings, Ian and I were welcomed to the Heretaunga Swimming Club by Ron Shakespeare, who was the swimming president for Hawke’s Bay at that time, and had been contacted by the Nelson Swimming Club. Being extremely unhappy and vulnerable because of Dad’s sudden death, it was a blessing to be involved so soon in something I loved, and I made good friends with Robyn Skittrup who also swam breaststroke. I often thought that she may have wished I hadn’t come to Hastings as she was the top breaststroke swimmer until I came and so we were rivals as well as friends. Some of the parents were not pleased that I had come as a rival to Robyn and yelled out encouragement to her during races.
Again, there was great camaraderie with the other boy and girl members. At the weekend and after swimming carnivals, we went to Murray Cesarini’s dairy in Heretaunga Street East for milkshakes, creaming sodas or icecream sundaes. This was when I was sixteen and seventeen years old and a senior swimmer at the club. It all seems so innocent now in 2017, and we did not even think about hanging around the streets or outside pubs as most of us still had to be home at a reasonable hour, like about ten pm.
When I was seventeen years old and a year after arriving in Hastings, I met Frank Cooper at a Blossom Festival dance where I went with friends from work; so swimming took a back seat from there on. It was a great era for me, and I still believe that in [if] teenagers are involved in some kind of sport or ballet or music today, then those years are filled with practice and passion; and beside being occupied in a great way they have something to look back on with fondness.
I’m just going to tell you now about the eights in my life; I’ve noticed that when I was doing some family history that the eights kept on coming up, so I’m just going to mention now the eights in my life:
Melissa was eight when we moved to the farm; she was eight when I had iritis, which was quite a major thing in my life at the time; Carol is eight years younger than me; I was eight years old when we moved from Eketahuna to Nelson; Jacqueline, my granddaughter, was eight when I started doing the family history [a] few years ago; and my mother, Beryl, died when she was eighty, 8-0; Grandma Fox died when I was eight; I was sixteen when Dad died – that’s two eights; Dad’s father died when he was eight; his mother and he, an only child, came to New Zealand when he was eight. And we lived in Nelson for eight years; and Frank and I lived in Havelock for twenty-eight years; Frank sold the farm when I was forty-eight years old; and we lived in Ballantyne Street for four years which is half of eight.
Now I’m going to talk about holidays and travel and as I have mentioned earlier my father used to take the family on lots of holidays … lots of holidays; it was quite special. Oh, and while I remember; when Ian – I used to have a lot of time with him when he was in Australia – were talking, he felt he was the special one in the family, and I thought I was the special one in the family. So I think that Dad must’ve had a special way of making each child feel they were the special one which was rather nice really. Yes; and so he took us on lots of holidays, and as I say every Sunday we went to the beach or somewhere. And Frank, on hearing my stories, was keen to give our own children similar holidays that he had never been privileged enough to have had himself.
One of the things with my parents, we did a house swap in Eastbourne; it was one of our holidays when there was just me, Robert and Ian, and I remember only the backyard area where we had a photo taken with Dad, and swimming in the sea. But I remember we went to a corner dairy to get the newspaper – just little things like that. And they had a lovely backyard, but there was lots of stones in it because it was a really beachy holiday. And another one that we went to … Curious Cove in the Marlborough Sounds. I must have been nearly nine years old then, as Carol was only about six months old. We stayed in a bach above the sea where I learned to row a boat and had green fizzy drink for the first and last time. [Chuckle] We had to get there by boat to the Curious Cove in those days, and so there was no transport once we were there. And about the mid 1990s Frank and I went with Jan and Norman Speers and friends to the Marlborough Sounds for a holiday and I was able to reminisce and my childhood holiday there.
I think I was about ten years old when I went to Hastings to stay with Aunty Enid, and I travelled overnight on the ship ‘Ngaio’, from Nelson to Wellington, and then by train to Hastings under the supervision of Sally and Harold Palmer who were good friends of my parents in Nelson. And years later, Sally told me she was amazed that I did not eat anything on that trip; and I explained that I did not want her to spend her money on me, not knowing that she had been given money by my parents for my food and other costs.
At twelve years old I flew to Auckland with Yvonne to stay with her married sister, Nancy, and her husband Allan in Browns Bay, and we had the most wonderful holiday, sightseeing all the wonders of a big city. Allan was a big tease, and I was the one he seemed to target most as I was the most naïve I guess; and the others had great laughs at my expense. And one thing, when we were eating prunes and custard after our dinner one night he told me to look away at something; and when I had turned back he had eaten my prunes, which I was saving ‘til last; so I’ve never forgotten that story either.
With Craig, Garth and Melissa, we had lots of caravan holidays at Clifton Beach in Hastings, Loafers’ Paradise in Taupo, and the camping ground at Mt Maunganui. They were regulars and favourite things to do. In fact we parked the caravan in those places for the month of January each year. One time at the Mount Garth, who was about eight years old – oh, there’s that eight again – did not return by dark, and Marie Clare who was in the caravan next to me, and good friends from Hawke’s Bay, realised that he hadn’t turned back and eventually the whole camp was looking for him. And we were getting quite panicky, when he nonchalantly sauntered back and wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. He’d been up the top of the Mount with other boys, and they didn’t think anything of coming back late. When Garth was a toddler, Frank had to be a farm-standard post and netting around our backyard in Pufflett Road to keep him in and safe. Craig didn’t worry about doing things, he stayed around with me more, I suppose.
A major trip was the South Island including Farewell Spit; the West Coast visiting the old coal mining and gold mining towns like Denniston and the others; tramping the Routeburn Track and the Milford Track; and then across the island and up the East Coast, finishing with an overseas circus in Wellington. We caravanned then, and that was one of the more memorable times I think, when we visited Denniston and the West Coast.
We all went frequently at different times and all together to Australia to visit friends and family. Ian and Cathy and James, their son, was [were] in Brisbane and Sydney. Once as a special treat, Craig and Garth went with my mother, and another time Melissa went with me on one of our many trips there. While Ian and Cathy were in Brisbane Frank gave me a novel – and exciting present – for one birthday; a stack of $20 bills which had been taped together like a concertina, to fall out in a long line; to pay for the airfare to visit them. Ian and his family lived in Brisbane and Sydney from the 1960s, and Craig has lived in Melbourne and Sydney. Maylene, who was at school and a swimmer with me, lives in Maroochydore where Frank and I have visited many times, and sometimes with our friends Lois and Graham Wood from Wellington. And Heather O’Neill whom I met in Greece, she lives in Melbourne; and I’ve been there and also travelled with her to India. I was a late starter travelling to overseas countries other than Australia, as most New Zealanders go travelling overseas when they’re nineteen, twenty-ish. Instead of going to Europe on an overseas experience as most young people do now, I married Frank when he was 20 and he was not able to leave the dairy farm to travel. In the early 1960s many of our friends were marrying in their late teens and early twenties, and had children then, with the intention to travel overseas once their family had grown. Certainly that has worked for me but Frank was not so interested in travelling when the family were older so I’ve mainly gone on my own, or occasionally with other friends, or visited family.
My first six week visit to United Kingdom was with Jan Speers in 1988, with the intention to visit famous gardens there. We stopped over in Hong Kong to buy jewellery and clothes; we were not very excess… [successful] buying clothes and shoes, as they were made for Asian people in those days, and very few sizes were available for larger European women – not that we were large, but we had large feet and wore larger clothes. We were more successful buying baroque pearls for ourselves and our daughters at good prices. Twice on that trip I left Jan behind on the train station, as I was quicker to jump on the train. We had worrying moments – her hoping I would get off at the next station, and I hoping she would get on the next train to catch up with me.
On arrival in London where we spent a few days’ sightseeing, we literally bumped into Pat and Keith Carran from Havelock North, also travelling in Britain to visit Susan, their daughter, who was living there. We also unexpectedly bumped into Marie Clare in Harrods. Jan and I had hired a car and headed up north to visit the gardens we had mapped out and it was wonderful seeing the grand designs and beautiful gardens of historic grand homes that we had only seen in books. Jan and I few to Paris for a few days, and we were once again struck by the history and beauty of a grand city. On stepping on to the tarmac from the plane I was so moved I knelt down and kissed the ground. [Chuckle]
In 1990 I decided to work in the UK as I’ve said earlier, taking time off work for five months. I was nervous setting off on my own, but eventually travelled with two women whom I met through friends, who were also travelling on their own. Rita was about my age which was forty-nine, and Julie was in her twenties. We flew to Thailand which was much more fun with the three of us and did the normal touristy things before arriving at Heathrow. Rita and I had arranged accommodation about an hour from Central London from New Zealand, intending to get office jobs. After I had weighed up the cost of lodging and bus and/or train and wages for office temping, I realised I would not have much left over to travel further afield and to other countries. After considering live-in care for the elderly, I had a successful interview, and was sent to Patricia, a seventy-year-old who had broken her hip and wrist and needed someone in her Chelsea home to care for her. The two weeks I was originally to be with her turned out to be six weeks. A former lover of hers, a Lord, was paying me to stay longer, which was separate from the agency. After I left Patricia, I went to a former woman teacher in Deal; a woman judge, Lady Barbara, in the New Forest; and a gentleman in Watford for two weeks each, giving their usual carers respite.
Melissa had arrived in London one month after me, and she did the same care for elderly rather than the beauty therapy she had intended to do. Melissa and I hired a car and travelled through England and Scotland, bussed around Ireland, before backpacking through Europe by train to France, Italy and Switzerland. We met and made some good friends staying in the backpackers’, whom we still keep in touch with.
Craig was working in Melbourne in 1992 and Frank and I visited him there. In 1993 I visited Cathy, my ex sister-in-law who was married to my brother Ian. She was living in Hong Kong, and I briefly went into Quanzhou in China. I went on the water plane – is that what they call it? And trained back from there. Cathy had a job working for the boss of McCann Erickson, which was a wonderful opportunity for me to share her knowledge of the area with me.
Garth had been in the UK for a few years when I visited him and Sandra in 1995, passing through New York for a few days on the way where Cathy was now working – still working for McCann Erickson. Sandra, Garth and I went camping through the south of England, squeezing into a two-man tent. Back in Islesworth, I think it’s called, in London where they lived, I was a pillion passenger on Garth’s motorbike, travelling to Richmond and outlaying [outlying] historic areas of London, a totally new experience for me. After the first ride to Richmond, Garth explained I must not hold on so tightly to him, as he could not turn and safely lean the motorbike. It is definitely not my favourite way of travelling. On my way back to New Zealand I stopped in Greece for a tour of the historic ruins where I met Heather O’Neill from Melbourne.
In 1997 I had heard from work colleagues what a wonderful trip they had in India, so I phoned Heather in Melbourne and asked if she would like to visit India with me; to which she agreed. We flew to India with no forward bookings for accommodation apart from our first night in Delhi. We hired a British Austin Cambridge car with a driver, Ashok, and he took us over a ten day period to the different cities and ports around Rajasthan. Ashok recommended our accommodation and restaurants each night as we went. He was also able to recommend specific sights that [where] a tour group would not necessarily go. Once we had been to the Taj Mahal we said goodbye to Ashok and travelled by train to Varanasi to see the Ganges, and all the sights there. We found because we were two older women travelling on our own, the mainly young men dressed in brown polyester pants and patterned shirts, swamped us with questions about why we were on our own. Were we married? Were we film stars?” Etcetera, etcetera. Ashok had been very good in getting rid of them when we were with him, but I found it extremely tiring and frustrating always to be batting them off. Heather actually loved the attention so [chuckle] she was different to me.
With Garth and Sandra, and Nadine and Frank Junior back now in New Zealand and living in Winton in the South Island, there’ve been lots of trips to their home, exploring areas new to me on the way there and back; and the most spectacular sights of snow covered mountains and beautifully groomed patchwork farms. Flying over is absolutely amazing, really.
I also went cycling in the Loire Valley in France for ten days in 2002, and that was my major sojourn. Dorothy Dallimore and I decided to go with Barbara Grieve and twelve other cyclists from around New Zealand after hearing Barbara talk at Rotary Inner Wheel. She’s still doing it; how many years later she’s been doing it? Now she has an electric bike. We spent the whole winter riding each Saturday and sometimes Sunday, and walking every other day to become fit.
After the cycling Dorothy and I went our own ways to visit different parts of Europe, and I flew to Berlin for a few days. I then took the train to Dresden for more days’ sightseeing; and then on to Prague, and I was so overwhelmed by the beauty and history of those eastern countries and outlying areas. I had already been to Italy with Melissa, so I wasn’t keen to do it again with Dorothy. It was quite safe on my own, too.
San Francisco was a must for a few days, and then a stopover in Los Angeles especially to go and see the J Paul Getty Museum, which is one of the best museums and it was fairly new at the time I went there.
The next major trip was in 2004 to visit Craig who had a two year contract with [?Maxium?] Liquor Company in Amsterdam. On the way I was intending to meet Jenny Logan in London and holiday with her in Spain, but she became ill with cancer and flew home to New Zealand, cutting short her proposed two year working holiday. I decided to still carry on on my own and nostalgically revisited London, then flew to Barcelona for a few days especially to see the wonderful architecture of Gaudi. I then took the train and stopped off at Montpelier, Avignon, Aix en Provence and Paris for a few days at each place, and on to Amsterdam to Craig’s, for two weeks. One of our trips was to Maastricht, a wonderful city nicknamed Little Paris, and near the Belgium border. We hired bikes there, and rode out into the countryside. Then two young Dutch women, Irene and Gia – they boarded with me for a few weeks when they were picking apples in Hawke’s Bay the previous year, and they invited me to stay with them in Schoorl, north of Amsterdam and we visited lots of other towns and places near them. They were getting married to each other in September 2009.
In 2008, Ian asked if I would like to join him and Jamila to travel to China to celebrate his 65th birthday in October; and because they have had Chinese boarders living with them in Sydney who now work and live in Beijing, we were feted, and looked after extremely well. After eighteen days travelling together to Xi’an, Zhengzhou and Zhengdou, I left Ian and Jamila there to fly on to Shanghai on my own, as that had been an ambition of mine; to visit that wonderful city and to conclude a lifetime of experience. It was very safe in Shanghai, and I just stayed in a very cheap hotel which had been recommended by one of Ian’s friends. And I had a brown velvet evening coat made there, which I still have and really love.
Then in 2009, Frank and I flew to Canada for the wedding of Craig and Milena. Milena’s a Canadian girl and they married at Bugaboo Lodge near Invermere in British Columbia. We hired a car in Vancouver, and Frank and I drove through Kelowna, Banff, to Calgary where Craig and Milena live. Craig had worked in Calgary for the last two years where he met Milena, who was born in Switzerland of a Dutch mother and a Swiss father. That was a really great trip to go to Canada; I don’t need to go back there ever again I don’t think, I prefer the old European cities.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the honeymoon of Frank and I when we got married. We went to the South Island. We had a borrowed car, and we went on the ferry; and we stayed at all the places in the South Island. We went to Westport, and the hotel we were staying in – I could hear rats in the ceiling, so I wasn’t very pleased or happy about that. But anyway, we carried on down to Fox Glacier, and we went on a plane flight on the snowfield; and Frank lost his car keys. But luckily, when we got back to hotel there was a car traveller there and he had a whole set of different kinds of keys and was able to open the vehicle for us, so we were completely saved. That was a wonderful trip really, because we had seen parts of the South Island that I had never seen before even though I went to lots of places with my father.
Another time, just Melissa and Frank and I went with Lance and Meg Petersen up to the Bay of Islands on their yacht. And … I can’t remember; I was so nervous though, that I got the most major migraine headache, which I used to get frequently, and quite sick; so that was the first day, and then I seemed to settle down and think it was okay. We had, I remember, the best scallops I’ve ever had in my life, because Lance had caught them … fished for them, and he just put them in a little bit of wine; and they were just absolutely amazing. It’s a wonderful memory to have, that.
He also had a large plastic bottle that he’d cut … had the handle piece still on it … cut a big piece out of it; and we called that the ‘pisser publica’ because we had to use that to go to the toilet instead of using the toilet on the yacht, which was only for very special occasions. Melissa enjoyed it too. And we also on the way up there – or back – we went and saw the big kauri forest, and we all tried to stand around with our arms … to see whether we could fit.
We went to Maroochydore lots and lots of times with Lois and Graham Wood, whom I mentioned before. Also they came with us to holidays in Taupo each summer. We had ‘Grumpy’s Patch’, we called it, at Loafers’ Paradise; he was a Police Superintendent at the prison up there and he was shifted to Christchurch, so he was happy to lease the bach to us for … how many years? Four years or something.
And then he was coming back, so they were very special times as well.
These are random things that I’m going to do, because I forgot different things to mention.
Warren Gundry was our coach at Nelson South Swimming Club, and we also had an American woman who said that she was very famous in America, [chuckle] and she started us on water ballet. And we thought we were so great – it was just amazing; and everyone was talking about her in Nelson because she’d come from America and was teaching us water ballet. That’s one rival [random] thing.
And I didn’t say in the winter time when we were teenagers – I did say we biked up to the Maitai and did lots of long cycling weekends when there was no swimming. And we usually went in a group, and there was Russell Bain, Geoff Hasey, Allan … I can’t remember his name, but he was a dentist’s son, and he used to go bright red too, as I used to when I was embarrassed. And I had a real crush on him at one stage. But we cycled miles out past Stoke in Nelson, and found that there was banana passion fruit in the bush so we sat down and gorged ourselves on that. Those kinds of things you just can’t repeat I guess, when you’re older.
After I’d finished with Brian Townsend and wasn’t working for him any more, Nola Austin-Smith who had been working with me there, started up a [an] upholstery, furnishings, and fabrics in the old Embassy Theatre building in Hastings, and I managed the shop for her when she went to customers’ homes for measuring and advising. So that was only for a short time as well.
I remembered later that school holidays, my father got me a job in a hairdresser’s because I thought that’s what I’d quite like to do. But in the holidays all I did was put the capes on people ready for their washing; sweep the floor and do all those kinds of horrible things, which I didn’t really like. But I started in McKays in Nelson … was that after Dad died, I think? I was only there for a few months, but I was doing modelling there as well as the office work. And also at the College they had modelling things there too; and Mum also took me to Wellington to see whether I could get in there but obviously wasn’t good enough to be a professional model.
And Dad wanted me to play a musical instrument that could be taken to parties, because that’s what people did in those days – either played the piano or some kind of instrument, and I’d started learning to play on the piano accordion. But I got to the stage where I outgrew the size and had to go up the next size; but I didn’t want to play that any more, so he then started me on piano lessons. And once again, Ian learned piano lessons as well but Rob and Carol didn’t, so … I’m not sure why that was; maybe we had some ability there as well as the sport.
And when I was biking to Intermediate School with Yvonne, my friend – we had to bike about three miles I think it was. And coming home – we must have gone home at lunchtime – why I’m not really sure, but as I was biking towards home a car had parked on the side of the road and opened its door in front of me. And I fell off of course, but took the top off my fourth finger, and it meant that was the end of my piano lessons because it took months and months for it to heal. And it still has a top off the finger with a funny nail; it’s a firm nail, but it’s misshapen. And of course I now have arthritis in my fingers … very badly deformed fingers on my right hand in particular, so that means that I haven’t got the ability that I did used to have for knitting or things like that now.
I also went to ballet lessons; and Yvonne went the same. She was actually a year older than me, but her sister Nancy was a beautiful sewer. And for the concerts or the ballet recitals at the end of the year, Yvonne always had beautiful ballet clothes. And she was a little plump girl, whereas I was a very thin, bony girl. And when I see the photos – and I felt ashamed at the time – because Yvonne had a beautiful pink gauze dress with green satin petals over it, and I had a very obviously second-hand dress with drooping petals on it, and I was this thin, gawky [chuckle] person. But I grew into a tall good looking, good figured person whereas she still stayed … a lovely, lovely person … but she is still short and plumpish. But that’s how things go, isn’t it?
Oh, my mother knitted – I said already – beautiful dresses. One Carol had was red with her blonde hair; she was blonde. And I had green with my red hair, and they were crepe wool with honeycomb knitting around the waist and the wrists.
I also made lots of lovely clothes at fourteen and fifteen years old for the swimming club socials we went to; bought the dress [material] in the morning and made the dress on Saturday afternoon to wear to the socials. I also had a paper nylon petticoat, and we soaked it in gelatine and dried it standing up in the sun, so they stood out under our 1950s dresses which were four and a half yards of skirt, and half a yard for the round-neck, no-sleeve top. And that was just when rock ‘n roll was all the rage with Elvis Presley and others of that era and I had an Elvis Presley record … 45 record at home … and you know, I used to play it absolutely full blast and dance at the same time; so I must have looked a sight.
The other thing is that we went to lots and lots of dances and balls, Frank and I, and with groups and when we were still married we went to lots of balls – lots of balls. We all wore long full gowns, and men wore dinner suits; and later on when my children were a bit older, Rosalie McKinlay, one of our group, was a dressmaker; and she made the most beautiful dresses for me that I absolutely still think of with nostalgia.
We also belonged to the Wine Society for a few years, and we had lots of wonderful outings with that too. And sometimes we included the kids at Christmas time, and went out to the river out at Haumoana somewhere and set up all the trestle tables; and there was swimming in the river, and … that was when you could swim in the river. Wonderful, wonderful times.
And Garth I didn’t mention. He was four years old when he had very painful legs and he was put into hospital at the Hastings Memorial Hospital. He was there for six weeks with suspected rheumatic fever. But Tony Reeve, the children’s doctor, said he wasn’t sure that it was that, but he would definitely not put it on his record because of any problems there could be when he was an adult with health insurance.
The other thing was, when Craig was at university, every Sunday Melissa and I made biscuits, like peanut biscuits or all kinds of slice kinds of things. And we cooked a chook for him, to go into the apple box that Frank had picked apples to put in; so a forty pound case of food and apples we sent each Monday morning on the bus to Christchurch. And he said, after he’d been getting it a few times, he said everyone else wanted to share in his food box; so when he picked them up from Newman’s depot – the box – he said he gnawed into the chicken and munched on that quickly before [chuckle] he got back to his room, otherwise he’d have to share it with everybody else.
But as I’ve said before, we were packing apples and pears mainly, each weekend before we got married and even after we got married, at our neighbours’ pack houses to earn extra money for extra things that we would like, and the children grew up to do exactly the same kinds of things. They were very good at going and picking raspberries across in Napier Road or picking apples. They all worked really hard to help their father; they were tractor driving as well, so they’ve got really good work ethics now, as adults.
I also was really keen on the gardening. In Pufflett Road I had a really good garden there, and grew lots of things. I can grow easily from cuttings and then when we moved to the farm we had this huge three acre area that I planted. [Phone rings]
So at the farm I had this garden that I put a huge amount of work into. And I belonged to gardening groups; in fact I belonged – I told you that – the gardening group at Pufflett Road when the Nelson homestead was given to the Council. But I also belonged to a garden society which was a more social thing; and Jan Speers and I belonged to the Camelia Garden and the Rose Garden Societies, so we went to quite a few outings doing those kinds of things. And I actually had a bus load of women that came to my garden to have a look around too, when it was still quite new. So that was quite a lot of work.
Garth showed quite a bent for gardening at one stage, and outside their bedroom window he had a small garden with miniature roses because that’s the ones that he liked. So he looked after those and that was quite good – they had an interest in that. We also put in a Para pool, which was great, with big decking around it at one stage, but then they got to an age where they were no longer interested in that so we took it out because it was a lot of work to look after at that time.
And now in Queen Street I’ve got a very full garden on a smaller section, and I just love it still … really love it; though sometimes I think, ‘why am I doing this hard cutting-back?’ But anyway, that’s still my passion, really.
Now I’m going to talk about my grandparents. I don’t know much about my grandparents because on both sides of the family they died when my parents were both young … or their fathers did … which left them fatherless. When I was eight years old, my father’s mother, Grandma Fox as we knew her, died at our home in Eketahuna.
My mother’s mother, Nana Davis … Sarah Davis … died when she was knocked over in a motor vehicle accident, one night when she was sleep walking on Heretaunga Street in Hastings, outside the Catholic Church. And that was on 26th April 1958. I had just turned seventeen years old. Nana Davis was always a very fragile woman and often ill, so was not a woman her grandchildren could cuddle up to. In fact she seemed rather aloof, and probably only tolerated us, I now think. She loved clothes and especially hats, and was always impeccably dressed; and had a beautiful full length fur coat and fox fur stole. She was only six stone – now … don’t know how many kgs [kilograms], when she died. My mother said she was often ill when they were children, and Hugh, the oldest and only son, pampered her and gave her money for her extravagances once he was working. My mother and her elder sister, Enid, remembered that they had to do all the housework and help with the cooking as Nana Davis felt she was not well enough to do it herself. I got the distinct impression from both my mother and my Aunty Enid, that Nana Davis played on this and used it as a tool for sympathy. I know that Nana Davis had Bright’s disease when I was just five years old, as I had a kidney problem and was convalescing at the time I was due to go to school. My mother, as I’ve said before, was worried that it might be the same as Nana, but obviously it was not, as I don’t remember having any more problems after that.
I have no memory at all of Grandma Fox other than when she was staying with us in Eketahuna and sharing my bedroom. When I arrived home after school one day my mother told me she had died, and not to go into my bedroom which of course I did anyway. So I sneaked in to find her completely covered with a white sheet. We have photos of her with Rob, Ian and I in Eketahuna, but I do not really remember her as a living person. She looked a solid woman with white hair. Dad also has photos of her in his photo album. So that’s all I really remember I suppose.
I did have a Great Aunt Ada. She was my Nana Davis’s sister – no she wasn’t. She was a sister to the grandfather that died when my mother was only eight. And there was Ella and Ada. They were both unmarried women because their fiances had died in the First World War. And Aunty Ada I remember rather fondly because every time she came to stay with us in Nelson she always brought us sweets and I still have a picture she gave me of a girl in a red raincoat with red hair and a little Scottie dog, and she was talking about “rain, rain every day, don’t go away”, or something like that. So that’s all I remember about.
Uncle Ernie – he was Aunty Enid’s husband. When we stayed with him he always had a messy garden, but he was always out in the garden and loved his gardening. And he allowed us young children to go out when it was dark because he always had a bonfire, and we cooked potatoes in it and ate them blackened. And of course my parents didn’t do things like that so we thought that was all rather special. Except I do remember my father when we were in Eketahuna – the neighbours had chooks and my father used to kill them for them, ‘cause that was a widow too, with her children. And he used to wring their necks and they used to run around the lawn. Oh, I used to hate it! Couldn’t bear it. And Aunty Enid used to kill chooks too, and she used to clean them; and we were sitting on the front step with her as she was cleaning; and the smell I remember was absolutely disgusting.
One day my father was cutting the hedge with a hand-held scythe … a curved blade … and he must’ve been holding the hedge while he was cutting and cut very badly into his wrist which took a long time to heal; and for the rest of his life he was always holding it. And in the wintertime he wore fingerless woollen, knitted gloves, because it used to give him a lot of bother.
I don’t think I talked about the different sports that I did and also the different clubs that I belonged to over the years, so I may be repeating myself; it’s hard to remember.
The different clubs I [I’ve] belonged to or done things for over the years:
School committees – for primary school mainly, and including when the boys were playing rugby; Frank and I went to the rugby fields of both Craig and Garth every Saturday, and then made the afternoon tea for the boys. So we did that for the three or four years that they were going to Havelock North High School.
I was also Cub leader briefly when they didn’t have anybody else and they were desperate to have somebody. They usually have men, but they didn’t have any that time. And unfortunately I had to give it up because that was one of the times I got iritis and ended up in hospital.
I have also worked at the Hospice shop – this is all after [I] retired, mainly – Hospice shop I worked for eight years, and now I’m in the Joll Road Charity shop.
I’ve done school reading at the Riverslea School for eight or more years after retirement; three or four Rotarians go each Friday morning and we take two children each. We’ve [been] doing that for a very long time; Frank’s been doing it many more years than me.
I also belong to the International Women’s Day Committee. It was a fundraiser, and each year we had a garden party-type function, and the funds we raised we gave to the Women’s Refuge. And that also funded the new teen school in one of the Napier-based school[s]; a group of us had gone down to Porirua where they had teen girls who had had babies, and it was an opportunity for them to go back to school and learn while their babies were looked after at the teen school. They also had breakfast there if they wished to.
I belonged to three book groups … I still belong to two. One of them has now been going for forty-five years with most of the same members, and we read the same book and then discuss it. We have turns at someone’s home for the evening; we start at seven thirty, and we have a glass of wine; and then a cup of tea and chocolate biscuits afterwards.
I was also president of the Women’s Dinner Club. Now that was a group that … one of the ladies we knew shifted from Auckland to Havelock North and had been doing that there. So we got a committee together and we invited women speakers from all over New Zealand to come. One time we had Marilyn Waring, who was a politician at that time. We had a lot of well-known politicians, but we had other women who were well-known in their field as well, and it was really tremendous.
I’ve also belonged to a brunch group and that again started because three or four of us were at the movies one night, and we were talking about … “Why don’t we start up something where a group of us meet for brunch each month?” And that’s been now going for twenty-five years; there has been a few drop-offs with people dying or moving away. We still have eleven members who come most months.
I also belong to an investment group, and we called it ‘Ten For Three’; and that was when the sharemarket was at its height. We had again a group of women; we met from [at] different places and there was ten of us in the group – that’s why called it Ten … and the Three was for three years. And we wound that up when the sharemarket crashed but we did all right out of it – got money back plus some.
I also belong to the Heritage Rose Society, and different garden clubs over the years as well. In fact I was one of the members at Keirunga when the Nelson homestead was given to the Havelock Borough Council at that time. They didn’t have enough money to upkeep it, so … I think I’ve already mentioned that … I used to go along with Melissa in the pushchair.
Then my sports things – as I say, swimming really took up all my time as a young person. And then when I had little children we used to go to the badminton hall at St Luke’s Hall; and the supper hall – the other mothers looked after our little children while we went into the adjoining hall to play badminton. I played when I was expecting Craig and Garth.
And then when the children were … oh, still pre-school … a group of us used to play tennis at Fox Roger’s property in Greenwood Road in Havelock North, and the same applied; the other mothers looked after the children while we all had turns playing tennis.
I belonged to the Havelock North Squash Club and I did reasonably well at that. I think the boys might’ve been at school and Melissa was still pre-school, and they also did the same thing.
I then joined golf. I was reluctant to join golf because I thought it was an old person’s game. But when I started I got really keen, and got down to a 9 handicap briefly, but most of the time I was probably about 12. And then I gave up for a few years; I played Saturday golf for a while when I started working, and then I gradually stopped. Then quite a few years later, very recently, I’ve started playing golf again.
Kay, did you ever go away with groups playing at other golf courses round New Zealand?
Oh yes, we did. The idea when I played golf, was Frank was going to play too; but he liked working better than he liked playing golf. But we did go with other couples – like, we went with Wendy and Ian Lawson, Diane and Ed Gilmour and Pat and Keith Carran. We went to quite a few different places for weekends – Rotorua, Taupo – it was really fantastic when we did that kind of thing, it was just lovely times.
Some things I found I’ve written down already little stories about them, because I started writing my story in 2009 and have written quite a few chapters but never got it finished, and haven’t got round to doing it again. But this is a little story about the Dutch clock that I still have hanging in my lounge. It was a very old clock and I just loved the look of it and thought it would go beautifully in our new farmhouse that we were building in 1978 I think it was. And I found this lovely Dutch clock at an antique auction – I think it was McKearney’s in Hastings. And I asked about it and I felt it was within my means, but I was unable to go to the auction. So Frank offered to go for me even though he had no experience in bidding; and he was very nervous, and apparently the bidding went far too quickly for him to keep up and went over the amount that I had suggested, so he didn’t get it. But in anticipation all day long, I couldn’t wait to get home and found that when he hadn’t got it it was great disappointment, and I kept thinking about it for days afterwards. However, one month later my birthday came up and I received a large cardboard box with no wrapping paper around it, and [it] looked full of crumpled newspaper inside. Delving through it I found the Dutch clock. Frank had been back to the auction rooms, finally persuaded them to tell him who had bought it, and so he bought it for me.
Another time … very similar time to that … he was going past Clive on his tractor and he saw a Georgian brass fire screen that he thought would look really nice in our lounge as well. So he came home and told me about it and I went and bought it, and he tells me now that it cost a lot of money for that particular time. I still have that too, though I no longer have an open fire because of the new regulations in the Hastings District Council.
The other thing that happened when we moved to the farm in 1976 – I started … well planning, to have a very large garden, so planned out where I was going to have it and Frank dug it all. It was a whole acre in that particular part, and then another acre further beyond, and an acre in front of the house that we planted lots of big English … or little English trees they were then, but to grow. But Frank suggested because the farm was full of springs underneath that we could dig a huge hole and we’d call it ‘The Lake’. The lake was absolutely fantastic, and round that I planted all kinds of water-based plants; I planted lots and lots of roses as well. But one time for Frank’s fiftieth birthday we decided to have a special party for him based around the lake, and people dressed up in their very good fifties clothes. And we had a little row boat, so we put that on the lake and everybody had turns rowing around it with their boater hats on. And we had a wind-up gramophone that Frank had bought some years earlier which he still has. And we also had a large birdcage, which was a walk-in one with all the doves cooing, so it was absolutely wonderful – an aviary.
So the garden took up lots and lots of time. I think I’ve already mentioned about bus loads of people coming to view it at different times. But that was a major effort on our part and it made it really beautiful.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Kay Isobel Cooper
- Frank Taylor Cooper