Kerr, Ian Interview

21st November [2018]; I’m interviewing Ian Kerr. He’s got a good story to tell; pharmacist, and past hockey representative in a couple of Olympics, [microphone noise] but we’ll get onto that shortly. Good morning Ian.

Good morning, Jim.

Ian, now I’d like to tell me all about your life and your parents’ life [lives] and when you came to New Zealand from Scotland, and give us a bit of a background. Go through it, and I will not interrupt, but I may ask you some questions. Over to you.

I was born in Scotland in 1935, in Kilbirnie, and my father was a marine engineer and he sailed with Shaw Savill. And at some point of time he must’ve come to New Zealand and seen New Zealand as a possible place to emigrate to, so in 1936 my mother and I travelled to New Zealand on the ‘Akaroa’, and arrived in Auckland in early 1936 at one year old. So the first four years in Auckland were spent as a child, basically, and I started school at Mt Roskill Primary School in 1940.

In 1942 my father had joined the Marine Department as an inspector of machinery and surveyor of ships. And in those days, to gain seriority [seniority] they had to move around, so he was transferred to Wellington. So we moved to Wellington in 1942 and I went to Wadestown Primary School. Lived in Wellington until 1944 when we then moved to Invercargill. Memories of Wellington in those days, was [were] of course after the war, and there were lots of servicemen, Americans, around Wellington. And one of things to do then was to collect badges from the servicemen.

So we moved to Invercargill in 1944 and I went to North Invercargill Primary School. My father had moved there as inspector of machinery and surveyor of ships. My secondary school days started at Southland Boys’ High School in the Third Form, and I played cricket and hockey there, and in 1950 I was selected in the New Zealand Secondary Schoolboys’ Hockey team to go to New South Wales. So I was the only one selected south of Christchurch, and I had to travel by train from Invercargill to Christchurch to meet up with the Christchurch members of the team; and then overnight, across in the ferry, to Wellington; spend the day in Wellington because the Express to Auckland only travelled overnight, so overnight; we then travelled on the Express up to Auckland, and joined the ‘Wanganella’. We travelled across the Tasman to Sydney and had two weeks travelling around New South Wales playing hockey against various teams. The last game we had was against a team from New South Wales and we played for the Kiwi-Waratah Cup. It was the first time that it had been played for, and … pleased to say the New Zealanders won it. But what was interesting was, it took me seven days from the time I left Invercargill to arrive in Sydney; four days crossing the Tasman and then three days travelling up from Invercargill to Auckland. That was a very successful tour; we won all our games. There were fifteen in the team; the boys were selected from all over New Zealand. After that trip we came back; back to school to Southland Boys’ High School. Played in the first Hockey XI there for three years, and then played for the Colts [Cricket] team.

And then in 1951 my father had another transfer back to Wellington, so I went to Wellington College, starting in 1951 through to 1952. I was in the First XI Hockey and the First XI Cricket, captained the First XI Hockey in 1952.

At what age?

At the age of sixteen. And then my father got another transfer; this time back to Dunedin. So I then went to Otago Boys’ High School for my last year and finished my University Entrance there; and played in the First Cricket XI at Otago Boys’ High School, and also captained the First XI Hockey there as well.

1953 … finished my secondary schooling, and I started the pharmacy apprenticeship in the North East Valley at Gallien’s Pharmacy. In those days, pharmacy – you started as an apprentice, and you were apprenticed to a pharmacist for four years and you did your studies at nighttime, and you corresponded with the Pharmacy College in Cambridge Terrace in Wellington. So I was in Dunedin until 1955, and in 1954 I was chosen for the Otago Senior Hockey Team, and we travelled to Wellington to play against Wellington for the Challenge Shield. Didn’t win – I think Wellington may have beaten us 4-1. So I was in Dunedin until 1955 and played for Otago against the Indian Wanderers’ Hockey Team who toured New Zealand; played on [at] Carisbrook, and I think from memory we may have lost 2-1.

So middle of 1955, another move back to Wellington, and I had to transfer my pharmacy apprenticeship to Molesworth Street and worked there for another two years, completed my apprenticeship there and then completed my exams in 1959. While in Wellington, I was chosen for the New Zealand Hockey Team, 1958. The Pakistan Hockey Team was touring New Zealand at that point of time, and we had a training school in Christchurch; and I was selected for my first Test to play against Pakistan as left fullback – played on Lancaster Park in the First Test; lost. The next Test was in Wellington on [at] Athletic Park and we drew, 2-all. [2-2] The next Test was played at Eden Park – that was the Third Test – we lost that, unfortunately. I just can’t remember the exact score, but never mind. So it ended up, Pakistan won two, and New Zealand drew the second Test. That was 1958.

I qualified as pharmacist in 1959, did some locuming around Wellington, and then got a position as manager of the pharmacy, O W J Simpson, which was on the corner of Grey and Featherston Streets.

In 1960 it was the year of the Rome Olympics, and they scheduled to play in a hockey trial in Masterton, but unfortunately I had contracted chickenpox. I had a young family came into me in the pharmacy; couple of weeks before the child had chickenpox. So I was laid low with chickenpox so I couldn’t play in the final trial. Anyhow, the New Zealand team was selected for Rome and I was included in that team, which was a most memorable experience.

Ian, there must have been a big change. In those days, you were on grass, weren’t you?

Yes, we played on grass, yes.

And you know, I think of Eden Park and Carisbrook … were they rolled flat? As flat as they could?

Yes. All of the international games were played on rugby grounds and the reason for that was that hockey had no grounds which were encircled by a fence where they could charge the spectators to come in. So the ground was cut, it was rolled, and then goalposts were put up at each end; and pretty well all of those games were played as curtain-raisers to a rugby game.

So en route to Rome, we stopped off in Singapore … very steamy, hot climate; played two games in Singapore on our way – lost the first one 1-0; won the second one 3-2. On our way to Rome we had problems with the plane at Karachi. The news got around the plane that they were having trouble lowering the undercarriage; so we wondered why we were circling round and round and round, and eventually they got the undercarriage down and we landed safely. But there was a delay; we had to fill in a day in Karachi, so we were a day late in arriving in Rome. Arrived the following day, and then moved into the Olympic Village. We arrived two weeks before the Games were due to start, and so those initial two weeks were spent practising … playing practise games against various countries, and then the Olympics started; it was in the Olympic Stadium. And beside the Olympic Stadium was the Marble Stadium, which was supposed to have been used for the Olympics in the early days. The stadium next to the main stadium was surrounded with marble statues of various sports. On the day of the opening of the Olympics we were all assembled in the Marble Stadium and there was a tunnel [which] linked the Marble Stadium with the main stadium, so we moved from the Marble stadium into the main stadium, and what a memorable occasion that was! To assemble with all the other countries in the centre of that huge arena with nearly a hundred thousand people in there. It’s an occasion that I will never, ever forget.

So the Olympic competition started the following day and our initial games were played – it was a hockey ground in the Marble Stadium, right next door to the main stadium. And our first game was against Holland, which we drew 1-all. [1-1] Our second game was against Denmark which we won 4-1. And then we were equal with Holland in our pool match so we had to replay them, which we again won, and we were then second to India in our pool, so we went forward. And our next game was against India, which we lost 3-0. The key game was against Spain – that was in the quarter-finals. We played for eighty minutes, and the score was nil-all, [0-0] so in those days you had to play extra time. So we played twenty minutes extra time and in the eighteenth minute Spain was awarded a penalty corner; and sadly enough Spain scored, and that was the end of our quarter-final. In those days, you played ranking matches, and we had to play both Germany and Australia. And we won each of those so at the end of the day we finished fifth, which is still the second-best performance to the New Zealand Men’s Hockey team which won the Gold Medal in Montreal.

After the Olympics, we then travelled back home through India and Pakistan. We played several matches on the way; played two games in Karachi – lost the first one, drew the second one; we then went to New Delhi and played Indian Railways, and we drew that 2-all; [2-2] we also played Indian Police in Ahmedabad – won that 2-1; we played Madras in Madras and lost that 2-1; then on to Bangalore … won that 1-0; and our last game on the trip home was against Ceylon in Colombo, and we won that 3-0. So we arrived back in New Zealand and it was a most successful trip and for me a memorable occasion.

Could I just come back? It must have been a wonderful feeling in Rome, standing there when Snell and Halberg won their medals.


Also, you had Adrian White from Hawke’s Bay in the show jumping as well.

That’s right. The afternoon that Peter Snell and Murray Halberg won their gold medals, we were still playing in our quarter-final, so we didn’t see those two races. But when we arrived back in the village, there was both Peter and Murray wearing their gold medals, which was a real highlight.

So that was 1960. In 1961 an Indian Wanderers team was touring New Zealand, and I played for Wellington against the Indian Wanderers, and then was also chosen to play for New Zealand again that year, ‘61. Didn’t play in that first Test because I think I got German measles; but I played in the second Test which was on the Basin Reserve in Wellington. In those days India were [was] the Number One hockey team in the world. I think, sadly, we lost that game.

1961 I was selected as vice-captain of the New Zealand team to tour Australia. A few days before the team was due to depart, sadly my parents were knocked over on a pedestrian crossing between the Wellington wharves and the railway station. My father was due to retire, and it was going to be their first trip back to Scotland after having lived in New Zealand for all those years. And they went down this night to have a look at their cabin, because they were going to be going on the ‘Southern Cross’ and they went down to look at their cabin. And it was on their way back from viewing their cabin, coming across to the railway station that they were knocked over on a pedestrian crossing. My father was killed and my mother was injured as well, so I had to pull out of that team that was going to Australia. So that was a sad occasion; but my mother recovered, but sadly my father didn’t ever get back to see his brothers and sisters in Scotland.

I had met a girl in the pharmacy in Molesworth Street, and that was the start of a friendship which we sealed in 1962 … Joy Bramwell. Joy was from Hawke’s Bay, and in 1962, August, we were married in St Luke’s Church in Havelock North. Joy’s father was Wallace Bramwell, who was a solicitor in Hastings. He was also chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union. So Joy and I were married in St Luke’s in August of 1962, and then after a week … short honeymoon … we then travelled off to England on our overseas experience. We went on the maiden voyage of the Shaw Savill ship, the ‘Northern Star’; took us five weeks to get to England, because the ‘Northern Star’ developed engine problems at Tahiti, so it ended up we were an extra week on board ship, which wasn’t too bad because it gave us an extra week [for] which we didn’t have to find accommodation in London.

Arrived in London at the end of September; and Joy was an ex-dental nurse so she got a job in a dental surgery in London, and I got a job as a pharmacist in Lambeth Hospital, and worked there for six months. For the first time, I met my Scottish relations; I hadn’t met them before because none of them had moved out to New Zealand at all. My grandparents were no longer alive but I met my uncle and aunt for the first time; and I had two cousins and I met them as well. And we enjoyed Christmas with them; we travelled from London up to Glasgow by train; had Christmas of 1962 there. And we always hoped that we might have a white Christmas, and sure enough it snowed on Christmas Eve; and woke up on Christmas morning – it was just like fairyland. So I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas there with my relations for the first time, and spent a week with them, and then we journeyed back from Glasgow, back to London. But on our trip back to London, we were involved in a railway smash at Crewe; the train we were on ploughed into the back of another train. And it was freezing cold; there were twenty-nine people lost their lives in the front carriages. We sat on that train all night in the freezing cold, and didn’t travel back to London ‘til the following morning. I was due to get back to work – I unfortunately missed a day, but … never mind.

So I got back to work at Lambeth Hospital, and we lived in London right up until April, and then we decided to tiki tour around the UK [United Kingdom] … had a Morris 1100 along with a tent, and did about twelve thousand miles touring around Europe. And what a wonderful occasion that was! When the weather wasn’t suitable for camping, we stayed at youth hostels … travelled all around Europe, and then came back to London and spent another week or so up in Scotland with my relations again. And then we travelled back to New Zealand in October, back to Wellington. My job had been kept open for me at O W J Simpson’s Pharmacy in Featherston Street, so I worked there again until 1965.

But in 1964 it was the Tokyo Olympics, so not having played hockey – I played a little bit of hockey in England for Blackheath; I think I played two or three games for Blackheath, but the weather was so awful we played very, very few games and lots of the games were abandoned. So I was chosen in 1964 for the New Zealand Olympic team to go to Tokyo – another memorable occasion. Several of the team had retired from the 1960 Olympics – I think there was [were] probably four or five from that team from Rome; the rest were all newcomers to the New Zealand team. Unfortunately it didn’t perform all that well; but never mind, it was once again a wonderful occasion to go and be at the Olympics for a second time.

We had as our assistant manager in that team, Ron Shakespeare, who also was from Hawke’s Bay. Ron was very much involved with swimming.

Oh, he was manager of the whole team?

He was assistant manager of the whole Olympic team. The team was much bigger – it was over a hundred athletes compared to Rome, when there was only about fifty. And of that fifty, which included managers – each sport had to have a manager – we didn’t have any physiotherapists, coaches or anything else; not even a coach travelled with the team. All we had was a manager.

1965 I decided it was time, and I bought a pharmacy in Hawke’s Bay, in Heretaunga Street, Hastings. I bought the pharmacy off [from] Noel Wilson, and took over the business there on 1st May, 1965.

Now that was in the block nearest the railway station?

The railway line, Jim, between Russell Street and Karamu Road. We had three pharmacies in that vicinity in those days. We had Meare’s Pharmacy just around the corner, and Pike’s Pharmacy just across the road. So that was my introduction to owning my own business. It was a very good pharmacy; that block in Heretaunga Street was number one; had the highest pedestrian count in Hastings. We had McKenzie’s Supermarket across the road which was, I think, the only supermarket in Hastings in those days, so it was a very busy block. Iconic stores in that block were Westerman’s, McCready’s, Christie’s Furnishers, [the] State Theatre was right next door to me, the china shop, Harvey’s – they were all iconic stores in those days. Giorgi’s Menswear was across the road; ANZ Bank right on the corner. So those were [that was a] very good retailing block. I traded there for thirty-five years; saw the good and the bad. The first years were memorable years. I’ll always remember the day prior to Christmas – we would open the doors at eight-thirty in the morning; you would not stop until ten o’clock at night. You were continually serving customers. They were iconic retailing days.

The trading pattern very much changed when we had the closure of Tomoana, Whakatu and Morrison’s. A year following the closure of those major industries saw a reduction in retail sales figures from [for] probably a year after that. It was most noticeable.

The Council in their wisdom in those days, wanted to take a lot of the traffic out of Heretaunga Street – Heretaunga Street was the main street from east to west, and of course we had the railway line dissecting [bisecting] Heretaunga Street in those days. And so the Council implemented a ring-road system, and the ring-road system was … Eastbourne Street was one way from east to west, and on the other side we had Queen Street which was west to east. Now Railway Road was the main road from the south, and that finished at Queen Street, so if a customer from Havelock North wanted to get to my pharmacy, they had to cross the railway line twice; they had to cross over at Eastbourne Street and come along Railway Road, and then cross over at Queen Street, and then into Russell Street, and into Heretaunga Street. So that was a logistic exercise to get in there. The ring-road system was very, very confusing, and so that certainly didn’t help retailing in the centre of Hastings.

The next scenario was to move the ring-road out to Southampton Street and St Aubyn Street; and in the meantime the Council decided to create three malls in the centre of Hastings. They got the consent of the retailers; they decided that, okay, it might be good for Hastings to do that, and the first block to be malled was the block between Market Street and the railway line. So that block was put in place as a mall. The second block to be malled was the block that I was in, between Russell Street and Karamu Road. And the Hastings City Council was due to change over to the Hastings District Council, so there was the fear that the District Council may squash the implementation of the mall; so our mall was fast-tracked. The roading system wasn’t in place completely, so the mall was implemented in our block and completed. So no cars were able to drive in there with no parking – there was a parking area designated on the corner of Karamu Road and Heretaunga Street behind the shops there. So for ten years we traded with that mall, and that, to me, was a disaster.

And what year was that?

Oh, Jim – I can’t tell you the year, I’m sorry …

Anyhow, I took a petition signed by ninety-eight per cent of the retailers to the Council, telling them that it wasn’t working, and that ninety-eight per cent of those retailers weren’t satisfied with it. We didn’t win the battle so the mall remained; situation didn’t improve, so I took another petition along to the Council, once again signed by ninety-eight per cent of the retailers in that block, and we lost by one vote, so the mall still remained. So we made a third attempt, and I thought, ‘Well, they’ve heard from me twice before; don’t want to hear from me again.’ At that point of time, Westerman’s store was becoming vacant – Arthur Barnett’s from Dunedin had been in there and that wasn’t very successful, so the store was going to be vacated. And the owners of that store saw what was happening to the block, and so Brian Martin and Kevin Atkinson joined forces, and they put a petition to the Council; because at that point of time, almost … about sixty per cent of those retail premises were vacant. And so they took a petition to the Council, and on the third attempt the Council had no option but to take that mall out. That’s what happened in the end – the mall was taken out and parking was restored. But it really was too late; we had big-box retailers … Kmart … coming to town, and they had that area where they opened up down there. And it was quite marked that retail sales figures started to drop off in the main street.

Reluctantly … we didn’t really want to open on Saturday mornings; pharmacies had Urgent pharmacies. But as time progressed, further up Heretaunga Street West pharmacies started to open, so we had no option – almost every pharmacy except for the UFS [United Friendly Societies] started to open on a Saturday morning. Initially trade was quite good on a Saturday morning, but then it started to drop off when Kmart came into town. So that was really the demise of the block that I was in. I went off to a British Pharmacy conference in Aberdeen in 1988 and I thought, ‘Well, what am I going to do?’ ‘Cause I could see the writing was on the wall. So after having been in Heretaunga Street for thirty-five years, from 1965 through ’til then, I decided it was time to close up. Barry Smythe and David Hughes came down to me and said to me, “Well, if you’re going to close up, come and work for us.”

So I changed the store to a health and beauty shop for a couple of years. We owned the building, and I thought, ‘Well, we’ll try that out.’ But that really didn’t work out either, so after two years I closed that part down. Joy and I went overseas; we had a son living in England and he was getting married, so we went off to England for three months. Came back, and having closed my pharmacy down, I then locumed for fifteen years around various pharmacies in Hastings, Napier, and I did the odd locum in Wanganui and in Palmerston North. Joy and I had two further trips overseas with family, and then grandchildren arrived; so two further trips to England, 2002 and 2005.

You had one son in England who had got married. What other children ..?

My eldest son, Andrew, was married here in Hawke’s Bay. And I had a daughter, Jane, who was also married here in Hawke’s Bay. And David, my youngest son, was married – he married an English girl, and they were married in England in a place called North Dalton in Yorkshire.

And the children now are living where?

All my family now live in Hawke’s Bay.

So now, after having worked in pharmacy for sixty-one years I thought it was time to retire. So at the age of eighty I retired, and now I’m enjoying all my free time playing golf. I’ve been a member of the Hastings Hosts Lions Club for fifty-one years. And I did one year’s stint as President of the Combined Probus Club of Te Mata, and just over a year ago we changed over to the Combined Rebus Club of Te Mata, and nobody wanted the job of President so I’ve carried on as President of the Combined Rebus Club of Te Mata.

Good, because I’m trying to find someone to take my place in the Coffin Dodgers as well, and I’m the President and executive, and all the works and everything; and Ian, you could take over that one as well.

[Chuckle] I’m still looking for [chuckle] a president to take over my job, Jim.

I know. I know. It’s impossible. Ian, that’s a pretty good talk you gave us. You’re still a good golfer. However, anything else you want to add?

Don’t think so, Jim, I think I’ve covered most of what I can recall.

Right. Well, Ian, on behalf of the Knowledge Bank we do thank you for this story on your life, and it was very interesting to go back and read about people and what they’ve done; doesn’t matter how many years ago, but there’s always something new that you learn.

I must say I’ve totally enjoyed my days living in Hawke’s Bay; it’s a wonderful climate and a wonderful place to live.

It sure is. So thank you very much.

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Interviewer  Jim Newbigin


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