Kevin Oswald (Ossie) Simmons Interview
Today is the 8th June 2017. I’m interviewing Ossie Simmons. Ossie of course is his nickname – he is Kevin. He’s a retired loader driver, top dressing. He’s also a private pilot. He owns an aeroplane and he’s probably one of the longest surviving private pilot licence holders in the Bridge Pa or East Coast Aero Club. Ossie would you like to tell us something about your family history?
Well, I think I was lucky enough to be born at the right time. At the time, you know, things seem to be all hectic, but looking back on it they were the best of times. You look round now – there’s violence, you can’t walk down the street without getting punched in the head. Those days you never locked a house; you didn’t ask where your car keys were – they were always in the car. You wouldn’t try it now.
So where did your folks come from, to New Zealand?
Well, we’d have to go back to Duart House to find all the … the full details, but from what I’ve been told I’ve got Welsh blood in me; I’ve got some relationship with Monaco; and there’s something in there about Jewish blood. Maybe that accounts for me not wanting to spend much money.
My grandfather was born – or spent early days – at the back-country settlement of Kereru. That’s thirty-odd miles south of Hastings. He lived there oh … from the turn of the century, and finally moved away from that farm in 1948 when a Georgetti who bought the farm set fire to the house and burnt it down. He moved out and went to live with me [my] father in Waipawa at that stage. He died in the early fifties.
What was his name?
His name was Frederick Augustus Simmons – buried at the local cemetery in Hastings.
No relation to the Simmons that was the mate of …
The picture that you’ve got in your mind, of Lester Masters and a man standing beside him, is my grandfather. I can tell you a story about Lester Masters. He wrote those two books ‘Tales of the Mails’ and ‘Backcountry Tales’. I can still see him sitting in the big rolled armchair in the sitting room of our house in Fitzroy Avenue – my grandmother, my grandfather, Lester Masters and myself. He’s sittin’ there talking to the grandparents, and he’s writin’ down all this data. Prior to him startin’ his writing he brought out his cigarette packets, stuck two papers together and then rolled his cigarette, which was about as big as your thumb. That was Lester Masters. He had the orchard out there at Twyford.
My grandfather married two sisters. The first sister died under anaesthetic, havin’ her teeth out here in Hastings. Then he married the sister – I think that was more or less someone to look after the kids, which was quite common in those days.
And at that stage he was living out in …
Out at Kereru. The farm was known as Glen [?Lyon?].
You went to school at Kereru …
I started school at Kereru. It was a single room, all class, one teacher school.
Do you remember any of the pupils that were there …
The Tahima family. In fact I’ve been to two reunions out there over the last twenty or thirty years. The first occasion I think there was about eight or ten people there that I knew. On the last occasion there was about three. Averills were one of them; Gousys were another; Andersons had Poporangi Station, Giorgi – they had the farm at the end of Duff Road where we lived .
And so you did some of your primary schooling there and then you came …
To Waipawa. I can remember the high school being built in front of what is now the primary school. The previous high school was half way up the street past the picture theatre.
Do you remember any of the Bibbys that were teachers at schools there?
I remember the family name of Bibby. We lived on the top of Abbotsford Road, up on top of Abbotsford hill. There was a Bibby lived just down from us. A Miss Gray lived down there – she was a school teacher. Next door to us was Harold Dwight – he used to run a garage and service station opposite the Railway Hotel in Waipawa. At that stage there were three hotels in Waipawa. Now there’s one, I think.
So did you go to High School in Waipawa?
No. I came into town to live with my grandparents at Fitzroy Avenue, and at that stage I was at Mahora School until … I think Standard 4 was the end of it. Then you were supposed to go to Intermediate. At that stage I was in Standard Six, so I missed out Intermediate – went straight from Standard 6 to Form 3 at high school. That was Hastings Boys’.
Was it just a single-sex school?
It was a co-ed school then, and then it was a big deal … “Oh, they’re going to go and … we can’t have these boys and girls in the same school.” So what did they do? They built another school and put it right beside a boys’ College. [Chuckle] And Miss Kelt was the headmistress of the Girls’ High School then. Jack Tier was the Headmaster of the Boys’ High.
So when you left high school, what did you do, Ossie?
I did various things. I’ve worked in freezing works; I was over in Australia on construction sites; I’ve been on construction sites in New Zealand … what else have I done? You name it, I’ve tried it. I think the job I liked best of all was aerial topdressing … loader driving.
Well, you started to fly when you were not much more than a boy?
Sixteen years of age I think. Still got the original log book.
Okay, here it is. Did my first dual flight on 19th August 1956; I did me [my] first solo in the same aeroplane on November 24th 1956. So I went from August … August, September, October … four months.
Can you remember what it was like when they cast you loose?
Yes I can. I’d done some circuits with Ken Parrish, and I’d bounced them a couple of times – they weren’t the best of landings. And he said, “Oh, that’ll do”, and we taxied back to the hangar and I thought we were going to call it quits. I heard him whistling and undoing his straps. He did the straps up and says, “Away you go”, and I was on me [my] own. So I taxied down to the end of the runway, ‘S’ turn all the way, which you’re supposed to do, to see what you’re doing, and turned into the wind. And I thought, ‘oh, well …’ After sitting there ‘bout ten minutes thinking about it, opened the throttle, said “I’ve got to go now, and that was it. I tell you what – I was very relieved to come back to … [Chuckle] But boy, did I get a swelled head after that.
Yes, because you were not a pilot until you flew on your own. During that time you obviously flew many of the other registered numbered Tigers?
Yes, there were three that we started with. There was BCC, BEW and BEX. Later on as well we had two Whitney Straights, AXT and AJZ, plus a Proctor, and I’m not too sure of the registration – ALH I think. But that was well beyond my capabilities. That was for charter work … experienced pilots. Then later on the Club bought another … they acquired another Tiger Moth, ANL, and we had a Piper Cub, Bravo Tango Uniform, and later on we got a Cessna 180 – the dream aeroplane. Heaps of grunt. I still like the Cessna 180 – if someone was to say “What would be your favourite aeroplane?” It’d have to be a Tiger Moth or a Cessna 180. But – you had to know what you were doin’ – it’d bite you … it’d bite you. But in the hands of someone who was competent, they were ideal – you only have to look at what they do in places like Alaska. And look what they did on deer recovery.
You mentioned Ken Parrish – he was the instructor – Ken was a very experienced pilot from [the] second world war. He was part of the Pathfinders squadron that flew out in front of the bombers …
They have to hang round too, in case they bombed the wrong place, and go back and drop some more flares.
You know, he was really like a father to all the young members of the Aero Club. He and Vicki used to open their house …
Down in Murdoch Road in front of the trucking firm.
But it was sad when he eventually instructing and went top dressing, and that’s where he …
Well, people said he intended to kill himself, but I personally can’t see that. I think he was born with an aeroplane strapped to his bum, and I can’t imagine him doing that. But I’ll say this for old Ken – I’ll always remember this – if you were lucky enough to be the last pupil of the day and he’s got sick of going round and round doing circuits, he’d say “How’s your straps?” and you’d check and make sure everything was … “Yeah, they’re tight – we’re ready.” So “Okay I’ve got it – hang on”, and he’d throw it all over the sky. And that’s how I learnt to do aerobatics. That’s the way you do it. You listen to what he says, and then when no-one’s looking you go way out the back somewhere and tried it. Have plenty of height, ‘cause if anything went wrong you let go and it’d go into a spin and recover. [Chuckle]
You carried on as a private pilot and doing other work around the place obviously to sustain your habit of flying?
And you got married?
Well, it was a relationship.
Yes. But you had a daughter …
Just one daughter?
That’s all. And I’m still living with her.
Yes. So when did you start doing aerial topdressing and loader driving?
Our first trip was with – I started off with Chris Pask, who now owns a vineyard. And he still flies occasionally.
I’ve done history of Putere, and of course Chris did quite a lot up at Willow Flat.
He was flying for Bill Cookson then, before he started out on his own.
He flew for Jim Frogley for …
Old Jim. Yeah, then young Jim started up, and he’s done a lot of that country up around Putere and Wairoa … all those places. Yeah.
And so that must’ve been an interesting job driving a …
It had its moments, but it got boring at times too.
I never ever envy you loader drivers, especially when you were flying out in the hopper of the aeroplane to …
I was lucky, I didn’t have to sit in the hopper. The closest I came to that was with Chris – he had Pawnees, and they had a jump seat that was between the motor and the hopper. So if there was a crash you were first on the scene. [Chuckle]
Did you ever know Colin Barr?
Yes – from Waipuk? [Waipukurau] Yeah, There was a tribe of them wasn’t there? He was a driver, wasn’t he? Yes .
He was a loader driver.
Didn’t he become a contractor of some sort?
Yes. Logging, up in Gwavas.
Yeah. You’d get on the booze with them and you were stuck. That was another thing with Ken – if you were away on a club trip somewhere, or you happened to go with him to any position, they got on the booze – no matter the fact that you were sixteen or seventeen, you were in with them.
So you loader drove for several different firms?
Yes – there was Chris Pask; then I helped out Dawson MacKintosh who has since passed on; and then after that I did several years with Ken Johnson. He’s given up – he’s stopped top dressing, or in fact he stopped flying. And then I ended up I did about eighteen years with Jim Frogley – Astro Air. And we were top dressing with the last Beaver still top dressing in the country.
Every morning I can hear the Beaver take off.
You can’t mistake it. Beats me why they … that they haven’t sort of stopped them from operating off that strip. I think it’s had something to do … they registered as a landing field many, many moons ago and nothing’s been rescinded. But it’s a wonder they haven’t said, because there’s houses all round it, and if the motor stopped they going to crash in, or something silly like that.
Well you must tell us something about the morning that Jim took off and you landed in the vineyard before you even left the area.
That was an interesting morning, that was. If I remember rightly it was July … was either June or July … and it was the middle of a bloody frosty mornin’. You sort of rubbed your hand over the wing, wiped all the ice off, cleared a little patch through the windshield so you could see where you were goin’ … “Righto – we’re away”. Open the throttle … ‘Oh no! Don’t think we’re goin’ in the right direction.’ It didn’t feel right, and I looked out – I could see through this little hole he’d cleared – I could see a little cabbage tree. We normally go over the top of that, and we’re goin’ beside it. Next minute the tail wheel caught the top wire of a fence, a long drop toilet, and then twelve fruit trees. Suddenly there was quietness. Jim looked at me; I looked at him. He said “We might as well get out, we’re not going anywhere.” [Chuckle] And that was that.
That was a Pawnee?
No, that was a Cessna Agwagon. And the TV3 camera was there before the local fire brigade. I’m only glad that it was apple trees and not pear trees, ‘cause I can imagine … pear trees have got branches that stick out horizontal. We never even got a scratch.
So have you retired from loader driving?
Yeah – yes, I’ve retired as of … I don’t know, ‘bout three or four years ago. Oh, if he asked me … if someone wanted a spell … yeah, I’d do it.
So there must’ve been some highlights from those years?
Oh … well there’s one occasion when we were flying down to finish off a job south of Waipuk, and by the Waipawa-Tukituki junction, Jim pointed to a gauge and says “Look at this!” We had a cracked block … something to that effect, and we were losing revs like it was going out of fashion. So he looked for a paddock, we saw one with [a] little grass on it. We thought that ‘this is going to be soft – we’re going to touch down and tip on our nose.’ No we didn’t – we touched down, ran through this new grass, left a rut about eighteen [?] deep. [Chuckle] That was in his Beaver. So there’s another one of the pilots, the sort of person – you’d hop in a plane, and just forget about it. He’s flyin’ it – he knows what he’s doin’ – he was good. I’d go anywhere with him.
‘Course he’s a good mechanic as well.
Yes – on that occasion … I don’t know whether I’m supposed to say this … but he rung [rang] up his wife; she hooked up the trailer – oh, she first of all came up and picked us up; went back home; hooked up the trailer – there was a time-expired motor – put that on the trailer; took it back to the aeroplane; removed the old motor; put the time-expired motor in; and flew it back to his house. You can’t do that with a modern aeroplane.
They don’t have many instruments … they don’t have much of anything.
No. How these guys fly these modern machines – God, you’d have to have a pox doctor’s licence to understand the gauges.
You’re obviously a member of the RSA, because that’s where Colin Wilson sits and has a whisky with you?
Yeah – he’s an every Saturday morning man, that one. Well, we bring up all sorts of subjects. We might say “Remember when Jock Fraser used to have a property on the corner of Tomoana Road and St Aubyn Street there? Well that’s just a shopping area now. Well, you start from the top end of town – see what businesses were going and aren’t going now. Start at the Stortford Lodge – pub’s gone. On the other side of the road there used to be a service station – in fact there were two service stations, the Premier, and then there was Porteous – well they’re both gone. You start coming down the street, and the empty shops in that main street is something fantastic. I don’t know, but possibly it’s since they’ve made us a mall sort of round the old park area. And I would say the people in the shops in the main street would probably have to be paying an exorbitant rent, so they decided to call it quits. Picture theatre – it used to be on … the Embassy Theatre. Temple Martin used to go to the movies every Friday night … you could guarantee you’d see Temple Martin at the Embassy Theatre. And he always had that cigarette in his mouth. ‘Mr Moth’, they called him. Never changed.
But of course those were the days when Aerial Mapping used to fly out of Bridge Pa too …
Piet van Asch … Cyril Whittaker
Bob Fleming – Cyril Whittaker when he changed from the old Beechcraft to their first …
The first one was a Monospar. Then they got the Beechcraft; then they got the … oh, the name escapes me … real flash one anyway. He used to fly out to the Islands. Rockwell Commander.
D’you still fly?
Occasionally. It’s getting to the stage where … I’m thinking about chucking it in. To go for a medical now you’ve got to pay the Air Department $300 – just for the right to go for … to apply for an application to go for a medical, then you pay the doctor $300. Well, if you’re a pensioner that’s going to take a fair whack out of your pension.
The other thing that’s changed a lot over time is the navigational instruments you have.
If you go to Taupo you follow the road, and then most of that was pumice anyhow, because if your motor stopped the only place you were going to land is on the road, on the fire break.
Well old Jim Frogley when he had the Avro going, he wasn’t supposed to fly at night. But he’d come back on a moonlight night and land it at Napier Airport. They could never catch him, but they knew he’d landed ‘cause the machine was still hot. [Chuckle]
Besides going to the RSA, what else are you ..?
Oh, I still go out deerstalking. My mate and I struck a ballot to go wapiti hunting last year, and we went down to a place called Mt Tanilba, which is south of Milford Sound. First day … we helicoptered in and had to stop at a hut and wait for the weather to come right, and carried on. Left our gear down the river, or most of our gear, took some fly camping gear; got the helicopter to take us up on this high ridge; took us four days to walk downhill – four days!
To walk downhill?!
You know, if someone said to me … “Goin’ to take four days to walk downhill”, I’d say “Oh, you’re telling lies!” And the thing is, there’s that much fern and stuff there – you had to push every fern aside to see where you goin’ to step your foot. You imagine breakin’ a leg way out in places like that. Mind you, I’ve got a beacon with me all the time and stuff like that. But the first day, as the helicopter disappeared and we started walking, come round the corner and there’s two big wapiti, and when I say big – they looked like horses. An, they’re big! They really are. And that’s the only two we saw, but it’s a waste of time shootin’ ‘em on the first day – what are you goin’ to do with ‘em? So we spent a week down there … really enjoyed that. And I’ve been down since to a place called Supper Cove, and you know, we took a little inflatable dinghy with us down there so we did fishing as well as hunting. Got a deer on that one.
Whereabouts is that cove?
Supper Cove … it’s the start of the Dusky Track. Go on the Dusky Track you come out at Lake Hauroko – deepest lake in New Zealand. I don’t recommend you try that trip – that Dusky Track – it’s rugged. It really is. Well this trip we did to Supper Cove … as you leave the hut, you’re heading down to join on to the Dusky Track and you come to a section where they were building a road. And it’s about six foot wide and there’s a trench either side of the road to let the water pass, and then you come round a corner and there’s a ladder. Sixteen rungs on this ladder, different heights – you can’t … the road continues on, but then it just stops. You imagine those guys with pick[s] and shovels!
Yes, so I still do a bit of shooting. As you see I’ve got a boat out there. It’s a hole in the ocean surrounded by fibreglass into which you pour untold amounts of money.
Is the little camper yours too?
Yeah, but I gave it to me [my] daughter – she goes out occasionally.
The thing that intrigues me … you started earlier about your family records being in Duart House in Havelock – what’s your association with Duart?
Well, I’m not too sure … pretty sure it was an uncle of mine had … I think his daughter still carries on … had something to do with the genealogy side of that outfit out there. Our family is not the only family that’s mentioned there – there’s the Knapp family; the Nairn family, well known in Hawke’s Bay. We’re related to them somehow.
Do you have any grandchildren?
Yeah. I’ve got a great-grandson too.
Have you taken him hunting?
No, he’s only twelve months. I took me [my] daughter [chuckle] out hunting. We went up the Kuripapango, started walkin’ up the river to the Cameron Hut; come [came] to a decent fishing pool, caught a trout and while I am gutting that she played with the rod and she gets a bigger one. [Chuckle] So we carried on up to the Cameron Hut, and the weather turned ratshit … river came up; not a show of gettin’ home down the river. So we tried to walk out up the hill and back down the Smith-Russell track – no, couldn’t. Next day, tied her on me [my] back so I could cross this swing bridge; came out over Gentle Annie, and … she’s not coming back in the bush with me, she reckons.
I said to the kids, “Look – if you want to go camping and tramping and do those sorts of things, why don’t we join the Tramping Club?”
Heretaunga Tramping Club? I belonged to that too, at one stage. Keith Elder was the head [?] virtually? Phil Baines … he was a Dutchman … Club Captain.
I cut half those tracks in the Kawekas.
Thirty-six huts in that range and I’ve been to everyone except one.
So you really walked in the shadow of your great grandfather – was it?
Old Fred? Grandfather.
So … you ever feel him walking beside you in the bush?
Yeah. [Chuckle] Yeah – and I still go out to Kereru occasionally and have a look at the place. But as I say, the house got burnt down. The farm had been sold. All the house was packed, all the furniture was packed up and all the rest of it. And this bloke burnt the place. They lost everything. I think that’s what killed my grandfather.
Well I think we’ve probably just about got most of it, haven’t we? Is there anything else you can think about that we may’ve missed?
Not really. I’m trying to think of instructors that people would’ve known. Herb Maxwell they tell me is in assisted living now. I always thought he was invincible. [Chuckle] He missed out on flying during the war. He was a baker at the time, evidently, and he was in training – from what I hear he was in training when it all finished, so he missed out. And looking back on the flying those guys did, I don’t know if I’d’ve had the bloody nerve to do it. You know, I like flying, and aerobatic[s] and stuff like that, but I don’t know if I could do it.
How many hours did you do?
I doubt if I did a thousand hours, but it’d be pretty close to it.
All right Ossie, well I think that’s probably given us just a picture of who is Ossie Simmons …
[Chuckle] He’s nothing startling.
What’s the story on Dr Ballantyne’s house, just here? Do they have an open day where you can see … compare notes, or ..?
You can go in any time between ten and four during the week. We had an open day only a month ago when we invited everyone. All the interviews are loaded on the website; you can find out about various people. We lease the building. The Knowledge Bank is a Trust – we lease it from the Council.
‘Cause that was Ballantyne’s house, and he was another little wee short …
He was the last owner of it, but Dick Harrison, the MP’s family used to live there … chap that built it was a farmer who had it as his town house. It’s had four or five owners over time, ‘cause it was built in 1870 … 1880. It’s quite old.
Yeah, it’d be a twelve-foot stud. No insulation.
No. All right.
Additional recording after completion of main interview:
Well I did several jumps myself. I thought ‘Oh well, I might have a go at this’. I’d’ve liked to have a go at flying them. And as luck would have it the parachute instructor and the local Aero Club instructor notified, or got in touch with the Air Department on my behalf, and I got permission as a private pilot to drop parachuters … normally you’d have to be a commercial … and I’ve done I should say five hundred drops. No-one’s ever got hurt – not with me, anyhow. [It] was a funny sensation, flyin’ parachuters – you’d be flying normally; you’d get up to height and then they say they’re ready to go … “Open the door”. And suddenly you’ve got a big space – you know, two square metres of absolutely nothing! And anyhow, get the throttle off … away they’d go … probably have two hangin’ on the struts and one in the doorway. You’re cross controlling, holding everything there. Away they go, so you promptly put everything back in its proper configuration. Then I’d have to shut that door. Being of short arms, I’d have to let the controls go, sort of swing side-saddle on the seat, grab the handle and bring the door shut. [Chuckle] And once it was shut you were fine, it was good as gold. It was no problem.
But I had one occasion where I could see the cloud building in front of me. I said “Righto, you guys – you’d better hurry up and get out ‘cause I’ve got a cloud here.” They mucked around; finally away they went. Looked ahead – nothing but white. So what do you do? Trim everything for a slight glide and go straight ahead. Luckily at twelve thousand feet you’ve got heaps of room – come out underneath it.
So you did a few drops yourself?
Yep. Well I suppose I’ve done about four hundred jumps. I know I’ve had at least five malfunctions … had to use the spare one there. That was fun.
Well look, that’s great.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Kevin Oswald Simmons