Kyle, Robert James & Susanne Mary Interview
Today is the 15th day of August 2017. I’m interviewing Robert and Sue Kyle of Taradale. Robert, would you like to start by telling us something about the history of your family? Thank you.
My grandparents, Annie and George Kyle, arrived from Ireland … Londonderry, Ireland, in 1910. They started farming at Korokipo; moved to Hatuma – they were there until 1928 when they bought a property at Eskdale called Rocky Basin, which was a thousand acres just up Waipunga Road. And the farm is still there, still in the family and farmed by my grandson, young George Kyle.
They moved there at the time of the earthquake. And my father moved up there before anyone was on the farm; before the house was built. And he said in 1928, he was only fourteen, but he was the one that had to drive the truck with the bits and pieces up to the farm. Unfortunately he was stopped by a traffic cop outside Waipukurau at one stage, who said, “Why haven’t you got a licence?” And so the cop told him he’d better write in to get a licence; so all he had to do was write in to get a driver’s licence, which he did do. They built the house up there in 1931 at the time of the earthquake, 3rd February 1931, and the house was virtually destroyed and they had to rebuild. But that’s where they started; there was a family of ten … my father’s family had ten children in the family.
On my mother’s side, the Florances – Florance spelt with an ‘A’ – he was a school teacher and he was headmaster at Eskdale in the thirties until he had a heart attack in 1938 at the age of 58 and he had to retire on medical grounds and he moved over to Haumoana, Hastings way, and lived there until his death in 1966 aged eighty-six. And in that family were nine children, my mother being number three I think. And at that stage I think she was doing her nursing training in Waipukurau, and she had to come home and look after her father at some stage; so that ended her nursing career. But I think at the time that they were at Eskdale my mother and father got together, and they were married in October 1939. But before that my father had joined the Police, and did his training in Wellington, at barracks there in early 1939, and then was posted to Auckland. And I think he was in Auckland before he got married, but then they went to live in Auckland.
And I was born in Auckland at Kohimarama on 28th October 1942, right in the dim dark stages of the war. Now at that time, I can remember – probably as a two-year-old – I can remember the blackouts that we had, putting up the big grey curtains over the windows so that no light was shining out. And then during the day going out and about, there were planes flying overhead and I can remember somebody stopping and said [saying], “Identify those planes.” ‘Course they were friendly planes at that stage, so nothing happened.
The other thing that happened at that stage – when we left Auckland my father was posted to Gisborne, and we left Auckland in August 1945. I was two years and three quarters. And we had to get the train from Auckland to Palmerston North and the railcar from Palmerston North to Gisborne so it was an overnight trip from Auckland to Palmerston North. At the time we were leaving that day, it was impossible to get a taxi, and eventually my father got an offer from a neighbour down the road who had a car and took us to the railway station. On the train overnight I can remember the train stopping at Waiouru and soldiers exiting the camp and jumping on the train. And it wasn’t ‘til afterwards that I realised that was VJ Day, 1945. And we travelled to Palmerston North and then on to Gisborne, and we had six years in Gisborne. I can just remember the sunny summer days waiting for my father to come home from work, and then my mother had packed up a picnic tea and we’d go down to the beach at Wainui and have a swim, and have tea on the beach; and it was a great life.
At various times my father would go relieving up the coast to Tolaga Bay, and if it was holiday time he’d take us up there too and we’d stay in the big hotel at Tolaga Bay where the local Maoris would come in on their horses and [chuckle] hitch them up to the post outside the hotel. And we’d have a holiday there; we’d stay in the hotel of course, and that was really enjoyable.
And I started school in Gisborne; went to Te Hapara School. I started off at school – we had to walk; I wasn’t allowed … I could ride a bike, but I wasn’t allowed to ride a bike to school until I was six. That was easy going at that stage, but it was enjoyable going to school there. At that stage the school was also building a swimming pool, so my father sort of contributed to the construction of the pool. And we enjoyed a bit of it in the last year we were there I think. And then he was moved on promotion to Wellington as Sergeant in Wellington, and we moved down from Gisborne. And we lived at Taita which was just a developing community at that stage. There were virtually no shops; or the shops were being built out by the railway station, but very little activity going … there’s a Post Office and I remember a Post Office and there were probably a few other shops there, but there were a couple of cooperatives set out in the community, sort of like a big dairy, and they were the main places you went for groceries and so forth. But we were in Taita there for two and a half years, and then we moved to Napier – he was transferred to Napier, still Sergeant of Police in Napier in 1954. At Taita I went to Taita Central School; came to Napier, I went to Napier Intermediate … two years at Napier Intermediate … and then on to Napier Boys’ High School, and I spent five years at high school.
Did you play any sports?
I used to play rugby. There was a school reunion last week … a week ago, ten days ago … and they said, “Oh – what sport do you play?” I said, “I used to play rugby out in the field there,” I said, “probably until one day I went to grab the ball and somebody put a boot in and I got it on the finger”. And I said, “As you can see one finger’s still bigger than the other today, and I sort of … it put me off playing rugby after that.” But that was probably in the senior years anyway.
When I first went to school I wanted to go farming, so I thought, ‘Well I’ll do three years at high school, get School Certificate, and then go.’ Of course School Certificate came round, but I missed School Certificate by ten marks – when you had to get an aggregate of two hundred marks – so I missed it by ten marks. So I thought, ‘Oh – what to do now?’ So I thought, ‘I’ll go back for another year and get School Certificate before I leave.’ But going back and doing that Upper Fifth at that stage, science suddenly clicked; and I passed School Certificate with a good mark in science. So I thought, ‘Well I’ll go back, and we’ll see how far I can go – I’ll go back and have a crack at University Entrance.’ So I went back the following year and took English, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, with the Agriculture option on the end. There was one teacher who thought … probably knowing my past record or previous history in the Chemistry class … as we walked out from the first Chemistry class he said, “Oh, Kyle”, he said, “are you doing chemistry this year?” And I said, “Yes.” And he threw his head back and laughed … laughed like a … And I thought, ‘Oh, okay – you’ll wait.’ So mid-year exams, who was top of the class? [Chuckles] So I had a smile on my face at that stage.
Who was the teacher?
Bruce Webster – he’s now deceased. So I did all right throughout that year, and had University Entrance accredited. But prior to my leaving school, probably about the last year or so, an uncle of mine on the Kyle side … the youngest, Max Kyle … because of the large family he was only ten years older than me. And he’d done veterinary science through Sydney University, and he set up a practice out here in Taradale. And I used to come out and visit him and see what was going on, and sort … I thought, ‘Oh – maybe I could do this.’ So I thought, ‘Well rather than going farming I’ll stay on, and I’ll go to university and see how far I can get.’
So I went to Massey University, 1961; and there you did Botany, Zoology, Chemistry and Physics – four subjects for the Intermediate year, and I managed to pass. In those days you didn’t get notification of your results; it was all written up in the paper. And the first inkling I had of it, my parents – well, when they left Napier here they moved to Hamilton in 1960, in my last year of high school. So I’d come home at that stage, and on the day that the results came out the chap across the way that lived opposite us … chap McNab … he’d invited me to go fishing out at Raglan. So when I arrived home my mother came out, and she said, “Oh”, she said, “you’ve passed; you’ve passed!” I said, “Passed what?” [Chuckle] She said, “Oh – you’ve passed all your exams.” And I said, “Well how do you know that?” Because she’d had a phone call from my father’s sister who lived at Otorohanga; she’d read it in the Herald that morning and rang through, so that was my indication of the results.
So from there on, I thought, ‘Well I’ll make application to the Veterinary Services Council in Wellington”, who organise the bursaries and so forth at the Australian University, Sydney and Brisbane. And I made application for that and they asked me for an interview in Wellington on the 14th of December 1961. So I duly went down, leaving Hamilton on the overnight train, travelling all night; and I thought, ‘Well what state am I going to be in the next day for an interview?’ But however, I got there. And we had to go to Massey House on Lambton Quay – be there at about nine o’clock I think, everybody assembled. And I got there and found that there were sixty-six others there [chuckles] for an interview that day. So I thought, ‘Oh, this is not good.’ But talking round to some of them at that stage, they said they didn’t do so well in their exams; they didn’t get a Pass; they got a D for Physics or something else, and I thought, ‘Oh – that puts me a bit further up the list seeing I’ve passed everything.’ So went into the interview, and they said, “After the interview stay around, or go for a walk, have some lunch; but be back here at four o’clock in the afternoon and we’ll announce the list that are going to Sydney or Brisbane.” So during the interview – it’s just a cursory interview. I walked into the room and I think there were three old codgers sitting behind the table there; they asked a couple of questions and they said to me … well just as it finished they said, “If you got a bursary to go to study in Australia, where would you like to go? Sydney or Brisbane?” And my answer at that stage was, “I’m not fussy about what university I go to”, I said, “I’d just like to do the Veterinary course.” So that was the end of the interview. Went out, went for a walk up the street, had some lunch and had a look around Wellington; everybody had to be back there at four o’clock and they just read out a list. There were 16 to go to Sydney and nine to Brisbane. Sydney was – they’d stated that this was their last year; 1962 would be their last intake of students from New Zealand. Brisbane, I think they might have carried on for a year or two later, but Sydney was the last lot. So they just read the list out, and they said, “Here are the names of the people who are going”, and my name was amongst them … shock horror!
So at that stage then you had to get back on the train that night and back to Wellington, ‘cause I was working at the Waikato Brewery down the river. But because of my age being eighteen, I wasn’t allowed to work on the bottling chain or anything to do with the brew itself, so I was employed as a labourer outside. And they were building another big coolstore, so there was a lot of wheelbarrowing and concreting and everything else so that was all right, but it didn’t stop you sort of heading into the canteen after work and having a beer or two.
So in February I received a letter from the Veterinary Services Council in Wellington to say that they’d organised the plane trip and everything else, and we were to leave from Whenuapai in Auckland on the 28th February 1962. In that envelope I received was an air ticket for TEAL (Tasman Empire Airways Limited in those days), and it was a one-way ticket; they paid one way. When you finished the course they’d pay for you to come home again. But also as part of that we were bonded to come back to New Zealand to work in the Veterinary club system somewhere in New Zealand for five years. And at that stage you paid back some of your contribution to the Veterinary Services Council – probably to help support others who might be going overseas; but we were the last lot to go anyway.
So I was there, finished the course anyway, and came back to New Zealand and started work in Levin at the Horowhenua-West Coast Veterinary Club. I was to be the Vet in Levin, and they had another graduate from Brisbane in Otaki. In Levin it was still the old Vet who was there, who was Jim Hill-Motion, an old Scotsman. He used to get around in plus fours … real old Scot. He was getting on in years and he wanted to retire, so as I started there he was going to retire; but at that stage the other young bloke in Otaki – his wife was from Brisbane and she wasn’t settling in to life in New Zealand at all, so he had to depart at that stage. So I don’t know what he did with his bursary, but he went back to Queensland.
So at that stage they said, “Well there’s nobody to take over the Otaki end.” If I would go to Otaki until they found somebody, and then I could come back and take over the Levin end, which I did do, from August that year until about Christmas time I think, ‘67. And then I eventually came back to Levin; and then at the beginning of the next year Jim Hill-Motion retired and I took over the house. Up until that time I was living in a flat. Interesting – when I first went to Levin they said, “What accommodation do you want?” Well, they haven’t got the house because Hill-Motion and his wife were in the house; and they said, “Do you want to go flatting, or board, or … what do you want to do?” I said, “I don’t want to go boarding”. I said, “I’ll just go flatting and look after myself.” So they said, “Oh – we’ll see what we can find for a flat.” So I think after a day or so they came back; this was the Secretary to the Dairy Company ‘cause the Vet Club was under the control of the Dairy Company as such. And he said to me, “We haven’t got anything in town, but there is the house down at the Kuku Dairy Factory just south of Ohau, ‘bout … few miles south of Levin.” I said, “Oh, that’ll be all right.” He said, “It’s an old dairy factory house; it’s on the road called Butterfat Alley.” [Chuckles] But it was a bit of an old shack, but it was a roof over the head and I lived there until August; until I was moved to Otaki, and then when I came back to Levin I had another flat in Queen Street, and then moved into the house the following year. Well I was in Levin for four years, and then …
Was that mainly a farm practice?
It was all dairying … majority was dairying, so you had your busy days. And I can always remember, sort of June/July were fairly quiet; you might be [get] a few calls over the day, nothing much; and you think, ‘Gosh – nothing much is happening.’ And then you get to mid-July and everything was happening with calvings here, there and everywhere. And days on end you’d be out there, sort of daylight in the morning, it was six o’clock in the morning, and you wouldn’t get home ‘til ten o’clock at night; and that went on for a few weeks. It was just endless.
Working there with two of us … I was in Levin and the other Vet was in Otaki. The other chap from Otaki, he was, they recruited him from England and he set up in Otaki and I was in Levin but we had a weekend off every second week. And then when you’re on duty for that week then you cover the whole area from virtually Foxton to Paraparam [Paraparaumu], which took a fair chunk out of the day if you had to call down to Paraparam – it’d take about an hour to get down there in amongst all the traffic – even in those days, and then back again. But that was good; it gave you a you know, bit more variety and you got to see other people and so forth.
But I was there four years, and then at that stage the uncle in Taradale – he’d developed the practice to quite a large animal practice which he was having trouble keeping up with, so he said to me would I like to join him in practice here in Taradale. So I thought that’d be all right, but I hadn’t quite finished my time for the bond. My uncle said, “Well if you come to me”, he said, “I’ll pay out the bond”, which was only $250 I think, to finish off. So I left there and came to start work up in Taradale. But during that time, right at the end, my wife (now my wife) decided to have a birthday party on their farm just out of Levin. Her father was a dairy farmer whom I’d known for many years, and so she had a birthday party out there. And she said she invited me because she had a girlfriend she thought I might like to meet, but I think there might have been an ulterior motive. [Chuckle] there. And I got to know her that night, and sort of things happened from there over the year. I came up here and then correspondence, and keeping connected, and then we married at the end of 1971, so that’s nearly forty-six years ago. And we came to live in Taradale. The first house I bought from Kel Tremain in 1971 … beginning of 1971 … was in Gloucester Street … 102 Gloucester Street … just towards the clock from the Presbyterian Church. There was the Presbyterian Church, a block of flats and then 102. So we lived there for about five years I think; our first child was born there … Sally … and now lives in Whangarei.
Right. How many brothers and sisters did you have? And are they all still around?
There were five of us … my sister, there was me …
And what was her name?
Her name is Shirley … Shirley Ruth Kyle. She didn’t marry. She’s had a stroke and she’s in care at Waiapu House in Havelock North … in there. Then my brother Alan, he died last year. And I had another brother, Hilton, and the youngest brother is Eric.
At this point then we’re going to ask Sue to tell us about her family …
Sue: Well, I can trace my family coming to New Zealand – one branch of the family – on my maternal side back to my great-great-great-grandfather, so a Mr Bennett, who came to Wellington from England. And I have one of his ornaments stuck in the lounge there that has who it belonged to, and that he brought it out from England. I don’t know how valuable it is, but it’s just got sentimental value. My grandmother was very good at writing on things, and where they came from.
And I grew up in Levin, and my maternal grandfather was from the South Island; sort of one of the early babies to be born, I think somewhere round Blenheim. And then they moved to the North Island and farmed; his father came with all the family to Shannon and they eventually broke in land at Shannon. That was Scottish ancestry, and my maternal grandmother’s father came out from England too; the connection with Wellington, and the one I just mentioned. And her father was a draper; actually used to be Atkin and Warnock and then it became Warnock. And then he got out of that and then decided to go farming. The hearsay is that he wasn’t really that much of a farmer, but anyway … So they came to Levin, so that grandfather was in Shannon and my grandmother was in Levin; so they married. And then my father’s side of the family came from the South Island, and they did the same thing; from Invercargill they came up to the North Island.
My paternal grandparents settled in Shannon; my paternal grandfather was a dairy factory manager around certain places … the Manawatu and the Wairarapa … and then moved to Shannon and had a small farm, but they supplied all the milk for the people in Shannon from their farm. So when my father went off to World War II he left his father to look after the farm and do all the milk deliveries; he managed on his own I think. So my parents married and settled on a farm that was my grandfathers, ‘bout three miles out of Levin, just off State Highway 57 between Levin and Shannon. And I was one of three children … the second of three children.
What were the others’ names?
My elder sister was Diana; and there was me, and the younger brother who unfortunately passed away at ten. So that’s where we grew up, and I went to school in Levin. We used to actually bike for three miles on State Highway 57, which you wouldn’t dare do today, into Levin East School which was the nearest school. Some children up the road that we lived in which was McDonald Road used to catch the bus that went to a country school, Koputaroa, north of Levin, but our parents chose for us to go into the town school, so that’s what we did.
And then when I came to my secondary schooling I was sent off to boarding school at Wanganui Girls’ College, where my mother and my maternal grandmother had attended, plus a great aunt and my mother’s cousin, so [chuckle] they were following the tradition. It was a State school so it was difficult to get into, because all the people who were out in the remote areas had first choice, so I managed to get into the boarding establishment by Term 2 after private boarding for the first term.
The farm that I grew up on was a dairy farm and stud sheep. My mother had a stud Southdown flock which I think she established before she was married, I think. So my mother was as much of a farmer as my father; so he was the one that milked the cows, and mum had the sheep, but he had an interest in the sheep as well. So the farm is still in family hands; my parents have both passed away, so my sister and I are fifty/fifty shareholders in that property, and they lease it.
So you’re still a dairy farmer?
No, no, so now – it’s a dry stock farm now. Oh well, it’s not dry stock … dairying has finished, yes. I’m just a … I’m a custodian property owner, I suppose that’s what you’d say that I am.
So then Robert has probably told you that he went and worked for the Horowhenua Vet Club and he was the Vet for the farm. So I was quite a bit younger than him, so he wasn’t really in my league at all, he was far too old for me [chuckle] … until you sort of get to a certain stage and suddenly the gap closes a bit, doesn’t it? So that’s how we met. And I left school and went to Palmerston North Teachers’ College, which was the last of the two-year course. And some of my peers also did a degree but you didn’t need to. And did my PA year in Levin, and then when I got married we came to Taradale and I taught at Taradale School – only for a couple of years [chuckle] before Sally, our first child, came along in 1974. Subsequently we had four children – Sally, Rosemary, Helen and David. The three girls were born here in Napier, and then we had a move to Masterton, and number four, David, was born in Masterton.
The years that we spent in Taradale when Robert was part of the Veterinary Clinic with his uncle were very different to what they became later, because when we moved to Masterton and Robert joined Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries … which is now Ministry of Primary Industries … it was totally different. Once you left work it was virtually … you know, there was no after calls. So the phone … I don’t know if Robert said, but he was on duty every second weekend – Saturday morning clinic, and on call for the whole of the weekend – that was every second weekend … think his hours were from eight ‘til six, and so I had to answer the phone frequently and we had a half acre section in Harpham Street at one stage, with three children. And he would be mowing the lawn, up and down – it was like a big paddock at the back, and if the phone rang from some farmer in Tutira on a Saturday afternoon, he was very reticent to come up and talk to him on the phone. And I was supposed to have all the answers – it was really a little bit of a [chuckle] bone of contention with us at the time. But strangely enough, when that was gone and we moved to Masterton … moved away from our usual habitat … and not knowing anyone (but we did quickly get to know people down there), it was a strange thing not to have that phone ringing. I’d almost had a sense of loneliness that no one was calling on the phone because that phone was always going; it was quite funny really.
But then the change with that was, as far as family was concerned, that [background noise] where Robert started work in the clinic when he was in clinical practice, at eight o’clock in the morning, he started having early mornings, and had to be at the meat plant early. And I think that actually got worse when we moved back to Waipukurau for a short time when he was at Takapau; and even more so, I think there was some even earlier starts when he came back to work in the meat plants here, when we eventually arrived back in Taradale. So yes, he was gone early in the morning; so there was quite a bit to handle early in the morning getting children organised and getting them off to school, and getting everyone up. I didn’t have the help that often this generation has; their fathers [are] much more hands-on, I think.
Robert: David used to come out and have breakfast with me sometimes about five o’clock in the morning – he was the early riser. Yeah.
Sue: It is different, because parenting is a much more shared thing nowadays than it was I think with our generation; this next generation it’s much more shared and we do talk about it amongst our peers.
Yesterday’s mothers carried a lot of extra responsibility.
Yes. Yes, we did. So that for me – for other people, I really admire them to get back into the workforce – but for me that made it very difficult for me to have any energy and time left over to even think about … apart from a bit of relief teaching … to even contemplate making that commitment again.
So then you came back to Pacific [Freezing Works] – was that after ..?
No – we’ll go on from there. When I was in practice here my area of duty was from up on the Wairoa road … the Wairoa/Gisborne road … from Putorino; on the Napier/Taupo Road up to Tarawera; on the Napier/Taihape Road up to Glen Ross, or Waiwhare, where the roads intersected there. So if you had a job somewhere up say, Tarawera or Tutira, you had to allow an hour to get there before you started work. Back in those days it was mainly heavy work, pregnancy testing beef cattle, and I used to probably work through probably four, five hundred a day, so you’d probably work in a mob of say, two hundred and fifty, and you’d probably get that started in the morning. So if you’re way up the back of Tutira somewhere, I’d be gone by seven o’clock to be on the job by eight o’clock, and hopefully you get the two hundred and fifty out in the morning; and then I’d have a smaller lot of about two hundred to do in the afternoon. And then you’d probably be home by about six o’clock at night if you’re lucky – tried to get home before dark, anyway. So that was the area that I worked in at that stage.
But previous to that, when I was in Levin doing the coast down there, I was clocking up forty thousand miles a year.
It doesn’t leave much time for looking after stock, does it?
No. Because you’re just up and down the coast all day. Sometimes you’d be called down the coast in the morning, and you’re working up the other end and all of a sudden, late afternoon, there’d be another call down there. So you had to go, you can’t say, “Well, I’ll leave it till tomorrow.”
And then working up here, I was here ten years, ‘71 to ‘81. At that stage there was a [an] economic downturn in farming, and we had a discussion regarding the income from the large animal stuff, and it was decided at that stage that I’d probably better find something else. So at that stage I joined the Ministry of Agriculture. And I can remember when I started off I was investigating the situation, and I knew Tom Dysart, who was the regional Veterinary officer for MAF over in Hastings. So I rang him and had a talk to him, and he was quite keen for me to come on board. I said, “Well I’d like to go and have a look at the place; see what things look like in a meat works”, because sometimes you just had all these old cattle round … old blood and guts, and skips and things going up and down on a railway line and … it looked terrible. I knew the Vet in charge at Tomoana, so I rang him one day, and he was not in his office but somebody answered the phone and they said, “Oh, Barry’s not in the office at the moment; he’s out on the board.” And I thought, ‘Oh – wonder what he’s talking about, out on the board?’ I eventually found out he was talking about the slaughter floor. So I made arrangements to go over there and have a look, and I can remember walking into the slaughter floor on Tomoana there; six chains … sheep chains … and all this stainless steel all round the place; there’s stainless steel tables, and apron washers and hand wash basins. And everything was … there are no hand operated taps, everything was foot operated. And I’ve been in a hospital stay – why haven’t they got foot operated taps rather than the hand operated taps? Oh, they use the elbows, but they’re always pushing them with their hands. And it was just … completely different world.
But I joined the MAF anyway, and that was in February ‘81 … beginning of February ‘81. And I started off at Tomoana; and you were supposed to have six weeks’ induction training. I went there and after the first week or so there was the foot and mouth scare down south, so everything sort of closed down and all restrictions came into place; all truck inspections, and washing and everything else. And up until that stage the meat inspectors had carried out the ante-mortem inspection on the animals before slaughter. At this stage they said no, they wanted a Veterinary inspection, so a Vet had to be in the yards to carry out that function. So they said to me, “Would you like to go into the yards and pass the stock?” And I said, “Well yeah, that’s the easy part and I know about that.” So I went down there and for the next three or four weeks I was in the yards assessing stock, inspecting stock, passing stock, on the beef side and the sheep side. And then after about five or six weeks they said, “Oh, they need a Vet in Masterton – will you go down there?” So we sort of hummed and hawed, and sort of … eventually – we didn’t move to Masterton – went to Waingawa [?NE1?] which was an old place, unlike Tomoana. And we spent eighteen months there.
Sue: Nineteen I think it was.
Robert: And David, our eldest, was born down there. youngest. Our only son, he was born down there.
Robert: Our eldest son [chuckle] … our only son; he was born down there. And then after eighteen months I applied for the position at Takapau which was a new plant; it had only been operating a year at that stage, and I was accepted for the position there, as Supervising Veterinarian. I went there and I was on my own for most of that year; so you had to be there first thing in the morning for ante-mortem inspections … be there about seven o’clock. They started slaughtering at about half past seven, and then it went on through the day and they finished about half past seven. But at that stage – everything passed inspection, but they had this ancillary rail, where carcasses which hadn’t passed inspection – they had say, pleurisy, or other problems that needed a little more attention than they could do trimming on the detailing rail as it went round. And usually they did the lambs in the morning and the older ewes in the afternoon, and of course they’re the ones with all the problems. This ancillary rail was sort of chockablock by the end of the day, and although the slaughtering finished at half past four, all the workers went home; most of the inspectors went home; probably a couple of the inspectors stayed on to finish off all this other work which probably didn’t finish ‘til about five o’clock at night, so it sort of made a long day of it at that stage.
I was at Takapau for eighteen months, and then Barry Thompson, who was the Supervising Vet at Tomoana, he retired and I applied for it; but I didn’t get it first time round. Another chap … David Anderson, who now lives in Havelock North … he got the position, but he wasn’t there that long before the other chap at Whakatu retired. So he went over to Whakatu which left Tomoana vacant; so they re-advertised it and I was appointed at that stage. So that was a big plant, the beef side, and I always thought if I got there in the morning I had to get there before half past seven, and be out of my office to go over to the beef side which was quite a walk away. And I tried to do the beef side one day, and then the lamb slaughter side the next day. But if you’re in the office at half past seven there’d be other people coming in and wanting this, wanting to know that, wanting to know that … next thing you know the morning’s gone [chuckle] … you hadn’t done much. But that was all right; I got through there.
During that stage … that’s right, towards the end of it, Whakatu closed down in ‘87. And then David Anderson at Whakatu – because we were on a tiered system for the Veterinary supervision, and Tomoana and Whakatu were at the top salary scale – he didn’t want to lose his top salary scale to move down to the lower one, like Pacific. So I said, “Well feel free – you can have it.” [Chuckle] And I moved over to Pacific which was a different story altogether. It was very neatly run, and you could get things done.
Just a beef plant, wasn’t it?
Just a beef plant, yes. Talk to management and you could get things done whereas at Tomoana you could talk all you like, but it was difficult to get things done. So I was there at Pacific for ten years and then I went to Hill Country Beef at Awatoto; they wanted me there. They had the beef plant going but they were developing a lamb slaughter facility there, and it wasn’t built at that stage, it was still only planning stage. They wanted somebody there with sheep slaughtering experience, so I was asked to go there and I went there for three years. And that was a tough place too – that was unbelievable. But the old beef house at Hill Country – it was not mechanised, it was all push. It was just an old fish house I think and they just gutted it out and put a few rails in and put it up as a beef slaughter, but it was very poorly designed and didn’t work well.
But we got the lamb slaughter side running, and that was a little honey of a place that one, it used to run so sweetly ‘cause they had a chap who was in charge there, Ken Kirkpatrick; they got him from Takapau, and he had everything just running sweetly – you’d know what was going on. And you could talk to him. Over on the beef side you couldn’t talk to them; anything you wanted done, you … hopeless. But if you talked to them on the lamb side you’d know things were done if things weren’t going right.
So I was there for three years I think and then things changed over [to] Progressive in Hastings, and I was offered the job in Hastings so I went over there and that was venison and lamb; and I was there for nigh on ten years until I retired.
So you really had a very interesting look at the Veterinary job from …
From production to slaughter and export. But once I retired MAF asked me if I would come back on contract to do a few days a week for certification of meat for export. And that carried on for nearly ten years, I’d say – I only just finished in the last couple of months; they said my services were no longer required, so I finished up there. And that was mainly computer work. The certificate would be signed by the Vet on plant to go to the exporter who would make up a final certificate for that container of meat; the Vet on plant would sign that container out; the exporter would take that certificate and do it all on the computer. We would then sit at the office in Napier here looking at the computer; get it up on screen; check the original document against that one … everything’s correct for US or EU or whatever; and if it was correct then you’d print that out and then sign that on official security paper, which became a secure document. So that’s what I was doing for the last ten years of my time.
Sue: One of the things I was going to say is that when Robert was in the meat plant he had to be there. He could not … he had very few sick days off until once he did get really ill, and he did have to have time off. He had an infection in his lung which came from animals, micoplasma infection in the lung; he was very sick for several months – took ages to get over it. But he would take himself to work whether he was sick or not, because they could not start unless that Veterinary Surgeon was on site.
Robert: EU requirements.
Sue: That was quite a difficult thing to get used to – there’s not many jobs like that. I think if the surgeon is sick in a … you know, theatre; or the crew are not available, the flight is cancelled.
So you spent a long time involved as a Vet, haven’t you?
Robert: I’m still registered as a Veterinary surgeon this year and that’s fifty-one years of service, so I think I’ve done my bit.
Now what about other interests? Doesn’t sound as if you had any time.
Yes, I’m in Rotary. I joined Taradale Rotary in 1972, and still a member there at this stage apart from the stint we had in Masterton when I first started with MAF. But I joined the Masterton South Rotary Club down there when I was there, and then when we moved back up this way I rejoined Taradale and I’ve been there ever since.
You don’t play tennis?
Sue: Neither of us are very sporty but we do walk; Robert walks the Sugar Loaf every morning.
Yes, I didn’t realise that until you mentioned it when we met down at the Sailing Club, that you walk with Trevor.
Trevor Page, yes. I met him up there this morning at six o’clock; he was up. Well he’s ninety-eight, so I’ve got to try and keep up with him.
Sue: But Robert always dreamed of having a boat, and so when he retired he bought his uncle’s boat second-hand, thinking that I was going to join him fishing out on the Bay. No way! So it sits under cover at our next door neighbour’s place and gets taken out for a run occasionally during the year; and then we’ve had a traditional Easter holiday with our children over at Lake Taupo, and take it over there where they ski. And cycling – we do a bit of cycling.
So how many grandchildren, what are their names and ages?
Oh … we’ve got twelve grandchildren and they range from seventeen down to twenty-one months. The youngest is twenty-one months and the eldest is nearly seventeen.
Robert: He’ll be seventeen next month.
Sue: So Joshua seventeen, Daniel fourteen, Benjamin ten and Anna six – all live in Whangarei.
Robert: That’s the Burns family.
And the next daughter, Rosemary’s married Steve [?Raddin?] and they live in Melbourne, and their children are six, three and two; Alex is six, Jack’s three and Kate’s two. And number three daughter, Helen, is married to Rhys Musson who comes from Havelock North, and they live in Ngaio, Wellington. Isabelle’s seven, William’s six and Grace is three. And our son David is married to Nicola who is a South African but they’ve emigrated to New Zealand – she emigrated with her parents about ten years ago; and they have Amos who’s turning four in a couple of days, and Vida is twenty-three months.
That’ll keep you out of mischief keeping up with them all.
So we are very busy. Other than that we’re gardening, and Robert’s got a bad shoulder so he can’t play golf … not into sport. We’ve been involved with the Salvation Army in Napier since we came back to live here, since about 1983, would that be right, about 1983, so we’ve had various responsibilities there. But Robert’s done a leadership there, but I think we were so busy with our children growing up, and all the activities that came round Church activities in those days – we’re not exactly burnt out, but we sort of want to pass it over to other people. So we’re a bit quieter now; we do a few things. So we try not to have too many you know, major commitments now, so that we can take off … connect with our children. We’ve done our major overseas travel.
Robert: Well the daughter in Melbourne brought her three over by herself beginning of July, school holidays; so she came over with her three. And the daughter in Wellington said well while she’s here she’d like to catch up with her sister, so she came up with her three children. And it was a wet week in July, it was terrible; so you had six children running around here. [Chuckle] It was bedlam at times, but … however.
Sue: But we’ve travelled – we did our first big overseas trip …
Robert: [Speaking together] Talking to the daughter in Melbourne yesterday; she said, “Oh, when are you coming over?” She says, “Haven’t seen you for a long time.” [Chuckle]
It shouldn’t be an effort to go to Melbourne ‘cause it’s a beautiful city.
Sue: Oh. For whoever likes cities, I suppose. I was probably quite reticent to travel; Robert was much keener than me; I don’t know why. But then when we had our second daughter Rosemary living in London, it’s always … when you’ve got family … it’s always a call to go, isn’t there? So of course then we tied it in … had six weeks away then, and then we went again in 2006, didn’t we? Two years later, and were away for seven weeks that time which included the wedding in Scotland. And then we’ve had two big trips, taken in a bit of America and then Europe and the UK. Robert’s been to the States when he was with MAF, he [was] sent over there. And then we’ve just had little trips to Australia because of family, and [a] couple of times to Rarotonga. And we’ve been back to London twice, haven’t we? For babies, which was not really holidays; you wouldn’t call it holidays. We’re not as widely travelled as a lot of people our age.
Robert: Back when I was with MAF in 1994, annually they sent one or two from New Zealand over to Texas, to the Department of Agriculture over there … Food Safety Inspection Service. They had a training area set up on the campus at the University there at College Station, and they sent us over there. But it was … ha! It was a bit of a junket really, I thought it was, anyway. Going over there – you’d sit in class and they’d go through a lot of stuff and the requirements and so forth … [the] US and how everything was all structured, blah, blah, blah; and then at the weekend they’d put us on bus … oh, we’d do various outings to various places. You might have a lecture session in the morning, and in the afternoon you’d go out on buses out to some farm, or some abattoir, or somewhere else. And then at the weekend they’d stick you on the bus again and they took us down to … we had the weekend down at Corpus Christi, right on the Gulf. And then the following weekend we had the weekend at San Antonio – spent the weekend there. I can’t remember what the San Antonio, what there really was there at that point – oh, no – they put us in a big shopping complex – it was out of town – it was a big shopping centre, had everything there you could think of – shoes, clothes, anything.
Sue: But you didn’t talk about the food that you … put on about a stone while you were there. There was a front pack that came off the plane, plus a Texan hat, when I went to pick him up from the airport.
You started on the west coast but you never went back; was this because of the climate, or just the way the cookie crumbled? It was the way the cookie crumbled really; it was just to do with work.
Robert: Yeah, well MAF – I eventually came back this way with MAF and the positions always seemed to come this way. Although initially when we were in Masterton I did apply for a position first of all at Feilding, but I missed out on that one, but then shortly thereafter the Takapau came up, so we sort of started moving up this way.
Sue: Well I probably didn’t say, but I spend a lot of time outside in the garden. I like being outdoors and so we haven’t been sporty. We’ve been involved with school things … school committees, parent-teacher things. And politics of course, National Party.
Robert: In practice here, by the time you get through five, six hundred pregnancy tests over the day, you were fairly fit. But I can remember going one time up top of Titiokura; there’s a farm up there – Peter Olsen had a farm … Hereford beef farm. And I went up there; I wasn’t very well, I remember, going up there that day. And it’d been snowing, and you’re up to the ankles in snow, but the work still had to be done. And you work in those conditions … the only time that you really had time off or had to cancel things was when it rained … rained heavily, because you know, no farmer’d be moving cattle or doing anything in the rain.
And when the sun came out everyone wanted you.
The weekend – when it was your weekend off you had to go and catch up.
Sue: And even the first day we had a Waitangi Day – the first celebration of Waitangi Day was 1974 – that’s the first Waitangi Day, which was the exact day that our first child was born and Robert was pregnancy testing up on Te Pohue so still had to go. He forgot.
Robert: No, I had to organise about … it was about three weeks in advance … putting the date in the diary and everything else, you don’t think of holidays that are a month ahead.
Sue: [Speaking together] So I was in labour, and he came the night before, and he came home and called in on his way up to do his work.
Right. Well that’s probably given us a good cross section of who you both are and the family, and I think we can leave it at that; but thank you very much for your contribution on the life and times of the Kyle family.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Robert James Kyle
- Susanne Mary Kyle