Leonard (Len) Ivan June & Irene (Gai) Gai Nixon Interview

Today is 14th November 2017. I’m interviewing Len June of Waiohiki, on his family. Len, would you like to tell us something about your family from as far back as you can go?

Right – certainly. Born and bred in Hastings, so I haven’t moved very far at all. Educated initially in Hastings when my father was working for [the] Department of Agriculture; then in ’52 when he got the job with Wattie Canneries we moved to East Clive, to Wattie’s No 2 Farm … little old wooden cottage, back in those days pretty damn draughty … so my primary schooling was at Clive School, about [a] couple of miles. And so that was an old bicycle; and I don’t recall in the early days, but I must have been driven there but I don’t recall that.

My father was Canadian; he came out in 1936 on the SS ‘Niagara’ which of course was the ship that [was] sunk by a rogue mine out of Whangarei, I think, and went down with all that gold. So in the Depression time – this is in Canada – [he] was looking for work, or work was difficult; and the family story is that he was looking at South Africa or New Zealand, and finally he tossed a coin.

Had he trained in the horticultural field in Canada?

Hadn’t trained, but had worked in the area of Salmon Arm, which is inland from Vancouver, not quite into the foothills of the Rockies. He was born in the Kootenays, which is the foothills of the Rockies, in the days of the paddle steamers. Canadian Pacific ran those in conjunction with their rail. So he worked in horticulture in that area … nurseries and orchards and stuff like that. So that’s where he was, so how … you know, I guess in the early days you didn’t need qualifications for a job.

My mother was born in Waiuku, South Auckland. Her parents – were builders; grandparents were signalmen on the lighthouses. And there we sort of digress, if we may; one of my projects at the moment is locating – which I believe we have – six graves. These graves are unmarked; they’re in a cow paddock at Manukau Heads, just below the signalman’s house and the renovated lighthouse. These are great-uncles and great-aunts. So there is a project there to recognise them and preserve that area. We may not be able to determine exactly where they’re buried, but there were daffodils and belladonna lilies planted over their graves, and we’ve located those so we’re fairly certain. So that’s my mother’s side; and if I trace my mother’s side back to the 1700s, Thomas White was a world-renowned – world-renowned, or famous in England – landscape-designer, and many of his designed gardens are still in existence and in the National Collection and protected. And he built a rather grand home called Woodlands Hall. So my horticulture I think perhaps I might be able to trace back on both sides of the family.

The green fingers, certainly. When I look out on that vista, that’s the most impressive vegetable garden [chuckle] I have ever seen – ever!Specially in [from] the focal point of a chef. [Chuckle] But you know, it comes from somewhere, this love of plants.

Yeah, it seems to, yes. Yeah. So through high school, most of the – in fact ninety-nine per cent of the guys and girls from Clive school went to Napier; that was the chosen route for high school. But because my father worked for Wattie’s, and the opportunity of trips … picked up after school etcetera … I went to Hastings Boys’ High. And so we had to cycle to catch the bus, and seven miles bus into town. One of the downsides of that is that for Saturday sport … not an option. Dad worked long hours; many, many long hours.  You then made new friends.

So I went through four years of school; scraped through on School Cert; [Certificate] missed my UE [University Entrance] by … well I don’t know how much, I never added it up. [Chuckle] So I never ever … I’ve never to this day added the marks; I think I got twelve for English. [Chuckle] And Massey University were running the Diploma of Horticulture, and it was sort of suggested that maybe that would be the avenue to further studies. Blow me down! They accepted me, without University Entrance. But it was only a diploma course; I couldn’t’ve done a degree course. We had twelve students that year, I think that’s probably why they accepted me. They were short of students, so “Let’s grab this guy!” So that was a bit of training. Again I didn’t pass my exams, and as at that stage my parents had become involved with a horticultural property themselves, it was felt that, ‘Well, you’ll come back and work on the farm. You actually don’t need a piece of paper, you’ve done all the work; you’ve done the theory. You’re close enough.’

So getting back to that farm, I can recall around the family table one night when my father came home from work, telling the story that this chap from down Wairarapa, Bert Tripp had called in. Bert was wanting to go into cropping, but after talking to my father realised that he really didn’t have quite enough knowledge and especially enough money, and right across the table in Dad’s office he offered him a partnership, or whatever. There was a lot of discussion for a long time over that – “Should we, shouldn’t we?” etcetera, etcetera. And it nearly didn’t happen; I seem to recall that it was an uncle who came up with £2,000 to loan my parents that tweaked the deal, and they were able to proceed. So my life sort of … took that sort of turn; it wasn’t planned that way, it just happened like that.

And you know, those days Bert was probably ambitious to a point, but he was a tractor mechanic for Fergusons those days and he ate, slept and breathed them.

Yes. Oh yes – I can still do the 135. In fact, Frank – I haven’t shown you, but I’ve got the first tractor we bought. It’s still in the shed. [Chuckle] Well it was used when we bought it, and it’s on its third motor. But actually there’s quite a funny story about that. My wife at the time, Diana, was pregnant with our first son, probably near on eight months. And so I dragged her along to go and see old Cedric Halleur at Bay Tractors … Barclay Motors … and negotiate purchasing this first tractor, and she’s never let me forget that. [Chuckles] I used her as a bargaining tool to get a good deal from old Cedric. [Chuckle] Yeah … yeah.

So – yeah, well okay – so we’ve touched on my first wife, Diana; we were married for twenty-nine years. We had a son and a daughter. My son, Richard, is living in Seattle; he’s approaching forty – not married, but works for Microsoft … worked his way through that environment of working for Microsoft. Currently I think he’s working in the development of the security side of software. But he started life working in the phones, or what they call embedded software which I don’t understand. Even when I ask him just what his job is, he knows he can’t [speaking together] … he just daren’t describe it to me because I won’t understand.

My daughter, Louise, married [a] couple of years back a chap, Brad Jarvis. He’s a [an] electrician; works at Falcon Electrical. No family there yet, but fingers crossed. So they’re nearby, so … see a lot of my daughter.

So obviously you were establishing yourself in something?

Right, so back onto the farm, Ruahapia Farms Limited in Ruahapia Road. It backed also into Otene Road. I bought back from Massey a handful of apple root stocks – full of virus they were, as it turned out – and grew those. And the farm had been based around producing fruit and crops for the canneries – solely for the canneries. So the choice of varieties – which actually eventually led to the downfall of the Ruahapia Farms, in that they were bulk fruit, bulk crops for the canneries; canneries were low-priced items, and eventually my parents sold the farm because they really couldn’t make money out of it.

So the apple root stocks was really the vehicle that moved me into the next phase of my life. We could see – in the late seventies, we could see land values starting to take off, and we were saving like mad to perhaps either buy some of Ruahapia Farms off them – they had forty acres so there was enough to subdivide – or to buy somewhere else. But land values were just going way ahead of our ability to save. So eventually my parents did subdivide off eighteen acres for us, so we took the Golden Queen peaches; we had boysenberries; and we had the early stages of the nursery. It was the boysenberries that really got us going. They were a very intensive crop, but in those days we were cropping really, really heavily, and that helped us establish and pay off the first parts of the loan.

But we then move into somebody that is well known in the nursery industry here, and that’s Peter Patullo. And Peter approached me one time … “Would you sell us your surplus apple root stocks?” Which we did. Then he came back and said, “Well, that was good – can I do that next year?” And from there evolved our business of June Nurseries supplying apple and pear root stocks. We eventually got up to producing three quarters of a million of them a year. Probably over the twenty years of the nursery, I reckon – I haven’t added them up, but I reckon we’d be knocking on ten million root stocks. But they went all over the country … everywhere. And in those days horticulture was really pumping, in the eighties; and there was orchards established everywhere.

On land you wouldn’t have considered orchards on.

Yes, and in areas in New Zealand that weren’t suited to it.

Then, along with the apple root stocks, of course, these nurseries in the out-of-the-way areas didn’t have access to the beautiful orchards to collect their budwood and graftwood, so we were getting requests, “Oh, could you get this? Could you get that?” We then purposely developed into supplying budwood and graftwood. And one of the most generous people in the industry, besides Peter Patullo, was Norm Hope. Norm had these experimental rows of experimental trees; and Norm was very, very generous in that he just allowed us access to his trees.

He never forgot where he came from.

Yes. Really well grounded. Yeah. Yeah.

Oh, one of the things – I’ve seen photos of them – is, and some of the old-timers will remember this, Dad grew … for a couple of years grew some sunflowers, and there was a block of them on the corner of Elwood and Pakowhai Road. I think the photo of those hit the paper, but also the birds took a great liking to the crop. [Chuckle]

I know. They were shockers with sunflowers.

And we never grew them again.

Amazing plants, the way the flower turned to the sun.

It followed the sun. It raised its head in the morning to the sun, and then followed it, and dipped it in the west in the evening.

And there was no indication on the stalk that it had a universal there.

Yes. [Chuckle]

How do you figure? Loved that warmth of the sun.


So you continued growing … did you ever graft and grow bud apples yourself?

For two or three years I did a couple of rows – probably just a few hundred trees. But no, we gave that away and specialised in producing root stock. As we got larger and we had these tens of thousands to get out in a short period of time, we started developing or looking – typical Kiwi ingenuity – you look at another way of doing it. Is there a quicker way? Is there a better way? Is there another way? Can we mechanise this job? Horticulture in Hawke’s Bay is just full of the introduction of mechanisation; harvesters etcetera. And so we wanted a high-clear tractor, a tractor that would run over these nursery rows, and none were available – they just weren’t around. But we located that you could buy a high-clear John Deere in America, for – in those days, forget when it was … back in the eighties … $40,000. We approached Allied Engineering over in the back of Hastings here – Bill Kelly – he built a high-clear tractor. And it had a bit out of this machine, a bit out of that machine – it had all sorts of stuff in it. And that machine is still going today, albeit that it’s got another motor in it.

But from there we developed a harvester to actually undercut the root stocks; to go into the soil and cut them off. The moulding – we used to mould with sawdust to get the root stocks to put out aerial roots up their stems; and so we developed a moulder to do that. From there, we then … because of the volume of root stocks that we were producing … we started throwing money into an automated grading machine that had a camera that would photograph the root stock as it came across the lens, and then grade it and dump it into the various size bins. We probably needed to throw twice as much money at that to get it to work, so that eventually died a natural death.

Then, as a hobby, we became interested in wine making, and old Warwick Orchiston was running night classes at the Boys’ High. So we go along to Warwick’s courses, and joined up with Vidal’s ‘Living With Wine Club’, and we’d go along to the wine tastings that we organised. But one day Warwick said to me, or one night he said to me, “Hey – you’re a nurseryman; you ought to have a crack at grafting some vines. We’re going to need these things, and it’s something that’s on the horizon now.” So it was Warwick that pointed me in the direction of having a go at grafting vines. We knew nothing, so a lot of it was read from books, or gut feel; and we just went from there.

The Germans were well ahead of us in their technology, and they had grafting machines – they had developed machines. And so we eventually bought a couple of the German machines, and then shortly after old Bill Raggett up in Gisborne developed a Kiwi version; totally different type of graft. And so we bought some of his machines, and they were foot-operated. But that was pretty damn tiring, sitting at a desk pushing one leg all the time, so we had a couple of those converted to air rams. Oh, the girls loved those. [Chuckles]

Grapevines were something that we really pushed into and it was one of the reasons for buying this land over here, this silt and sand country. Nice light soil; beautiful soil for the nursery ‘cause you could get on it in the winter. You could have rain overnight; didn’t stop you the next day. But the problem with the soil here is that it lacked nutrients, so it was really like farming a desert, you know, you had to put the fertiliser, you had to put the water in. So grapevines eventually overtook the apple stocks, round about the time when my marriage broke up; round about there, 2000, 2001, and so I sold that property to one of the Ryan boys, Kurt Ryan, and sold the apple root stock business to Patullo’s Nurseries.

Did the full circle …

Yes – back to one of my best clients; so you have your potential sale sitting right under your nose.

Before we leave the apple root stocks, at some stage you grafted apples onto apples?

They turned out not to be what they were supposed to be.

It wasn’t root stock.


It must’ve been a disappointment because you would have budded a lot of …

Oh – well, we started with two or three plants, and here we were trying to bulk them up to thousands, only to find that at the end of the day, ‘Well – why are these dwarf stocks two metres high?’ [Chuckle]They’re supposed to be seventy-five off the ground, not two metres up in the air.’ And it was then that an overseas visiting expert spotted the difference and said, “You definitely haven’t got it there!” So that was one big lesson that I think most nurserymen perhaps learn at some stage in their lives.

Yes. So anyway, obviously you were able to tidy that up, one way or the other. So then you sold your grape root stock business as well; did you retire then, at that stage?

[Chuckles] I have started another adventure but it doesn’t didn’t earn any money. But yes I did. When the grape industry started going downhill, 2008-9, we carried on in business. I had a very, very good lady who was my nursery manager; so good in fact that Gai and I spent three months in Canada and America; she only rang me three times, and that was at the busiest time of our year. Oh – she was absolutely brilliant. Brilliant person.

So as the industry went down we just quietly ran the business down, waiting for it to pick up, only to find that it wasn’t likely to pick up as soon as we thought. And about that time, Villa Maria were looking at upping their game, and decided to lease my property because I had the grape root stocks that they were short of. They leased for a couple of years, and we managed through about three months of negotiation with Sir George, to sell. So it’s lovely to look out on the land from here and to see that the nursery’s still carrying on, and … [speaking together]

Enjoy the vista …

… to be able to go down and sign in on the Health and Safety sheet – ‘Reason for Visit: Cup of tea’.

Your family and a lot of other families were innovators in Hawke’s Bay. People developed skills, like you with your nursery …

Well the sheep and the cows moved to the periphery; the Plains became intensive horticulture.

The wonderful thing about it was we had the Department of Agriculture – your father was one – they did all this service for nothing.


You have the pleasure of looking out over your old nursery and all those sorts of things … what else are you doing these days?

Right. Well yes – one aspect is when my father, prior to him passing, he wrote; and when we’re talking writing, we’re talking handwriting … beautiful handwriting; wrote his memoirs. We sort of spotted them and that, but it wasn’t until a year or two after that I got hold of them and started to read them and I thought, ‘Ah … who are these people he’s mentioning back in Canada?’ So that started my searching … where did they come from? Today, I think I’ve now built two family trees; one paternal, one maternal. And I can go back to the late 1790s in New York when they moved across the St Lawrence to land in Ontario. They were British Loyalists, so the story goes in the family. They were farmers there. From there the family multiplied; they then moved to Kansas and became cattle people … cowboys; drovers as we would call them, but cowboys over there. Then the family moved, around about 1910, 20; they moved up and became what was known as ‘homesteaders’ in Alberta, with their allocation of these quarter sections, which were six hundred and forty acres. And from there the families really spread out.

But I’ve located quite a few distant cousins in and around Edmonton, and met up with one in particular. He did the research in Edmonton that was able to locate my great grand-parents’ farms on both sides of the family.


And we visited those farms; walked on the farms; found where the old homestead was; found where the old well was. In fact one of the farms there … my father in his memoirs recalls jumping on trains. He was taught by some of the old-timers how you hitched onto trains and hid on the trains; went through the Rockies, from BC [British Columbia] through to Alberta. And at one place there is a spiral that goes through a tunnel, where they were taught, “This is the point you jump off. You now clamber up, and you wait for the next train on the next section. You don’t go through the tunnel because of the smoke.”

I found the old barn that my father stacked hay in. in Alberta.

It must’ve been quite old?

Very old – it wasn’t obvious because it had been all metalled over. It had a tin roof on it, but underneath the tin roof, the old shingles were still there. So locating the family has become quite a hobby; very, very absorbing. Extremely absorbing.

Well, it’s history not only of your family but it fills pages about people who came here …

Why they moved from place to place; what drove them to move. Like many of the people here in New Zealand, many of us came because our ancestors were looking for a better place.

So, there’s been that; fishing has been something of my career.

Real fishing?

All sorts of fishing. So I go back to the Tukituki River; when my father built [it] was probably one of the most solid whitebaiting stands on the river, through the [?] behind Wattie’s farm. So we spent … in fact I’ve still got my fifth form science book which dropped in the river off the whitebait stand as I was supposed to be studying. Dad built us a dinghy; we then had a net for dragging flounders. We would go down there in the evening, set the net, whip down before school in the morning, whip the flounder out, hang the net up for drying, and repeat that process. We had fresh fish all the time.

When I think of the joys of fishing …

Oh! Yep. During the summer … the last few summer holidays there before we grew up and had to work during the holidays … Mum would kick us out with lunch; we’d go down the river – we’d be there all day; just be back in time for tea. Well we didn’t have watches, so we watched the sun.

Wonderful days. Now at some stage you met Gai?

[Break; resumes talk with Gai]

Gai: Len and I met at a Tabletalk, which is an organisation that does a dinner for people to meet each other, and we met in July 2001. And then my father died suddenly in November that year, and I was obviously upset and I guess I leaned on Len, who was a friend at the time.

So where did you grow up, Gai?

I was born in Wellington … lived to about nine years; seven years in Mangakino, and then moved to Tuai and then to Napier. So my dad was an engineer on power stations, and then he ended his career as the General Manager for Hawke’s Bay at the New Zealand Electricity Department.

So what was his surname?

Nixon … Jack Nixon.

My early relative was one of the engineers who built Tuai.

We weren’t there for very long … sort of like an interim between there and Napier. And then Dad had already bought a section and built a house, and when I was ten we moved into our house in Onekawa. I went to school, and then I went to Training College.

Which schools did you go to?

Onekawa School, Napier Intermediate, and Colenso College. And then I went to Ardmore Teachers’ Training College. And then I taught for a couple of years, decided it wasn’t for me and I did some clerical jobs, saved up some money and took the boat to England. [Chuckle] As you do. [Chuckles]

Sounds like a pretty good idea.

The ‘Britanis’. [Ship] And then I spent eighteen months in England; I worked at Cambridge University coding crimes, and took lots of trips to Europe. Went to the Oktoberfest Beer Festival; I went down to Morocco; Paris a couple of times; and then I decided it was basically time to come home, so I booked a trip on a double-decker bus and came overland from Dover to Calcutta. And that was an interesting trip – it was seven weeks. Got very sick in Calcutta, unfortunately, drinking bad water. And then flew back, spent the night at Bangkok Airport because my visa had expired and they wouldn’t let me out, and I was so sick anyway I lay down in the toilets, and basically spent the night there. [Chuckles]

And then in the morning – I had no money, and I ordered a breakfast; and an American couple next to me very kindly paid for my breakfast. And then I flew to Singapore; spent two weeks with friends in Singapore, and then returned to New Zealand with fourteen cents [chuckles] – back to work.

And along came Len?

No, no, no … way, way later. I’ve had quite a few overseas trips since then; I’ve lived in Australia, and then when I was about thirty-five I came back from Australia and had my daughter. And then I met Len when she was eighteen. So she sort of went to university a couple of times, got two degrees, and …

Is she local now?

She lives in Wellington now. She’s happily married with a beautiful son, my grandson.

What’s his name?

Cillian McConachie.

That sounds Irish?

Yes. [Chuckles] And then Len and I have been here together for … think about eleven years. He and I have travelled extensively.

Len: Oh, mention the 2008 trip – I haven’t covered that.

Gai: Yes, okay. 2008 we went to the States and rode a Harley Davidson from Chicago to Los Angeles … Santa Monica. Well Len rode it, I was the passenger; on Route 66.

Len: Sixteen days.

Have you still got a Harley?

No, I’ve got a Victory now – I’ll show you later. Yeah, they stopped manufacturing them last year.

But you did Route 66 …

Gai: But before we did that … before I met Len I had my own motorbike. I had a Suzuki Intruder 750; and I joined the Ulysses and I went on lots of rallies because that was the thing to do. And I had a good time with it, and then after about four years I sort of thought, ‘Okay, I’ve enjoyed that.’ My parents were so glad when I sold my bike, [chuckles] because sometimes I have a short attention span for hobbies.

There’s nothing wrong with that. People do things when they have a short attention span, don’t they?

Yes, I guess so. And when I met Len he visited me and saw my magazines, and saw the Ulysses [magazine], and then got back involved with it and then bought his own series of bikes, and that was …

Len: I even bought Gai’s original bike back for her one Christmas, and parked it out here as a Christmas present.

Gai: But at that time I really had – it was okay, we did go on a few rides – but I had sort of had lost a bit confidence in a way. However, when Len was in the States … 2013 … I had just retired from my legal exec [executive] type job – ‘cause I had two of those – and I took up wood turning. And I won the award the end of that year, but unfortunately I was on the committee for three years and that was really a damper, because …

Is this the local wood turners down at the old Milk Producers ..?

Not there any more, they’re in Hastings. But that year was a tough year, ‘cause … last year my sister died suddenly, and I had a funeral to arrange; my mother had a stroke and was hospitalised, and wasn’t able to go back home. So we got her into Summerset … purchased a unit. I still was on the committee, and we were doing Open Days; bought a new premises; opening up premises. And then we had so many visitors – we had an open house, because people came to visit Mum and I was cooking every meal. And then we went away for a holiday to Fiji. The first week was fantastic, and then the other two weeks weren’t so good, and I was suffering from the heat and I was getting really thin. And when I came back I was diagnosed with something … Graves Disease. And a year later I still have it.

Len: It’s manageable.

Gai: It’s manageable. Well I sort of manage mine by diet and exercise and actually keeping calm, not stressing. So when visitors come now they get fed one night. And if you [I] feel tired I just excuse myself and go and lie down.

So you don’t need green fingers really, because you’ve got dust under yours. [Chuckles]

Well, yeah … Len’s got them, but like, if Len’s away then I fill in.

I said to Len – looking out, “That’s the best vegetable garden I’ve ever seen!” And it’s such a focal point; you can’t not go out and pick something from it.

The house was my fathers, and he had a fantastic veggie garden.

Yes, you get a lot of pleasure out of growing things ...

Len: Oh, I get a huge amount of pleasure out of it.

Gai: Mmm. Well I just sort of like using fresh food, and yesterday I froze a lot of broccoli; we just had a broccoli crisis so I froze it, and I think it paid off.

But it is fun.

I was just going to say that my sister’s grandchildren came here a couple of months ago and the first thing we did was ‘My Little Garden’. I sat them down on the lino there where they could make as much mess as they liked and they had to set up their own ‘My Little Gardens’. It was the first thing that they did.

And they’re growing?

I don’t know. They live in Wellington as well.

Cause the trouble is, the stuff they’re in dries out so quick – you’ve got to water it every day …

Both: Yes.

… and if you don’t, they crash.

Gai: Well anyway, my daughter’s done them as well, and she only can plant in pots because she lives in a wetter place, so all she does is bury her vegetable scraps. She does actually do that, but she can’t put a garden … there is no garden, it’s Wellington … it’s Hataitai.

Len: Actually, Wellington … some meals – not now – we would occasionally have a meal that was totally home-grown. For ten years we ran Highland cattle down here; always had one or two,

Did you eat them?

Oh, yes!

Gai: Yes. Lovely meat.

Len: They’re a lovely docile animal, even with their big horns. Go into the paddock and lie down, and … one in particular, he’d come down and lick my boots and just look at me; and I’d be lying in the paddock.

Gai: We do have a share in some more cattle which somebody else manages but they run them on our property sometimes.

Is there anything else you do?

Gai: We try to use up timeshare.

Len: This place here keeps me …

Gai: Well, I mean I go to the gym three times a week. But it’s fun, and it’s with a group of people my own age; and it’s quite tough sometimes. And I’ve got an electric bike that I ride to visit my mother sometimes, although I won’t today ’cause I’ve got to give her some more clothes from her wardrobe here.

You mentioned originally about your father growing up in Canada in the fruit growing areas; I have never ever seen fruit as big and as beautiful as that fruit that was there. We used to have them all once here. But the orchards! And we always prided ourselves in fruit. They were selling to the fresh market; it was tree-ripened. We never saw a tree-ripened … ‘cause everything’s picked here to ship twelve thousand miles away.

Len: Yes. Yes. That’s very different over there … very different. And the Canadians were very, very quick in picking up on intensifying their plantings, their trees, their [?] stocks. Drive across the border into America, and because of their very cheap labour – Mexican labour I guess – still the old-style orchards; big open spaces. My uncle was an orchardist in the Okanagan, and I spent … when I was eighteen, nineteen I think … I spent a month; lived with them. So we picked cherries in the morning, then we’d hitch up the boat to his Ford ute and we’d go and spend the afternoon on the lake, waterskiing.

The thing that they said, it was wonderful for growing stuff because it didn’t rain in the summer, in the growing season. They just irrigated out of the lakes, and it’s controlled.

The orcharding in the Okanagan has virtually been taken over by vineyards. Big change. Yeah.

I’ve made a few odd notes here; I remember turning up at Wattie’s from high school when the Wattie’s fire occurred, and sitting waiting for my father, and just watching Wattie’s burn. The Tomoana fire was another one. We sat on the fence line ‘cause we were just down the road there; watched that fire.

I recall the last steam train to go past Otene Road – we all were out there getting him to pull his whistle for us; those sorts of things.

There was a big drowning incident at the Tukituki once. Four people; a little boy went to grab his fishing line and the bank gave way and in he went. It was an outgoing spring tide. Three other people went in after that boy, and two of them drowned. And we happened to be there with the boat and helped in the rescue. Kerry Webb was there with his canoe, and he helped rescue the girl … one of the girls. That was just a few little sort of bits that I’ve noted as I was going.

You obviously caught some good trout in your time?

Yes – you always remember those sorts of fish … you know, the six and eight pounders out of the Mohaka River. Once there, [it] was a beautiful calm day and I caught this lovely big hen, and I was in the backwash pool area in the Mohaka, cleaning it. I’d slit it down and was cleaning the fish. Next minute … and there was a sheen on the water, so you couldn’t see into it. Next minute this sheen is broken by this vicious big mouth. I threw the fish on the bank one way; I went the other way, and when I stood up and looked down, there was half a dozen massive big eels, you know – like the two metre long eels there. Huge things! That was one incident I remember.

And in the days of the Waipunga Deviation – before they put the deviation through they had a survey road … track. And I threw my pushbike in the back of my station wagon, went up as far as the barrier, threw my pushbike over the barrier and cycled; and fished the Waipunga before … aw, probably before a lot of that was fished. I came over there that day with six beautiful fish. So yeah, there’s little memories like that, fishing these little mountain streams.

I think that probably gives us a picture of you together. Thank you very much for your contribution to Hawke’s Bay history.

[Chuckle] Thank you very much.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • Leonard Ivan June
  • Irene Gai Nixon

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