MacDonald, Graham Interview

This interview was conducted outdoors on Chesterhope Station; there is frequent interference from expressway traffic and the outdoors in general.

Good morning, Graham, very nice to meet you, and you have quite a story to tell us, so I’ll give you the floor now.

Thank you, Jim. From the beginning the history where the MacDonalds are concerned with the Fernies, goes back to my grandfather, Donald MacDonald, who went from Glasgow University with doctorates in horticulture, mechanical and electrical engineering, civil engineering, and was dux of Glasgow University. These are things that I have learned of in my life just through family talking. I have seen some written information in that regard from cousins, particularly one who lives in America. So anyway … I’m unsure of the years, you see … round about the turn of the century, just pretty roughly.

My grandparents were married in Perth, Australia; my grandfather went from Scotland to Perth to set up a three-hundred-acre vineyard with his doctorate. So he arrived over there; he was an unmarried man. He called for Minnie who he married in Perth. I’ve just in the last two weeks got a book on the church in which they were married; I haven’t yet read it. But anyway, he found the heat very, very difficult; he accomplished the job he was employed to do and he and my grandmother – and by this stage they have one son called Les – come [came] from Perth to Olrig Station in Hawke’s Bay. I think this Scottish connection must’ve been an amazing network, because I can’t work out, without modern equipment, how they all communicated so marvellously. But anyway, they did.

So he came to Olrig Station as a general hand. Because of his scholarly mind he studied wool. He became very interested in wool, and became an extremely accomplished and sought-after wool classer. My father was born at Olrig in 1914. I don’t know what year they would’ve shifted down here to Chesterhope, but I would say my father wasn’t at school. He talks about his brother going to Kereru School, and my grandmother leading a pony from Olrig Station to Kereru School, going back to the station, and then going to pick Les up at three [pm] or whatever time they knocked off to take him home each night. So that would be a fair walk, to go from Olrig Station to Kereru School. [Background traffic noise]

So anyway I would say, again through the Scottish connections … the likes of Bill Richmond … they shifted to Chesterhope before my father went to school, so that would be … well, say 1918 around about; I can’t be exact on these figures. But anyway, they shifted here; and if you were to drive from the Pakowhai Store to where is now the Chesterhope Bridge, there’s a little lane goes off to your right up to the Chesterhope wool shed. Now what I’ve always known as the whares were built up that lane, and that’s where the MacDonalds shifted … into those whares.

So my grandfather was employed by Fernie and Richmond. David Fernie was at this stage in partnership with Bill Richmond, who later became Richmond Meat Exporters which was a pretty big outfit. But anyway, along the way David Fernie and Bill Richmond parted company as far as being in business is concerned, and one of the major reasons they parted company is Bill Richmond was an extreme horse enthusiasm [enthusiast], and bet on racehorses. Well according to my father, he could lose very vast sums of money at a race meeting, and David Fernie was a man who was very, very frugal and in no way wasteful, so as I say, they parted company.

But going back to the whares … in those days of course, stock movement was by people droving stock. So again because of this extreme Scottish connection, Fernie and Richmond brought out single men from Scotland, and when they arrived in New Zealand they lived with MacDonalds. One that [who] I can remember very vividly is a man called Archie McConnachie, and not long before Archie McConnachie died he told me the story of arriving at the MacDonalds. And of course there was a wood-fired black Orion stove in the whares which I remember very well; and my grandmother cooked on that. And he said my grandmother would’ve drunk fifteen cups of tea a day, and she ate very little; but she would be feeding a drover a roast meal at ten or eleven o’clock at night because he had dropped stock off wherever it had to go, and then had to come back. And he said my grandmother would then be up in the morning at three o’clock giving somebody breakfast, because that person would be on their way to wherever to pick stock up to drove it back, either to the sale or to the freezing works. So that’s how that worked for them. But that was amazingly interesting for me – I learnt a lot from Archie McConnachie.

Now while I’m talking about McConnachies – one of their sons was called Peter McConnachie. Now I have no idea whether Peter McConnachie is still alive today or not. They owned a huge, vast amount of land out where Flaxmere is today, and about 1970 … no, 1972 … I went out to their farm to get a tractor going, and it was there that Archie McConnachie related this story about my grandmother.

So going back to my grandfather with his wool classing skills. Of course the Fernies running merino cross-bred sheep for most of my life on Chesterhope, he classed the wool here, and of course at Moeangiangi, Mangatapiri and Waiatea; and of course because of the Fernie brothers’ situation he would go up to Ngāmatea and class wool up there. So he would’ve classed many, many thousands of fleeces per year, because wool was the main commodity; the meat was very secondary in value to the wool. As late as 1951, ’52 when wool was fetching £1 a pound, of course they would keep … I can remember here on Chesterhope, they would have wethers that might be three or four years old, and they kept them and shore them annually just to get the wool off their backs, because the wool was so valuable.

So I’ve got a photo here of my grandfather and a group with a traction engine driving a stationary threshing mill, and in the middle of the picture is David Fernie … appears to be in a suit, but I couldn’t imagine that would be his normal dress. But I may be wrong, I don’t know; I never met the man. I was only born in 1946, so never met him.

So anyway, in 1927 I think – I could be corrected on that date – the MacDonalds shifted out of the whares, and they bought a property at the end of Hodgson Road at Pakowhai, which is directly behind Chesterhope’s wool shed. The boundary fence between the two properties has a gate with a chain and a padlock on it, and the MacDonalds in my lifetime, for many years, used the facilities of Chesterhope for shearing and dipping and picking lambs. I can remember as a very young boy, Bill Richmond employed a man called Derek McKay; left school … and Derek McKay worked for Bill Richmond long after Bill Richmond died. He was still at Richmonds’ as a picker, and to my knowledge it’s the only job he ever had. And they would come to Chesterhope – we’d bring ewes and lambs across from home; drive them through the boundary fence and we would draft the lambs from the ewes. And then Bill Richmond and Derek McKay would arrive and they would pick the lambs; so the lambs going to the works had a raddle on their head. Then the lambs were run through the drafting race without their mothers, and the marked ones went to one side and the unmarked to the other.

There was a firm in Hastings called Powdrell Brothers, and they had OLB Bedfords from my earliest memory; and then they shifted to these huge, gigantic trucks called S Bedfords, and they were one of the biggest trucks on the road at the time – they came out in about 1955. And so they would back up to the race, and the lambs that went to the works’d go off on the truck, and the ewes and remaining lambs would be driven home separately, and they’d be put onto a crop like rape with turnips or something like that, to fatten. And then the first pick would go as chilled meat for the Christmas market in England, and then the second pick would be, most probably at the latest by the end of January because the place dried out so dramatically. So of course the Fernies’ stock was treated very similarly. And I can’t tell you much more than that.

But the shearing shed at Chesterhope here is an eighteen-stand shed; there’s nine bays each side. In my lifetime I never saw it operated as an eighteen-stand shed. And that shed, my father told me, was shifted onto Chesterhope, and it came from … oh, gosh, I can’t think where just off-hand … on traction engines it was hauled here, and set up as a shed. So it would’ve been, on the flats here, in my opinion most probably the biggest shearing shed in Hawke’s Bay in its day. But anyway, it still operates as a nine-stand shed today, and of course it’s powered, and so all the old gear … the big sheaves that run right through the shed that powered the eighteen shearing machines … has all been ripped out; but I can remember that stuff still being there. So historically, I think I’m very fortunate to’ve seen what I’ve seen, and been involved.

So my grandfather died about the age of sixty, so he was dead before I was born. So my mother and father, while he was alive, lived on Chesterhope; my oldest brother, Malcolm, was born on Chesterhope. I don’t know whether my sister was born on Chesterhope or not; but they shifted to Hodgson Road after my grandfather had passed away, and so I was born at Hodgson Road, if you like.

My father worked on Chesterhope from I can’t tell you when, but I can tell you when he left; and prior to shifting to Hodgson Road there was a cottage over by the stopbank, and that cottage was built there long before the stopbank was built there. And so one of my father’s primary jobs was to monitor the river, and there was a line connected to the homestead here from that cottage, and as the water rose my father would let Mr Fernie know what was happening with the river. But the cottage is no longer there … the cottage got burnt down by the Mongrel Mob. I can show you where the cottage was, over by the ponds.

But going back a wee way from my father’s story – he would’ve worked here of course during the war years – but after the war, and David Fernie had passed away, the government approached Mrs Fernie to take Chesterhope over and split it into approximately hundred-acre farms. And Mrs Fernie was an extremely good businesswoman, so she said to the government officials, “The Fernies have gifted a lot of land to the Rivers Board on which to build the stopbank. I think that we have given the people of Hawke’s Bay a lot; but however, we have great respect for our returned servicemen, and so what we’re prepared to do … we’re prepared to give up Moeangiangi and allow it to be settled for our returned servicemen.” And the government officials went away and pondered it over, and the decision was, Moeangiangi was far too far away to be any real use to them – we’ll put it that way. And of course, I think going back way beyond that time when David Fernie and Bill Richmond jointly owned Moeangiangi, they were still having Māori problems; so the Māori problems were still so severe that Bill Richmond gave up, but David Fernie continued on his own, and so Moeangiangi became the property of just Fernies, not Fernie and Richmond, but I can’t tell you what year that would’ve been either. So that’s the history that I know of, which most probably isn’t a hell of a lot of use to anybody, but I can only tell you what I know.

But anyway, as I say, my father worked on Chesterhope, and lived in the cottage which was owned by the MacDonalds at the end of Hodgson Road. And I can vividly remember the day my father left Chesterhope; I was four years old, so that would’ve been 1950 or possibly ‘51. He had a pushbike, and he used to ride from the house … at home; lift it over the fence; down across the bridge behind the wool shed; then ride across from that bridge over to the homestead here and start his day’s work, and I can really vividly remember him doing that. And his job on Chesterhope was the cropping and feed supply man, and he cropped round about three hundred acres of Chesterhope here annually; had it under crop. And in the shed here today is a 1939 International McCormick Farmall H tractor and a Caterpillar D2 diesel tractor. So in 1939 Mrs Fernie realised how much work he was doing and decided he should have more modern equipment than he had. So she asked what he would like, and he said, “I’d like a Farmall H, and I would like a Caterpillar D2 diesel”, because they had a Cat 22 petrol here prior to that. So these new machines arrived and away he went.

In the shed here they still are, along with the Reid & Gray plough, [and] a big A-frame; and that A-frame was used as a sweep. They dragged it behind the Caterpillar crawler; they grew vast amounts of cattle pumpkins which are a big round pumpkin … eighteen inches up to two feet in diameter, I suppose … [they’re] a pretty big pumpkin; but they’re generally like a big ball. So they would go through and they would cut all the stems off, and then they’d work from the outside and go round and round and sweep these pumpkins into windrows. The trailer is still here; they’d tow the trailer behind the Farmall tractor, and they would pick them up manually, [a] pumpkin at a time, and load them on the trailer and then they would make stockpiles of these pumpkins around the place. So through the winter months they’d load them back on the same trailer and then carry them out into the paddocks and chop them up with axes for the animals to feed. And I can remember one conversation my father had was of David Fernie being an extremely, extremely good stockman. He didn’t only know his stock, but he looked after his stock, and his stock had to be well fed.

Now most people driving today through the expressway would look at Chesterhope and think what a beautiful, big fertile area it is. Well it’s not what it appears. Because it was so flood ravaged until the stopbanks were built, there are huge deposits of just straight-out sand … light sand and silt. As a boy, most of the fences on Chesterhope consisted of poplar trees with the wire grown right into them because you couldn’t use a post; so they planted the poplar trees so as when the floods came it didn’t sweep the fences away. But of course it did damage the fences, and did destroy a lot of fences, but in general it left the bloody poplar trees. So that’s why … and today there’s hardly a poplar left on the place … but there were big rows of poplar trees.

And my father said in the hot, dry times when these sand ridges would dry right out, David Fernie would be working with the men whatever they were doing; whether it was fencing, or chipping thistles, or whatever; or hauling in crops. He’d say to the men, “Righto – lunch time.” And he wouldn’t stop for lunch. And he said he’d ride away on his horse – he kept an axe and a scabbard on the saddle – and he would spend his lunch time chopping branches down for his animals to make sure they had plenty of food, and in that dry time they were still getting some green food; realising Chesterhope in general was not so much a breeding farm as a fattening farm, so a lot of stock would come here from Moeangiangi and Waiatea; I can remember being at Pakowhai School, and Powdrell Brothers carting stock on trucks for days. On the other side of it they would run the trains to Whakatu, and they would unload cattle at Whakatu and they would drove them from there to Chesterhope to finish. So there was a big movement of stock, we’ll put it that way.

My last recollection of a big drove was as a primary school boy, coming down Hodgson Road going to Pakowhai School; and two shepherds out the front of the mob – a shepherd each side – all on horses, and Miss Fernie always rode at the back. And when they got to Hodgson Road this particular day, some of the cattle broke and run [ran] up Hodgson Road. Well, she was on a big stallion, and this stallion would’ve been at least sixteen hands – it was a big horse. And [of] course she’s yelling orders etcetera, to put it mildly or politely, and there’s dogs going in all directions and cattle going in all directions. And this thing decided it was going to play up, so it’s up on its hind legs, and it’s almost at right angles. And Miss Fernie was not a tall lady, but she had her legs firmly wrapped round the guts of this horse, and she [of] course had a big supplejack stick; and she dropped the reins, leant right back in the saddle and belted this thing clean between the ears. Well it went down like a sack of spuds; and of course Hodgson Road is gravel, so its front legs buckled underneath it and its nose hit the ground. And it’s snorting, and the dust flying out from the horse snorting … and this horse slowly, slowly got back on its four legs. And I would suggest that horse never ever reared again. But that was the greatest feat of riding that I think I’ve ever seen – that was just phenomenal.

So anyway, going back to my father being here – the last day that he worked on Chesterhope I remember – he left and he joined the Rivers Board. He went there as a labourer, and he was only there a matter of a few weeks and he was made a leading hand. He travelled home each day from the Redclyffe depot … the Rivers Board depot … later become [became] Catchment Board depot; [it] was in conjunction on the same property as the Hawke’s Bay County Council premises, this side of the Tūtaekurī River bridge, on the right-hand side. There’s still sheds there. But anyway, they shared the area of land but they each had separate sheds. So he would come home in this ‘51 or ‘52 model Commer truck, which would be a fifteen, twenty hundredweight truck, I suppose, and it had a pipe frame with a canvas on the back. And in the back were seats bolted to the deck, so he would stop and pick staff up on his way to the depot, and then of course they would all go out on each individual job.

So anyway, some of the people he carted up were the Haftkas – so we’ll go back a wee way – and on Chesterhope David Fernie employed a man called Paul Haftka. And Paul Haftka’s job was fencer, and my father maintains nobody could ever build a fence better than Paul Haftka. This’d be a post and batten eight-wire fence; and [of] course all the holes would’ve been dug with a spade and a shovel etcetera, and of course part of my father’s job along with the cropping, which also involved a lucerne stand of about forty acres. So there was a lot of cropping.

But anyway, Paul Haftka worked here, and he lived – access from the road is off Pakowhai Road, which is where there’s a winery called Park Estate. Almost opposite Park Estate there’s a long drive, and the cottage was down by the creek between John McCormack and Harris’ property. And anyway, the Haftkas lived there and they had several boys; Roy Haftka eventually worked in the gardens here for Mrs Fernie; Bluey Haftka worked on the Catchment Board for some of the time with Conway Haftka but then he went to the Hawke’s Bay County, working on the roads or whatever. And when Paul Haftka retired, there was a bridge between the Haftka’s cottage and the main Chesterhope Station, which is no longer there – I think possibly you can still see some of the remains off the motorway – I think are still there. So Paul Haftka’s access … he didn’t have to go down Pakowhai Road and then come up to the wool shed. That little lane to the whares and the wool shed was called Oakley Lane – it never ever had a sign on it, but I know it was called Oakley Lane because my father’s mail would be addressed to him, ‘DFJ MacDonald, Oakley Lane, Pakowhai’. And even, you know, for many years later it was still ‘DFJ MacDonald, Oakley Lane, Pakowhai’. I should’ve mentioned that earlier, but I couldn’t remember the name, so I’m a little bit mixed up here.

But anyway, going back to the Haftkas – when Paul Haftka retired, in David Fernie’s will he said that the Haftkas live on Chesterhope at no cost to the family – that’s for Paul Haftka and his wife – for the rest of their lives, and that Paul Haftka can utilise any part of Chesterhope he so wishes for his garden. Paul Haftka was a very good gardener.

So anyway, when I was seven years of age I went into the Haftkas one day with my father for whatever reason, and here’s Paul Haftka with his garden. And what he used to do, every year he’d take a separate area, and it would most probably cover a good half-acre, and he would grow his garden. And in that garden he would grow all sorts of vegetables, but one of his specialities was melons, and he grew jam melons, and watermelons, and rockmelons of every kind you could have. So anyway, I’m there with my father one day, and it would’ve been most probably end of February, March. And it was a hot day, and he said to me, would I like a watermelon. “Oh, yes, that’d be nice.” So he said, “I’ll show you how you know when a watermelon’s ripe; so you look at the tail – yes, that’s got to be dry – but that’s not sufficient. You must tap the watermelon with your thumb or your fingers, and hear it ring; and if it doesn’t ring it’s not ready to pick. So you hear that ring?” And he’s explaining this, going from melon to melon … “Now that one’s ready.” “Yep.” So he picks it up to waist height, and he drops it. Well the melon hit the ground and it just went phsswissh! And all this watermelon went everywhere. And I can really remember saying to him, “Mr Haftka, do you water your watermelons?” “I want to tell you something I want you to remember for the rest of your life. More hoe, less hose. You do not need to water crops here, on this soil; you need to cultivate.” So he would be out there … you could drive past … and he’d always be in his garden, and he’d always have a hoe in his hand. And it’d usually be a push hoe, but sometimes a chop hoe, and he would have this immaculate garden.

So I never forgot that, and later in my life when I was cropping, I cultivated; I didn’t apply water, and I got big crops because I was on the right soil. Now, you can’t do that if you’ve got a shingle base obviously; but if you’re on silty land pick out the pockets of good land … and Chesterhope’s got lots of pockets of very fertile land on it … you can grow crops and never need to water them. You just need to keep cultivating. So that was a huge lesson.

Isn’t it funny when you start, how it comes back to you?


I mean, this is all useless information, really, I mean what I’m telling you – they’ll wipe most of this, I’m sure.

No, they won’t. They will not.

[Break; general conversation takes place]

Right – well the other involvement with my family was my mother’s father, Mr Arthur White, and he was a builder or a carpenter. And he would come and do odd things for Mrs Fernie; if you have a look at the shed that’s here today, you can see it’s all match lined and all that – well that would be a lot of my grandfather’s work. The homestead here simply was not maintained, and so Mrs Fernie would ring my grandfather up to get him to have doors that didn’t jam so as they could open them etcetera; and he insisted that the homestead should be repiled on many occasions, and Mrs Fernie’s reply always was, “We don’t need to spend that sort of money, Mr White – it’ll see us out.” And so it did; but unfortunately the spouting rotted off; the water swamped the piles, the piles rotted and the house just simply settled down into the ground, which was a great shame, really. But anyway, the homestead today of course, is gone.

But the other legacy my grandfather left was the cottage across the creek from the homestead here, behind the pipe cattle yards. Mrs Fernie asked him, would he design a cottage, which he did, and that cottage would’ve been built in the very early 1950s. But anyway, that’s just the other side of my family’s involvement.

Okay, so I’ve explained my father left Chesterhope. So then as a schoolboy at Pakowhai School, I came and saw Mrs Fernie from about nine years old, ten years old, I suppose, to see if I could have a job, perhaps on Saturday mornings. And she gave me a job in the gardens here. And in the gardens were five gardeners at the time. Mr Minter lived in the cottage directly opposite the Pakowhai School; he had been imported from Kew Gardens in England as head gardener. He came to work in a three piece suit with polished shoes, and he directed the other staff as [to] what to do. And the big propagation houses that were here – he would spend most probably most of his time in those propagation houses.

In the gardens here are plants, and particularly trees, from all over the world. Mrs Fernie was an absolute lover of gardens, and the gardens were always an absolute picture. Over the creek here a bridge was built; every second year a new Indian canoe was built. And say from the beginning of April onward, [a] Hawke’s Bay Farmers truck would arrive loaded up with maize and barley and wheat; and the canoe was employed by the gardeners who every day would spread most probably a sack … a minimum equivalent of a blue stripe sack of grain … each day for the ducks, to encourage the ducks to come here so as they didn’t get shot in duck shooting [season]. So of course, by the first Saturday in May which is the commencement of duck shooting, [on] the lawns round the homestead here, the ducks were packed in like sardines in a can. And Mrs Fernie just absolutely loved it; anybody else would’ve been horrified at the mess they made but she was very happy to have all these ducks here. So that was another love of hers.

I remember one morning – it was winter time; I’m in a big oval garden by the homestead here, and Roy Haftka has directed me to week this garden. Well as a nine or ten-year-old I didn’t know a hang of a lot about gardening. So there were several purpose-built weed barrows here; they were built with bicycle wheels and they held a lot of weeds. And so I’ve got one parked on the path there, and Mrs Fernie comes along this morning … usually round about smoko time she would appear, always immaculately dressed, and always with the same comments made, like: “Good morning, Graham.” Reply: “Good morning, Mrs Fernie.” Then: “How’s mother and father?” “Oh, they’re very well, thank you, Mrs Fernie.” “Oh, that’s good; now what about Malcolm?” “Yes, he’s very well.” Because my sister was only a girl that wasn’t very important so she didn’t remember her name too well, so it was: “And what about your sister?” “Yes, she was also very well, thank you, Mrs Fernie.” Then goes on: “Graham, do you like flowers?” Well I was getting paid 2/6 [two shillings and sixpence] or half a crown an hour, which to me was very big money; so of course I was hellishin’ interested in flowers, but didn’t really know anything about them. I managed to think fairly quickly, and I said, “Ooh yes, I love flowers.” She said, “Do you know much about them?” And I said to her, “Well, as a matter of fact, Mrs Fernie, I don’t.” And she said, “Well I didn’t think you did, because you’re pulling out my prize …” whatever they were, and I’m chuckin’ them into this bloody rubbish barrow [loud truck noise, or could be aircraft] and leavin’ all the bloody weeds. So she said to me, “I think we might have to get Mr Haftka to put you on lawn mowing duties, or do something like that.” So I got demoted from that.

And then the other thing that used to happen to me quite regularly, is I’d often just get started – I was always here at quarter to eight to start at eight o’clock, and directed to what I was doing – and I’d always just get started and Miss Fernie would come along, and she would say, “Good morning, Graham.” “Morning, Miss Fernie.” “Now, Mother says I may borrow you.” “Right, okay.” So I’d leave what I was doing; usually it was hop in the Landrover with a few dogs in the back, and off we’d go, up the farm. And we’d stop in the middle of a paddock and of course – realising they were big paddocks – the dogs’d be put round the mob of sheep, and stuck in a corner. And then she would direct me to a particular animal she wanted caught … “That one there.” So she’d point it out, so I would leap in there, grab this thing; and remember, they’re half-breds, they’re a tall animal and very strong. She might want it picked up because it had dags, or was limping or whatever, and invariably these bloody things’d take off and drag me with them. So the trick was to never let go, because if you did let go your life wasn’t worth living; but if you hung on, even if it dragged you a hundred yards before you come [came] to a halt lying on top of this animal, absolutely breathless and the animal puffin’ its guts out, that was quite okay. And then she would attend to whatever she wanted to do with that animal, and then away we’d go again. But I was always very pleased to go with Miss Fernie because at the end of the day, instead of going home with my ten shillings [10/-] from Mrs Fernie, I would go home with a whole pound, [£] so that was [a] huge amount of money … massive money. So I enjoyed being here with both Mrs Fernie and Miss Fernie; that was the way it was.

So of course I eventually grew and went and did a trade and all the rest of it, and so had very little to do with Chesterhope, or Mrs Fernie or Miss Fernie, other than later in life when I was married; I wanted a pony we’d bought for our boys put in foal, and I came and saw Miss Fernie and that duly happened and everyone was happy, so that was very good. The only problem I had with Miss Fernie was the day we came to pick the pony up – she was sitting on the rails at the homestead here. We arrived … the appointed time was eight o’clock, so we naturally arrived at ten to eight … and she’s sitting there hanging onto this very pregnant 13.2 [hands] mare. And I pulled up with my family, and before I could even get out of the car she’s calling out, “Get that tailboard down, Graham.” So [I] clamber out of the car, rush round, drop the tailboard; next thing she’s in the float with the pony; “Get that tailboard up.” So the tailboard goes up, so of course the pony’s tethered to the front of the float, within the float of course, and she’s out the side door and she’s walking away from me. And I said to her, “Oh, Miss Fernie, just a minute”, and she stopped. She’s just about at the little gate here by this stage, and she stopped; “Yes?” she said. I said, “Now Miss Fernie – thank you very much for allowing us to have our little mare here and having her put in foal, but I expect to pay you.” Well, she turned on her heel, she walked right up to my face, and she said to me, “How dare you talk about money!” And I was absolutely staggered, and I said to her, “Miss Fernie – you knew both my grandfathers.” “Yes.” “And you knew my father.” “Yes.” “And of course you knew your father.” “Yes.” I said, “Would any of these people ever [have] expected something for nothing?” And she said, “Definitely not.” Because she’d really ordered me off the place because I’d stopped her; and her whole attitude changed completely, and she said, “Graham”, she said, “you are the closest thing I’ve got to family. I haven’t got a family, and here you are with your wife and your very young boys. I’m more than happy to put your little mare in foal and I do not want any money.” I said, “Thank you, Miss Fernie, but” I said, “I must offer.” She said, “Thank you very much, Graham.” And then I didn’t see her for many years.

I had started collecting older machinery and tractors and things, and in the shed here of course is the ‘39 Farmall H, which I was very, very keen to get my hands on. So I came over one Saturday at lunch time, ‘cause I knew that was a good time to catch her, and knocked on the door. And she comes out, “Yes, Graham?” “Miss Fernie, would you be interested in selling me the Farmall H?” It’s been parked in the shed here; done really nothing since my father left, and this is 1982 by this stage. And she said to me, “But it’s not mine to sell.” And I said, “Well, if its not yours, whose is it?” And she said, “Mother bought it for Douglas, your father, and as far as I’m concerned it belongs to your father; and it stays in the shed until such time as your father wants it.”

So I went and visited my father and said to him, would he come over with me and see Miss Fernie, and see about taking it, and he refused, absolutely flatly, saying he didn’t want anything or expect anything from the Fernies for nothing. So that was the end of that; so hence the tractor is still sitting in the shed today, [chuckle] not going anywhere, and that’s the end of that. So that is really my last time that I spoke to Miss Fernie, or even came over to Chesterhope.

And about what year would that be?

That was 1982. So that’s it – that’s the end of the story.



No-one says that to me.


Well that’s a very good talk from Graham. [Interference from wind] I suppose I got the history on Chesterhope as well. Graham, I’m very, very grateful for your talk, and wish you all the best.

Thank you very much, Jim, and I might just say I love history; I have always loved history, and if I can ever be any further assistance to the Knowledge Bank or anything else, I’m always very happy to participate.

Thank you, Graham.

[Break; resumes with discussion about a tractor on McWilliams property]

Directly opposite the end of our property, in the shed is a bloody Farmall H. So I’d see McWilliam’s people going over there, so eventually … this tractor stayed there; this was about 1982, and this tractor never ever moved, it just sat in the shed. So anyway, I see this guy tearing down there so I beetled down the road after him, and I said to him, “What’s the story with that tractor?” He said, “It’s seized up.” So I said to him, “Do you want to sell it?” He said, “Well I’m only the manager, I’ll have to contact the people in Auckland, so I’ll get back to you.” So a few weeks went by and he came back to me, and he said, “Yeah”, he said, “they’ll sell you that tractor.” I said, “What do they want for it?” He said, “$400.” I said, “Yeah, I’ll buy it.” I said, “Do you know anything about it’s history?” He said, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve got the ownership papers and everything for it. It was bought by Tom McDonald in 1945.” [Of] course Tom McDonald [McDonald’s Wines, now Church Road Winery] amalgamated with McWilliams eventually, so here I’ve got this Farmall H tractor sitting in my shed that Tom McDonald had bought.

Now I had met Tom McDonald when I was ten years old; the property at Hodgson Road is [a] forty-acre property, and very much like Chesterhope has got sand ridges in it. And the other thing I forgot to say in there which is real important was, the earthquake damage that was done to Chesterhope and the property I grew up on … there are earthquake cracks the width of that deck of that truck, and would run from here to that big tree there.

Hundred metres?

Oh – [at] least fifty. And that’d been opened by the earthquake. Well, in the corner next to Chesterhope at home, there was a horse standing there. And the ground opened up, and the horse went clonk, and the ground closed up and there was no more bloody horse!

I’ve got a very good friend called Trevor Goode that [who] crops a lot of Chesterhope, and when my brother finally took over all the say about Chesterhope he decided that Chesterhope needed some resurrection and turning over, and so on. In fact the paddock – I think it’s that paddock across the creek there. David Fernie’s diaries – which I keep saying you must read – it was exactly one hundred years since that paddock had been turned over, and Goodes ploughed [it] up. But Trevor is an extremely good farmer – everything he touches he does perfectly. So my brother, ‘cause I’d had a lot to do with Trevor doing mechanical work, came to me and he said, “I believe you know Trevor Goode?” And I said, “Yeah, I know Trevor very well”, and he said, “well can you tell me anything about him?” And I said to him, “Well there’s two things Trevor Goode is – he’s an extremely good farmer; whatever he does, he does extremely well. And the other thing about Trevor Goode – he is extremely honest, and there’s no mucking around.” So my brother approached Trevor, and Trevor came and had a look at the place, and they decided that the only way to deal with it was to take the topsoil off the paddock and stockpile it, then fill in all the earthquake cracks and then re-spread the topsoil, which is a very, very expensive exercise, you know, I mean you’re dealing with very expensive machinery to do that. So Chesterhope today is a totally, totally different place than it was twenty years ago … a much, much improved property … because these earthquake cracks were so extreme that it really has made the place.

Thank you, Graham, that’s all added on.

Good man.

Ross Duncan: [Of] course they had some big floods through here …

Graham: Oh, huge.

Ross: … but lots of the sand – you had a name for it – but areas of sand and you couldn’t grow very much, it had no guts in it.

Graham: Well as I say, at home there … like, if we didn’t get lambs away in November … the main pick had to go in November. My father used to have ewes lamb in May; May school holidays we were flat out lambing, and the reason was because these sand ridges dried out that much. You had plenty of tucker with your autumn rains; the sand would grow anything provided you put water on it, but as soon as that sun came out there’d just be nothin’ left, other than a bit of cooch. [Chuckle] You can utilise the land to its advantage, you know.

Ross: What d’you know about that block of land next to McCormacks? That was a big block of land, it looked about forty, maybe fifty acres.

Graham: That block of land never belonged to Chesterhope; Mrs Fernie bought that separately. Mrs Fernie was a very, very good business lady. She bought that separately, and although they stocked it and so on – and then of course eventually the bridge came into so much disrepair, we’ll put it that way; as [is] the bridge behind the wool shed. I believe the bridge behind the wool shed’s in a pretty bad state too; I don’t know whether they even drove stock across it … I don’t know. No, I don’t think they do – I think they built the new wool shed down here at the end of Franklin Road so I think all the stock is shorn there now, and I think the only stock that goes through the original wool shed today is all Malcolm MacDonald’s stock, because when Malcolm MacDonald was a schoolboy, I can remember Miss Fernie coming over one day and saying, “Mother has said she would like Malcolm to graze the wool shed block”, because the bridge was getting into disrepair then, although they were still using it occasionally. And then as time went on he has cropped that. So the block that was Mrs Fernie’s is today owned by Geoffrey Goode, totally separately to his father’s outfit.

And the block at Pakowhai leading up to the wool shed, which was Bill Richmond’s – when I was a kid that didn’t belong to Fernies, that belonged to Bill Richmond – and when Bill Richmond died Jack Whitfield, Doug Whitfield’s father bought that. But because it led to the wool shed there was a covenant put in that the access up Oakley Lane has to be left open at all times to the wool shed; uninterrupted access. Well there used to be some problems there, because once Whitfields went to grading potatoes behind the whares … you’d remember the whares as they were … they built a shed there. [Of] course, Whitfields’d have bins and trucks and trailers and stuff, and of course Miss Fernie’d want to get up to the wool shed and of course there’d be stuff in the way. So I know that caused some problems between the Whitfields and Miss Fernie.

But however, I do know that on behalf of the Fernie Estate, that Richmond block … in fact the fence that was there was run on an angle to taper the stock; remember there was vast amounts of stock driven, and so the fences were designed like a funnel, if you like, and they weren’t straight across; they were like that, on a big angle. Well Richmonds’ fence was on the angle; so of course when … we’ll say Malcolm MacDonald on behalf of the Fernie Estate … bought the property off [from] Doug Whitfield – it’s now part of Chesterhope – that fence got pulled down for cropping purposes. Now that fence, I believe, is still put back on the angle; but that was separately owned by Bill Richmond. And when you’re coming off the Brookfield[s] Bridge heading toward Napier, all that land on the right, that belonged to Bill Richmond. Who owns it today I have no idea, but when I was a kid the triangle coming off the Chesterhope Bridge heading to the Pakowhai Store on the right, that was Bill Richmond’s. From Fernhill, that land right through to the sea was Richmonds’. Bill Richmond owned masses of amounts of land, but Bill Richmond bought and sold, where Fernies didn’t buy and sell.

Ross: Well, we learnt a lot more; your salary goes up to 2/6 [two shillings and sixpence] an hour now.

Graham, thank you very much, the second time …

[Chuckle] Thank you, Jim.

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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