MacKenzie, Sonia Winnifred Mary Interview

Today is the 13th August 2018. I’m interviewing Sonia MacKenzie of Taradale. Sonia, would you like to tell me something about your family? Thank you.

Thank you. I grew up in a little place called Makuri. Well, it wasn’t in the town – it wasn’t a town at all, it was a village. And we were five miles from there over the range, the Puketoi range right beside Mount Butters. We lived on a crossroads, on a hill with trees all around the house, and so it was called Pine Hills. My father had built the house there, and planted the trees when he first took it over when he was seventeen. He was the second-youngest of a family of six boys, Ernest William Hansen. They were all born at Ngaturi and went to Ngaturi School. Their parents were both Danish – Caroline Jensen married to Nils Peter Hansen, who was always known as Fred. My father went to work at the very early age of eleven for Sir William Perry, who had a large property up the Kanua Road up at Makuri. He was cowman/gardener.

Sonia where is Makuri relative to a town?

Makuri is twenty-five miles from Pahiatua, out to the east.

To the coast?

Yes, heading towards Pongaroa. Ngaturi is the first little settlement before you get to Makuri, then over the hill. We were on the Rakanui corner which was … Rakanui Road went one way and the Rimu Road went the other, and one led to Pongaroa.

And when he was seventeen he wanted to go farming. His first choice would have been cabinet-making, but his elder brother, Victor, had been apprenticed to a cabinet-maker and he decided he didn’t like it and left, so my grandfather, Fred, was not prepared to pay a second apprenticeship. So he went to work with Sir William Perry, and when he was seventeen Sir William Perry loaned him the money to purchase a piece of land, which he purchased with his father and two brothers. It was a thousand acres, and over time he eventually finished up buying everybody out, so the thousand acres was our property where I grew up. And I remember the day … I think I was about six … there was great celebration because he’d finished paying off all the debts to all the people that he was buying the land from. We had a Romney stud as time went on and when I left school I also had a Romney stud, because … ahh, well I wasn’t allowed to go on to university because girls only got married.

What was the name of your stud?

It was Pine Hills. Yeah, well we shared the name.

Yes. My mother was also Scandinavian. She had a Scottish mother and a Scandinavian father. She was Winnifred Maude Petersen; her mother was Mary Chisholm Neish McKeown, and her grandparents had come out to New Zealand in 1840 on the ‘Bengal Merchant’ and landed at Petone beach. From there David McKeown, her grandfather, was instrumental in getting the Ngauranga Abattoir built in Wellington. He had it built there because he knew that the stuffy-nosed people up on the hill wouldn’t like the smell. [Chuckle]

That’s right – they wouldn’t have, either. [Chuckle]

And then they shifted up to the Manawatu and lived in along Karere, just near Longburn, and he had the first Post Office in the Manawatu, there.

When they came to New Zealand, they came with mother and father and two children, and David. Ann and David were both married to Ann and David Galloway. Bit of a problem there, I would think, two couples in the family with the same names. [Chuckle]

My mother was born in that Manawatu area. Her father was Karl Wilhelm Pedersen, and he was Scandinavian. His family came out, landed at Napier, travelled down to Mauriceville and settled there. There were six children then – there were more to come – and from Mauriceville they shifted to Tauherenikau and then across to Aokautere. At Aokautere they lived at the end of Staces Road, and he built – he was a builder – and he built a big two-storeyed house there which blew down one day when the Manawatu River had an enormous gale and the whole house just tipped over.

He was also renowned for having built a raft which he used to take people from Aokautere across the Manawatu River to the end of Albert Street in Palmerston North, so that they didn’t have to go all the way down to the very first Fitzherbert Bridge. And one night when there was a storm – I’m not sure if it was the same night as the house blew down – the raft got loose and went down the river and took the Fitzherbert Bridge out. It went on down the river and beached itself at Levin, and my mother’s uncle lived down there and he pulled it into his area and built a cow shed out of it. [Shows photo] That’s the house that blew down. And [chuckle] so that’s my mother’s family.

My grandfather … her father … was always a farmer, oh I think he started life cutting timber in the Wairarapa for the Bidwell family. From there he went to being a flax cutter at Foxton, and then became a sharemilker, and on until he had his own dairy farm down the Himatangi Beach Road, where I remember them living and where my mother was married from.

My mother and father met because she liked writing letters, and she had penfriends everywhere. And I have her letters to my father from the very first one, and it is headed up ‘Dear Mr Hansen, thank you for answering my request for penfriends’. I haven’t read them all, but one day just for fun I pulled one out and it was much later on in their writing, and it said ‘Dad and I went to a Council meeting in Levin last night’ … at that time they were living at Shannon … ‘and it was called to discuss the possibilities of building a picture house. It was decided not to as these moving pictures are just a passing phase’.

[Chuckle] Little did she know.

Well little did the Council know. [Chuckle] Yes, well that’s the Pedersen family, and the McKeowns.

You grew up at those various places?

Well, they grew up in all those places, and then I spent my whole life at [the] farm at Pine Hills. but that was the background of my parents. I’m not sure whether you wanted that?

Yes, I did.

And we were of course, not within range of a school. I had one sister who was four years older than me, and she now lives in Tasmania near to her daughter. We didn’t see many children – children were … you know, not there. We saw lots of adults, and I guess that’s where I got my ability to talk to adults more than I did to children really.

So Correspondence School came and I had Correspondence School – well we both did – ‘til we were ten and then went to boarding school in Masterton. That was St Matthew’s, and I had five years there and passed my exams to go to Art School in Christchurch. And I’ve told you, my father said “girls just get married”. So I went home and worked on the farm.

I was an avid supporter of the Junior National Party [chuckle] as most country girls were and from that I met a young lady … I was a golfer. I was playing golf for the National Party Team in Lansdowne in Masterton, and there was a girl from Waipukurau had come down with the team we were playing against, the Waipukurau Junior National Party – Maxwell McKenzie her name was. So we became friends from that and when she had her birthday party she asked me up to her birthday. I went up on the bus, and her brother met me at the bus and took me round to their house in Wellington Road. And they said, “oh – well her cousin is coming for lunch today ‘cause he can’t come to the party tonight. And he’s going to take her for a ride in an aeroplane for her birthday”. So Jock arrived … “this is my cousin, Jock”, she said. And obviously they all thought Jock was just the cat’s pyjamas. Yes, I thought he was quite nice too, and strangely he did come back to the party that night. [Chuckle] Three weeks later he was visiting my house, and … well, that was the beginning of the big romance I suppose.

Did he sport a moustache those days?

He had a moustache, just a small one at that stage, and it grew. [Chuckle]

It was only going to stay a small moustache, but about two years later I suppose, I was working at St Matthew’s … back there at the school as the House Mistress … and also teaching ballroom dancing, and the phone went and it was Jock’s sister Jean. And she said “I thought I’d better ring you and tell you that Jock had an accident yesterday. He’s all right, but you know …”

Well okay, he’d had an accident up at Puketitiri – got in a down draft and had come down on the Simcox property at Puketitiri. And the compass bowl had gone through his face so he had a cut from his forehead down, cutting his nose almost in half, down across his lip and down through the chin. Not a pretty sight, and that’s why he grew the moustache bigger because there were two levels of lip. It was very hard to shave.

‘Cause that machine sat right in your face, didn’t it?

Yes. So I suppose over three years we wrote letters all the time. We didn’t see each other much, probably not more than twenty times, but letters are great things. So eventually we decided that yes, we would get married, and at that stage I was twenty.

What year would that be about?

It was 1956 we were married. Jock had grown up on Olrig Station. His father was the Manager, and he took over the Manager’s job the day before Jock was born – he was born in Dannevirke. Previous to that, Jock’s father had been … well in the war … the ‘14-’18 war … he was injured seven times. He had come out from Scotland with his parents and six siblings in 1906 on the ‘Gothic’, and they had settled on a farm at Weber and he was I think eleven when they came. After he got back from the war he went to work on Ngamatea Station, and then back over this way … managed a Station out near Porangahau somewhere – I don’t remember the name of it. And that’s where he met his wife, who was Iris Ross. And her parents were Kitty Ryan and Robert Ross. Not two of the same, because one was very Irish and one was very Scottish. My husband finished up more Irish than Scots in personality. But Kitty Ryan, Iris’s mother – her father was in the Government with Richard Seddon. He was the member for Pahiatua. [Chuckle] And there’s a Ross Street in Woodville, which is named after him.

So was Pahiatua your nearest little town?


Did you ever know any family called the Adams?

Cliff Adams, the dentist?


Yes, he did all my teeth before I got married. I remember him really well. One does remember your dentist. [Chuckle]

Yes, lots of people moved from Pahiatua up this way.

Pahiatua and Dannevirke. Everybody has been in Dannevirke sometime in their life. Eketahuna … I’ve spent a night in the Eketahuna pub. I travelled down there with Helen Williams, John Williams’ wife – he was a vicar. He’s somebody you should interview, he lives over in Napier. So Helen was a Sattrup from Dannevirke, also Danish. And we went to the Mauriceville Up Helly Aa for the Danish people, and we could only stay in Eketahuna – there was nowhere else to stay. It was great.

So where was I? So that’s Iris – Iris had actually been born in Dipton, down in the South Is…

I know where Dipton is.

Yes. Well we have pictures of the house where she lived. And the Ryan side of her family had had three hotels in a row in Blacks, or Ophir, through the gold rush. They were probably better to have the hotels than go digging. [Chuckle]


So that was Moron [spells] and Ryan … their two names.

Now Ophir – is that the coldest place in New Zealand?

Probably – yes.

It’s not much of a town now.

My daughter, Catherine, went back there with one of her daughters and they found the remains of the house at the back of the hotel, which was part of the house they lived in, and there’s been a bit built on the front. And she took photographs of them. The house on the front is the one that they rent out. And she put the photographs on the mantlepiece, ‘cause she felt that was the right place.

Where are we?

So Jock and I got married in 1956 in the All Saints’ Church in Palmerston North. It was pouring with rain when I went to church, and it was beautiful sun when I came out. And my mother got very upset because we had the bells ringing, and Roland McKenzie from Dannevirke was playing the bagpipes as we came out. Gus Hyslop, with Doug Nowell-Usticke in the car with him, were going up and down outside in the racing car tooting the horn. Bedlam! [Chuckle] Well, they were all part of Jock’s group of people.

Jock was ten-and-a-half years older than me, and he, as you know, remembered the earthquake and all that sort of thing. And he always felt he had to be a farmer, but somewhere after he’d … he would’ve been better not to have been a farmer. He was more of an academic really. But however, he thought about training as a teacher one stage of his life, but it didn’t happen. And I understand that it didn’t, but of course it was a lovely life living in the country on a farm, and lovely place to bring up children.

When we got married we lived at 708 Ngaio Street in Hastings, and Jock built a retaining wall along the front because it was a bit sort of up and down, and the retaining wall is still there. I go past and look at it every now and then and I wonder ‘how did it stay up?’ [Speaking together]

That says something. [Chuckle]

[Chuckle] And we didn’t have long there, but he was almost at the end of his flying. He started flying 1952 I guess … round there. He went into the Air Force when he was sixteen. He had gone to Silverstream College and it had not been a great success – you’ve read it, you heard it. And when he came home he just virtually went straight into the Air Force. And his room mate when he first went in was none other than Ben Couch. [Chuckle]

And many years later when we were living up the Dartmoor Valley, Ben was then in the Government, and we were sent a message to say that Ben Couch was going to be talking in the Patoka Hall. And he said “oh,” he said “we’ve got to go.” He said “I haven’t seen Ben for years”. And so we both went up to listen to Ben talk in the Patoka Hall, and I said to him when we went in, “are you going to talk to him?” And he said “no, no. No, I’ll talk to him after he’s had his speech”. Anyway, Ben got up to talk and he said “it’s been a great night so far, and I can see it’s going to be better because as I was coming into the hall I noticed somebody else coming into the hall whose walk I will never forget”. [Laughter] Jock had slightly bow legs, and so he had a particular rolling walk. And he had a lovely habit – when he was happy, he would be walking along and he’d be going “boom, boom, boom-boody-boom, boom, boom, boom” … [chuckle] and it was lovely.

We were very happy. We had a sadness, because at the time when we were living at Ngaio Street we had a small boy born who died the same day. And I think, with some families that actually pushes you apart, but with us it drew us together. And then we miscarried twins, so things were not that good really. And at the same time Jock was getting very, very deaf from the flying, and so he no longer could get a licence to fly, and so we thought we’d have to find some other way of making a living.

And our first choice was a shop in Taupo, so we went to Taupo to look at this shop that was for sale right on the waterfront corner, down … and it was still metal roads. So this was a double shop with a flat on top, and we could almost afford it … not quite. We knew we had the house to sell, ‘cause the house that we’d built was … you know, a State Advances house … we could sell that and use the … Anyway, we decided that we’d live upstairs and we’d have a book shop on one side and a coffee bar on the other. And we went down to visit my parents and tell them what we were doing, and my father said, “you mustn’t do that. You don’t know anything about either of those things, and if you’re living upstairs in the flat with steps outside like that, and you do eventually have a family, it’ll be awkward. I’ll lend you some money to look for a farm.”

So we looked for a farm. We looked and we looked and we looked, and Jock hoped that he would be able to get a farm loan through the State Advances because he was a retired … you know, finished … serviceman.  But … no he hadn’t been farming for the last five or six years …

No, that’s the problem, I know.

… so they turned him down, they said “oh, no.” Well, one would think that flying was a farm related thing, and he had grown up on a farm, worked on Ngamatea Station, managed Waiouru Station.

Anyway, so we eventually bought a small farm in the Rangitikei and it was really more suited to a retired farmer than a farmer starting off. It was a hundred and fifty acres, and thirty of that was water. And you know – we hadn’t seen it when it was bought, because my father went to the auction and bid for us because Jock was busy flying. And … I don’t know.

But we had some happy years there, but the beginning was not, because on the other side of the lake a group of water skiers had built a small clubhouse. And the first Sunday we were there a hundred cars drove past the house going down to water ski.

Over your land?

Yes. We picked up seventeen bags of rubbish on Monday, and we decided right then that we were going to put a ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’ notice on the gate. Didn’t make us popular. The Wanganui paper came out and interviewed Mrs MacKenzie because Mr MacKenzie wouldn’t speak to them …


… but what was in the paper wasn’t what I said. So that’s why I sort of grinned when you said, had I been interviewed before? So the house on that property should have been kept as a historic place. It was built in 1860, and it was built by Thomas Urquhart McKenzie, who was one of the eighteen McKenzie children of the big McKenzie family down at Turakina. And he built it for Rhodes … Heaton Rhodes … who had lease of the property down there. It was an old roll-top fronted house, and it had had stairs inside but they’d taken the stairs out. But curiosity gets the better of you, so one day we got the ladder and got up the outside, and got in through the manhole. And the whole thing upstairs was lined with newspapers … ‘Wellington Independent’, 1860.

So you could read the story of ..?

Yes, you could read it all still, if you could get past the cobwebs. And there was one piece which read … and it was the Napier paper … ‘It has come to our notice that a large party of hostile Maoris, natives, are approaching the city of Napier, their avowed intent being to sack the town’. The Omarunui Engagement. And for a long time we had that piece of paper – I don’t know where it is if it still exists, now. There was also an advertisement for ‘Sections For Sale in the township of Wairoa on the Clyde River for 10/-’. [Ten shillings]

The Omarunui massacre – we know very little. Historically, we’ve been starved of everything that happened there.

I know where they came over, because they came over the top of Mount Cameron, which we later owned. Yeah – and you know, the fact that that was their pathway to come down, and we had this … oh, it’s just so amazing the way things sort of dovetail together.

So anyway, the house was … we had lovely years there, but it was a difficult house. It had been built with a rammed earth floor, and then when they could afford to put … it was all pit sawn timber, and the floor had gone in on runners laid on the rammed earth. So the floors were only … you know, that far off the ground. And the verandah at the front had been concreted over the top, so when it rained the water came over the rolled verandah, landed onto the concrete, ran under the front door right down to the end of the passage where we had our telephone. [Chuckle] And there were times when I found frogs in my shoes, in the wardrobe. It was quite a change to a lovely little brand new house in Hastings. There were other things but I don’t think I will …

So then you moved from Marton to where?

We came from Marton – after looking at forty-eight farms, we came over here and bought the four hundred and something acres up the Dartmoor Road, which was half of what Bright Williams had had as a farm after the First World War. He cut his farm in half and sold half on to his brother-in-law, Hughes. Hughes, the chemist, was a nephew or something. So Bright Williams had passed that piece of land onto his son … can’t remember his name … but it was his only son. And when Bright and his wife had lived there he had won Tatts, [Tattersalls] so he bought the place further up the road, Ard-Lussa.

So we bought that house from Bright’s son with the four hundred and fifty acres, and Bob Archibald was right next door. Now four hundred and fifty acres was not really big enough – of course it had been in 1918, [chuckle] but it wasn’t.

We lived up there and my children went to Puketapu School on the bus – well to begin with, there wasn’t a bus. Carol Kepka picked them up at the front gate … well, it was only Catherine. She started school shortly after we went there, and by the time Ken was going two years later, there was a bus to Puketapu School. There was never a secondary school bus. There were a lot of children in the district, they were all the same age and I think we had the first Christmas party for children at my house.

It was a nice little valley.

Yes, yes. Think there were twenty-seven children all around the same age. And I used to have a kindergarten – after the twins were born, I had a morning once a week where all the ones who didn’t go to school came to my house. None of the other women would do it.

So we had … all sorts of interesting things happened while we were there, but eventually Bob Archibald came to us one day and said … we knew that we had to shift to get something bigger, or you know, increase the acreage or something. We had a bit of a problem with theft, but you know … so we thought that we would move. But then Bob … Jock had talked to Bob about this, and he came to him one day and said … oh, he was dying of cancer, and he wanted to sell his property. Well Bob had a big block, it was – I think it was eight hundred acres or something. I think all of the First World War were about that size.

Yes, ‘cause yours was cut in half, wasn’t it?

Yes. And we couldn’t afford the whole lot so David Hartree bought a piece and we bought the other piece, which included Mount Cameron, which was fairly well covered with gorse and stayed that way, because no matter what you did with it you couldn’t get rid of it. [Speaking together]

It still kept coming back.

And to be honest, we thought about putting it … the gorse pieces … in trees with Carter Holt’s, and went into it quite considerably but it would not have worked out as an economic project, so we never did. And by the time Jock decided to give up farming it would have cost us about $900 every year, which was a lot of money then, to spray the gorse and you still don’t get rid of it.

I know.

So we tried goats, but that didn’t work either. They didn’t stay always on the gorse. [Chuckle]

No, and they didn’t always stay on the property.

But of course with buying Bob’s place we had a second house, so we had tenants in that – various people. There was a chap called Jim Woods came and lived there and he was a very good tenant. And we had a Maori family who appeared at our door – we got up one morning, half past six, and here they were sitting in a car outside and Jock went “oh”, he said “Manu is out there”. And he went over to see what … “oh”, he said “we were burnt out last night.” They used to live in the cottage on Sherratts’ property – it was bit further down – and he said “we lost everything.” He said “can we stay in your shearers’ quarters for a week or two until we find something?” Well nine years later, they moved into town.

But we had a lot of joy from the children. Ray in particular, the youngest one, used to spend a lot of time with us and I taught him to play the piano, and he was really good. And you know, Ray … I’ve lost touch with him now but I think he went to see my son about three months ago. But they were a nice family. I was like a mother duck – I often would have up to fourteen kids for the summer holidays.

Teaching piano, and friendships. People coming and staying in your house for nine years, and running a kindergarten once. But when you look back – really special to’ve been able to share your life with the children.

I loved it. I loved them, and we always had extra children. We had one little girl who came from Australia every January and spent the whole January with us – Rachel was the youngest daughter of John Hopkins, who was the orchestra conductor. And I saw Rachel in November, ‘cause I went over to see my sister and stopped in Melbourne specially so I could see her. But she’s still like another one of the family.

There were lots of stories that Jock told about his flying which were very interesting. How much longer do you want ..?

Just until you become exhausted.


Jim Frogley was quite a unique personality.

He told a story about – they’d left the plane up at Tutira or somewhere up there where they were working because it was too windy to fly home, and they’d come home in the old loader. And that in itself was quite a machine. [Chuckle] In actual fact it caught fire parked outside our house in Ngaio Street one night. [Chuckle] But they were heading north again the next morning in the loader, and Jim said, “oh!” He said “I haven’t had any breakfast”, he said “I haven’t had any breakfast at all”. He said “I think we’ll just call into this house here and have breakfast”. And Jock said, “oh”, he said “you can’t do that!” And he said, “yeah”, he said “I’ll just ask them if they’ll cook us some breakfast”. So [he] went and knocked on the door and nobody came to the door – it was open, and so Jim went in and called out, and there was nobody there. And so he opened up the fridge and cooked bacon and eggs, and Jock was … you know, [chuckle] cringing. And when he was leaving he said “oh”, he said “look!” He said “there’s a pair of boots at the door”, he said “I’ll just put them somewhere”, and he opened the fridge and put the boots in the fridge, [chuckles] and left. And Jock came home and he told me about this and he said “I didn’t know what to do!” He said, “you know … it’s terrible! I don’t know what those people will think when they find the dirty dishes and the boots in the sink”. And two days later, Jim said “oh, by the way”, he said “my niece [chuckle] recognised that I must’ve been there because of the boots in the fridge”. [Chuckle] But he didn’t tell Jock that it was his niece’s house that he was going to.

Ooohh … Jim Frogley … but he was such a great man.

Jim gave us that electric clock for a wedding present. It has never stopped. It’s still going, and that was 1956 when we were married..

Made of good stuff, eh? But he was just such a nice person, and he just had that devil … you could tell when he was getting up to something.

He was expelled from Hastings Boys’ High School for electrocuting the doorknob.

[Chuckle] That’d be him. Yes.

Well Jock really was sad leaving Jim and the family, but the last time he went out there Jim said “would you like to fly ‘Old Annie’?” And he thought he would never have been asked … offered that opportunity, but – yes, so he had a fly of ‘Old Annie’ before he left.

But they kept in touch – they came to see us several times at Marton, and we saw them when … they were just lovely people, and Jimmy used to come and stay with us as a teenager. And he came on the motorbike up from Wellington to Marton one day and his mother had knitted him a red scarf and it had rained …

[Chuckle] And he was all red! The dye had run.

No, they were great people.

So around about … Jock always told stories about the earthquake, and that must have been really terrifying as a little child to be part of that. And then during the time after that, he trod on a nail which went right through his foot. He was sent into the Kent Hospital in Napier, and his great aunt, Annabel MacKenzie from Tutira, was a Sister … nursing Sister. And he was only about five I suppose, and he was calling out for Cousin Bull all the time and nobody knew who he was talking about. And she got angry with him because he [chuckle] kept making a fuss.

But the two old ladies, Belle and Willena, had their father’s farm. It was called Kintail – it was up at Kotemaori – you’d know where it was.

Yes, yes.

Yes. I think Dick Lee bought it in the end.

Yes. ‘Cause it’s quite an unusual name, Kintail.

The stuff I’m writing there – that’s all about Kintail. That’s for Sue Coltart.

So when you left the Dartmoor Valley – it’s funny, they call it Dartmoor up there but it’s really closer to Puketitiri, isn’t it?

No, it’s not really close to Puketitiri, no. No, it’s another hour on to Puketitiri.

But Jock always had a fancy to have the highland cattle. And that was an interesting exercise when he first of all went down to Palmerston North and learnt to do artificial insemination. And then we got the semen from Scotland through the Highland Cow Society there and we bought four heifers from Brooklands Station, red shorthorns. And it takes four years to breed across and get them, and it was a very interesting experience. And the first full-bred calf we had we called Varnrey Maree and she lived till she was twenty-two. And she became one of the family really, and she would come to the back gate to talk to Jock – every morning she was there. And he’d have a little talk and he’d put his face forward and she’d put her nose up and she’d go ‘blll’ [chuckle] with her tongue up his chin, [chuckle] and have a little talk and then she’d go away. And when he was sick, somehow she knew, and she would sort of stay closer. And when he died I would go out and talk to her in the morning, but it wasn’t the same – you could tell for her it wasn’t the same, and she just didn’t … sort of walked by. And he had been bothered by the fact that she got very sore in one back hip, and he said “I don’t know what I’m going to do”. He said “you know, she’s part of us”. And anyway, he died and then six months later she died. And strangely, I got up in the morning and she was there, and I’d talk to her and she was much more friendly than she had been for a while. Then I had to go to Sandy McKenzie’s funeral in Havelock North … that’s Sue’s father. And so I went to the funeral and I came home, and it happened to be the 13th of October, which was our wedding anniversary. Just one of those strange things that happen. And I pulled up the drive and my son was walking through the back gate, and he had a look on his face. “Oh, Mum”, he said “I need to talk to you”. He said “it’s sad”, he said “but Varnrey is dead.” And she had just walked along the paddock a wee bit and died, just there in the paddock. And I thought, that it should be that particular day. But the day she turned twenty-one he went out into the paddock with a bottle of whiskey.

[Laughter]   Celebrated  with her … oh … but those are such neat stories. [Chuckle]  They can’t be rehearsed or planned or anything. And if he did AI,  [artificial insemination]  he was probably the father of some of the calves that she had. 

Oh yes, yes. They were all done with AI for the first ten years I suppose, but I was the midwife. Because to begin with they were very hard … you couldn’t … they had to have assistance, because their feet were huge and the shorthorn cows weren’t made for the big feet. And so it was not always easy, and my hands were smaller than Jock’s so I was called upon to do the dirties.

My brother and I both went to Longburn and did the AI course.

Well, that’s where he went too. So that was an exciting … a different thing that he did.

And then of course we had weddings and that sort of thing. We had one wedding on our lawn which was my son marrying Helen.

What was Helen’s surname?

She was Helen Stewart, and her father would be worth you talking to. I’ll give you details later. And Ken had been … I was very much into the Red Cross, and I used to work in town – I was on the Executive there. And I was working with a group – we were doing packages of clothing so that they would be ready to send somewhere, and the lady I was working with, Yvonne, she said to me one day – we were talking as we packed the clothes – and she said “oh …” she said, “my daughter’s very interested in genealogy”, she said “and she’s been looking up the McKeowns.” And I said “McKeowns? My grandmother was a McKeown” – you know, the way one does. And … well, to cut a long story short, she and her daughter were going to come up and talk to me about genealogy to see if there was any connection. And she rang me that morning and she said “my daughter has just come home from America – can she come too?” And I said “oh, that’ll be great,” I said “and she can sit in the sitting room with my son who’s sitting there because he’s had an injury.” He’d actually put his hand down on the ground – they were pulling down an old shed, and a nail had gone into his elbow so he’d been into the hospital. But he had just come back from doing an OE to California, and Helen had just come back from California. That was May. They were married on November 11th. On the lawn. And you know, it was interesting … you know Barry. Barry and Carole, Helen’s parents … Stewart. They work at the Knowledge Bank. Barry’s a big man.

‘Course I do.

Yes. Well that’s my daughter-in-law’s parents. [Chuckle] Yes. Well you see you probably know one of my other sons-in-law’s families too, because my daughter Sarah, is married to Gary Crysell’s son.


So Gary painted that for Jock, for his seventy-fifth birthday. Sarah stole a photograph out of the photograph album and took it in, and he’d never painted a plane before. And so we have of course, joint granddaughters, so … and one of them was talking to me yesterday for about half an hour. It was nice.

No, so you know those, and then of course you probably know Raymond, the barbecue man?

Yes, van Rijk.

Yes, well he’s one of my sons-in-law, and the other one is Hamish Ross from Greenhill. That’s somebody you should talk to.

So now you have a son?

One son.

And he lives ..?

Oh, he lives in what was Bob Archibald’s house.

So he’s still up there?

Yes. He’s not farming because he had an unfortunate accident with the farm bike and had to retire from farming. So the farm is leased to his eldest son … not eldest, the eldest one is a girl, but Alistair. And Alistair and his family live in the shearers’ quarters, which they’re doing up to turn into a house.

I used to be very friendly with Jean Archibald – she was part of our National Party in Taradale. And Margaret Hope …

Yeah well, you see I used to bring Margaret Holt to those things.

Well I must have known you, and of course I used to look after the Napier Women’s Section as well.

Yes, well I was part of the Women’s Section in Taradale, or maybe it was Napier. But I always took Margaret because she wasn’t able to drive … would’ve liked to, but we hit a bicycle one day when she was driving and after that I said “no – I’m doing the driving.”

But you see Margaret’s niece was one of my bridesmaids … Judith Simmons, from Maraekakaho. Judith, Toby and Nerida Simmons? They lived in Havelock in retirement, and then they were both in … I think it was Waiapu. But they had seventy-five years of married life, and there was a bit in the paper about them. Judith was their only daughter, and she and I were at school … okay, so she married – we introduced her to a nice young man over at Marton, and she finished up eloping with him, which didn’t please her family very much.

[Chuckle] So then eventually you left Mount Cameron after Jock had passed?

Yes – after Jock died … I wasn’t ever going to leave there, I said. But my joints said otherwise, and I had an acre and a half of garden I built up there and I couldn’t do it. And I didn’t like seeing it fall apart. Now I don’t like seeing it ‘cause there are deer in it, but I don’t go there. And I bought this property here – it was the thirty-eighth house I looked at – I couldn’t get what I wanted. [Phone rings]

My son and my middle daughter were with me and we’d looked at three houses, had a cup of tea, and then went along to Harcourts and said “is there anything else?” And we came round the corner and I looked at the house, and I said, “that’s my house”. And my son said “you haven’t seen inside it!” [Chuckle] And it had come on the market at half past eight that morning, and it was lunchtime. And at four o’clock it was mine.

I did two years course of an architects’ course, which was all you could do extramurally, while I was working on the farm at home. And I always designed houses like this. And it had three things I didn’t want, including a swimming pool, but you know, it had all the things I wanted – which was a room big enough for my piano, a fenced backyard for my dog, and a car shed with a door into the house.

Oh! You’ve got a baby grand in there?

Yes. And so when we were hunting and looking for houses, my daughter said to me one day, “well Mum, I can understand …” Oh, and the other thing was a bath – so many houses don’t have a bath. And she said “why are you so stuck on this car shed with the … you know …” And I said “well – when you go out it’s nice to be able to unpack your things, and if you go out at night it’s safer.” “Oh Mum”, she said, “you won’t be going out at night.”

Little did she know! So then you came here, and you’re still writing books; you’re involved with Stoneycroft … the Knowledge Bank; and you probably have lots of other interests too.

Yes, I have the U3A, which I have classes here in art … pencil sketching it is, and poetry and I go to a photography group and … you know, I have the Live Poets’ Society which I go to once a month.

Oh, gosh, you are busy.

That’s in Hastings, and I actually had an interview on the radio on that, not very long ago. And then of course there’s always the children and the grandchildren. And there’s eight granddaughters and eight grandsons, and seven great-grandchildren.

Now is the time that you’ll need to tell me their names?

You want to know all of their names? My children are Catherine, Kenneth, Annabel … Anna, Sarah and Kirsty. Sarah and Kirsty are twins. And Ken is married to Helen, and they have Jessica, Alistair, Rory, Duncan and Fraser. Ali and Duncan are both married. Ali’s married to Sasha, and they have Alex, Ben, Aria, and little Jock. Duncan has one little one called Evie – his wife’s name is Beth. Catherine is married to Larry Blake, originally from the Wairarapa, and I knew both his parents when I was young. Rex, his father, played for the Maori All Blacks.

Rex ..?

Rex Blake.

Did he work for Wrightson’s?

Yes. Rex’s eldest son, Larry, is Catherine’s husband, and they have Rebecca and Emma. Emma’s a vet’s nurse and Rebecca works for the Government and both of them [have] been to university. Rebecca’s just building a house in Wellington with her partner, Dylan. Anna writes books. She’s married to Hamish Ross … lives at Greenhill, and she has two children, Callum and Madeleine. Anna and Callum are at present in Copenhagen.

You’ve got enough grandchildren to keep you busy …


… thirteen months a year. [Chuckle]

Madeleine works in the library in Wellington. Sarah works for the Government, she’s a – I guess you’d call her a ‘fix-it lady’ – and she’s married to Martin Crysell and they live at Whitby. And they have three daughters, Libby, Caroline and Suzannah. Talking to Caroline yesterday, she had just got her results of her university papers, and she’s doing English and Law. She’s got two papers left to do in law, but she got one with an A+, and all of her English papers with As. and the other remaining years’ ones have been Bs, and she said “oh, it should have been As”, and I said “I think you’re doing all right”.

There’s nothing like aiming for the stars.

She’s doing well, she’s getting married in January in old St Paul’s in Wellington.

And Kirsty, my youngest one, is married to the oldest in-law, Raymond … Raymond van Rijk, and she has a step-son, Tom, who is married with two children, Aidan and Sofia. And he runs the Cheval Rooms at the Racecourse, and he also has an outside catering business as well. And then they have three joint … you know, their own children, so … Alexander is thirty now, and after a very chequered race to get there, he’s at university doing his fourth year in criminal law. Once again, he seemed to get As quite easily, and that’s surprising because he was in an accident up here at the corner, years ago when he was fifteen, and the boys on either side of him were killed. And he was in hospital with brain damage, and he’s got right through it all and it’s a miracle. So that’s our Alexander. And Willem, the next one, is a physiotherapist in Toronto, married to a Toronto physiotherapist. And Saskia is also in Toronto with her partner who is Irish, and a real … really lovely guy. and Saskia is Communications Manager for the Toronto Festival. So they’re all everywhere.

So now what haven’t you told me?

[Chuckle] I could go on for hours, but I won’t. I love to travel, and I’ve been out of the country every winter for the last five years, travelling with my friend. But this year we’ve had to cancel that – he’s not well so … yeah. I plan to keep on going for another ten years.

At least.

Yes. [Chuckle] I take old people out on visits, you know – Mark Brody, I keep in touch with, and Mark’s gone into special care now. Mark was an only son and he’s related to the Carlyons. But he was our best man and he was Jock’s best friend and so over the last four years I’ve taken him out once a month somewhere.

I have lots of older friends who are in rest homes and places like that, and I keep visiting them.

Oh, yes, I could fill up time going to … well you know, I was just thinking I could warm those scones up if you’d like another.

Actually that’s probably given me a good pencil sketch of the life and times of …


… Sonia, and family.

Well I tell you what, when I’ve finished my appointed book I can put that on a disk.

Sonia, thank you very much for allowing me to interview you, and thank you for the contribution you’ve made too.

Anything I can do to help, I’m always … History … history is wonderful. I had the most wonderful history teacher at school and I guess she inspired me to some extent – yes.

Okay, well that’s good.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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