MacSmith, Marianne Interview

I’m interviewing Marianne MacSmith and she is over here at the moment from Orange in New South Wales, Australia, and I’m talking to her on behalf of the HB Knowledge Bank on the 17th November 2014.

Good morning, Marianne.

Good morning, Jim. It’s nice to renew old acquaintances.

Now you are over here for ..?

Originally I was coming over this year for my brother-in-law’s ninetieth birthday, and then the Woodford House Reunion for those who were at school prior to 1960 came up, so there was a three week period there.  So I’ve had a lovely three weeks catching up with old acquaintances.

Now how long is it since you lived in Hastings?  Since you got married?

I was married in 1956, February 1956 at St Matthew’s Church and the reception was held in the garden at Richmond Park where my parents lived. My parents were Bob and Rua Stead, and the Stead family came to Hawke’s Bay in 1907 from the South Island.

From there, what sort of schooling did you do before Woodford?

Before Woodford I went to school at Queenswood which is now the Rudolph Steiner School. I’m not sure exactly what it’s called, but it’s now the Rudolph Steiner School.

And how did you get to school each day?

Walked. At the time when I was young we lived in St Aubyn Street, 418 St Aubyn Street, and it was just around the corner into Nelson Street to go to school so it was very handy.  And we were always in trouble, Sue – my older sister – and I, because we used to go across to the corner shop opposite Queenswood before we walked home at lunchtime to pick up a loaf of bread for Mum.  And it was beautiful fresh bread at Harry the Goat’s. Harry – I can’t think what his surname was – but we called him Harry the Goat. We would pick the middle out of the lovely fresh bread so there was really only a shell left by the time we got home. In St Aubyn Street where we lived at 418, my grandmother, my father’s mother, lived next door to us at 416, and in her garden there is still growing, I think I am correct in saying, the oldest kauri tree in Hastings, and it was planted in 1940. My uncle Syd and his new bride brought it home as a seedling when they came down from North Auckland after their honeymoon. So that has a town preservation order on it I think.

Was Susan your only other sibling in the family?

Yes, my only sister Sue, and she married Hamilton Logan from Maraekakaho.  And she died as a very young woman unfortunately. My mother died the following year and my father two years later so I lost all my family in three years, which was a bit of a shock.  But this is what happens in life.

Moving on from there – and after your marriage you moved to Australia?

Yes, I’ve lived in the central west of New South Wales since 1956, on a property … my husband Lance. The family took up the land there in 1851 so it’s quite an old established Station, and of course like so many big properties in what is a fairly productive area of country in New South Wales, it got cut down in wills. People left little blocks of land so it’s certainly not the big Station that it once was.

What sort of size now?

Three thousand acres. Actually in the last eighteen years our sons have branched out and put in a canola oil mill.  And that’s been a bit of a success story and it’s gone from strength to strength, and they spend a lot of time travelling and seeing clients. They export the pure canola oil to a lot of Asian countries as well as New Zealand, and they now have a pelleting plant for dairy cow feed which they’ve built in the last couple of years.  And they’re exporting the pellets to New Zealand as well, for the dairies. So how the drop in milk prices is going to affect them we don’t quite know yet.

I have two daughters – Mary, the elder one of the two, manages the office for her brothers, and Rachel, my younger daughter, lives in Orange while her children are at school, but she will go back to living in Molong.

Which is how far from Orange?

Thirty-three kilometres. And I actually live thirty kilometres west of Orange, but a thousand feet lower, so it’s a very different climate to the climate that Orange is well known for – its cold winters.  And our winter is milder than Orange, but the summers are very hot and not very pleasant.

Now just moving on from there, can you go back to your grandparents or even earlier than that?

Yes.  Well my great-great-grandfather on my father’s side of the family, he came to New Zealand – Sir John Roberts – and settled in Dunedin, and he was the founder of Murray Roberts. I can’t tell you what year. I haven’t got anything to look that up here, but he founded Murray Roberts and his second youngest daughter, Robina Turnbull Roberts, married my grandfather, W G Stead, Wilfred Gatonby Stead, who was the son of G G Stead who came to New Zealand from South Africa … but he was a Yorkshireman … and he settled in Christchurch where he became very well known for his thoroughbred horses, and was a most successful owner. I think when they first started making up owners’ lists, for the first twelve years he took out the most successful owner of race horses in ten of those first eleven years.

And then my grandfather, W G Stead who married Robina Turnbull Roberts – they lived at McDonald Downs out of Christchurch for several years, and then they moved to Kereru, beyond Maraekakaho, in 1907, where my father was born when they were living at Maraekakaho. My Uncle Alec was born in Christchurch, Dad and his two other brothers, Sydney and George (but called Jim) and my Aunt Marie who married a Gilkison and lived in Hastings – they were all born while the family were living at Kereru.   And then in 1917 he bought Flaxmere from the estate of Sir William Andrew Russell, and they moved down here to Flaxmere where my grandfather continued with the breeding of horses, and importing stallions, and racing horses.  And my father helped him with the horses, and then he worked in Murray Roberts to learn accountancy and all the things that should be useful in life.  And he married Rua Symes who was the second daughter of Alfred Symes and his wife Henrietta Constance Jane – and she was a Brewer, from Waverley – and the Symes’ were from Patea, but grandfather Symes bought Richmond Park at Longlands in 1917 and they moved here to Hawke’s Bay.

Mum and Dad lived in Napier when they were first married for a short time, then they moved to Hastings. My sister Sue was a baby in Napier when the earthquake happened and she was in the garden in a pram, and when Mum went out the pram was covered in bricks and there wasn’t a mark on Sue, so she was so fortunate. Then they moved to Hastings, and Dad continued to work with Murray Roberts until he went overseas with the NZ Expeditionary Forces in 1940, and he served at Norfolk Island and New Caledonia for three years.  And on his return from the war he leased some of the land from grandfather Symes and moved his horses out to Richmond Park, because after the earthquake Flaxmere fell down, and my grandfather and grandmother fell on hard times, and he died eighteen months after the earthquake.  And so Dad had stables in town during the war and before the war, at the end of St Aubyn Street where there is now a bit of a zigzag in the road – St Aubyn Street ended there, and the stables were in a paddock straight opposite the end of the road there.  So that was where they were, and then Dad set up his stud out at Longlands.  And then after Mum’s father, Alf Symes, died he and Mum purchased Richmond Park from the Estate.

It’s amazing how families all join up don’t they?

They do, because my mother’s sister Jean married my father’s elder brother Alec, and so it was a very close family relationship there.

You are virtually the rulers of Longlands in those days. So tell us something about Sasanof Stud which was set up …

By my father after he returned from the war. He imported his first stallion which was ‘Booby Trap’, and then he imported several more stallions over the years. He had ‘Red Mar’s and ‘Tarquee’ and ‘Superall’ and ‘Lionhearted’, and he was fortunate to breed a lot of winners. He sold yearlings at the Wright Stephenson’s & Company National Sales at Trentham for forty-nine consecutive years, and then the fiftieth year, unfortunately he didn’t have a yearling to sell because he had dispersed a lot of his brood mares by then, as an older man.  But he sold again once in Auckland, making it … when the sales moved to Auckland … making it fifty consecutive years of selling yearlings and never bringing the yearling home from the sales. He always met the market even if he was disappointed. Luckily my mother was also extremely interested in the horses and was very good with pedigrees and things too, and so it was a great thrill to Dad.  And my husband Lance MacSmith was mad about horses, and so that gave Dad a lot of joy not having a son to take an interest in the horses and the Stud. After we were married we raced horses. We raced in every state of Australia except Tasmania, and we won races in all the mainland States from the Northern Territory to Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, so we were very lucky with the horses we had.  And we were very thrilled in 1963 when one of our horses ‘Aladdins Lamp’ won the Queen’s Cup at Flemington in the presence of the Queen, so that was a great thrill.

Any major cups won in New Zealand?

My grandfather won a lot of races in New Zealand. He was a very successful owner.  My great grandfather, G G Stead – I think he won the New Zealand Derby twenty-three times, I think.

And of course your father was made a Life Member of the Hawke’s Bay Jockey Club.

He was, and my great grandfather, G G Stead – although he lived in Christchurch he was made a life member of the Auckland Racing Club.  And I asked when he was admitted to the Hall of Fame in Auckland – it was the first year they had the Hall of Racing Fame, and he was admitted as the first man to be admitted. There was a horse admitted before him and then him. I said … to the presentation I wore his Life Membership badge which I have on his watch chain, his Albert, and I said “I never really quite understood why he was a Life Member at Auckland and hadn’t been made a Life Member in Christchurch.”  But as he was … I later discovered as he had been the Treasurer, up until his death, of the Christchurch Jockey Club – you can’t be made a Life Member while you are holding an executive position. So that answered that question for me. He won the Canterbury Cup, the NZ Oaks, the Jubilee Cup, the Welcome Stakes.  And then his son, W G Stead, my grandfather, won the Melbourne Cup in 1916 with his horse ‘Sasanof’.  And that was the only time that the Melbourne Cup had to be postponed and it was run on the Saturday, because on the Tuesday the course was under water because the Maribyrnong River had flooded.  And if the race had been run on the Tuesday ‘Sasanof’ would not have been able to start because he was lame, but he’d got over his lameness by Saturday and so was able to run.  And he was the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup that was New Zealand owned, bred and trained, and ridden by a New Zealand jockey. So it is something that hasn’t changed since.

Can you remember the jockey’s name?

Foley. I don’t think he won a tremendous lot of races, but he won that one, and it was a great thrill.  And just recently I was sent a newspaper cutting, or copy of, from the Melbourne Globe, and it was a story I’d never heard before … but on the night of the Melbourne Cup he had a bit of a party at Mrs Somebody-or-other’s night club, and it was raided just after ten o’clock at night.  And the Police said ‘”where has all this champagne come from?”  And the lady who owned this club said “Mr Stead brought it in this morning, and said if I win the Cup today I’ll be having a party here tonight”.  And so the Police … after a lot of hasselling and a Court case, they didn’t actually confiscate the champagne but they did fine the lady who owned the restaurant. But I never knew that story until years later. Apparently it was a fairly high old night. They’d previously been to the circus for the book to be presented, which is the tradition at the Melbourne Cup.

Going back to my childhood in Hastings, when we lived in St Aubyn Street during the war years and when Dad was overseas, there was a dugout on the corner of Heretaunga Street and Nelson Street on the northwest corner, and every so often there would be an air raid practise. We would have to run, mainly from home which was in St Aubyn Street, around the corner and down a couple of blocks and get into this dugout as a practise. And at school when we had practises one of the things we had to do when we left the classroom was take a rubber with us and put it between our teeth in case there were reverberations from any bombs that may go off.

They were very happy days, my childhood days in Hastings. I was very lucky. I had wonderful parents and a lot of very good friends. We had a great life.

And you enjoyed your time at Woodford?

Had a great time at Woodford, yes. Didn’t excel at anything at all, but thoroughly enjoyed wasting my parents money up there. I was very lucky. It was a great life. And then I was very lucky to meet the fabulous man who I married when I was twenty-one, and I’ve lived in Little Boree in New South Wales ever since. And I have four children. Unfortunately Lance died five years ago, and life’s never quite the same after that.  But that’s what happens to everyone at some stage I suppose.

Anything further that you would like to tell us about?

My grandmother, Dad’s mother, who we called Gargie – she was Robina Turnbull Stead. Everybody in Hastings absolutely adored her. It didn’t matter if you went into the butcher or the baker or the grocers shop, when I was little they would always say “ How’s Gargie?”  Everybody was so fond of her.  She was a wonderful woman and an absolute character. She … I believe … was the first woman to drive a motor car over the Napier Taupo Road. I’m not sure what year it was, but Dad always told me how there was that very sharp bend on the second range you used to go over when you went up and over all the ranges, and that was the corner when you had to stop and reverse the car because of the petrol tank being under the … on it, I think it must have been … and you had to reverse around so the petrol could get to the engine.

I think I remember that. Some big trucks had real trouble getting round that corner. They dreaded that part of the road.

I’m not surprised. It was a whole day’s trip wasn’t it, to get up there?

During the war years when Dad was away, Mum and Sue and I used to ride our bicycles from Hastings every Sunday afternoon to have afternoon tea with my grandfather at Richmond Park, and that was always fun. We used to enjoy those bike rides.

So Richmond Park was where Sasanof is?

Yes. When my grandparents bought the property it was called Richmond Park, and so when Dad and Mum bought it from the Estate they continued to call the home Richmond Park but the Stud and stables were Sasanof Stud. Now, of course, the area is virtually covered in orchard – in the lifetime of you, Jim, and me – so it’s very different.

Dad’s library – it’s a racing library, and it’s supposed to be one of the best in the southern hemisphere.  And after my father’s death, Sir Patrick Hogan from the Cambridge Stud bought it and presented it to the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, and it was housed in their headquarters building in Auckland, which was opened by Her Majesty the Queen.

Lots of interesting bits and pieces. I know I ramble on and don’t get it all in order.  But as kids during the war years and later, we used to have great fun. We’d ride our pushbikes down to the Tukituki River and go swimming in the swimming holes there, and swing off the willows.  And often as not, then go up into the village and buy some fish and chips, and go back to the river and have a picnic at tea time. They were very simple pleasures compared to what the young people today do, and I’m sure we had more fun than they have.

I’m sure they did, and we’re talking about biking from the river to Havelock North as well. Today it’s too far – people want to get in the car and drive.

We even used to ride our pushbikes through to Napier and skate on the area in front of the Sound Shell at Marine Parade, for fun on Saturday afternoons. It was great fun. We were very lucky.

Hastings. I’ve seen a lot of changes, and I’m jolly glad that the ring road has gone though, because that really had me stumped. It was a difficult thing to handle if you were only visiting the town. No, my children always loved coming to Hawke’s Bay and catching up with all their friends and seeing the places they’ve heard me talk about all my life. You know, the names are so familiar to them and they’re very pleased to put faces to names, and buildings and properties to names, and it’s all good fun. Over the years lot of people from here have come over and stayed and seen us. In fact Jim’s wife had quite a time in our district at home, and came and stayed – how many years ago now Jim – do you know?

Ah … about fifty-four … fifty-five years ago. She was a Karitane.

Yes. She got a few jobs around the district, which was great. So it was lovely.  And my father and Jim’s father of course, were playboys together, going back to the good old days. They got up to a fair bit of mischief.

Your father I think, was the best man for my father at his wedding.

Was he? All these things that happened a long time ago.

Did your father play polo?

He did play but not for very long, and he didn’t go on umpiring. Uncle Alec didn’t go away to the war because he had three children, and if you had three children you weren’t allowed to go overseas  – hello there – bit of an earthquake. There was one last night too.

Oh yes, there is an earthquake. Bit of a shake.

Not used to them. According to some people we do get them at home, but I’ve never felt one.

They’re not very nice.

No they’re not, and poor old Hastings and Napier I think had a worse battering than Christchurch got.  But of course with modern day communications Christchurch earthquake hit the headlines.

Another interesting thing – when I was tidying up my father’s things after his death I found a certificate that he had in an old wallet giving him permission to come in and out of the Hawke’s Bay boundary after the earthquake because apparently, unless you were a resident, you weren’t allowed back in. Anyhow I decided the best place to send it at the time was the Hastings City Council and I had a very nice letter from the Mayor acknowledging it.  And he had no knowledge that these things existed.

That’s interesting.   Long & Barden with the drinks.

And the stone demijohn with the handle on the top and a tap at the bottom.  Creaming soda was my favourite then.

Christmas time. Did you have the Salvation Army playing on the corner?

Yes. Christmas time was always lovely, and we always went out to Richmond Park for Christmas. I think every year we went out there, except one year Sue and I went to the South Island to stay with Dad’s sister, Aunt Marie, who married Stuart Gilkison, who was in the Air Force.  And we went down on the ferry and the ferry was very late getting into Lyttelton.  And years later we discovered that on that particular crossing they had sighted a submarine in Cook Strait but we never knew anything about that at the time.  And the other interesting thing about the war years – my uncle Syd, Dad’s younger brother who was married to Mary Campbell from Horonui – and her father had been in Parliament for many years and he had a set of money that had been printed for New Zealand by the Japanese.  So Australia and New Zealand were so lucky to escape being invaded by the Japanese.

My husband Lance spent his first two years in the Army in a secret unit called Northforce [Norforce], Northern Australia Observer Unit, and they patrolled the northern coastline of Australia on horseback or on foot, looking for the Japanese invading the rivers. They felt if the Japanese invaded northern Australia they were going to come in through the rivers, and Lance was posted to a little outpost called Timber Creek on the Victoria River in the western portion of the Northern Territory. They lived like blacks and ate like blacks and dressed like blacks. I think they virtually wore no clothes, but after two years – and it became apparent that the Japs weren’t going to come in, he said he had had enough of being up there and he wanted to get to what he called the “proper war”, and so he finished up in Borneo. They had a very interesting time up there, and I … over the years … learnt so much about the Aborigine culture and life from Lance. We went back to Timber Creek only probably twenty years ago. He was invited to unveil – he was one of the men few who was still alive from the NAOU – and he was invited to unveil a memorial to the NAOU at Timber Creek.  And on the plaque he asked for the words to be included saying that if it hadn’t been for his fellow men and their horses and their Aboriginal guides, that they would never have managed to get through that country.  Because at that stage the Aboriginals were still roaming around up there just in a loin cloth, the women and the men. So it was very interesting. But they omitted to put the Aboriginals on the plaque, and Lance was very upset about that so after he died, which was about eighteen months after we had been up there to unveil it, I went back to Timber Creek with Mary and Rachel, my two daughters, for ANZAC day that year, and I persuaded the Council to redo the plaque because I had Lance’s notes from his speech, and I persuaded them to include the Aboriginals on that plaque.

So when I was back up there a few years ago I went and had a look, and it is as he would want it now.   Because they would never have got through that dense scrub up there otherwise.  And it was interesting too – they were also … when they were also patrolling the banks of the Victoria River, they used to tread on any crocodile eggs they came across.  And I’m sure that is what kept the crocodiles under control, because now the crocodiles are just completely out of control – there are so many up there. But you know, when they had to cross the Victoria River, they had a couple of logs that they used to use which was a bit dicey, but then later they got a little boat which they called the ‘Bondi’.  And it had an outboard motor on it, and once when they were down near the mouth of the river into the Gulf and a king tide came in … ’cause the tide … they were forty foot tides normally, but this was a king tide and the boat got swamped and wrecked, and so they had to walk back to Wyndham and it took them two days to walk back to Wyndham cross country, just to get …   Well, they had no means of letting anybody know that they were stranded. But to fool the Japanese into thinking that there were a huge number of soldiers patrolling the north of Australia, where in reality there were just under four hundred – every afternoon at four o’clock, they … every patrol had to tune into the radio and send a message, all at the same time, so that it sounded as if there were thousands of men up there, but really, as I just said, there were only under four hundred men up there patrolling the major rivers.  They went from the Victoria River right around the top to the Roper River on the other coast.

That’s very interesting Marianne.  I think we’ve done …


… very well.  Never enough though.  But on behalf of the Knowledge Bank I’d like to thank you very much for that insight into your family.

Thank you.

And it’s very much appreciated.

Well I hope it might be interesting to somebody.

I’m sure it will be.  Thank you.

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