Margaret Jean Walmsley Interview

Today is the 19th October, 2016. I’m interviewing Margaret Walmsley, who’s going to tell me about the life and times of her family. Margaret, would you like to tell us something about your family?

Well first of all, my mother was Joceline Nelson who was the youngest daughter of Frederick Montague and and Edith Flora Nelson of Whakamaramara. And she had two brothers and three other sisters, one of whom died – Gwendoline died when she was thirty-two of septicemia, being a midwife at Cromwell, South Island. Other than that, they all actually outlived her. 

But they all had an affinity for the land – they loved it. The parents were farming and the boys went farming, and the girls continued with the love of the land.  And they all seemed to love horses as youngsters – that was their big recreational pleasure. Mum of course wasn’t able to continue that, and she was the odd one inasmuch as she married an accountant. My father, Douglas Gilbertson, was the son of Henry [?Redford?] Gilbertson I think it was, and Martha Shepherd.  And Henry Gilbertson had come from the Shetland Islands at the age of seventeen. He was one of six children, all boys. They also were farming, but because they didn’t actually have a lot of money it was a small farm. Obviously the boys were not able to continue that though I think three of them stayed as farmers so that was quite a connection.

Where was that farm, Margaret?

Well first of all they were over Bay View way, but then they were in Gilbertson Road at Pakowhai, and then they had another one down I think … I’m not sure if it was Middle Road or Te Aute Road, in Havelock.  And then they lived in what they called Pelcombe Cottage in Havelock which was on the corner of Knox and Chambers Road, which now has a different name. I know the Knox part has gone – I don’t know what it is now, I can’t remember – McHardy Street I think it’s now called.

I’ve never ever heard it called Knox, ever.

Yes, well I can remember it being called Knox but whether that was official … I’m not too sure …

It would be – I bet it was, yes.

… but Knox and Chambers sticks in my mind as being that.  And right to the end of his life my grandfather, whom I called ‘Dadda’ – I found it difficult to understand him with his Scottish accent – but he made porridge which was lumpy, and he always put butter on his porridge. [Chuckle]  Salt and butter.  Never milk and sugar. [Chuckle]

Well I suppose the butter would be like cream, wouldn’t it?

Yeah, I can still remember this yellow blob melting in the middle of the porridge. [Chuckle]  But anyway they married in 1933, and my sister Josephine was born in 1934, and I was born in 1937. Mum was a Nelson, but I was born a Gilbertson. We lived in Grays Road near the end of the road, not far from Duke Street, and not too far from Cornwall Park which was very much my stamping ground as a youngster.

Were there many houses around, or was there a bit of space?

There was quite a lot of space. There were I think four houses – four or five houses were built more or less across the road from us, but there used to be jersey cows grazing there, and that was in Grays Road. The Hardy’s big house on the corner of Grays Road and Duke Street was there, and that was a very large section – they cut off several sections in later time from that.  But then there was nothing much around, and Duke Street itself was largely unhoused.

We used to walk to Sunday School and you would certainly pass cows and sheep grazing on the way down to St James’ Church there.  And of course [?Kiltratton?] Park, which was an area that was built on and called that – I don’t know what it’s called now, if still that. That was where when we later had a pony we had some grazing for it there.  And the Scout hut around the corner – there was a big dump there that we used to love to play in kerosene tins … kerosene drums or petrol drums.  When the water sort of built up round the willow tree we would paddle around in that amongst all the rubbish, quite happily. In those days you didn’t have to worry two hoots. I mean at four years old I would head off to the park on Sunday mornings, no trouble at all. And at eight or nine I was riding our very decrepit little old push bike down to Pakowhai with some sandwiches in my pocket for lunch.

Was Cornwall Park there when you were a girl?

Cornwall Park – oh, very much the same, and we went in the paddling pool – nobody worried, it didn’t seem to matter. Some of my very early memories are actually … Mum used to pay another lady sixpence apparently, which probably would have been quite a bit when I was still in a pushchair or pram and being taken for a walk over there.  And I can … have vague recollections of it. I mean, the sense of what it was wasn’t there, but you get the feeling of where you’ve been. You don’t understand it but you have that … somehow or another … awareness of the trees and the fact that you were being pushed along and things. Funny early memories – I mean from very, very early, remembering being told not to touch the black cat because he might scratch me – and I would have been still crawling. I can still see myself crawling on the steps. I can see myself sitting in a high chair and watching the white chook flying up on to the wall, I suppose – I don’t know what you’d call it … the fence around the fowl yard.  And then she’d fly down and she’d start walking towards the house and she’d disappear, and the next thing she was in the little patch of sunlight and I can remember her coming in the kitchen door and I would drop my crusts down to her. So fairly early memories of absolute trivia, but – amazing how you have these little cameos.

Yes.  You mentioned biking down to the river. Was Poplar Avenue planted then?

Poplar Avenue, which was a result of fence posts being put in and it grew up because the poplar was obviously green when it was used, and became a beautiful avenue.  That was very much – I don’t think we ever went through Poplar Avenue, but Mum mentioned about how it was created … how it happened.

Now that’s interesting.  Again, I didn’t know that.

Poplar Avenue was the result of the fence posts being put in, and they grew.  And that was how it was. And it was a very beautiful sight in the autumn because of course the leaves were quite golden.

That was sort of probably when I first became aware of the Nelson connection because Mum would talk about her grandfather. The other one of course we used to go to Keirunga and see George Nelson from time to time. And I do remember Uncle George and Aunt Elizabeth, who I later realised was his second wife.  And this green velvety sort of fabric in a fairly darkened room, and I still know the room, where it is.  And there was an oak round table and there used to be a round plum cake, and we had afternoon tea there.  And in those days Uncle George had … Keirunga was always a beautiful garden, and he had a mandarin tree.  Now thinking back you know, mandarins weren’t common;  neither were chinese gooseberries, and they certainly weren’t the kiwi fruit we know today – they were chinese gooseberries. They were smaller, and much, much more vivid green centres, and sweet … lovely, but very small. And we used to get some of those.

My first knowledge of tuis were the tuis in the Keirunga gum trees, and we used to play around there while Mum and the adults all had tea. There was a rock wall which I believe is still there, but at that particular time violets grew in the crevices of that rock wall, and they used to get very long stems.  And facing that rock wall there were very tall cherry plum trees, which we used to often be allowed to pick up, or pick the cherries from.  I really put my foot in it one day out there because Uncle George who was … I mean I was so shy, and so in awe of all these people.  But anyway Uncle George very kindly said I could pick some daffodils, but he didn’t say which daffodils.  And I didn’t know that the daffodils I should have picked were out in the paddock, so I picked the daffodils that were right there and I thought were very, very beautiful, and found out later that they were his prized … special ones, but he didn’t growl. He was very kind.

Ron Nelson was the mayor of Havelock, and the Nelson Estate gifted, or we had to pay the death duties or something, to take over Keirunga, and we took Keirunga and the gardens and the outside land over.

I still have plants in my garden that came originally from Keirunga and Waikoko.

Do you really? 

So I remember those things very clearly.  But anyway, that was a bit later, because during the war my father was sent away to Air Force camp.  And he had been trying to make his way as an accountant and he was working fairly long hours. My mother wasn’t a particularly secure woman, inasmuch as she had lost her mother at the age of twelve, and her father at the age of sixteen. He died as a result of hydatids, which left a very lasting impression on her. She had been sent away to school at six years old to St George’s, which is now Duart House, and she had two brothers who were pretty – they were I suppose inveterate teasers would probably be a way of putting it kindly, and she wasn’t secure. She really didn’t have any confidence at all.  And I think, you know, maybe now with hindsight, one realises that there could have been support for a marriage that was really under pressure, because she needed someone to be there.  And she was a victim of her own upbringing which was fairly rigid.  And I know that we were sent to bed at six o’clock regardless of whether my father was home or not, and that caused strife because he wanted to see us but he was trying to work long hours to get going. Then he went away to camp and one thing and another … anyway, when I was three he went to camp and he never actually came home to live again.  However I give my mother huge credit there, she never ran him down to us. She always made it easy for us to spend time with him when it was possible, and they remained sort of – I won’t say close friends – but they were able to get on reasonably well. In fact even at a later date I think they considered getting together again but decided no, it was not going to work.

So that changed our lives tremendously because in those days divorce carried an enormous stigma. My mother wasn’t allowed to join the church groups because she was a divorced woman, even though it wasn’t she who went. There was no support whatsoever.  Various people … I mean you dropped out of sight completely socially … all the people that we had been to birthday parties, or Mum had been to afternoon teas with – all that social connection stopped. I can remember Mum frequently having people to afternoon tea and going to afternoon tea, and all of a sudden – none. The people that my father mixed with, who were dentists and accountants and architects and things, they I believe, probably stayed in touch with him, but not with Mum and my sister and me. So that didn’t help as far as the shyness was concerned.

So anyway, I do remember when Dad went away to camp. The morning that he left, as a three year old I rushed round the garden and picked flowers for him and gave him this little posy, which he still had in his possession when he died when I was sixteen.  [Chuckle]  So that was quite nice, to think he’d kept that. So anyway, we did various things with him over the years, and when I was eleven I think it was, he actually married again but that was a disastrous marriage and just before he died … about a week after he died, the divorce that he’d been seeking would have been granted.  So he was a very sad man.

So during this period you would have gone to which primary school?

Yes, we’ll go back to the school because I started at Mahora school at five years old.  And not long after that … I was there for a while, but Mum decided that she needed a break so – this was a fairly traumatic thing for me. She decided she would go to Auckland to work for a while. I’m not quite sure what prompted it. I have to remember Mum was only about twenty-seven at this stage – she was a young woman. She was on her own. She was shunned by society for something she hadn’t actually done, and so she arranged for me to stay with a Mary Richmond. My sister was to stay too, but had ended up by kicking up such a shindy that she actually got to come back and stay with the people at home, with the people who’d rented the house from Mum. But I got left at Mary Richmond’s, and it was utterly miserable. I do remember – of course it was just about the end of the war I think – no, it was still in the wartime – and her making the filling that you put in a lemon meringue pie but it had no sugar in it, and a bowl full of that and being told that I had to eat that before I was allowed to leave the table. Just like eating straight lemon juice. For a girl who had a sweet tooth that wasn’t funny.  [Chuckle]  And I forgot to clean my teeth one day and I had to walk to school which was about four blocks away – not allowed to ride my tricycle.  [Chuckle]

I hadn’t realised how long it was going to be, but Mum gave me some ranuncula bulbs which I planted. And this perhaps was … I was already interested in gardening even before I was five – I started my first garden at four.   And she said when they were in flower she’d be coming back and I’d be able to go home. But of course later on I realised that that took six months, so that’s how long she was away.

So anyway, then we went back home and things continued fairly uneventfully. I was back at Mahora, and I was actually a happy child.  Played interesting games – I wasn’t particularly into sport, mostly because doing anything physical drew attention to me, and I tried not to – probably drew more attention to myself by trying to keep out of it than if I’d been participating, but I was scared I would do the wrong thing, you know – didn’t have the confidence.

So anyway, again when I was eleven Mum had decided she needed another go away so she went to Wellington this time, and this time I was sent to stay with my uncle, Stewart Gilbertson … Stewart and Elly Gilbertson at Argyll East.  And I went from a school with nine hundred and fifty students to a school of twenty-two, and being the only townie – that wasn’t funny. It was not funny.  They just loved teasing me, and they took you know, great delight in making me miserable.

So Argyll East – where did it lay relative to Tikokino?

It’s sort of nearer to Waipawa I think – not too sure, but anyway – yes, and in looking back I realise that the only two teachers … it was a one-person school and it was a terrible bully for a teacher when I first got there. He left after a month and the second one was only fractionally better. Today they would not be tolerated – they were total bullies. So anyway it was a great relief when I finally got home again.

So then I went to high school, which was the Boys’ High School. Now I probably made a vast mistake here, but I was very interested in drawing and painting and cooking and house things.  But my major thing was that I was so shy, I was terrified of having to say French words if I took the academic class. I could easily have coped scholastically, but I was terrified of having to stand up and say things, you know – sound the words in front of people. It was my sole reason for deciding to do the general course, which of course was again an isolating thing, because most of the girls I would have mixed with did the academic course with the others.

I can see what you mean, yes.

So it sounds snobby, but that’s the way it was …

It’s not, no, it isn’t.

… just the reality of it. But however, I did have some very nice friends and so on.  And my father died when I was in the Fifth form. There had been a lot of strains and stresses – my mother wasn’t a happy woman which I can understand, and I was her confidante and had a lot of strain and stress put on me.  And after my father died I literally … I don’t know if I had a breakdown, but I really was not able to concentrate and do a lot, and the end result was I’d been unwell all that year and I didn’t sit School Certificate, which I did get on an aggregate pass because I’d had very good marks all the way through.  And it’s always bugged me that I never actually got that [chuckle] done, but however … I decided that I wasn’t going to University, I was going to be a nurse and I was going to follow the art. I wasn’t sure that I might want to go to Art School – it was either that or I would be a nurse.  And I’ve always been aware of the fact that though I have artistic leanings and a certain artistic ability, I didn’t think I would ever have the ability to make a career out of it. 

However … jumping forward here … after I met Stan he did actually offer – and God knows how he would have done it because he was totally broke himself – but he was quite happy to try to support me to go to Art school.  But that would have meant going to Christchurch and [chuckle] leaving him, and there was no way once I’d got to know Stan that I was going to go to the other end of the country.  [Chuckle]  So I started nursing.

Anyway, we need to go back to wherever I was.

At that point, what did you do when you left school?

When I left school I did go nursing. I was only seventeen, and I started nursing but by that time I’d been going out with Stan for a year. Now I’ve already spoken about this but we haven’t recorded it. My last year at high school, or my last year after the Fifth form – the year I’d been unwell when I was sixteen – my mother had insisted that I went with her to my cousin’s place on New Year’s Eve because she’d for some reason or other decided that I couldn’t be left alone, and she was going round there to meet her sister, Janet, who lived in Gisborne.  But her daughter, my cousin, was just a few streets away from where we lived. So anyway, after fairly strong protests I gave in to Mum and we went around to Sadie’s, and as we walked in the door there was this little man sitting cross-legged in a chair, an armchair, and he was sewing a blue button on a pair of jockey silks.  And he really was sitting there and he had his trousers with wide legs on them, and he looked a little bit like a gnome sitting there with his [chuckle] … you know, he was very thin – quite small – and he was sort of crouched up over this thing.  And somehow or other, I don’t know, there was … I felt connection then, but anyway I went and I sat on the window seat which was across the room.  But I was certainly aware of him which was not like me.   And anyway later on when he’d finished sewing the button on Stan came over and sat beside me, and even more unusually he actually started talking to me, which nobody ever did because I was very quiet and mostly people didn’t take a lot of notice, probably because I didn’t make any effort to sort of talk to them. Anyway we got talking, and we seemed to be quite at ease with each other.  And later on when Sadie and Bill were going to bed because of the New Year’s races the next day – Bill being a jockey of course – Jan and Stan got in one car and Mum and I went in the other up to visit the neighbours, who were staying out at … I don’t know whether you’d call it Te Awanga or Haumoana, but it was in between actually …


… at the cottage on the beach. So we went out there, and again I wasn’t very interested in this but I thought ‘well I can … I’d go along with it’, because Mum certainly wasn’t going to take me home.  And when everybody was sitting round having New Year drinks and smoking and everything, I was certainly not in the faintest bit interested in this, and thoroughly bored with the whole thing.   And I can remember standing up and saying “I’m going for a walk”.  And the next thing to my utter and complete amazement, Stan pushed his chair back and said “and I’m coming with you. “ So it was very steep down to the sea outside and very fine shingle and quite hard to keep your feet on it, but I thought ‘well I’ll go down there and have a paddle’.  And Stan was sort of following behind, and next thing he’d stripped his shoes and socks off.  And then a wave came up and started to wash his shoes and socks away, and we ended up by scrambling round trying to catch them before they disappeared.   And it sort of broke the ice, and from then on we didn’t have any trouble talking at all.

Later on, Mum and Jan and Stan and I all went home.  And because I was babysitting the next day … and at sixteen my mother had very definite ideas as to what I should and shouldn’t do … she sent me to bed, and they all had bacon and eggs and I felt very peeved because I was being left out of it.

But anyway, the next day baby sitting at Sadie and Bill’s, who should turn up just before lunch but Stan with some sweetcorn, which I was in later life to realise was very typical of him – he loved to turn up with asparagus or sweetcorn or something like that, just before lunch, which is very much trade mark behaviour for him.  And so we had a long chat.  But the night before when I’d gone to bed I had already thought to myself ‘I really like that young man, and I don’t suppose I’ll ever see him again’, and a sense of enormous regret, so that of course when he turned up with the sweetcorn it felt quite wonderful, because he’d actually come to see me, which made me feel great. [Chuckle]

So I didn’t see him again until sometime in February, when we were to get together. I can’t quite remember how the arrangement was, but because they lived in a caravan Sadie had said “oh well, we’ll help you bottle some pears to have in the caravan”, because they were contracting. 

And so we all got together and we were bottling pears, and then bit by bit Stan asked me to go out with him – mainly dates, if you want to call them that, where I would be going with him while he shifted his contracting gear. If it was a wet day he would turn up with his truck and pick me up from school – put my bike on the back.  We’d go to Gough, Gough and Hamer’s and he’d get tremendous ribbing from the men there working on the tractors about being a chicken stealer [chuckle] because he was eight and bit years older than me. And we didn’t actually go out very much to anything that cost any money because neither of us had any. [Chuckle]  So we had a very innocent sort of thing. Then I went nursing when I left school, and a few months after I’d been nursing – I can’t quite remember – we did go to the pictures one night, and I think the movie was ‘Waterloo Bridge’, and I’m not quite sure.  It was a very emotional film, and it seemed to prompt Stan to decide that perhaps we might like to get married, and that was when he proposed, after ‘Waterloo Bridge.’  Yes, it was a lovely movie but I can’t remember an awful lot about it. [Chuckle]  But I sort of agreed – I thought that would be a lovely idea.  And then he said to me “well I think perhaps you might have to let me kiss you now”, and I sort of thought ‘oh … he’s going to know I’m no good at this, I don’t know what to do.’ [Laugh] So we’d got engaged before I had ever allowed him to kiss me, which is so hilarious by today’s standards – it wasn’t you know …

That’s what it was like, actually.

It was very much … it was.  And he had been very patient with me.  So I have told that story to my grandchildren, who whoop with laughter. [Chuckle]  But it was a fact.  And anyway, of course after we’d become engaged … I had found it very difficult living in the Nurses’ Home, being still incredibly shy.  I found the activity and the noise – I loved the nursing, I really did, and I think I would have been a good nurse.  But I wasn’t going to be allowed to get married and continue nursing, you weren’t allowed in those days. 

That’s right.

So after about six or eight months I gave in my notice and I went to work at Aerial Mapping … New Zealand Aerial Mapping … and my job there was to work out the acreages and write them and the names of the paddocks on the private property maps.

Was Brian Perry there those days?

Yes he was.  Yes, and Don Trask and …  So that’s what I did until I married, but Mum had made it very clear that we were not allowed to get married unless we had somewhere to live, which was pretty impossible.  But knowing my mother it was, you know, there was something there she …   One night we’d been to the pictures, and the pictures got out at twenty past ten, and we got home at twenty-five to eleven.  And she told me that it was far too late [chuckle] and if – it was a week before we got married – and it wasn’t too late to call the wedding off if I didn’t behave myself. 

Oh, my goodness.

But to get back to this having to have somewhere to live – she meant it.  And that would have meant that we had to pay rent on something for months and months in advance, and you know, planning a wedding and all that sort of thing. What she was frightened of was that we might end up living with her, which of course was not what we wanted any more than she did.

Stan found a property out at Raukawa on the Valley Road, belonging to a Skip Donovan, and it was very derelict. Skip had been camping in it with his sheep dogs and any lambs that needed mothering and things, and it was filthy inside. The wallpaper was peeled off in large areas. You could almost see through the floor boards in the kitchen.   But however, we spent the entire time we were engaged – we were allowed to have it for the fact that we would tidy the house up … didn’t have to pay rent.  So we spent … we didn’t go to the beach or do fun things while we were engaged, we spent it pasting newspaper over the walls and then painting them.  Any spare money was spent on cans of paint, and we tried to get the place ready. The section outside was an absolute mess. It had just – all farm rubbish, everything – it was a total mess so Stan brought his machine out and tried to straighten all that out, and got rid of all the horehound and worked it all up, and we planted a crop of potatoes which we also tended because that was going to be our thing. And we planted a vegetable garden – all the time while we were engaged we were doing this.

So anyway we spent a lot of time earthing up the potatoes and they were beautifully in flower and looking good.  And the next week we went out there, not long before we were due to get married – about two weeks or so before we got married – and there was nothing there. The whole thing had gone.  And the neighbours’ pigs had got in and cleaned the whole lot. So anyway, the neighbour gave us – Dan McCormack – gave us a couple of bags of potatoes, but we’d put all that work into that, so … [Chuckle]  And I was to realise as we lived there for the next twenty months, that the first time I had two little anemones appeared the lambs got in and nipped the heads off, and then we went home and found three black bulls in the garden and they’d trampled everything else, so gardening out there wasn’t easy, but I still kept trying.

But anyway, we’d got married on the 11th February 1956, and I have to say that we eventually had forty-seven years of very, very happy marriage.

And during this time had Stan always been in partnership with his brother, contracting?

No, Stan started this business. Stan had done an apprentice tailorship with Butters & McPherson. Syd Butters was his immediate boss, and he completed his tailoring apprenticeship.  And Syd Butters was always very upset that Stan gave up tailoring because he said he’d have been very good – could have taken over the business and all the rest of it. Well maybe, but he would never have got very far as the way things went, tailoring virtually went out.

He actually went to Birdseye and did a refrigeration course, and then he worked for Del Saul as a contractor for a while, and eventually bought him out. And he started off with a D2 called ‘Thunderguts’, [chuckle] which is still around somewhere, I’m not quite sure – I know Mike knows where it is, but it’s there. Eventually his twin brother, Ralph, had been share milking just out of Cambridge – Rotoorangi, or something like that – and had been with his older brother, Arthur.  And Ralph decided that he’d like to get out of that – I think things weren’t working out for him, so he approached Stan and said “would you like a partner?”  And Stan of course had always apparently been the one that looked after Ralph, apparently even as babies.  Ralph would eat his biscuit and then put his hand out and Stan would give him his, and that was how it went, according to the sister Emma, and so on.  So “yes – no, that ‘ll be fine”. 

So anyway, Ralph and Stan had a very good partnership. They got on well together, and Mervyn McGaffin came and worked for them and that group of three was a very happy group. They worked in the Raukawa – Maraekakaho area, mostly Raukawa. And I used to lie in bed in our house in the Valley Road and listen to Stan ploughing up at Torrens Station or working up behind … could hear the tractor going round and so on. 

But for that first time we lived out at Raukawa, I had been very run down – I hadn’t really recovered from my earlier health problems, and I used to go for walks … long walks. I couldn’t go to work, I had no way of getting there. Thinking back now, I think perhaps if I’d been determined enough I could have biked into Hastings, but it was quite a way.  But it was a very necessary time for me to actually build strength and get back to health and so on. But we had no phone;  I had no car;  I was eighteen years old;  and I was out there three paddocks back from the road by myself.  But, as I say, it was probably a very good time for me – I learned to be by myself, and I actually did regain strength.

Mike was born while we were living at Raukawa, and that was an interesting experience too, because I was once again out there on my own with nobody around … young baby, but you didn’t go out.  I mean you just stayed at home and you looked after your baby and you did things, so it was fine. He was eight months old when we moved into town, and Mum got all her worst fears because we ended up by living with her for six months – six weeks I mean, not six months – while our house was finished because I had to be there seeing them, and there was no way I could get in and out to town, so we had to be in town.  So … poor old thing, she had to put up with it, but anyway she did.  But it was very good to get into our own home, and we lived in that home for thirty-six years, in 318 Karaitiana Road.

I can’t quite think what else you would want to know?

Well the contracting business obviously carried on?

Contracting went on for quite some time.  Then farmers started doing different things. They didn’t want to put the crops in or plough the land and put new grass in and things – it all changed.  And at that particular stage Stan wasn’t quite sure what to do – whether to do the workshop, or the hay baling, or what. They could have done … for a wee while … could have done quite well just on hay baling, but they realised they’d probably get into a bit of mischief if they didn’t keep themselves occupied, so they set up the workshop.  And that was fine, for a while. 

Then they employed a man who had big ideas, and I kept saying to Stan “it’s going too fast”.  Because they would get the work and this man was always wanting to employ somebody else, another person.  But it takes about three months from the time you’ve done the job to get the money out, and I kept saying “you’ve got to put the brakes on – you’ve got to put the brakes on”.  “Oh, this chap knows what he’s doing”.  Well in the end of it, he got it into deep trouble because the money just didn’t come in, and he had all the wages to pay.  And the strain did start to tell on Stan. They had several agencies, they had the Kubota Agency, and they had the Komatsu Agency.  I mean it was doing wonderfully well, it was just there wasn’t enough backing and they were working incredibly hard. There wasn’t enough finance behind it, and interest rates were very, very high. Penalty rates were twenty-seven percent on overdraft.  The farmers didn’t pay their bills – they let you be their banker. They got money from the sheep retention scheme and they went overseas, or they bought boats and caravans.

I know.

They didn’t pay their bills, and it was very difficult. We also had the opportunity of the Hino truck agency which they’d started to look at. We ended up with the Zeta tractor, and then Kubota took that one away because you weren’t allowed to have two.  And it was getting just a little bit much. 

So anyway, the real crux of the whole thing came when they’d been doing a field day out at Bay View, out of Eskdale, and Stan had been driving the tractor all day and Ralph came along and he said … this is with the Zeta … and he said “you take the machinery back to the workshop, and I’ll do the last of these ones.”  And he did the demonstration but he must have failed to engage the thing properly in gear.  Coming down a hill he hit a bump, and it slipped out of gear and went out of control and the tractor rolled, and he was killed by the impact of the very thing that was supposed to save him – the safety frame.  And that was devastating.

I don’t know whether I should put this in, but they had had an insurance agent, he was called Ron Gestro. They’d each taken out insurance on the other’s life, so that if there was … anything happened to them there would be money to carry the business – to support the surviving business, and the partner.  However, by a mistake, they’d each signed their own – the agent had let them sign their own. So that the life insurance went to Ralph’s wife, not to Stan.  So there was nothing left, and the business was in dire straits at that stage. That was just about enough to put Stan completely out, and it certainly made life incredibly difficult.

But in the meantime since Mike was born, you had some more children.

A lot of children – we had four more children so we had five children.

And they were born in Hastings?

They were all born in Hastings, yes.  So at that particular stage when Ralph was killed he too had four children, so there were a lot of children to support from the business.  I had … first of all Mike was born on the 3rd May 1957;  Victoria was born on the 24th June 1959;  Rob was born on the 1st February, which was also Stan’s birthday, 1961;  Averill was born on the 12th June 1963;  and Richard was born on the 18th August 1967 – ten years later … ten years after Mike – exactly ten years.

And so after Ralph had been …


… the business?

Well Stan kept going as long as he could, but it was in terrible straits financially, because of that, and of course … I mean it was his twin brother and it rocked him completely.  And he was already under considerable strain before that. He had been wanting to get out of it, and he would’ve actually – he’d got to the stage he was going to walk away and let Ralph have the business. He’d had enough. He really felt that he’d done all he could do, he was exhausted.  And of course then he was left with the job of trying to sort of see Fay right – that’s Ralph’s widow – with no money. So he had to let her have the only security we had, which was the building.  And he also had to try to generate some money and pay her a lease for that building, so the strain was immense.  And he did all that he could, but I won’t go into the details of all the difficulties and things because they’re not necessary – it was an extremely difficult time.

But the children have all come out of it …

All the children have survived. Unfortunately we don’t have anything to do with Ralph’s family, but that’s just one of those things. You have to let that go.

But Mike eventually, at seventeen he got his own Motor Vehicle Dealers’ license, would you believe it?   Set up a car sales.  Eventually, he was in the bank – went into the Bank. Stan felt that he just could not keep the business going, but if Mike wanted it he was going to have to make up his mind.  So I was really upset about this, and I think Stan was upset – in fact I know he was, but certainly it put a lot of pressure on Mike too.  But in the end Mike came in and took over what was left of the business, and went his own way with it.  And he went into bulldozing and that kind of thing far more, but at twenty years old he was doing that. And that’s another story entirely – he has just done incredible things, really has, considering all he had to trade on was a good name.  He had nothing much else.

But Victoria went nursing, and Rob worked at Pacific and he took on the cleaner’s job. He’d left school at fifteen ’cause he didn’t want to … didn’t see the sense in continuing at school, so he organised a job. We tried very hard to persuade him otherwise, but he went to Pacific and he worked in the freezing works, but he also took on the cleaning job.  So he was working twelve hour days from the time he left school.  Within a very short space of time he’d bought his first home and a big car, and eventually he got a piece of land on the corner of Thompson and Brookvale Road. At that time he was working for Richard Barron, and he arranged with Richard not to have the extra wages but to be able to use his machinery to bring in and plant up that bit of orchard.

Averill went nursing. Both the girls had been to Palmerston. Victoria did it working in the hospital and Averill did the Polytech type training, but both in Palmerston.  And when Averill qualified she went into oncology, and later into intensive care – when she went to Sydney she worked in Westmead Intensive Care in Australia … in Sydney.  And then she came back here again and eventually she decided she didn’t want to do any more shift work so she became a chartered accountant.  [Chuckle] 

Richard has really done quite a lot of things – largely for Mike – he ran orchards, he ran the recycling, he ran the Greenways thing, and now he’s started in a little business with Rob doing asbestos demolition work. Victoria works as a  – after she’d stopped nursing – she works as an energy healer which is interesting.

I got to know Rob very well. He’s very much like you isn’t he? 

Do you think so?

Just the way you talk and …

Oh, yes.

Yes, so that brings all the children up to date, and then of course once you’d settled everything down, and I guess disposed of the business …

Well Stan went to the tennis courts and worked part time as a groundsman.  And that was his life saver in actual fact, because he was only working … shorter hours. We had very, very little money once again, but never mind, we survived. He was getting … enough, that we’d learned to be economical. We managed very well.  [Chuckle]  And he took up tennis which he loved, and it was his saviour because he could play tennis and relax, and I mean we both owe a lot to the fact that he found you know …

Did you play tennis as well?

No – I would have liked to, but I wasn’t very good and I don’t think I ever felt that I could ask anybody to spend time helping me to get better. Tennis I did like, and would have liked to have learned, but everybody else knew how to do it and I’ve never ever wanted other people to you know – I would’ve needed practise. It’s the same as dancing – never in my life have I ever felt comfortable dancing. To me it’s absolutely purgatory to have to get up and dance because it’s physical – I …

You must have been very shy.

Oh, dreadful. Absolutely dreadful – I can’t explain to people.  Well I was always the wallflower at the dances I was made to go to – I just …

Well I would have been too, if I hadn’t have learned to dance.

Well I tried to learn to dance – I went to Miss Ballantyne for dancing lessons, and found it an absolute – because I was so shy I just – it was just crippling as I said. You can’t understand – so few people today are that shy, thank goodness.

But I mean from day one, children are encouraged to speak out before they know what they’re speaking about.

Exactly.  And they’re listened to.

So then Stan worked at playing tennis, and working as the groundsman?

Yes, he did the grounds and he took a great deal of pride in it.

That would have been not far from where you lived, was it?

It was just round in Whitehead Road, which is only a few blocks away and he loved it. It was one of the reasons why when we came out here, he really would have liked to have gone back to town, but the sections came in.

But anyway in that time we’d met Constance, which was one of the things Mum had said to us that Constance wanted to meet me. And I had a lot of young children at that stage. This is Constance Nelson … Constance Horne she became.

We need to pay a bit of attention to Constance, because the story …

We certainly need to pay a lot of attention to Constance, because Constance was our saviour.  She’s the reason why I live in a nice house today, because she left us some of her … you know, assets.  We had a home of our own, but not a lot else after all this had happened.

I can imagine.

And Constance was Mum’s godmother.  And I was very nervous, because I thought Mum was trying to push me at Constance, but anyway it wasn’t – it was Constance wanting to get to know me.  So eventually I did arrange to meet Constance. I rang her up and said “well, would you come for afternoon tea?”  Which she did.  And she, as I found out later, often when she went to Palmerston, she wanted to take my children who were nursing down there, to afternoon tea.  She liked to keep in contact – she was very much the old school family person who keeps connections with everybody, and she did … she knew what everybody did, where they went, what they did and all the rest of it.

So anyway she came to afternoon tea and I had a very delightful, very precious little cat at that stage called ‘Fluff’, and she was probably, of all the pets I’ve ever had, the most exceptional. She was an amazing little creature. She used to wait at the gate for the children at three o’clock every day when they came home from school – she never missed.  And she never touched anything, she never did anything wrong. She used to come up behind me when I was standing at the sink washing dishes or cooking, and I’d hear a little ‘purr’ behind me. The next thing she would leap up and without putting any claws in me she would have climbed up and she would have draped herself over my shoulder and there she would sit while I did whatever it was.  And  if I was gardening she was always right there. She was just an amazing animal. She was on the table asleep when Constance came for afternoon tea, and because I didn’t like to disturb her and I knew she wouldn’t be a problem I just left her there – probably not the right thing to do for most people, but it was fine as it turned out for Constance, because Constance loved cats.  And because of that we hit it off immediately.

And over time – my mother died unexpectedly when she was sixty-six, and Constance sort of adopted us, and asked us if we would be her Trustees, which – at that stage, because she certainly didn’t look as if she had anything – she didn’t look as though she had two bob to rub together, we said “yes, we certainly will”.  And you know, thought ‘well, we can do things for her and look after her’.  And in all innocence we had no idea how much business we were going to end up by doing for her.  [Chuckle]  But we ended up by doing things like freeholding her Hardinge Road property from the Napier Harbour Board, and doing share transfers for her and you know, all sorts of things that she wanted us to do, which was great.  I mean we’d be given the key to her safe deposit box and told to go and get this and do that, because in those days of course you had to manually go and do everything.  And we spent a lot of time trotting backwards and forwards to her share broker, and her bank and things, and we learned quite a lot.  But we’ve also, you know, helped her with whatever we could, and we got very, very fond of her. She became really a bit like another mother figure to both of us – in fact in some ways we both felt a closer affinity with her as a mother [chuckle] than our own mothers. I had loved my mother dearly as a youngster, but she became quite difficult as she got older because … I suppose health and circumstances.  But anyway I still loved her, but it wasn’t quite as comfortable as it might have been. 

And anyway, so when she needed to go into care, which wasn’t until she was ninety-something, she wanted to keep her house in Hardinge Road … she didn’t want to get rid of it. She was in a financial position to do it.  She just left it there, and we were quite prepared to take her home for a few hours if she wished. I don’t think we ever actually took her to her home again once she left it, but we did go and we would rat around, and get whatever was asked for out of this drawer or that drawer.  She knew exactly where everything was. To the day she died … to about a couple of weeks before she died she read the Dominion cover to cover with the aid of a magnifying glass, every day. She never sat with nothing to do, she was always stitching or reading or something. 

But when she was in care we would bring her home and she would stay with us and she loved it.  We had a swimming pool at that stage, and I got a rail put in for her so that she could get down into the water. We took her to Rob’s and she had a spa bath there, and one on either side helping her to get out of the spa bath, but she thought it was wonderful.

We took her to Woodville for the Anglican Church celebrations … centenary or some, you know, celebrations that they had, and she loved introducing us as her Trustees and saying “my Trustees will see to that.” It gave her a great deal of pleasure.  But the long and short of it was, she did leave us a very reasonable sum of money which has made our retirement a whole heap different …

Oh, that’s wonderful.

… which was lovely.  But we didn’t know that she had that when we started, and we certainly didn’t expect it.  I mean I am eternally grateful to her.

She also left me all the Nelson stuff, and she had inherited that from her mother of course.  And because she spoke so lovingly of her grandfather and the Nelson history was so important to her, I always felt that no matter what, I had … I won’t say an obligation, but somehow or other I felt I needed to do whatever was possible.

Well you almost became the natural gatekeeper …

Yes – I had to take on the job that she had been doing. There was no real contest there, it was just a case … ‘well, Constance has left me this’, so I have used – wherever it’s been necessary to pay for something, I think ‘Constance left me some money, I will use that money for that.’

What a brilliant story.  It’s incredible – you know when I came you said you didn’t really have anything to say, but you’ve really told the most lovely story this afternoon …

Oh …

… really has been.

I’m glad it’s been something for you.

So then of course Stan moved on … how long did he live here before he ..?

He had been here just nine, not quite ten months when he went to tennis one day, and died doing exactly what he would’ve loved to’ve been doing … just started a game of tennis, put his arms up to serve. They’d had one set or whatever you call it, and he put his arms up to serve and dropped. It was horrific to lose him so suddenly – we’d made arrangements for that afternoon, a grandson was coming and so on.  But I could never have asked for a better way for him to go. I have never regretted for his sake the way he went, and I’ve always thought ‘how on earth would you say goodbye to somebody that was dying slowly, when you loved them so much?’

You know, when you think of the hours in the dust on those tractors going round the hills shaking your guts out and all of those things.

And he got this Paget’s disease in his shoulders and things. He was exhausted. He was absolutely exhausted. You see he’d worked hard since he was eight years old, because he and his brother had the longest paper run and milk run in Hastings and his mother bought a balloon-tyred bicycle for him. He weighed 4 stone 12 [pound] I think when he played for the Ross Shield. He could barely hold the milk cartons up on the handlebars of his bicycle.  And they were made to work very hard all the way through.  Yes, the mother was quite a tough little nut really as far as what she expected her children to do.

I would say that I have regrets about my shyness where Constance was concerned, because she was a woman who dearly loved children – this is Constance Nelson who became Constance Horne, and she was the Mayoress of Woodville for a long time.  And during the war she used to take the babies from Palmerston over to the Karitane hospital in Wanganui.  She just adored children but was unable to have any.  She was an imposing lady, tall – about five feet nine – big build, with a very, very big, very cultured voice, but it was a loud voice.  And when she came to visit Mum I would see the car pull up, and I can remember running into Mum and saying “it’s that lady, Mum – it’s that lady.”  And then she would come in with this big hat, and Mum would go to the door and I would wrap myself in my mother’s skirts as I clung to her knee.  And Constance came and she always tried to talk to me, and I would hide my face in Mum’s skirts and so on.  And I’ve been so sorry since because I know that she would have dearly loved to have made contact.  

In later years when I had Constance at home looking after her and I had become so very, very fond of her, I often used to quietly muse to myself about the fact that there was this lady I’d been in total awe of, and here I was scrubbing her back and showering her.  [Chuckle]  It seemed such a complete and utter change, but she was just a lovely person.

So to go to the Nelson Park business, which was a bit of a local debacle really, because there was a lot of protest about selling Nelson Park.  I was always a bit unsure about it, or I was to start with, but then I realised that in actual fact, no Council was ever going to maintain that Park.  It had become an eyesore and an embarrassment, it was dirty, it was unkempt, it was unused.  And I thought to myself ‘well William Nelson would not appreciate that, he would have wanted it to be of use.  He also would not want to hold the city development back.’  My doubt was more about the use they were going to put it to, building these big box shops and things, which I personally don’t like but which are very much the order of the present day, for however long they might be fashionable.  And since the Council was determined to have it anyway, I thought we’d use it as a bargaining tool.  So I spoke to the mayor, Lawrence Yule – I went with Sam Nelson, and I can’t remember who the other person was … might have been John Renton I think, all of us great grandchildren of William Nelson.  And my big thing that I stuck out for all the way, as I seemed to end up being the spokesperson, was that we had to have something that was legally binding;  it had to be named for William Nelson and it had to be high profile, and it had to be well maintained. So they started off talking about a small inner city park, and I said “I want something better than that”.  And then they came up with the area that was later to become the skate park, and they also came up with calling the sports … because they used the money from the sale of Nelson Park for the sports park off Percival Road, they came up with naming the athletics track there ‘William Nelson Track’, which just quietly, was a little more than I’d expected we’d get so I wasn’t too sorry about that.  And I did have a bit of a say in how they did the wall with the legend on it, because I was aware of vandals and I didn’t want anything that could be easily vandalised. I was asked my thoughts about the planting for the skate park. I did want trees and I think the only thing I can think of that was what I asked for was the Awanui cherry trees, [chuckle] which are quite pretty, but everything else is not my type of garden.   But however, for the youth of today it probably is very practical.  And so in that respect we did quite well, because I believe that William Nelson would have wanted the land that he gave to have been a park along the lines of Frimley or Cornwall Park, not to be shut away or to be just a stark sort of empty space.  And I’m not too sure that he actually gave it as a sports park even though he was interested in sports.  I think his feeling was that he wanted the average worker in the city to be able to use it and enjoy it, not to have it shut away.  

So then it comes back to the fact that the reason the Council decided they could do what they liked with it was because they decided he’d sold it to them. For a while I couldn’t think about it and I was absolutely sure that I’d always been told he gave it to them. Other family members always thought he’d given it to them. Nobody had the idea it had been sold, and it wasn’t until sometime later that I actually recalled the conversation – and it wasn’t just once, it came up on several occasions – of my mother saying to me that he gave them the land for the park, but he didn’t see why he should pay the tax.  At the age I was then, just a young child, that didn’t mean a thing to me, but later on I realised that of course the tax that was being referred to was the land tax that was required on all land transfers in those days.  And I’m equally certain that in spite of the fact that the Council people said that they had no records, if they had gone through the Land Transfers Office in Wellington they would have found it. It definitely would have been possible. They just didn’t want to. However, with that lack of will and so on, and also knowing that the citizens of Hastings would not have been prepared to pay on their rates for the development of another garden park, I didn’t see any point to continue opposing it.

Now can you think of anything we may have missed? 

It’s a bit piecemeal isn’t it?

Margaret, thank you for giving us this insight into the Nelsons, and I think it’s just so important that families have somebody who cares so much.  You know, it’s not an easy job looking after someone else’s history.

Well Constance was wonderfully good to us. We had a wonderful warm relationship with her. It was a very special and unexpected relationship that developed with her. We loved her dearly and I think she loved us which was wonderful, and as I say, so totally unexpected.  And to me – I hate the word ‘obligation’, but I have always felt that this was something we could do that she would have been glad to see done, and so on.  I don’t see it as an obligation – it’s just something we were able to do in return for the love and affection we shared.

Right – well I should make it clear that how I came into possession of all this information about the Nelson family and that was because of course, Constance got it from her mother who was Mary Violet Grant, married to William Henry Nelson, William Nelson’s eldest son.  And she had made it her mission in life to collect as much information as she could, not only of the Nelson family but all the people they married, so that her information goes sideways, and from the in-laws and the out-laws, and everybody else that’s in any way connected.  So I have these two lovely scrapbooks which are put together with photographs, letters, her writing and lots and lots of newspaper clippings.  She – Mary Violet – did a scrapbook each for Constance and her youngest daughter Mildred, who was later to become a Bluebell dancer … and very spoilt in the eyes of Constance, but anyway, quite a character as I recall.  But neither of those daughters of Mary Violet and William Henry had any children, so who was going to have all this information? Well, once Constance became very important to us and we became, I think, equally important to her, she entrusted me with all this information and as a result, because of the love and affection between us, I felt it was up to me to continue to do what she would have wanted done with this, not to let it just disappear and be forgotten.  Hence the reason that I have done as much as I could to make sure that … even things that I haven’t been able to do that somebody else has done … to preserve this information so it is there for future generations should they wish it.  All right?

Thank you Margaret, that’s wonderful.

Okay … think that tells you all, doesn’t it?


Original digital file


Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • Margaret Jean Walmsley
  • Stanley Walmsley

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