Margaret Nell Harper Interview

Today is the 16th of February 2015. This interview is of Mrs Margaret Harper and her family, and so she will tell us now where the family came from originally and then develop her family history. Thank you very much.

Well, which side of the family do you want? My side or the Harper side.

Your side for a start ’cause the Harper side won’t start until your marriage.

Right, yes well I was born in a little town in mid Canterbury called Methven and my father was an only son and he had his own farm by then and his father had retired and built a lovely home in Methven called the Towers. And so he went on farming.

And I’m one of 5 girls, the middle one, and I went to school in a little local town in Methven which had a District High School so we just carried on. And I rode to school on a horse because I decided I didn’t want to wait for the school bus. And anyway eventually I passed through the local District High School.

And before that when I was in my early teens my father decided – there was a depression after the First World War and I think my father really was involved … farming wasn’t all that profitable, and I was sent to live with my grandparents who as I said by then had retired. And my grandmother – she probably had one of the early types of small farms that are popular today, and anyway she had ducks and a couple of cows and so on and a pig and I was sent to help her because I was the ‘boy’ of our family and liked outdoor living and so on. And from there I eventually I had to leave school and decide what I wanted to do. And in those days girls really had about three options – nursing, teaching or office work. Today there are umpteen. Anyway I had a talk to the teacher at the local school about what I really would like to do and she suggested seeing I was reasonably bright, she said “What would you like – do you want, to be dealing with one child at a time or a group of children?” because dental nursing also came into it. And I said “I really would like to be dealing with a group of children”. So I applied for Training College and was duly accepted.

I had a year off school – today it’s called a gap year – in those days there was no such thing so I fiddled around and did a bit of house work for local people and had a very nice time actually playing tennis.

Anyway I eventually was selected and all South Canterbury was sent to Dunedin the year I went into Training College. So I had two years at Dunedin Training College and while I was waiting on the little Railway Station called Rakaia the porter came over and said “War has been declared. Would you like to come and listen to our radio?” And that was the beginning of the 2nd World War which changed history and I – the midnight duly came through – left Christchurch at 12 and got to Dunedin at 7am – and all the boys were called up and disappeared. And we girls – I call that my war effort.

And at the end of my two years’ training in Dunedin – we could apply for North Island teaching – which I did. I didn’t want to go home. I’d been away for 2 years, I’d seen a wider world, I thought no I don’t want to go home so the big adventure was applying for North Island teaching and I was duly sent to Napier. And my mother said “you’ve got a great-uncle up there somewhere – manages a back country sheep station called Kereru,” and I duly rang him – I was homesick and met his daughter who was married but she and her husband were staying with them up there for dog trials. She invited me to go home with her the next school holidays and I met her single brother-in-law, and here I am in Hawke’s Bay 70 years later at the ripe old age of 96.

I used to go home in the school holidays, and of course it being war time we girls were – after my probationary year – in those days you had to do a year’s probationary before you were presented with your certificate to say you were a trained teacher – and I was sent here, there and everywhere because the boys were away and I became Headmaster in Gisborne and young women were taking over quite important men’s jobs, and I was on the relieving staff because at the end of my probationary year I then had to apply for permanent jobs. So I was tired of being on the relieving staff so I applied for several – one in Tonga and that didn’t get me anywhere.

I thought I think I’d like to go further afield and I eventually finished up at a country school called Sherenden which is about 25 miles out of Hastings and it was a sole charge school and accommodation was the problem. And my first day there – well I went up the day before – and I met the Chairman of the School Committee who said that I would be boarding with him, and he had 5 children at the local school. And I said “well how am I going to get to school?” and he said “can you ride a horse?” and I said “yes, I grew up on a farm in the South Island and I rode a pony to school and my mother drove a horse and gig.” My mother never learnt to drive a car. Cars were – well, they were early days.

Anyway I boarded with this particular man for 3 months, and then after that first term there, the School Committee decided that the teacher would have a term about with each family, and I thought oh well, that was fair enough I suppose but there was one particular family that I would not – I flatly refused to board with – he was a violent man. The children used to come to school with bruises and they were bare footed and I refused to board with that particular family. Eventually that woman committed suicide which was very, very sad.

But anyway I was boarding up the Flag Range Road which was a hilly road winding up to a fairly high point, with a family up there, and by then I had to provide my own conveyance to school so I had to buy a horse. There was one daughter still at school of this particular family. The two older brothers were both in the army. I think one was in the Air Force by then. Anyway this kid had to catch my horse every morning and her horse and she always used to ride behind me – she’d never ride with me. The teacher – in those days I think pupils were a little bit in awe of teachers. I’d hate to be teaching today.

But anyway, I had 3 pleasant years up in Sherenden. Eventually after staying with various families for the term about one of the local farmers wives came over to school one day and she asked me if I would think about coming to board with her. She was quite close to the school, within walking distance, and I said “well what do you expect me to pay? Are you going to give me full board?” and she said “no” she said “I won’t charge you anything as long as you help me with the cooking.” “Oh” I said “I’ve never done much cooking, I’ve never had the opportunity.” Her husband was in the Home Guard and they had no family and she was running this farm on her own and I was really horrified because if a sheep got down or had to be killed she shot it. And I said “I think it’s illegal to shoot sheep”. Here was me … with some vague idea … Anyway we muddled through.

And across the road from the school there was a wooden gate and a hall, the Sherenden Hall, and there was a little area where they held church every Sunday. Sir Andrew and Lady Russell owned this estate opposite the school – very big. And of course Sir Andrew Russell was very important in the First World War, he was Major General Sir Andrew Russell. And he used to come over to my school once a week and take the boys for gardening and he was a bluff old gentleman the Major, and Lady Russell used to come over and take the girls for sewing and the girls – the most important thing in their future lives was to be able to sew a fine seam.

One day – I had gone back to where I was staying with this lady next door to the school – Lady Russell arrived and she walked straight into my bedroom without knocking, and here was me – it was a really hot day and I had very little on – lying on my bed reading. I nearly had a fit when Lady Russell walked in. She wanted to talk to me – something about the girls’ sewing.

And eventually – before I actually boarded with this particular woman, I boarded with farmers up this hilly road – and I was riding down to school one day and the old General came round the corner and he drove a Model T Ford, and he always drove fair in the middle of the road, he never looked where he was going and my horse bucked me off and the old General pulled up and he got out and he dusted me off and led me back on my horse and apologised: “Oh dear, dear – you must come for dinner tonight.” Oh, I nearly had a fit because they dressed for dinner. Anyway I thought ‘what an earth what am I going to wear to dinner with Major General Sir Andrew Russell?’. So I eventually – I forget what I wore now, it doesn’t matter, but I was nervous. He was a thorough gentleman, he put me completely at my ease. I never felt very comfortable with Lady Russell, but however that was beside the point.

And by then I had met my future husband through having met this old great-uncle, and we became engaged but I had some … I often think about this about whether I was right or whether I was wrong, but my war effort … in those days petrol was rationed, sugar was rationed, the American boys were coming on furlough to New Zealand – there were lots of young Americans about. They were coming on leave from the islands and they were sort of consorting with our New Zealand girls. And my future husband’s home had a tennis court, and we used to have tennis parties for these young American guys. And they were charming and they gave us all sorts of presents – chocolates, and … silk stockings were very desirable … and they courted a lot of New Zealand girls. Well fair enough, it was war time and things were a bit mad, but I’d made this vow that I would teach through the war, it was my war effort. It was actually a war appointment. It was advertised in the Education Gazette as a war appointment and I applied for it and the boy whose job it actually was was overseas. He did come back but he never went back to that particular school because by then his ideas had changed and so on.

So I was actually married in 1946 which was really the end of the war. So I sort of felt I’d had my war effort, but unfortunately what I hadn’t realised was I had to live with my mother-in-law. Now my mother-in-law was a widow still living out on the property called Waitio, and her husband died before I met him. I never knew him, and she had a single son, Bob, at home and she was a real matriarch. I must say those three years I spent there weren’t the happiest years of my life, because she really didn’t think I knew anything, and I think being a teacher I was a bit bossy, and I used to argue with her about the way you peel potatoes of all things – silly things.

So Waitio Station – that’s where your mother-in-law lived, and Bob – the one that I knew that I had met at Waitio – that was the Bob that you were referring to?

He actually was called up. My husband was graded 4 for the Army. He had flat feet – I’m not sure what else was wrong with him, but anyway he was running about seven or eight local farms whose men were away at the wa,r and my husband was obviously a knowledgeable good farmer. I know I used to get a bit jealous of all these women my husband was in touch with.

However, we lived there for three years and eventually a property just out of Hastings which also belonged to the Harper family – the Longlands property – and in early days it had extended to Otane I think – several thousand acres but over the years it had been cut up and so on – and my husband and I went to live in this big old barn of a house called Longlands. And it had about 60 acres of arable land which actually was A1 for orchard, but my husband knew nothing about orcharding and he really grew for Wattie’s – peas and … he cropped it and managed a certain number of sheep and so on. We lived there for the next thirty five years.

Just where is that house?

That’s in Longlands Road at the point where Te Aute Road – Longlands Road continues on but there’s a road turns off Te Aute Road which comes out at Middle Road, and there’s a long drive in and there were big old evergreen oaks. They didn’t shed their leaves but they had acorns. Apparently they grow in Norfolk Island. The house actually had been moved – the early home had been burnt down as a lot of the early wooden homes were and it had been further down, more in the middle of that particular property but this was the manager’s home had been moved to where … because of the trees and the garden and all the rest of it. So that’s where we brought up our three children and I spent all my married life there very happily.

But in those days of course – by then the war had ended and things were taking a while to get back to normal. But women did not work. I think – we were the end of the Victorian era. Today it sounds incredible but my children went to school in Havelock North. There was only one school there – the Havelock North Primary School. Of course today there are several others. I was dancing with the Headmaster once at a social evening and he said “I believe you were a teacher, Margaret.” I said “Oh yes, but it seems a long time ago now.” And he said “would you come back?” And I said “Oh heavens.” So he said “well, we need someone to take the new entrants. It would only be for a term” and my husband nearly had a fit. Yes, I went back teaching for a term and I must admit I was mentally, physically and financially exhausted. My husband was furious, and he stopped my housekeeping – he said “if you want to keep yourself you can, but you’re not going to have a penny from me.”   And instead of cooking I bought stuff. I used to make all the children’s clothes. I was a stay home mother. Anyway that finished me off teaching. I thought ‘well blow this’, so I did relieving teaching after that – the odd day.

So who was the Headmaster of Havelock Primary then?

Who was the Headmaster in those days? He was very good to me anyway, he sympathised about having time … oh, not putting me on duty at lunch time so that I could go home for lunch. Longlands homestead was 3 ½ miles from the Havelock village. The children didn’t go to school on a bus but it was close enough for me to go home for lunch so that my husband could never say “you were never there.” However it cured me of …

But I did go fruit picking. There was a slogan around at that time ‘don’t just sit there, do something’. So I rang a friend and said “how about you and I going fruit picking?” And today I can’t understand why women don’t go out – of course a lot of women are working, I realise that. But this friend and I – her husband was a bank manager – I won’t name her – but I said “for goodness sake, ask your husband if he approves. I don’t want to get you into trouble.” And my husband thought that was fine, fruit picking. He was still dividing his time between the Longlands property and his farm out at Crownthorpe, so he was away quite often a long day or late coming in for lunch and so on. So we went fruit picking and I loved those days. We climbed ladders – ‘course now they’ve got all sorts of modern gadgets – and we were out in the fresh air and I think I’ve always been a country girl at heart – suited me fine. I enjoyed those days and we took our lunch and chatted and so on. Then we went on to grading in a local orchard. Anyway one of the girls that was grading with me – at that stage my friend’s husband had been transferred to Dunedin so she’d gone.

She talked to me about the Founders’ Society. And I said ”what’s that?” And she said “well to qualify you have to have an ancestor who arrived in New Zealand within 10 years of 1840 or the founding of the province”. And I said “my great-grandmother came out in 1850 on a little sailing ship called the “Charlotte Jane” and she said “why don’t you apply to become a member?” So she gave me the particulars and so I wrote off with this information that had somehow stuck in my mind. Where I got it from I don’t know but I’ve always had this information about my great-grandmother because my older daughter is Marianne, and I named her after my great-grandmother Marianne Allfrey [or Mary Ann Alfrey, born 1831]. Anyway I duly got a letter back from the Founders’ Society to say yes, they had checked all my particulars.

So my son took me down to Christchurch – well, it’s about 15 months ago now – my birthday is the 2nd December, and he took me down to Christchurch for my 95th birthday, and we flew to Christchurch and picked up a rental car and went on to Ashburton to stay with a niece – my older sister’s oldest daughter – she and her husband were retired living there – and we stayed the night with them. Went way up into the backblocks of the Rakaia Gorge – to Windwhistle really, the area was called – and there’s a wonderful restaurant complex up there, tennis court, golf course – I can’t remember what it’s called actually. But anyway on the way up my niece said “by the way we’re invited to look at a lovely garden while we’re in the area”. And one of the young Harpers was working on this particular station as a shepherd, and he was Bill Harper’s son. One of the Harper brothers was John and this Bill was his younger son.

Anyway Bill had gone down there shepherding and got a job on this particular – Quartz Hills, the sheep station was called – and he eventually married the daughter, the only daughter, Georgie, and they had one son but he unfortunately was handicapped. And anyway we were invited to look at this absolutely beautiful garden, and of course way up there I suppose it was a very necessary hobby for them to have a lovely garden. And then we went on to this lunch – there were thirteen of us at the lunch – sounds a bit unfortunate but it didn’t seem to worry anybody. When we went back and stayed another night with my niece and then we left next morning with this rental car for Christchurch and stayed a night there before we came home.

By then the Christchurch earthquake had happened and when we booked into this – I suppose it was a sort of a hotel in Christchurch, I can’t describe it really – it didn’t have a restaurant but we were booked in there for the night. And my son said “Mum, weren’t you married in Christchurch?” I said “yes, I was married in Christchurch. I wonder if we could find the church?” It was called St Luke’s, and he drove around and of course, I was married in 1946 which was quite a long time ago, and I couldn’t actually pinpoint the church.

But there was a free tram that was sort of toing and froing round showing us some of the worst areas of the earthquake, and he’d parked the car somewhere in the centre and we got on this tram and I said to the tram driver – it was a woman – I said “would you know where a church called St Luke’s is?” She said “oh, it’s gone.”  She said they actually demolished it to make way for a motorway.  So anyway when we got back to our car (I had my younger daughter went down with us from Palmerston North, just my son, my younger daughter and me).  Anyway, I said “now I want to show you something.” And in front of the main Post Office in Christchurch there are four trees and around the base of each tree is a garden with a plaque and a stone wall. On the wall is a plaque with the name of the early first four ships arrived in Lyttelton and the passenger lists, and on the “Charlotte Jane” list is my great-grandmother Marianne Allfrey and her father and mother and her younger brother George, and the captain and the crew and so on. And my two had heard me talk about this but I was so pleased I could actually show them this historic occasion. That was interesting but sad to see that beautiful city so devastated by that earthquake. It’s slowly coming back but I haven’t been down since then. But it was very sad to see that.

Those early pioneers were very brave. I think they went by canoe up the Avon River, and they went ashore – some of the early passengers off the “Charlotte Jane” – with the studding sail off the ship – the early “Charlotte Jane”. And they called it Studding Sail Hall and that’s where Noah’s Hotel was – I believe came down in the earthquake.

But my great-grandmother, Marianne, was nursemaid to the doctor’s children on the ship, Dr Barker. And when they went ashore and sort of built up timbery residences she met my great-grandfather John Anderson [or James] – his father had come out from Scotland, and eventually married him. So my mother – they had 10 children – my mother was one of 10, my husband was one of 10. They had big families in those days. So I suppose that would be – she would be my mother’s grandmother so the generations came down.

My grandfather became a farrier and I can remember as a child being absolutely fascinated. My grandfather was a big man and he had a goatee beard and he was very nice to us kids, and we used to go and watch the horses being shod and the sparks flying off the hooves and the fires going.

But my mother was actually born in Kaiapoi. I don’t know why they came to a place called Methven. I can’t remember now why the family moved but anyway the old home in Methven where they had 10 children – my mother was one of 10. I had lots of family life, lots of cousins, lots of weddings. When we were children we seemed to have lots of family around. They were happy days when we were kids. But as I said my father farmed but sadly he – well, they came unstuck and we were taken into Methven. That’s when I was sent to live with my grandmother.

My mother and father … well my mother died first sadly, and my father decided to go and live with one of my sisters who lived in Christchurch. She was a trained nurse and she went to Australia when she was young – I suppose the big OE – and married an Australian gentleman. And after Mother died – they’d been over there, Mother and Dad, there big trip out of New Zealand. They went by sea on the “Old Maori” or whatever the boat was called to Australia and were very upset by the way they were living over there. So after Mother died Dad begged them to come back to New Zealand to live which they did with their 4 children, and that wasn’t a good idea at all. In fact it was disastrous really, because Dad – in those days there weren’t the … these retirement villages are a million dollar marvel. There were no such things. There were old people’s homes I presume, but Dad – he was determined he was going to live with one of his family. He used to come up to me on the farm and that was absolutely fine because he was an ex farmer and he and my husband used to make gates and Dad used to do our vegetable garden and he chopped the kindling in those days … well, we did have electricity, but open fires and he did all the odd jobs and peeled the potatoes … he was a great asset to me. But unfortunately – he used to spend about three months with me and then he would go off back to his own neck of the woods and he would go and stay with my sister in Christchurch. He and my brother-in-law used to have heated arguments about politics.

Your own children – how many children did you have?

I’ve got three, and my older daughter Marianne was born in 1950 so it’s easy to remember. She’ll be 65 this year and she always … she went to boarding school here in Havelock – Iona College – and eventually went on to Waikato University and graduated MA. She went to England and had a year over there once she left Waikato, and came back to New Zealand for her sister’s wedding. Dianne was married – whenever – I can never remember – anyway she’s now been married nearly 40 years, my younger daughter. My older daughter has not married and she spent a year in New Zealand on the campus at Waikato, in the bookshop on the campus, but she wasn’t happy and she went back to England. And I went to England in 1980. My husband died in 1978. My son got married in 1979 and mother had to move out of the old farm house at Longlands, which was fair enough. The work was there and the animals and dogs and so on.

So I moved into Havelock North into an old villa in Gillean Street and I was there for 20 years. But my older daughter went off to England and I had said all my life “I’d hate to die and not see England.” You know we’re sort of English descent. Anyway I went off on my own. Looking back I thought “Oh gosh, how brave”. Anyway I was a lot fitter and certainly younger, and I found my daughter really quite unhappy – she couldn’t get a job and she was sleeping on a friend’s floor. Anyway I was quite worried about her but I stayed three months which was too long really.

But I had a cousin in London. He was one of my father’s sister’s sons, Barry, and he was a single guy, he was a bachelor. And he worked for National Bank of Westminster and he had a Bank flat in Westbourne Grove in London and he was on the fourth floor because he lived above the Bank. So I stayed with him and he had a car. He sold computer time to offices, shops and factories and he used to take me with him. ‘Course, people thought we were husband and wife because we looked about the same age. Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed that time apart from … my daughter would not come and stay with us. She was staying with a New Zealand friend who was working over there but she wasn’t very happy.

Anyway I duly came home. My son, ‘course he’d married in 1979 so they were living in the old home at Longlands so they weren’t far away. And my younger daughter, when she married, she and her husband went to Fiji for their honeymoon and when they came back they lived with us for a while, Ralph and I, in the old homestead, and he wasn’t very happy about that because … oh, that must have been before he was married I think, Barney got married … anyway, he was trying to cope with the farm and all sorts of problems.

Unfortunately when my – I don’t know whether I’m happy about this – but when my husband died he didn’t leave me anything apart from the car. They drove a Landrover which was used as a work horse. But I had to contest the will because I was very, very upset and could not understand why this had happened. So my son had to cope with … I contested the will, and they say the law is an ass … it took two years for that to come before the court. In the meantime I was only 59. I did not qualify for National Super – in those days it was 60. So I had to apply for a widow’s pension which was very humiliating.

Anyway I had a breakdown, and I was sent off to a private hospital in Dunedin for 3 months to cope with this situation. That was a worry for him too. The doctor I saw down there said to me when she was talking to me about my problem said “your son seems to come into this quite often” and I said “well I hate to have to say it, but when his father died he shut up. He didn’t speak to me”. And she said “I want to see him. So I want you to ring and ask him please to get on a plane.”

So I rang him. He said “I’m not coming.” I said “why not?” And he said “I’m too busy here, I’m fencing.” I said “look, the story of my life is there’s always been something more important than me. I’m just Mum around the place and I refuse to take it any more. If you don’t come down I won’t come back. I will find a life down here where I was born.” He said “I’ll be there tomorrow.”

So he rang back and said what time he’d be arriving and one of the staff took me over and met the plane. Anyway, he talked solidly for two hours about the fact that he always wanted to go and work down south – “A River Rules my Life” and Mona Anderson and stories about high country shepherding and ‘course I was born down there and he’d always heard about back country sheep stations. Anyway he was very upset that his father had said to him when he said that he would love to go, he said “right – if you go I’ll sell the farm.” And always I felt terribly sorry for him, but we had no communication – he wouldn’t talk to me. So he talked to Dr Highton about the hurt, about his sister going to England for a year.

His younger sister Dianne – she had a year in South Africa as a Rotary Exchange student when she was at Iona. She applied for it and she was bright too, and she just sat her UE as it was then, which she got. And my older daughter didn’t actually have to sit the exam. Apparently they were judged on their work and it was conferred, which was a pity because when she got to Waikato University they weren’t very happy about that. They were expected to sit the exam.

Anyway my younger daughter was not granted it. The headmistress said no, she was immature and she thought it would help her if she actually had to sit the exam. She left New Zealand not knowing whether she’d passed or not. Well she did pass, but her father said, I said to him “heavens above, I’ve never left New Zealand”. “Well” he said “it will be cheaper than keeping her another year at school so let her go to South Africa” and she was literally at school there although she had a wonderful time. She was an ambassador for New Zealand. She’s outgoing and bright and she talked about New Zealand and showed slides like they did then and all the rest of it. So my son naturally was jealous. Both the girls had had overseas trips but he … he wasn’t allowed. Well, he could have gone. Whether his father would have sold the farm I don’t know.

But anyway he only stayed a couple of nights and came back up here. My birthday was coming up on the 2nd December while I was down there and I said to my doctor “I’d like to be home for Christmas” and she said “well, we’re going to send you home for your birthday because you don’t want to spend it here”.

So I came home and things were very different from then on. I found my son had recovered from a lot of the trauma of his father’s death but the blessed court case dragged on, and of course eventually I decided … while I was away in hospital he’d met a very nice girl who he eventually married. But I was a bit dubious about one or two things, and I said to him “as soon as I can I want to go to England. I’ve always wanted to.” My husband never left New Zealand. He never went up in a plane – even to show the top dressing pilot where to put the top dressing. No, he was terrified of planes and things, although he had had a heart problem – a minor heart attack – and Dr Bostock said “if you are nervous on the plane or feel you’re in pain there’s an oxygen mask will drop down.” Even that didn’t encourage him to fly.

Anyway I said “I’m going to England” and my lawyer said to me “I will take your passport from you, Margaret. You are not leaving the country until the court case has been decided.” “Oh” I said “what am I doing – why do I battle on?” Anyway eventually the court case did come to court and an income was settled on me from the farm and so on. But it was very unsettling.

So I left for England feeling pleased the damn thing was over but found my daughter wasn’t very happy. Anyway I stayed too long – I think my cousin was thoroughly fed up with me by the time I left to come back home. He took Colombo Plan students and always had a boarder, and he said to me when I first arrived “Margaret, there are three things I don’t do. I don’t cook for anyone. I don’t lend anyone money … oh, I can’t remember the third one, it wasn’t very important”. But anyway I thought “well Lord love-a-duck what are we going to do if he doesn’t cook for anyone?” In his area, Westbourne Grove in London, there were 50 eating places and he got his midday meal at the Bank. He worked for the National Bank of Westminster and he said to me “you will have to go off on your own Margaret and prowl around.” I said “Lord, Barry, I don’t even know where the Houses of Parliament are or Big Ben.” So he took me … I arrived on a Friday and on the weekend he took me out and about and gave me an idea – because when you are in the other hemisphere the sun rises in a different place. I was utterly confused. I didn’t know where north was or south and I was … then on the Monday he went off to work. He said “well what are going to do today?” And I said “don’t worry about me Barry. If I can’t find my way round, too bad.” He said “well you’d better have a meal somewhere” because he was going to have his meal at the Bank. So that’s how we operated.

And then because he sold computer time to offices, shops and factories he went out into the country round the area, and I saw a lot of England – south of England. And then we went to Paris for a weekend and I had a very carefree time there. Although I was worried about my daughter but – oh well, anyway, she managed to get a job and she went into the publishing … she worked for McMillan Publishing and from then on she was okay.

I did go back to England. I’ve had three or four trips to London so I’ve been very lucky to be able to do that. As time went by my son was farming and – we have these droughts in Hawke’s Bay which are devastating.

My younger daughter by then was living in Palmerston North. She works at Massey University. She’s on the staff there on the overseas student department. She married an Irish boy, Kevin, and they’ve been to Ireland two or three times. He flew back when his mother died. They’re happily settled in Palmerston. They have two – Patrick is 28 and Francesca is 24. She is working in a local business – a bakery I think. She refused to go to University. She had three years of Iona but she’s always been apt to do her own thing.

Patrick has a very good job. He’s got his own business card. He works for a firm of motor parts or something, and neither of them are romantically engaged. They’re okay.

Anyway – Ralph, well he only had one son, Benjamin. Benjamin is 28. These two boys, my two grandsons – there’s only 6 weeks between them. I have three grandchildren, 2 boys and a girl. No great-grandchildren. I have warned these kids “don’t you have children until you’re married. Grandma doesn’t approve.” So whether that’s made any difference or not I don’t know.

I think they’ve all just left it a lot longer.

Anyway, Benjamin is now … he went to Australia. He did a science degree. He started at Massey and then he went on to Wellington and finished a science degree. He went to Australia and he’s been working in a bar, managing a bar in Melbourne. But I’m not sure if there’s a residency thing with Australia, but anyway, he went to Lindisfarne boarding school. He didn’t board, he was a day boy. My son had three years at Lindisfarne. And anyway Benjamin left school and did his degree and went off to Australia.

Now he’s in Canada. He was in Vancouver for several months, also managing a bar there. He’s 6 foot, charming – says Grandma – but he is a very likeable young man and he gets on very well with people. So he’s in Canada – he’s somewhere else, he’s not in Vancouver – I can never remember just what these young people are doing but he’s working and he’s very happily settled there. Well he won’t be able to stay, the residency things apply. I don’t know what his future plans are. Nobody seems to know. I said to him when he came home for Christmas a year ago “why on earth aren’t you getting a proper job using your science degree?” “Oh, grandma, I’m just doing my big OE at the moment.” “Well” I said “you’re getting older all the time.” Well life changes for these young people.

They have a different attitude. So does Ralph still have the farm?

We had three droughts in a row – and he came to me – it was Mother’s Day. I was living in Arcadia Lane then in a nice little townhouse and he said to me “Mum, I’m going to sell the farm” with tears running down his face. I said “that’s fine with me. Your health is more important.” He had a breakdown. His wife hid the guns … and I said “that’s fine with me – to hell with the farm. Your health is more important.”

So he sold the farm and that was eight or nine years ago when farms were just beginning to come on the market and fetching very big prices. He’s never told me and I’ve never asked what he got for the farm. And they looked for somewhere to live – they looked at all the ads. They heard about this lifestyle property up Te Mata Peak Road through the grapevine. It never came on the market. A man and his wife, retired farmers, were living there. He died and she was finding the garden too much. It had a bit of land with it, 11 acres or something. It just suited them – they just fell in love with it. Dianne just loves it.

It’s a beautiful property because it’s got all these little paddocks.

They’re as happy … well, that was fine. Ralph’s health improved with the understanding doctor. Anyway he was too young to retire. He’ll be 63 this birthday and he was too young to retire, so he now works driving a truck for Apatu and Son – harvesting – I think they’re harvesting sweet corn at the moment. He works through the season driving, harvesting – whatever, and working all hours. He had a day off yesterday. That’s when we went to Palmerston to see my younger daughter before her birthday.

They travel a lot, they’re canny. My daughter-in-law works for two women doctors in Hastings at the Medical Centre. They live fairly plainly. Their ambition now is to see the world before they’re too old. She’s had a cancer scare and he’s had a health problem with his breakdown. So I think the attitude today is more to enjoy the day.

Now you made a reference earlier about playing golf. Where did you play golf?

I – when my younger daughter went to school my husband bought me a puppy which he eventually ran over, which upset him terribly – but anyway, I thought what on earth am I going to do? Because I knew it was a ’no no’ to go back teaching. He wouldn’t be happy about that. So I started to play golf and I really loved those years. I played at Bridge Pa and a lot of their records were burnt. They had a fire sometime several years ago and they could never find out when I first started to play golf so I never became a life member. But I really enjoyed those years and today I belong to a group at Bridge Pa of senior ladies (they call us) and they have a putting competition on that front lawn. We do 9 holes twice and then we go up and have lunch.

Great idea.

Yes, it’s great, because you are in contact with other people in your age group and it’s a social occasion – you have lunch.

Now obviously you drove a car during your married life.

I learnt to drive when I was a student in Dunedin. I had a boyfriend, believe it or not, down there who badly wanted to marry me, and I said “Oh no – I’ve got the world at my feet, I don’t want to get married when I’m only 19” or whatever I was. No way. And he was a local farmer. He had a bit of a farm out of Dunedin. But – he taught me to drive a car. In those days you had to double the clutch and I felt very clever. Anyway when I married we only had one vehicle when we first went to live at Longlands, and my husband had to go up to the other farm at Crownthorpe every day – all the sheep were up there and the main farming and I had no way of getting out but it didn’t worry me. I was so happy in my own home and the garden. And eventually my older daughter Marianne started school at 5. I didn’t believe in Kindergarten or Play Centre or anything else. You lose them soon enough and they were happy playing around at home. Anyway I said to my husband “you’ve got to get me transport.” This child had to go down to the school bus at the corner. So I had the car and he bought himself a Landrover. So from then on – well – and I still drive at 96. I fortunately have good eyesight and it’s a marvellous way to be independent. I’m very lucky I’m still driving.

It’s wonderful to be able to drive still.

When I was living at Longlands I wanted to do something with wool. Now they formed a group at Keirunga – a spinning and weaving group. I’m one of the foundation members of it and I learned to spin. When I was teaching out in the country I bought a spinning wheel for the school and I taught the girls to spin. Some of the boys liked spinning too. And we used to go round and collect the wool off the fences, and so I’d always had an interest in it and that started me … I still belong to a group at Keirunga. I don’t spin any more. I can’t carry the spinning wheel around, but there’s a group up there, it’s gone on for year after year and changed over the years and I just take some knitting and go for the company. And I’m involved in – I play bridge twice a week. It’s wonderful that I can keep up my interests because I drive.

It’s interesting – in a lot of the interviews I’ve been doing, some people have been 98, some 95, some 96, 97. All of those people have got a very positive attitude about life. They’re doers.

They’re the older generation.

But they are doing things – they haven’t sat back waiting.

You’ve had to, Mr Cooper.

I know. I think it’s really wonderful that you have got such a sharp mind.

I’m very lucky. People say to me “how do you do it?” I’ll tell you what, I’ve got pride. I – now this leg – I hurt it on the putting green down here and yesterday – I never mentioned it. They don’t want to hear about my sore leg when they’re going down to a happy occasion.

Pride. You won’t give in. My husband humiliated me, and what I didn’t realise – excuse me saying this, I hated men. The world revolves around men I realise – in all the power situations and so on. But it’s changing, and I’m sorry it’s changing, because I think women try to do too much. But that’s the way the wars have changed this position of women.

I said after this blessed contesting the will and all the rest of it – I went to see Penn Scannell, he was my husband’s lawyer. I said “I’ve never called a man a bastard before but I’m calling you one. Why didn’t you advise my husband better?” and he said “well that was his wish”. And I said “but you could have given him advice to say that he was obliged to leave his wife something. How was she going to live?” Oh, and he muttered and mumbled – I nearly ran over him one day in Hastings. I wish I had now but I didn’t want to be hung for murder.

Thank goodness those times have gone and there’s some equality back in the system.

I’m just Mum around the place. The kids call me Mum. They’ve never called me by my first name and I think it’s up to the woman to stand up for herself. I don’t dominate the children or anything. My son would laugh and say “yes you do Mother” just to tease me. But I now have a very different attitude to men because I’ve met some very nice men, and I find that they support you – my lawyer, my doctor are very fine men. Mind you they are trained to listen, but if you want to talk about your problems who will listen, who wants to hear about it? So I find men who are good listeners, and just men in general I find have changed. Women have expected it.

How long have you been ..?

I’ve just been here 4 years last Wednesday. I moved in the day of the Christchurch earthquake. Ralph just plugged in my radio and said “Good Lord, Christchurch has just had an earthquake.” So that helps me.

Oh, it’s a sad place Christchurch. I decided myself – I was living in Arcadia Lane and I said to myself – there’s nobody about in the day time, everybody works. It’s quiet and the weekends are deadly. People either go out to their beach house or play golf. I thought what on earth am I doing here? And my great friend, the one who went fruit picking with me – they were transferred back to …. he was area manager of the whole South Otago area, and when I was in hospital down there they were marvellous to me. They really were. I would have been very unhappy if it hadn’t been for them. But anyway, they retired back up here, and they lived in Iona Road which wasn’t far and we picked one another up and we went to films and we played golf. And then she got ill, and moved into Duart and I thought the time has come. So I rang my lawyer, Jeremy Gresson and said “Jeremy I’m going to move”. “Oh yes Margaret where are you going to move to?” and I said “Mary Doyle.” He said “Great. If you’d asked me I would have said Mary Doyle”. “Oh” I said “would you? Well I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.” He said “when are you going?” and I said “as soon as I can sell this place.” And sadly my friend died, her anniversary is coming up 4 years in March, not long after I’d moved here. I rang my son and said “I’m going to move” and he said “are you?”. I said “yes, I’m moving into Mary Doyle.” “ Oh yeah?” He was marvellous. He hung all my pictures. Well, he hung them all a bit high because he’s tall – but he did so much for me. He’s a handy man – a lot of farmers they can do things.

Anyway here I am. I know the furniture is a bit big. We bought it on our honeymoon in Christchurch at Ballantyne’s – because I was married in Christchurch and we spent our honeymoon round the Southern Alps and down that end of New Zealand. Anyway, here I am and it ticks all the boxes for me. I even win Lotto. It’s got everything. I’ve got two bedrooms and the care and the … I just feel I’ve done the right thing.

Original digital file

HarperMN889_Final_Aug16.ogg

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Audio Recording

Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

889/37542

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