Marjory Cecil Fowler Interview
Well my name’s Cecil Fowler. I was born Marjory Cecil Crompton in 1921 on the 29th June and at that time my parents lived in Appleby Magna in Leicestershire in the centre of England more or less. I lived in England until when I was ten my parents decided to move out to New Zealand. In England I went to school at a local school and then to boarding school at Folkestone by the Sea, and then in 1931 … Oh, we did have holidays overseas, we had two wonderful holidays in Switzerland and we also holidayed usually in beach places in England. But 1931 in November we set sail for New Zealand on the MV (Motor Vessel) Port Fremantle with the Commonwealth Dominion Line, and came to New Zealand via Panama. And we came on a ship that had only room for twelve passengers, and actually worked out that my father came as ship’s doctor and so there were … we formed half the passengers on the ship. We did stop at Panama which was interesting, and then briefly at Auckland but finally went ashore in Wellington where we lived for the next few months.
My parents took a house at Lower Hutt in Old Military Road. Those of us of school age went to school. My older sisters and brother went with my parents on different trips by car. We had – I think it was an Avon Ford – round … I don’t think they went to the South Island, but round the North Island looking for somewhere where they wanted to live. Finally my father, on a trip to Hawke’s Bay, decided he’d found the right place and sent a telegram to the effect that he’d found this house. He called it a baronial bungalow – bungalow because we were not used to one-storey houses; baronial because of the wood panelling in the hall. That was where we decided to settle.
Now at that stage the house had been unoccupied since the earthquake which had been approximately a year before – the Napier Earthquake, but the repairs had been done. But old Mrs Ellison for whom the house had been built, I think by her brother, Mason Chambers, up the hill – she didn’t want to go back and live there. The earthquake really, I suppose, gave her a fright, so we moved up there.
I had a term at school in … or most of a term at school in Lower Hutt, and then we came up to Hawke’s Bay in April and settled. All our stuff … all our furniture followed us to Te Puna. The house had been neglected for a year, or I don’t know if the house had been neglected but the garden had been neglected, and so my father was immediately interested in getting it the way he wanted it. And I suppose my mother was doing the same in the house.
Those of us of school age – the three of us – my elder sister Nancy and my brother Lee were both left school, but Janet who was six years our senior and Kathryn and I went as day pupils to Iona College which was a mile’s walk away. In those days there was no high school in Havelock, and so that was a convenient school for us to go to. It was walking a mile down the hill, down Tanner Street and up the other side of the hill, and we used to walk each day to school and back. And we had to be there at eight in the morning. Later when my sister Kathryn, and then later I were in the school orchestra which meant we had to be there before eight in the morning to play the … to get into line with the orchestra to play the morning hymns for assembly.
How many students did you say there were?
There were … Iona had suffered very much from the ‘quake. They’d been closed for a year because the building had had to be rebuilt. It was rebuilt very carefully of anti earthquake stuff, not with brick, because there were so many disasters happened after or during the big ‘quake with the brick so it was built of light material. But anyhow, my older sisters didn’t last as long as I did, but I was there for I think from Standard 4 to when I left with my UE [University Entrance] finally achieved.
Were you a model student?
No. [Chuckle] I was … I was tolerated very much, but I was an active student in every sense of the word, looking back on it. We’d had – I suppose we had a lot of opportunities because it was a small school. Later on I was in the orchestra which was a great experience, learnt the violin, and like a lot of the kids I did piano lessons and speech training. I was lucky, I got the lead in the school play when I was in the fourth form, which was quite a special thing. I played the part of Charlotte Bronte in a play about her and had to die touchingly on the stage.
But I was very active, and as I say, being a small school I suppose we were all involved in things, so I was in stuff like the speech and the drama and then in sport in the hockey and tennis team. I was very keen on tennis, was never top of the ladder, I was one from the top of the ladder. I never got to the top of the ladder. But we had a lot of opportunities to have a lot of different kind of activities. One of the things we had was Saturday nights as – being a boarding school, the kids had to be entertained I suppose, on Saturday. We had a lot of experience putting on plays, making up plays and Saturday nights a class or a group would put on entertainment for the rest of the school, so I got very interested in plays and drama and that kind of thing.
The staff there were, some of them remained friends after we left school. Miss Seaward was the art teacher. I don’t know that she was ever my friend. When I went back years later to teach there, I can remember her coming back and looking through the window into the classroom where I was teaching, and to the amazement of the pupils who were in the class, turning round and pulling faces at me and waving her arms and so on to indicate that she was surprised to see me in the role of teacher instead of being … I suppose I had been just a horrible child. Yes.
Did she teach you?
Yeah – ’cause she taught all the art. But she was very good with the kids letting them do quite a variety of activities according to how much time they’d got available I suppose. A sister who was in the sixth form and had an art period did quite a lot of different kind of art activity, whereas I never got as far as that and I only had her when I was a junior at the school. I met her as a teacher of course, but didn’t have the benefit of her teaching in terms of being an art student.
And what was your nickname for her?
Oh, “Seabird” of course. [Chuckle] She was never a disliked person. She was quite a character. Some of the teachers there … ‘Willie’, who was the music teacher for many years – she was … remained a friend until her death a few years ago. She was …
Do you remember her surname?
Miss Williamson. Winifred Williamson I think, but ‘Willie’ was always her nickname. The Principal when we first went there was Miss Stollery, who I’m going to describe as a rather magnificent woman, and she ended up at the end of my third or fourth form year – as Principal … she was Principal of the school and she married the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Mr J B Campbell, whose father was the founder of the school. We had great fun of course, children being what they are, watching with great interest from the upper windows when JB brought her back from taking her out for an evening or … [Chuckle] You can imagine the interest and the possible bookings on the right windows where you had a good view.
Was she the principal who talked about the girls in the village?
Yes – oh, she was… she would dramatise things. She was a brilliant … she would have been on the stage if it hadn’t been for … she had a very serious limp, she’d had polio … and so she walked with a pronounced limp. But during the war she gave play readings in Hastings that used to fill the Town Hall – or it wasn’t called the Town Hall, it was called the something … Anyhow, she used to give play readings to raise funds for the Patriotic Fund or whatever. But she would dramatise occasions, and I can remember her taking assembly and coming in, and looking gravely in the distance which always meant that she’d got something terrible to tell us. “Gels, I’ ve had some terrible news yesterday. Two of our gels were seen down the village” … and we thought ‘ooh, what’s coming next?’ [Chuckle] “Without their gloves”. [Chuckle] And so that of course … nobody was allowed to laugh out loud at that, but the cynical older ones laughed out loud and … laughed silently I suppose. She made a drama of things.
I thought you were going to use her voice. I think you should.
“Gels” … no, I can’t do it. [Laughter] She was sometimes a good Principal and sometimes less wise, I suppose everyone has their own wisdom. While she was there there was a lot of emphasis given to drama. Our plays used to be really quite magnificent affairs. Miss Seaward used to do the stage setting, with the old fashioned flys on the side of the stage. And she did – I can remember one year there was a snow scene with glowing windows, and snow on the flys and the backdrop and so on. It was really quite magnificent. And then – this is just for a school production – and then that would be in the interval taken down and a different set of flys put up for the next act in the play or whatever it was.
Janet got very involved in the drama, she was the oldest of the three of us who went to Iona, and Janet later on went to drama school, The Acton Bond Drama School, and from then on went into working on the stage for a while until the war interrupted all that. Kathryn was strongly academic. She was a very good conscientious student, worked hard, did everything that she should do. And I was a disaster I think, because I didn’t do any of those things.
Tell us about some of the things that you did do which are quite … well, very memorable, and may not have been done by students since.
Yes, well I got into various forms of strife. [Chuckle] I do remember one day we were … I’ve forgotten the occasion, it was some occasion … so we were allowed to – there was no schoolwork that day, and we could take what we liked outside, our reading or sewing or anything else we chose to do – sports – and spend the day like that. Only I got side-tracked because I’d never been for a full exploring expedition upstairs. And so I got another student to join me and we went up to the third floor, and there was a manhole in the ceiling that I also wanted to go through. And so we went through the manhole in the ceiling and got through up on to the … so we were between the tiles and the ceiling. And the stupid girl stuck her foot through the plasterboard that was between the …
Beams, yes. And so … I mean I was very evil, going up there in the first place but I couldn’t do damage without admitting it. So I can remember going down and knocking on the Principal’s door and – I thought she was so stupid, that I wasn’t taking all the blame myself. [Chuckle] I think I was bad tempered. Anyhow Mac came towards me, Miss McNeil – I suppose she saw trouble in the distance when she saw me, I don’t know. But I said “Please Miss McNeil, we’ve put our foot through the third storey ceiling”. She did ask me to repeat it, and this was one of the difficult moments in my career, but there you are. But that’s what happened. But Mac was wonderful.
Did she succeed Stollery?
Yes, yes. She was academic. – I think a very bright woman. As far as I was concerned she was quite wonderful as a Principal both when I was a pupil, in spite of the strife I got into, and later on I went back to teach there, and she employed me as a teacher after all that.
I used to normally walk to school … sometimes we … oh, no I probably normally biked to school most of the time, occasionally walked. It was a mile … just a mile from our house across to the school and they didn’t have many pupils. After the ‘quake the numbers went down to thethirties, and so that when we were enrolled at Iona the numbers went from thirty-six to thirty-nine I think – that was half way through the first term it would have been. So my sister was put in – older sister – was put in an odd-bod kind of a class – forgotten what they called it – and Kathryn went into thethird form and I was put in Standard 4. I don’t know on what basis. Nobody tried us out to see what we were doing or anything but that’s what happened. I stayed there until I’d got my UE and become a prefect and things like that.
Well we got very into our country life. We had two cows – Camel, we called her Camel because she had sort of rather a lumpy back – and then later on we had another one called Primrose because she was a sort of creamy colour. And Nancy became quite interested in farming and that kind of thing, and milked the cows. And Lee learned to milk the cows too, and then we got a pigpen built but … oh yes, before we got the pigpen built, we got the pigs, didn’t we? [Chuckle] And that was probably a mistake.
But Nancy and I were dispatched to Hastings with the car to the sales Saturday to buy two pigs, which we duly did. And some efficient men put them in a box and put the box on the carrier, which in those days was an A30 … A-whatever it was … Ford car – had just an outside carrier at the back. And we were just crossing Havelock bridge when there was a kind of sharp staccato sound, and I looked out of the back window and saw two pigs on the bridge. Because it was Saturday sales, everyone had finished shopping midday Saturday, and everyone was coming out of Hastings to Havelock and there were the two pigs in the middle of the bridge in the middle of the … in the middle of this. And so we got out of the car to try and catch the pigs, and a lot of men on their way back from work also got out of their cars and we had a pig chase in the middle of the Havelock bridge. Nancy was an attractive young woman, and so I think there was no lack of kind helpers who came to help. And we finally got the pigs back in the crate and they were put in a shed for the night. And then early the next morning we could see the pigs half way up the Peak, [chuckle] working their way firmly up heading towards the Tukituki, you might say. And so they had quite a run for it, those pigs, I reckon.
Did you have horses?
We had horses – Lee had a grey – we all had horses to begin with. Lee had a grey horse called Steel, nice horse, about sixteen hands I think. For a while Janet had one that she loved very much, but then somehow there was some muck up that … we thought we were buying it, and then the person decided that no, they weren’t selling it or something … so that was sort of a shame. Then Nancy had a fall off her horse – had quite bad concussion for quite … was in bed for quite a time, and that must have been in the first year or so we were there.
Lee went to Ruakura to learn to farm. In those days there was a kind of trainee place that took as it were, cadets on. And after that he worked in various kinds of farms, sheep, pig, cows, and different kinds of ones he went and worked at.
Nancy went to Lower Hutt – no Upper Hutt – and learnt to be a … learnt poultry farming and started a poultry farm.
At Te Puna?
At Te Puna, yes, in the paddock uphill of us, a paddock more or less to the east or the south-east of the house, behind the garage.
Janet and my mother went to England for a year. Janet was never happy that we’d come to New Zealand and she wanted very much to get into drama, which she later did. And she went to a drama school in London – Acton Bond Drama School. My mother came back after visiting her sister who’d just lost her husband. So that left Lee on farms, and Nancy doing various things, and Kathryn going on through school. And she went down to Canterbury University where she stayed at Bishop Julius Hostel, then later on came back and taught at Iona, before going down to Wellington to … where she worked in a Government Department for a while.
My father got very involved with local activities. Once the war came of course, he was a retired doctor and he gave lectures to the Red Cross various groups. And my mother had always been … painted, and she always exhibited at the art show in Napier. The Hawke’s Bay Arts thing used to have a show every year and she always had her paintings in that, and … watercolours.
Nancy did various jobs. She worked at one stage selling stuff down in Wellington, and I went and spent her holidays with her which was very interesting. She was selling really exquisite linen and silks and that kind of thing. She would get invited to this place to display it – it wasn’t going out and … a hard sell or anything like that – it was just doing a beautiful display of art stuff and … for a group of people.
You may like to talk about her shop in…?
Yes. And she had a shop in Napier, the Bluebird Florist, next to – just downhill from the Masonic Hotel. It would be on the west side I suppose of the Masonic Hotel. There were some little shops there and she had the one next to the hotel. She’d … while in Wellington she’d worked in a florist shop, and so learnt how to do floral work. So that was her main interest.
Would you like to talk about the railway?
Oh, she had – Nancy had a lot of friends. She had a … she had a very kind heart and was always looking after people. One of the people she looked after – her name was Hurricane Kate – and her problem was she’d got on to meths in her thirties and it hadn’t done her any good. , but I think Nancy probably found her in a state where she needed some help and gave her the help that was needed.
But there were various people she got to know and people got to know her. And I remember there was a train driver who drove a slow train. I think it was the one that went to Waipawa each day. He would stop the train if he saw some really nice grasses that he thought Nancy would like for her window in her shop, and he would stop the train and get off and pick the grasses for her and bring them back. Because she was – as I say, she seemed to meet people and get to know people like that.
Meantime you were riding round the Havelock hills on your pony?
Yes. That was a bit later that she had the shop. But I had a pony as a child. We all had the chance for one, but things happened to the others. But I had ‘Saucey’ for quite a long time and … until I was in the third Form and was boarding at Iona, and so I couldn’t exercise it and to my great indignation it was given to somebody else to have.
Where did you go?
I used to ride over the hills, often with the shepherds who would have to check … There were sheep all over the hills and of course you have to check sheep each day to make sure they’re not cast, or anything else awkward happen to them. There was an old gentleman who’d fought in World War 1 – Mr Drummond – I used to ride with him sometimes when he went out round some paddocks that he looked after. And I also used to, before that and after that, there were – I suppose they were brothers, they were Rangi and Cargill Joll – they had paddocks they had to cover and check, and I would go out with them. Looking back on it, what nice young blokes they must have been. They must have been twenty-ish, and here’s a scruffy ten or twelve year old trotting along, joining in. But it was interesting because I saw different life with them from what I saw from home. I remember there were people down in the village – no, not down in the village – in those days you could clearly distinguish between, you might say, the village and the ‘hillage’. The ‘hillage’ were the girls from the village would come up and do the chores in the houses in the ‘hillage’. That’d be right. I lost my thread there.
You said you saw a variety of life …
Yeah. And anyhow, one time – I think it was when I was riding with Rangi and Cargill – that because they would allow me to tag along and help, which was great of them looking back on it – I can remember one time coming along and there was furniture put out by the side of the road between the house, and there was a ditch, and the road. One of the boys sat talking to the other had made some remark about it, and it was kind of hushed up by the other. But what’d happened was that an elderly couple rented this house from a well known Hawke’s Bay … Havelock personality, and the man had an annuity – or a monthly one, whatever you call it – and he had died. And the landlord, knowing he’d get no more money from them, had had the furniture taken out of the house and the house made available for somebody else to have. And I can remember the two young men, one of them making some very bitter remarks, and being shushed up by his brother as being unsuitable language in front of a lady, kind of business. I suppose it was that.
Do you know what happened to the widow?
No, I don’t know.
Do you remember Bob Given, the blacksmith?
Oh yes, because I’d take my pony to be shod there. I don’t know what he remembered about me, but when I came back to New Zealand with the kids, we went round the village. I had to show the kids the blacksmiths’ shop. I knew it was something really fascinating, and when he looked at me and found out who I was and that kind of thing, he laughed and laughed and laughed. I don’t know what he was laughing at [chuckle] – I’ll never know. But to see me bringing in kids of my own age, you know. Yeah, so that remains a mystery.
He was a great character wasn’t he?
Yes, he was very nice because if he was doing my pony I would of course stay to supervise.
Yeah. And he never wore …
He never wore a shirt.
… anything on his top. He just wore a leather apron over his trousers, even in braces. He was Scottish and he had false teeth, which he’d sort of push out while he was thinking. But very hardy.
I’d see him striding across the village to the Post Office to pick up his mail with his big apron slung in front of him.
Do you remember Miss Dyson?
Dorothy Dyson, yes.
Who rode horses – loved horses.
She later taught Bob Given … when Bob’s wife died, she taught him to cook.
I remember that vaguely, yeah.
What do you remember about Dorothy Dyson?
I remember her telling … there must have been something musical on, some Gilbert & Sullivan … and I can remember her telling my parents that she preferred grand opera to comic opera. ‘Cause she came from a well-to-do family.
Poor lady, she lived in absolute poverty up Duart Road.
You know the brick building just down Duart from the top of Muritai Crescent – there was a little space in there where … you went down into a paddock and there was a little …
Oh that’s right.
… shack. And she lived in there … but she loved her horses.
She had two horses that … she spent her life riding them or leading them or cutting grass for them. Yes. And of course everybody thought she was absolutely eccentric, but she was an interesting person.
So, did you want to tell about the farm manager?
Well I almost did. There was a time when my brother-in-law was asked to go and spend the night with a highly esteemed elder of a Presbyterian Church, because the elder of the Presbyterian Church, and a highly esteemed important person had socially made passes at his Station Manager’s wife – for the Station Manager to stay behind and not go round the sheep that day, and to come to the rescue of his wife and threaten to horsewhip this respected Havelock gentleman. And I think Bernard was asked to go and stay the night there for a few nights in case he did come and carry out his threat, which would’ve shocked his wife and daughters.
Oh, that’s sad. Would have shocked everybody.
Would you like to talk a bit about Grandpa and the moas?
Yes – well my father was a doctor and interested in natural history particularly. And he became involved with keeping the Napier museum open after the ‘quake and he was on the museum committee. At one stage he was chairperson or something of whatever the museum committee was called. But that was in the thirties, and during the war when people couldn’t be spared for unimportant jobs like looking after the museum, a lot of the members of the committee would take it in turns to keep the museum open and spend the day there. And I think Mr Bestall and my father, Dr Crompton, they were the ones who kept the museum going through the war years. He would go in in the morning and open it at about ten o’clock and maybe close it at three or something like that. But he was not a young person by then, and it did keep the museum going.
And he was one of the kind of experts that when anything scientific was found they would ring him up. I can remember one day going – having got off school for the purpose – going out to a farm where they had found a moa skeleton. And it was … two rocks really, had … flat kind of things … had come against each other and left a crack. And I think – we thought that the moa must have got its legs in the crack and so the moa body bones and leg bones had fallen down in the crack. Most of the neck bones and the skull had disintegrated because that would have been exposed to the elements above the crack you see, and so that hadn’t survived but the rest had. It was quite interesting to see the way that it had happened. I would try and always get out on these extra trips of my father’s to see these things.
Maybe tell about the … going to get the egg.
The egg? Oh yes, across the road when you get down to the Tukituki, just across the river and to the left of it there were the caves there that you could get into in those days. It wasn’t very pleasant getting into them actually – my experience, because I went over there riding ponies over there, just doing a bit of exploring into the caves. But there were caves there where moas must have been because there was a moa egg found there. My father was told about it through the museum and he went out with a sieve and got all the topsoil off the area round where the egg was broken, and brought it back and spent the next few months I think, putting it together. It was rather like a jigsaw puzzle but without a picture to go by. I think he probably stuck it together with stamp hinges to put the egg together, because at that time there was no museum in New Zealand that had a moa’s egg in it. And this was certainly a broken … a fragmented one, but it was a whole one. All the other ones at that stage were either in American or British or overseas museums. There were none actually in New Zealand museums.
Maybe you’d like to mention how it was discovered?
Oh, a man was just getting limestone out from under the caves I suppose, and he just saw the round thing there and touched it with his pick and it just fragmented. And they rang the museum and the museum let my father know and he went out and rescued it.
And he put together the skeleton together too, didn’t he?
Actually made up a skeleton.
And my mother used to come home and find the bath might be full of moa bones, or she might come and find the front door steps covered with moa bones drying in the sun after they had their bath, yes. [Chuckle]
He was sorting them into different species?
Yes. Yes. I can still remember words like dinornous as being the most likely one for the area and so on, because he sent for all the available information he could get on them as soon as these bones started coming into the museum. And so there’d be books on moas around, and then putting them together.
I remember – is it Dr Oliver from the Wellington museum coming up to go hunting ..?
… hunting for moa bones with Grandpa.
That’s right. Dr Oliver was a friend of my father’s. He was the museum curator in Wellington. And I later got to know his son quite well who was at University when I was there at Victoria.
Maybe you’d like to talk about the impressions that your family had on coming to Havelock North, and the social and political life.
I don’t know. There were every possible kind of religion and interest group and so on that you could find. And of course Havelock was cranks’ village, and I think we lived by cranks’ corner, and it was … ‘course Dr Felkin, and as well as his group there, there were lots of other little groups – the Bris Israelites – there were … what’s that called … can’t think of the various names of them but various … various religious minority groups.
There was Radiant Living.
Radiant Living came later, that was more commercial as I remember it. But that was Sutcliffe. That wasn’t ’til about the, I should think, about ’38, something like that – quite late.
And then of course, the Anthroposts. [Anthroposophists]
The Anthroposts [Anthroposophists] were there. They found us some relations going back about a hundred years – some relationship between our family and theirs. Crompton-Smiths. They were Anthroposophists – we got to know them. I think that when I was a kid they had their orchard across … along – what’s the road called now?
No, the one off Tanner.
No, it went the other way, the one you walked along. Joll Road goes this way …
… and then there’s another, up the hill and across the creek.
Up onto – like, Iona?
As if you’re going up to Iona, but there’s a road to the left. Anyhow …
Oh, it’s a little …
Anyhow, there were orchards along there – there were two orchards along there. I used to go over there quite often – they were distant relatives and they were a very nice family, because looking back on it I was a twelve year old kid, and Percy must have been a very nice third or fourth form boy at High School – and I used to be able to join in whatever they were doing.
Yeah. He was such a pleasant, cheerful person. The last time I met him he was very serious, very … quite different. Yeah.
You talked about their sister, Nancy.
Nancy was charming.
Who became a Bacchus?
Yeah. Nancy Bacchus she became, yeah, and she was a very sweet girl. Cheerful, bright, smiling.
And they were brought up by….
They were brought up by Cousin Ethel who … I think Cousin Syd’s wife had died, and Cousin Ethel, his sister, had come and brought up the two … Percy and Nancy.
Golly. Maybe you would like to tell about some of the activities you did down on the orchard.
Oh we used to have great fun when we had … lit bonfires and cooked. Nancy would make up something like a scone mixture or something like that, and so we’d make – what d’you call them?
Dampers in the oven – dampers on the fire. Hm?
You’re talking about Nancy Bacchus … Nancy Crompton-Smith?
Yes, Nancy Crompton-Smith. She was that kind of a person, you know, she was always happy.
But she married a very serious man.
Yes, yes – could never understand it.
Do you want to talk about your experience of the Felkins and going over there?
Going to Christmas at the Felkins’?
Oh. Well I don’t remember it very much except that we used to be invited over there, and it was … we had to be very serious. Mrs Felkin would give you the – what do you call it with the incense in it?
Yeah, one of those. And you’d swing that. Then she’d have a little manger and a little … everything set out very nicely for the Christmas scene. I know Mrs – was it Mrs Joe Williams? Think it was Mrs Joe Williams, one of the ladies who had a house down … I think she is reputed to have not … when she was given the incense holder to hold, instead of swinging it in the conventional way she said “no idea what to do … fair enough. North, south, east, west – here’s luck to everybody”. [Chuckles] That was the story that we heard anyhow.
Bt there were people like Miss Atkins who I used to call on. My mother would say “you mustn’t go and be a nuisance”. I used to visit her, and she was interesting. Miss Matheson was another one, the potter – I used to go and visit her. ‘Cause there weren’t any kids in the neighbourhood, that was the trouble.
And Miss Atkins was the craftswoman wasn’t she?
Yes. Yes, and she was just across the road from the end of the drive and straight across – that was her place. She told me stories about … I’m trying to remember, it must have been in the twenties, there was this group of young people who dressed in Athenian garb, I think, as it were, and carried staves in their hand and would leap over a gate using the staff to help them leap over it – a bit I remember of the story … and these were people from the 1920s they’re talking about I think, because we went there at the beginning of the 1930s.
Do you think they were part of Felkin’s lot? Did she tell you as though they were part of the Felkins’ lot?
I think that’s where they belonged to, yes.
And Miss Atkins told you about being on the train in England, and … a non-corridor train … and there was a gentleman sitting there who mentioned that he had been arrested by the Police being suspected of being Jack the Ripper.
Oh that’s right yeah.
And also …
Make everyone in the place suitably nervous.
… she told you about going to Russia, was it? Do you remember you had the tapestry she gave you?
Yeah. No that was from – that was in the Middle East, yes.
Going on a train ..? Was it you went on a train?
I don’t remember that, I’m sorry.
You know how the end of Te Puna was cut off?
And made into a cottage on …
… what is now Ellison Road. Was that for the youngest Ellison?
I don’t know. That was before … that was done before we got there. I don’t know anything about it.
And maybe you’d like to talk about the activities that Grandpa involved you in, and his political life.
Yes, Grandpa was, I might say …
This is your father of course.
Yes. When the National Party was formed – the previous body having collapsed – they formed this new National Party and my father being by then a suitable Conservative, I think he was President of the local National Party branch. We had got … he’d got the garden into really looking beautiful and we had a National Party garden party there. My job was to … there was a sheep, and you had to guess its weight. Bernard Chambers and I were responsible for looking after the sheep and people guessing its weight. I got quite near it actually, by absolute chance.
Why were they having the garden party?
To raise funds for the new National Party. So they were taking all the membership thing and I joined the National Party, [chuckle] so I’ve taken pleasure on occasion of saying: “Speaking as a member of … speaking as a foundation member of the National Party …”
That would really surprise people.
Yes. Yes, they don’t always believe it but I can’t help that. It was true.
Grandpa was also concerned, or involved with the ESU, the English Speaking Union locally?
A bit – and Granny.
And the British Music Society.
We had a lot to do with that, and what was really nice was that we got to have a lot of visitors would come and stay the night at Te Puna and go into Hastings and I suppose give a concert and that kind of thing, but would in the meantime practise on the piano. So that was pleasant for us. I can remember Nancy was ill one time, she’d been bitten I think, by a katipo spider. The swelling wouldn’t go down, and she was in a bed on the verandah. But I’m trying to think … one of the visiting musicians giving her quite a beautiful concert [chuckle] from the drawing room through across the verandah. Yep.
And also, you remember later with Sylvia Ashton-Warner ..?
No, I don’t remember.
When there was a British Persons’ Society – that’s what it was, wasn’t it? The Music Society?
She was a teacher.
Yes … her … sitting in the middle of the drawing room floor. This was later.
No, I can’t remember that I’m sorry.
I remember Lily Krause coming to stay for the night.
Oh, Lily Krause was a special favourite.
Oh, she was lovely. She arrived and she took off her tights and threw them off to one side and ran all over the lawn, saying “oh, this is lovely on my bare feet.”
Yes. [Chuckle] She was Kathryn’s … I think she might be John’s godmother, yes. But I never saw that, but I heard about it, yeah.
I wonder if you might have mentioned about how you went on trips to Taupo and what it was like …
What the road was like.
… particularly after that big storm in 1936.
That’s right. Well, we had this …. I think some money became available and my parents built this cottage … had this cottage built at Taupo by the Havelock builder, Achilles Toop. The year that was being built the doctor said I had been over-working, which brought screams of laughter from my family, but anyhow he said I needed a break from school and my parents took me to Taupo with them while the cottage was being built. So that was interesting.
Do you remember the big storm of 1936?
Yes, coming back – it was very stormy in Taupo, I can remember holding a tin of soup and watching to see the wind deflect it when you dropped it, because it was windy at Taupo too. But we couldn’t get down that road from Taupo to Napier – that was closed for a few days so we couldn’t go home at the usual time. And when we went home, a lot of Baillie bridges and that kind of thing for getting across places where the bridges had gone through.
I know that year the Esk Valley … we came through – it was covered with mud – they said it was six feet deep in some places, and so farmers simply lost their land because it was six feet under silt. I think one of the good things I remember about Iona is that one of the pupils there, her parents had a farm that must have disappeared under the silt, and she was kept on at school for the year because nobody had any money because the farm disappeared.
But we came down and it looked, coming through … well you come out of the Esk Valley and you come to where you see the hills … well right round … in a ring right round to Cape Kidnappers don’t you, so that there are hills all the way round. And some of them looked as if a giant had taken his fingers and scraped down the sides, there were such huge gouges down the mountainside from the landslides, yes.
It must have been huge.
And what had happened at home, at Te Puna?
A lot – a lot of trees, I’ve forgotten how many, sixty trees or something, went down. We lost half the ones down the drive and a lot of the ones Grandpa had planted. We always said he planted so many that he, you know, there were plenty there, but he was probably disappointed with the …
I think about twenty of the gum trees in the plantation came down.
Maybe you’d like to tell about the hen house.
Oh, the hen house – you saw the pictures of it, didn’t you? The hen house was blown away … blown half away by the wind.
Maybe just a couple of things – maybe you’d like to describe the terrain as you left the Esk Valley and went up towards Taupo – what the environment was like then?
Before that I could talk about the top of Tauroa Road. The last house when we got there was Te Puna. There were no houses, the paddock opposite was paddock, and the Felkins were as far up as it went on that side of the road and we were as far up as it went on our side of the road. There were no houses past there.
And what about how you got your plants for the garden for Te Puna? How did your father come to get those plants?
Oh there were plant places. I don’t remember them – I remember … I might remember an odd plant. The biggest plant place was in Napier in those days, not in Havelock or Hastings.
And how was it they got oxalis in their garden?
How did they get oxalis in their garden?
I don’t know that.
I thought that was from Mrs Chambers, from up the hill?
They had oxalis.
Oh, they had oxalis, yep. Been here a long time.
And Mrs Chambers’ birthday party. You might like to tell about your mother being invited to that.
That’s right. Old Mrs Chambers, she was a sweetie actually.
So she would be what – Mrs Mason Chambers.
Yes, Mrs Mason Chambers. And she was …
My mother got an invitation to her eighteenth – I think it was her eighteenth – birthday party, and my mother said “eighteenth?” And she said “Oh, I just turned it round. It seemed better that way.” [Laughter] She was quite a character.
Maybe you might like to tell a few things about your mother.
Yes, I don’t know … many stories. My mother painted with the – we used to go up to Keirunga. You remember that. When that opened that was something that she really enjoyed. She had friends she went sketching with, including that nice woman from South Africa.
I’ve forgotten the name.
Not Mrs May [?]
That’d be right.
She lived the other side of the Tuki.
That’s right yes.
One of her young friends.
Yes, that’s right. [Chuckle] Nancy … well Nancy – when we went to Hawke’s Bay it was the Depression and I suppose in the first – while I was there, they used to have fundraisers. I know Janet was responsible for some of the work. Nancy organised a ball for Unemployed Funds – a copper trail ball, and the idea was that they would raise enough money on this copper trail thing – so if you put a penny down between Napier and Hastings there would be a copper trail all the way. And that was the number of pennies they aimed to get. And I know there was a ball in connection with that fundraising, and there was a … I wasn’t involved in the ball because I was too young for balls. But then they had a gala night, whether it was the Showgrounds or where I don’t know, but it was kind of like a mini Show. And I was told to make …
Not rosettes, but … it was flowers, little posies. Yes.
Like a shoulder spray?
Buttonholes, that’s right, and so I had to make trays of them and sell them at the Fair. It was all raising funds. And John von Dadelszen … they had a tent with the entertainment in it, and part of the entertainment was – one of the things was John von Dadelszen with a very serious face, with a boater, singing [sings] “Oh I Do Like to be Beside the Seaside”, [chuckle] and a group of similar – they were law clerks and that kind of thing, I suppose, from Havelock – they were ringing the chorus, but he was singing. And I always remember his great solemnity in doing it.
So unemployment was still quite high when you arrived?
Still very high. It didn’t go until after the Labour Government got in.
And what was your father’s attitude to someone who was unemployed?
He’d give them a job to do, you know, he would – if someone came and asked him for a day’s work he’d give them a day’s work, maybe digging or hoeing or some garden work that he wanted done.
It must have been very hard times.
Very bad times, yes. People used to come to the door selling things a lot in those days, just because it was better than staying at home and not doing it I suppose. You don’t get people coming to the door selling stuff now.
Not out of desperation.
You have them ringing you up instead.
Well I think we’d better wrap it up there. You’ve done awfully well.
[NB – further information on Cecil Fowler’s life at http://nzchinasociety.org.nz/17617/obituary-for-cecil-fowler-29-june-1921-19-july-2014-memorial-meeting/]
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Interviewers: Anna Lee and Jenny Williams