Martin Robert Elliott Interview
Today is the 14th of November 2017. I’m interviewing Martin Robert Elliott – Martin, would you like to tell us something of your family history?
I think originally my grandparents came from England. They came out on a sailing ship called the ‘May Queen’. They arrived in Napier … disembarked in Napier, and bought property out at Twyford. Then they purchased the property we’re now being interviewed on in St George’s Road in around 1897, so it has been in the family for about a hundred and twenty years. The Masters across the road, as I think I mentioned before – they grew hops there and they’ve been there for about a hundred and twenty-five years. That’s from Tony Masters, who is the son of Fred Masters and Molly.
My father was born in New Zealand. Some of the family were born in England. There were I think around about eight in the family. My father in 1925 – he went to the First World War in Egypt – and in 1925 he went up to Kahuranaki and became the manager of Kahuranaki for Roger Greenwood from Duart House. I worked as a farmhand on the property from about eighteen onwards, and in 1955 I went on my OE [overseas experience] to the UK. I went in 1955.
Well, just before you go on your OE, where did you go to school?
To Havelock School … oh, originally Kahuranaki School which had an attendance of nine pupils, eight of them girls. And I think I probably … I can’t remember just when I went to Havelock High, I think I was about twelve or something. Then it was Havelock High and then Hastings Boys’ High. I hated school. I was never so happy [as] when I left.
And so you went back to Kahuranaki and ..?
Worked at Kahuranaki as a farmhand. Got a pound a day, and that was the going rate because when I went to England I got a job in a women’s clothing shop – it was a department store, and I got a pound a day there. But it was, they were very good people to work for, and I was there ‘til around about … probably when I was about eighteen. Then I came down here to St George’s, started contracting with a fellow called Dave Fox, and we mowed hay for Eric Batson which was a full-time occupation during the summer. We went too up the Wairoa road, up to Ngamatea, up the Taihape Road, Waimarama, Putorino, virtually all over Hawke’s Bay. And that went on for many years, and in 1970 we took over the wine shop. And this is when I was driving around in ever decreasing circles and thinking ‘there’s more to life than this’, and this is when I decided to start a wine shop, and that was the Amphora.
So where did the name come from?
It was one I had picked out because it was the name of a Greek urn, and that sort of set the tone for that. It was a Greek urn and as I say, we applied to the – Dennis Hardy was my solicitor. I originally went to see Penn Scannell who was … Penn was Dennis Hardy’s partner, and I said to Penn Scannell “I’d like to apply for a wine licence”. And he said “yes – yes, yes, yes, yes – let me see now – I’ll tell you what I’ll do”, he said “I’ll put you on to my man Hardy”. And that’s when I got Dennis. So he wasn’t going to have any bar of this nonsense. But anyhow, Dennis did a marvellous job – he you know, sort of crossed the t’s and dotted the i’s, and the Magistrate was impressed enough to actually congratulate him on his brief.
Now we haven’t talked about you meeting Gill.
Right. In 1955 as I say, I went to England on my OE, and I met a chap from Auckland and we went around the Continent together. And then I came back and he stayed on – he was a school teacher. And then he finally came back. And he was flatting with Gill in the house at Golders Green. So Gill was interested in New Zealand because he’d chatted about it, and she decided that she would come out and see what it was all about.
Now Gill was South African, wasn’t she?
She was South African, she was from Cape Town. And her brother was a Professor of … he was a Professor of Anaesthetics, and he was at the time with Chris Barnard, who did the heart … But he refused – well he didn’t refuse, but he backed away from being the anaesthetist for the operation because he was a Catholic, and so he didn’t actually do the anaesthesia on the person who was having the heart transplant.
But anyhow, she came out to New Zealand, stayed with this fellow I’d sloped around Europe with, and so I finally went up to see him, and saw Gill. And I went to the house where she was flatting, and she was on the phone, dressed in black, and I said to myself “I’ll have that” … [chuckle] in a good old-fashioned … So that’s what I said at the time, that I’ll be having that, which I did. But that was prior to her actually being partner to the thought.
And so that’s how I met Gill. And we went to Cape Town for a month, and went from Joburg [Johannesburg] and went down to Cape Town by car … rental car. There was [were] two things there, there was what was known as the Blue Train which was a very popular thing to do, but I sort of thought ‘well, it’s a bit silly’ – it’s nine hundred miles roughly, from Joburg to Cape Town, and I thought ‘well it’s silly going through half of Africa asleep in the dark’, so we decided to go by car and I don’t regret that. I suppose the Blue Train would’ve been … you know, it’s one of those things that we do. So we stayed with Gill’s brother and wife and had a fortnight there, and then went on to England and had a fortnight there and did canal cruising for a week. But that’s how I met Gill, and as I say, that she came out and stayed with a friend that I’d [?] around the continent with.
Isn’t that ..?
But since then … after that of course Gill’s nephew came out, Christopher, who’s an anaesthetist as well, lives in Christchurch. And then Gill’s niece came out, because she was here, and I think there were certainly no regrets on their part that they’d come out to New Zealand, and thoroughly enjoy it out here – would never go back of course with the problems in South Africa.
And then of course as I say, the rest was me contracting, and then the wine and the restaurant, and the winery and the wine shop.
My father when he was about fourteen, took mail out to Waimarama to the Chambers at Maraetotara, on horseback. And he was as I say, fourteen then, and he used to cross the Tuki Tuki River – there was no bridge at the time. And he said in the lower reaches of the Tuki there was no shingle. And it was one of those things that if there was a flood he’d have to go down to Clive to cross at the mouth of the Clive River. And the sort of thing where he had all these sort of hazards that were presented to him, and they’d … told by Meinertzhagen and Waugh, who were the owners of Waimarama Station … “Boy! You’re late.” And that was typical of some of the attitudes in those days. And then he used to call at Mokopeka to the Chambers who were very nice people and always … they’d have a bowl of soup or something hot.
And he also remembered them duck shooting in where the Opera House is, too. He was as I say, he managed Kahuranaki from 1925 until his death in … can’t remember quite when that was. Kahuranaki then was around about two and a half thousand acres, and they’ve increased it now by doing a swap with Hugh Thompson out at Maraetotara for country in the front, because the Thompsons have a very narrow entrance to their land, which is almost … you could throw a stone across to there. But it was a sort of a you know, good life, no regrets. And I am starting to find things are drying up a little bit to talk about.
You would have noticed Kahuranaki was quite a steep hill.
And it was much harder going up it than it was coming down it.
So were you there before Alistair ..?
Spence? Yes. Alistair [?Geoff?] married Ailsa McKenzie who was the daughter of Fred and … I can’t remember his wife’s name … who owned Gruinard, which was the name of a bay in Scotland. And they lived – they had one son called Alistair who farmed on the place, but it was a very hard country, it was very clayey country. And he’s finally sold up and moved to – I think towards the ranges.
Well he went to Kereru.
Kereru was it?
He bought George Averill’s farm, and he’s since sold that and he lives in Mt Erin Road.
Oh, right. But yeah, as I say you know, Geoff was a Gisborne lad, and as I say he married Ailsa. Fred had one other daughter and two sons, and that was Sandy McKenzie and Hugh McKenzie. They were just down the road, but yes, getting back to your question, we were there before Geoff Spence.
When you did come to Havelock North and you were contracting, what sort of tractors did you use in those days … what sort of mowers?
They were Ferguson mowers, rear mounted, and then we had a mid-mounted mower which was much easier to handle because you were looking down on it rather than behind you all the time, and finishing up with a very stiff neck [chuckle] next day. And then after we finished, the rotary mower came in and that was much faster – I know Matt Tweedie used one and he could almost do twice the amount.
Yes, and of course you didn’t have all the knives to sharpen either.
No, that’s right.
That took the shine off things.
It did, it did.
And you would have mown hay for some notable people around the country?
Yeah, well the Glazebrooks, the … up at Whanawhana …
Beamishes, Maria Downs – yeah, you’re right, virtually … as I say we contracted to Eric Batson, he had a hay baling contract with them, and as I say, we were at you know, Waimarama, Wairoa, Ngamatea. In those days we actually stayed in places where they ran cooks, you know, and so we would spend two or three days in two places, there was Kakariki and Kahika were both Land and Surveys, I think.
That’s right – by Kotemaori.
That’s right. So it was a very good contract. I started off by answering an ad and I met up with Dave Fox and I always remember one thing that happened when I met Dave. He said “have you got a goose neck?” “A what, Dave?” “A goose neck.” I wouldn’t have a clue what a bloody goose neck was. [Chuckle] So anyhow I said “no.” He didn’t – shame on him, you know, what an idiot – he should have told me about this. And so I found out what a goose neck is in very quick time, and it was for holding the end of the hay down …
The hay, so you got a clean cut.
But anyhow it was a very amicable relationship. We finished up by actually leasing land, Dave Fox and myself. And yeah, we had land out at Clive, Pakowhai, over in Napier – be about three hundred acres we were leasing at one stage. And cropping … peas, rye grass, maize – and that’s what we did as well, planted a lot of maize [??] especially … somebody … Des Joll, one of the big ones, ‘cause he had his own harvester at that stage.
Well I just found out that my son was born in 1960. And then he married Bronwyn Durney and they had two children, George and Jack, and then they divorced about … maybe ten or eleven years later. And now he’s got Alex Ingles as his partner, which [who] he’s been with for about eight years.
And Andrea is married to Patrick Stewart and they are living in Sydney, have been for a number of years now. They’ve got one son who is doing his OE in England and about to come home this week. I think he’s sort of interested in becoming … getting into journalism, I think.
Miles currently works for …
… as a field supervisor for cropping, doesn’t he?
Yeah. And also looked after the transport side of it as well.
Now at one stage while the kids were growing up, you became a vineyard grower with a vineyard on the property. Not only that but you made wine?
And not only did you make wine but you drank it, and also had a restaurant …
… which you built and called St George Estate.
That’s right. When we applied for the licence with the Council one of the stipulations they made was that if we wanted to build a winery on the property we had to plant the property in grapes. But unfortunately this is not good ground for grapes, it’s cropping land, it’s too fertile. And so we were stuck with it, and the only time we got a gold was our first year, and that was grapes purchased from Bob Taylor out at Haumoana, and we got a gold for our chardonnay. And the wine we had at that stage was very good, but as I say once we had to start using our own it went down in quality. So it’s just one of those things that as I say …
The committee was basically our farmers. They put a stop to the Montana planting up here, because of the spray problem. So they lost all that cropping to Marlborough because of it. It was a sort of a mindset they had at the moment, and as I say … Unfortunately they were on the Council but probably not … they were thinking of themselves very much, so it was a detrimental effect. But you know we would have been happy to have carried on and bought grapes in.
‘Cause you had a winemaker that was working with you, didn’t you?
Yes, that’s right, that’s right – Mike Bennett. And as I say he was very good but at the end of the day of course there’s only one thing that makes good wine and that’s good grapes. It doesn’t matter how bloody good the winemaker is, he can ruin it or be brilliant with it.
So at that stage when Mike left, you changed to having a restaurant, didn’t you?
Well we had a restaurant right from the beginning, but it was a very much a lunchtime venue. It was run by ladies who were housewives, who were very good chefs in their own right. But now of course it’s very upmarket.
Can you remember any of those ladies?
Oh yes. There was Jan Speers, there was …
And of course Gill worked with them.
Yes, that’s right.
And you were the wine man, you were the wine waiter, weren’t you?
Well I was at the end. Mike was the winemaker …
But I mean in the restaurant – you were the …
Oh yes. It was an easy sort of … apart from enjoying a drink, as I say, Gill was always an enthusiastic imbiber as well, but it wasn’t hard to – when you’re … sort of know your subject it’s not hard to impart it. But yeah, as I said, there was … it just escapes me now, some of the ladies, but they were all very good in their own right. I employed these people because they were friends of theirs, and … “oh, I know somebody who would be fine in the job” … and so it goes on.
And so after the restaurant you pulled the grapes out?
And then you let the restaurant to another chef.
Let the restaurant to a Dutchman who … just down the road, and had a Dutch shop. I’m not sure what he does, but he started doing meals for New World. And like all these big companies they would be the first to complain if you didn’t pay up, but they were bad payers in themselves you know, and they weren’t very smart with coming up with the money, so he sort of … he was a hell of a nice guy and he sort of slowly went, you know – got worse and worse and he couldn’t make it up. And now we’ve got Frankie who’s a very good chef.
During the period of time when you had the restaurant or winery you built a new house at the front with your own hands – the block house, didn’t you?
Built the bedroom wing of it. We got a builder to build the lounge and kitchen. It was interesting, but that was built … it was about a thousand square feet and built for $10,000. And why it was so expensive – because it didn’t have a ceiling in it, and the builders had not come across this before. This was with Len Hoogerbrug, and so what was normally a $5,000 house with a ceiling became a $10,000 house.
I built the winery myself, I laid every block in it. And Mike was there at the time, but I quite enjoyed doing that part of it. And then I built this house that we’re having the interview in for my daughter, who then decided to go to Australia. So little did I know that I would finish up with the house that I’d actually built. I think it’s sort of … as I say, I’m not a builder but once again if you have a feeling for something … makes it a lot easier to do – all things make sense than they would if you were fighting it. But as I say, I built the restaurant, the winery, the granny flat that we’re in now and the bedroom wing of our original house. And the swimming pool.
How did you move around these farms with your mower? Did you have a truck?
I had a truck which I bought from Hastings Transport, and his name was Harold McHardy. Very nice chap, had Hastings Transport. And there were some people that used to move around the country on their tractor, but we covered a lot of territory.
You’re going to go to sleep.
No I’m not. What’s that noise?
Oh, my fridge.
It sounds like a spaceship taking off. I shut my eyes, and I thought ‘if I open my eyes [chuckle] … we’ll be away.’ Off to the …
The wild blue yonder.
Yep. So you built all these buildings and leased the restaurant. When you talk about the granny flat, it’s really much nicer than a granny flat, there’s a lovely big balcony out the front, nice living space.
Oh yes, that’s right. Now there’s something I was going to bring up just then …
Did you ever belong to the Havelock Wine Society?
I did. I think that’s when Ed Gilmore was about, and Keith Carran. Those were the days when if you could see two white lines you were quite sober. [Chuckle]
Absolutely. And so the surprise was, when you lost Gill.
Yeah. What she had was pancreatic cancer. And it’s one of those things you think ‘well, why me’ sort of thing, you know. But that’s life, and you’ve just got to get on with life.
And what age was she when she passed away?
About seventy-four. But yes, it was a …
Well there’s not a great deal of other things for you to do now – you’ve done them all, haven’t you?
I think so, yeah – I’ve been there, done that, sort of thing, that’s right, and I’m quite happy to have arrived.
Hawke’s Bay in the sixties and seventies was pretty well a farming province of …
Very much so.
… sheep, cattle and dairy farms. There used to be sixty dairy farmers on the Plains in 1960.
And then along came the Department of Ag, [Agriculture] and all of a sudden they changed the whole face of the Plains. And of course all those people never charged for their services.
Exactly. I remember you know, a couple of occasions when I very nearly bought some ground, and we rang up the Department of Ag and they’d come out, do soil tests and that sort of thing – no charge. Gone are them days. It’s sort of all money now.
And you were never tempted to be an orchardist, were you?
No. Although originally we had nectarines in here, and this is where Yummy nectarines started. And it was John Paynter and Peter Anderson planted it, and I can’t remember how long they had it, but I think just when we sold the shop in 1970, they planted Yummy nectarines there.
My mother was born across the road in St George’s Road North, and they lived where the Crisps used to live.
Yes, Alf Crisp?
Before the Crisps were there. This was in the 1900s, you know, well back.
Because there used to be a dairy factory across the road there and I remember my aunt used to milk cows there – in fact I think that probably the grandparents did. They would put the milk on the dray with the horse out here, and he’d go across by himself, pull up against the landing, and if they weren’t quick enough he’d cart it all back again. [Chuckle]
They weren’t stupid, were they?
No, that’s right.
So anyway, life between the two cities has been good, hasn’t it?
It has, yeah. You know, I go out in this thing when it’s to Havelock, and honestly Havelock’s a very pretty place.
Oh, isn’t it? Well, I think we’ve probably just about gleaned everything we can out of you, haven’t we?
Oh, thank God for that, Frank.
But no, you’ve haven’t had many gaps at all. So I’ll just say thank you very much for sharing that because you’re one of the old identities of Havelock Road. [North]
Yes, well this place has been on the property for a hundred and twenty years now.
All right, well thank you very much.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper