Maurice John Wiggins & Shirley Edna Wiggins Interview
Today is the 21 July 2017. I’m interviewing Maurice and Shirley Wiggins of Havelock North. Maurice is a retired cabinet maker/joiner/builder and has spent all his life in the Havelock North village. Maurice, would you like to tell something about the life and times of your family?
Well I’d like to start going back to the 1914-18 war just to get a few words on my father, and how we came to be living in Havelock North because they were living in Whanganui. Dad’s brother, Ernest, he was killed at Gallipoli and I think Dad was pretty upset about that so he joined the Expeditionary Force, the Mounted Rifles in 1916 and went to war over in Turkey I think and when he was fighting there he got wounded. He was sent back to England to recuperate and then back to war again, and he was there ‘til the end … ‘til the war finished. He returned to New Zealand in 1919 on a troop ship. He had been wounded … he had lung damage, but he took up farming in Whanganui. That’s where all his family was.
He met and married Alice Brown and they farmed in Whanganui, and between them they had six children – Alice, who was born in 1921, James, Leonard, Alfred, Ernest and myself, Maurice. Because of his poor health doctors advised Dad to move to a drier, warmer climate, and this is when he moved to Havelock North. And he bought a half-acre and a home at Lindsay Street, and I was born at Lindsay Street on the 24th, seventh 1930.
In that next year Hawke’s Bay had a disastrous earthquake causing tremendous damage. Our house was shunted off its foundations, chimneys down and it was seven months before we were able to move back into the house. At the time I was about seven months old and I was in the pram in the front room, and when Mum found me covered in soot and bricks all around me, and it was only the hood of the pram she felt, that saved me from not having any longer life. We had to move out of the house, and Dad did up a tin shed on the property and the whole family moved into that. And we lived in that shed for the seven months until the house was habitable, and we carried on from there.
Now the only income that I am aware of was what we could get off the property, which was growing vegetables. We had a bit coop where we grew strawberries and berries. We also had … in fact the entire section was over to vegetables, fowls – we sold eggs as an income. And we also had three cows – we only had a half acre section. Dad had a section down on Te Mata Road he must have leased, just opposite Lindsay Street … down there. And before school and after school my older brothers would go down there, let the cows out and walk them home up the road, in the front gate, down the path to the milking shed at the bottom of the section. So we also sold milk and cream and butter and anything else to make a bit of money.
We also grazed the Vicarage section which was on Campbell Street. The Anglican Vicarage was in the middle of a two-acre paddock and we used to graze our cows there, and the same story – the boys would let them out and walk them home and walk them back before and after school.
Now just where was that Vicarage?
Where the primary school now stands. The Vicarage was on Campbell Street and the Anglican Church was on Te Mata Road.
So anyway – and then I thought I’d … just a few of my early memories of Havelock North. Most probably you’ve been over this a hundred times.
No – everyone looks at things differently.
Well my first memories [memory] of Havelock North was the Exchange Hotel. Havelock then was I think the main route to Napier, and the horse and carriages used to change at the hotel there. And just outside the hotel I can remember there was a horse trough, and there was a paddock behind the hotel where they used to keep spare horses. Now that was down on the Hastings Road. There was a Women’s Rest just out from the Exchange Hotel, and in behind that was a general store and that was White & Glennie’s I remember, those days. Bob Given, the blacksmith, was across the road on Middle Road. And then before my time, the Cenotaph was built in the middle of Havelock, and it was always classed as where the five roads met, and that was Napier Road, Hastings Road, Te Aute Road, Middle Road, Joll Road, Te Mata Road and that’s the way it is today.
Just across from the Cenotaph was Foresters’ Hall. Now Foresters was a Lodge, but I can’t remember much about them, but I do remember that that hall had a stage and rooms at the side so that they could do shows there. And they used to have the odd pictures in there, and on the side of that was a small room which they used to call the Havelock Library. And people could just go there and take a book and swap it over and carry on.
All of our family attended the Havelock North Primary School which was built before my time, and my sister Alice achieved the Dux of the school. But Dad’s health and his lungs deteriorated more. He contacted tuberculosis – there was no cure, it was very contagious, so he was sent to Waipukurau Sanitorium, those days, to recuperate. But Dad died aged forty-one. I was seven years old. And then the following year – I don’t know what he died of – but my brother Jimmy died, just twelve months later. So it was a pretty tough time for Mum, but we were always well fed and clothed. I can’t ever remember going hungry or cold.
As I grew up, looking for a job I signed with Ted Treacher as a cabinet maker.
Just before that – did you go to high school?
Oh yes. Left primary school and went to the Hastings Boys’ High School.
Before you left Havelock … who was the headmaster when you were there?
McDonald was there and Thompson was before him. I could tell you one or two funny little stories about that if you wanted. [Chuckle]
I always remember the Miss Crombies …
Miss Crombie – she took me …
… because we used to think she was quite old. She was probably only in her early thirties, and we thought she was in her sixties.
She was a tough cookie on you …
… if you couldn’t read. I was fortunate that I was a good reader, and I could go up to the desk and I could read a page out of the book and not get the strap. But you know, I used to feel sorry for some of those kids that used to make a mistake, and out would come the strap and she’d whack them, you know. [Chuckle]
I went to high school under sufferance – wasn’t keen on furthering my education, I was more interested in getting into work. And I suppose that stemmed from the fact that …
Oh, because your mother was working …
And there again Alice … Dad wouldn’t allow her to further her education, because he needed her income to help augment family because he was in trouble. That was rather sad but it’s one of those things that happen.
And it happened over all families – the girls were never encouraged to further their education.
I signed with Ted Treacher as a cabinet maker. And he turned the Foresters’ Hall into a factory and we were making modern and antique replica furniture. That’s the sort of stuff you’re looking at there – still there, made it [chuckle]. Shirley growls that she’s never had any other furniture because the stuff I made has lasted that well. [Chuckle]
Well, you know, good furniture was made to last forever. [Chuckle] My daughter … they’re on to about their third or fourth different type of furniture.
They’re not made to last. Nor is any of the modern machinery – washing machines and dishwasher and things – they’re not made to last.
After I’d served my time with Ted I moved into Hastings to H H Campbell & Sons who were in the joinery trade, and – you’d remember them – I had a stint with them and learnt enough to get me installed into joinery. So from there I went with my brother Ernest – he was a builder, and I did a bit of finishing work for him, and then I started into joinery on my own account and did joinery for him and others around the district, and whilst I worked hard I didn’t seem to be getting that far ahead. And I struck on the idea of building three two-bedroom units on a quarter-acre section, whereas you used to build one house on a quarter-acre section and that was it. And that included paths, lawns, letter box, drive – the works and I had Elsmore, Clarke & McDonald doing the actual building and I was doing the joinery and the finishing. And we did quite a few actually, round Havelock, and they took off because the older people just wanted somewhere small and they felt more secure I think.
They served a purpose of the time, and they were what people could afford. And of course when they sold their family home they had to be able to buy into something that they could afford.
Well you see, Frank, the first section I bought was down Guthrie Road, and I built three units on a place there. I went to my solicitor and asked his opinion of … was I doing the right thing, and he said “no, you’ll go broke”. So I went away with my tail between my legs, and I thought about it, and I thought ‘I wonder if I bought the land and it had a house on part of it … I bought the land and got a plan out and sold off the plan … wonder what he’d think of that’. So I went back and I put this proposal to him and he said “now you’re on to something”, he said “I think that’ll go for you”. That’s where I took off on building those houses.
The second place I’m thinking about was up Te Mata Road, and it was two quarter-acre sections – had sewerage and water on. One had an old house on it and I moved it back on to the back section – it’s still there. That cost me £1700 [chuckle] in total, for the whole lot – £1700.
Well then I met Shirley Barrett, whose parents had an orchard in Stewart’s Estate in Nelson, and she was up visiting an aunty. And we went out for a while and we married in 1953. We went on to have our family which was Sandra, the eldest, Barry … unfortunately died at three days old … and then Graeme, Craig and Karen. We have eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and still counting. [Chuckle] We are both in our eighty-seventh year and have celebrated our Golden Wedding.
I married and built a home in McHardy Street, lived there for some years and then after a subdivision on the paddock next door I rebuilt in behind, in what was then named as George Place. My mother had the honour of naming it after her family, George.
And we finally bought a house and section and I built two three-bedroom homes. I sold one and we still live in the other and we’ve been here for twenty-six years. I was born in Lindsay Street, over the fence into George Place, and then two blocks to Chambers Street, in eighty-seven years and counting, with our four children married and all settled in Hawke’s Bay, and families of their own. So that was it.
But I did stop where we got to Bob Given and the Foresters’ Hall. And then … I was just thinking, well, you come up the road a bit further and there was the Presbyterian and the Anglican Church I can remember that were there, and the swimming baths were there. The store on the corner of Lindsay Street was there as long as I can remember. There was Donkin and there was Bradley, and it goes further back than that I think. Yes, all those.
And of course there was the trading shop that Donkins had later, down by the Memorial.
Treacher had that after that – used to sell his furniture out of there before he moved over to Meads over the road – bought Meads out. They bought that whole block out.
When we grew up – Laurie Meads – we used to be terrified of Laurie Meads. [Chuckle] Because anyone would say “look out, there’s Laurie!” and all of us kids would be off.
We’re going on now to Shirley – we know that she was born in Nelson – whereabouts in Nelson?
Shirley: Yeah, I was born in Stewarts Estate, a place that possibly nobody will know, or even now whether it’s even marked on any maps, but it is – yeah, well people will know Appleby and Redwoods Valley – well we were just in between those on the first bank of hills heading towards Motueka. So that’s where Stewarts Estate … My dad, he’d prepared an orchard, I think it was eleven acres. The whole area was filled with gorse and manuka and he cleared that by hand. We had a little four roomed house – little kitchen, an open fire place and two bedrooms. That’s what it consisted with [of]. Dad worked for another orchardist carting in the fruit by horse and cart and a sledge, in those days. There were two cars in our area – one was what we called an uncle, because he was the person Dad worked for.
I remember having a bad leg and Dad had to ask somebody to take me in, and Mum and I sat in the back of the little car – in those days they had a dickie seat out the back. I was admitted to hospital, couldn’t have any visitors because there was no way of them getting to see me. To go to town you had to go by Newman’s … you’d go in at nine in the morning, come home at five at night. We were fifty ks [kilometres] from Nelson, twenty-five from Richmond.
We had a very wonderful life. We were on the sea … on the hills. We had nothing to play with, but our life was all surrounded by nature. We were taught the birds, the berries we could eat, the mushrooms we could play with, or not play with.
I can remember going to town once with Dad. We would only go once or twice a year. When I was old enough I can remember the timber trucks passing. By the time they got to our place the cabins were all full, and Dad’d throw me up on top of the logs and I’d sit between his legs.
Wouldn’t allow it today.
No way – no way.
Maurice: No other way, no other way – couldn’t afford anything else.
Shirley: We never even had electricity until I was seven.
So was there a school?
There was a school. I didn’t start school until I was seven because we had to walk three miles, and that was on a gravel road, ditches either side, and uphill and downhill. And so I was six when I started and a …
Maurice: Seven weren’t you?
Shirley: Yep – a little boy across the road walked me to school, and I think it was about two years after that a bus came round the Redwood Valley area to Stewarts Estate and picked us up.
We had cows, horses … we didn’t have sheep but they were on the back fence, and my father’d keep an eye on those for hawk destruction and things like that. But any other animal we had – we’d dig up burrows just to get the bunnies. Dad grew turkeys for sale, for an income. We had mostly roosters to eat. He’d buy day old roosters and bring them up. We only had a grocery van once a fortnight, and meat in a van once a fortnight, come round to us. Mail was delivered by the Newman’s bus and our bread was brought out by a carrier, or some of the carriers around. And he would have it on the seat of his truck and he would just open the letter box and throw it into the letter box. That was our weekly bread.
We only lived three miles from the village, and the meat used to be delivered to the gate, wrapped up in brown paper and put on the gate post, on the top. The bread van used to come down. It happened all over the place.
Maurice: The houses were spread out. I think back to some of the little things, but we didn’t have to lock our house up. We didn’t own any cars.
We didn’t have a key for the back door.
[Chuckle] The young fellows used to get up to a little bit of mischief, but it wasn’t nasty mischief. They would play pranks, like taking gates off and carting them down the road.
Or moving the long drop back three feet.
[Chuckle] Oh, no – never done that one. [Chuckle] You know, those sort of things were harmless fun really. And you know, I think back to the six o’clock closing at the pub – you had to be out by six, and that was even up until I was twenty-one. And you had to be twenty-one before you could legally – legally – go into a hotel. And I can remember Scotty Fraser and Marjorie, and poor old Marjorie used to get so embarrassed with Scotty, because Scotty used to come down on his horse and cart, but he’d go to the pub and of course he’d forget to come out again, and Marjorie’d be hanging around there all hours waiting for him.
I know – I know.
The story goes, but I wasn’t there to see it – but they did play a prank on Scotty one time where they got the cart and they pushed it through the fence.
It must have been true because I’ve heard that story several times.
And then the other one that the kids used to get up to was you sold your bottles and you got a penny a bottle at the local store and it wasn’t long before some of the kids realised that if you go round the back you can get the bottles and take them round the front and sell them again. [Chuckle] And I can remember the tins of biscuits, and the bags of flour, and the bags of sugar – we used to buy sugar by the bag. And the biscuits – they’d be put into smaller bags of course, out of the tins, but there was always broken biscuits, so if you were lucky you’d get broken biscuits.
And if you went into White & Glennie’s and walked over the old floor and you could smell all the things they had ‘cause the bags were open. And the chocolate was in great big thick blocks – they used to cut bits off.
But anyway, we’ll come back to Stewarts Estate. So you went to primary school …
Shirley: Primary school, and then I went on to college. By that time the bus was going further into Nelson Girls’ College – that was when I did my three years as a student there. From there I went into a haberdashery shop, and I learnt my trade in making curtains, eiderdowns … and became manageress of that for a while. I was lucky enough to be taught office work, behind the counter of the materials … to be taught my materials, and the threads – things like that. I had a wonderful boss, but for two months of every year in the fruit season I was given time off to go home and work in the fruit with my dad. Because we all worked from as soon as we could pick apples we picked apples as little ones. So I was very, very fortunate … wonderful boss, wonderful people I worked with.
Then I had peritonitis and was pretty sick so I was brought up here to my aunty for a holiday. And during that holiday my aunt had met a girl in Roach’s in the haberdashery there, and she was talking to this attendant who said “I’ve just come from the South Island and I don’t know anybody”. And so Aunty Joyce said “oh – my niece has just come up to stay with me – she’s from the South Island. Perhaps you could meet up”. Well that evening Margaret Houston, as it was, rang and she said “would you like to come to an old time dance with me?” And I said “I’d love to”. She said “I’ll meet you up on the corner at such and such a time”. So I rode Aunty Joyce’s bike up, left it on the corner, went in, met Margaret and we clicked. It was a lovely friendship, and during that friendship who should I meet but Maurice. His … her sister … he used to work in the research orchard opposite us at home in Nelson, and he had been moved to the research orchard in Havelock. And he had been going to the old-time dances and had met Maurice.
What was his name?
Albert Birnie. Margaret went on to marry Mac Houston – now it all comes together?
And it was through them that we met, and he came down a few months after we were going out and met my people. So he was roped in and had to help, and I can remember one funny little incident that … my sister’s friend and Maurice and I decided we’d go over to Kaiteriteri, and on the way back one of the boys said to the other “what say we go and have a drink?” It was the Riwaka pub and I can still see us now, Gwennie and I, as we walked over the step, said “if only our father could see us now”. [Chuckle] It was our first drink, and I was twenty-one. [Chuckle] It was just one of the funny things that … I suppose to a lot of people that’s not funny, but it was to us.
Maurice: The thing I can say about Shirl’s dad and that I always admired him for …
Shirley: He was wonderful.
Maurice: … on that property up there there was no water, and he had to come down to the creek to get water to spray. And so what he did, by hand, he dug a well. And I saw it – I was down there, [chuckle] so it was there all right. Ninety feet deep …
Ninety feet deep, and about three feet across, and to get the soil out of it somebody at the top got a bucket and …
Shirley: Pull it up.
Maurice: Pulled it up.
Shirley: With a bucket – Dad’s foot in the bottom of it with a tie in the thing, and you pulled it up like that, just with a kerosene tin. And he did that, and when he got to the bottom he couldn’t get air, and so we got a long length of vacuum cleaner and put it right down so he could get air.
That would take a bit of fortitude wouldn’t it, eh?
Maurice: [Chuckle] But he not only did one, he did two.
Shirley: He did one in Richmond.
Did they line them?
Maurice: They were just out of clay.
Was it at Riwaka?
Shirley: No, no, no – it was at our home.
Because the soil there was yellow clay wasn’t it?
Yes, all yellow.
And it was probably just like brick.
It was, it was, it was … if you shovelled it up it would look like brick. But the one he did in a property in Richmond where my cousins lived – that was a bit different. It was stony, and that was fairly hard. He found that, when somebody dropped the bucket on him and he sliced his ear off in that well. But – no, Dad was … he was a very, very hard worker – really was a hard worker.
I suppose you never looked up.
Maurice: I don’t know.
You just kept digging. It’s an incredible thing, isn’t it?
But see, he had no other way. Believe it or not, when I was down there … I think it was after we were married, and they were still using the well. He had a deep well pump by that stage. And one morning we got up – no water. So Pop says “oh – sounds like the pump’s playing up”, you see, so he goes down there [chuckle] …
He went down the well?
Well he must’ve, because the pump wasn’t there – somebody had pinched it. Never saw it again. And of course he went round the Councils and all those sort of … plumbers and all those sort of things, and said “now if anybody comes in with a deep well pump – it’s mine”, you know. But it must have gone out of the district because – never saw it again. They go to that trouble to … [Chuckle]
So once you were married then Havelock North became your home. D’you still have any sisters and brothers down there?
Shirley: I have a step-brother who is ninety-three. My sister Gwyneth passed away about seven years ago, and I have another sister who will be eighty in October. I must just say that my mum came from a family whose father had seventeen children, so I was brought up with my relations and cousins. I still have contact with the cousins that are left – I think there’s only about seven of us in Mum’s family. Dad’s, we have … still contact with his family, he came from Akaroa. And at this time may I say, that the whole of our family, Maurice and myself, four children and husbands and wives, and my sister’s family are all meeting in Akaroa in December.
Wonderful. Now what interests have you had in Havelock?
Interests in Havelock, I have … belong to Keirunga Garden Circle. I was in the kindergarten … building of the first kindergarten committees. Apart from that just – I’ve worked in the mushroom farm, I’ve worked picking asparagus, worked in the orchards here.
Maurice: She was a stay-at-home mum as far as the kids were concerned, and I’ll tell you one thing – whatever you like to say – it pays dividends, and I mean – just so much caring for us. It’s quite incredible really.
Coming back Maurice, you’ve missed out a few things you’ve done in the village too. Were you ever a member of the Havelock North Club?
I am, yeah.
A lot of people had a lot of pleasure out of the club didn’t they? With snooker and bowls …
Yeah. I did play quite a bit of snooker for some … you know, a few years – competitions. We’d have just friendly competitions during the week, I’d go up on a Tuesday afternoon or something like that. But I was never a big user of the club. I was never up there every night of the week – I might go up once a week, and I still do. What happens is [chuckle] the tables move as they get older and they are dying off – like Doug Brown and … be more of them there … Gordon Gillespie, or … most of the people have gone. And Jim Ellison’s left now, I don’t ever see him there, and Keith Crawford – I think he may go up one day, but not the day I go. And so what’s happened now is that my family – my immediate … my son and son-in-laws [sons-in-law] and their sons now, they’re twenty-seven, thirty, or somewhere about there … we go up before tea on a Thursday night and we have a table and you know, it’s just automatic. But there’s one or two other friends as well join in and all that, but it’s one big table there now.
But what I did find was that where we were on the little table in the corner … you sort of progressed round to that. [Chuckle] And then it only left two of them – Ivan Royal, myself – and they sort of – they used to want to go off and have a game of snooker. I found that … Alan Harris, another one that used to go up there … he found the same thing, that he’s left on his own to talk to himself, you know, because all the others had either died off, or playing snooker. So I moved over with the boys, my family, and that’s quite a bit puddle now. Quite enjoyable, and it’s just one day a week I go up there.
Now what about Rotary?
Oh, yes – well I can show you heap of stuff on that.
You spent some years in Rotary?
Yes. You’re going to ask me when I started, and I can’t remember – a long time ago – yeah. [Chuckle] I’ve got it all there, I could show you photos.
In Rotary you served on most of the committees and you became President …
Yes. I was President when they had the Conference and that was huge. I know I wasn’t responsible for running the conference, but just being there to oversee and so forth. It was a big year and I got some pleasure, because that year I said “now we want everybody – and I mean everybody – to be at that conference”, and they were. There wasn’t one missing at the Conference at all, there. And that’s when we had about seventy or eighty, I think.
They were happy days. Any other organisations – any sporting organisations?
Only rugby as a …
Don’t apologise, saying “only rugby”.
Yes I do, because – I enjoy watching rugby now, watching it. But I just – because I was working and starting a family, you just couldn’t afford to get hurt. So I just had to give up rugby – so I just had to weigh it up and say well “no, I can’t afford to – if I get hurt I’m in real trouble”. Didn’t have the safeguards that you can put in place now.
And you know, you sort of look back on the village – it was quite sparse in the early days and now you go down there and there’s no room to park.
[Chuckle] No, not a thing.
Shirley: You know nobody.
Maurice: I liked it the old way.
The shifting of the Pavilion. I must say the old Pavilion seems to have fitted in quite nicely where it sits.
Cost a lot of money, but …
That probably pretty well covers most of what’s happening in your lives, and if you think of something else we can always add it on to the end – history never finishes. But thank you Maurice and Shirley, for sharing with us the life and times of the Wiggins family. Thank you.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper