McKay, Jean Marion Interview

I am interviewing Jean Marion McKay who lives at Parkvale, Hastings.  Today is the 30th June 2017, and she’s going to talk about her life, and when she was working at Tomoana Meat Works and before that Nelson Brothers Limited.  Over to you, Jean.

My name: Jean McKay, my maiden name: Cameron, born in Hastings on the 2nd June 1930. I am the daughter of Margery (previously [nee] Graham) and Hector Cameron. My elder brother: Ian, younger brother: Graeme, and sister: Betty (married to Colin Wake). [I was] born in Hastings and lived here all my life, attending Parkvale Primary School then on to the Hastings High School taking a commercial course to become a shorthand typist, eventually beginning work as a junior in McCulloch, Butler and Spence Accountants’ office in Hastings for several years.  Then later [I was] employed by Nelson’s New Zealand Limited at Tomoana and that was in 1946. The manager at that time was Alec Kirkpatrick, and the secretary [was] Mr Charles Heald.  [It was] an extremely busy office including all departments. My work was in the shipping department regarding documents for wool, hides, meat, tallow and other small goods.

How many people would have been employed at that time, by that firm?  Or in your office?

At least twenty that I can recall – round about that.

And they were a range of ages, were they?

Yes, yes … range of ages. One day a week I spent on the wages machine in preparation for paying all the freezing workers.

In the eight years I spent at Tomoana the social side was enjoyed. Each year a play by Tomoana Players was produced by Mr Richard Thomas. We were performing in Hastings Municipal Theatre, Napier, Waipukurau and Dannevirke. I took part in several of these plays – “As You Like It” was one, and “Charley’s Aunt” another. These plays filled all theatres every night they performed.  Scenery, costumes etcetera [were] all done by Tomoana members, and all proceeds raised were given to different organisations. Nelson’s was a great company to work for and [it] was a shame [it] eventually closed down sometime later, after I had left the company to be married in 1954 and raise my children.

That’s good.  The machine for the wages – what type of machine would you have used in those days?

A huge machine [chuckle] which I had to learn to use.

And did you have to put everybody’s name into it?

Yes, everybody’s name;  the amount of money they had to get.

And would they get money at that stage?  That was in the 1950s.

It was all cash in those days in their little envelope.  It was an envelope, and the money was put into the …

And did they have a welfare fund or anything like that, or a canteen fund or something like that?

Well not in the wages department. That could have happened in the other departments on the top floor.

So not in yours?

Not in our department.

And were you using ordinary typewriters or electric ones at that stage?

Ordinary typewriters, as a typist.

And you had to use a gestetner to photocopy?

No, they didn’t.

How would you do copies – or you didn’t?

No, we didn’t.

You just didn’t do copies?

No, didn’t have copies, no.

And did they have that ticker-tap thing?  I can’t think what on earth … telex.

We had an adding machine that I had to check on everything, all the documents.  We had to check every adding machine, all the amounts were all checked.

And would you work from eight in the morning, or half past seven?  Or what time did you start and finish?

Eight-thirty to five.

And half an hour for lunch?


And did you have a morning tea break as well as an afternoon?

Yes – had morning tea, with … always a tea lady brought the tea down to us.

And what did you have with the tea?

Just a cup of tea. [Chuckle]

And what about if it was somebody’s birthday?

Oh yes, that was celebrated. Someone would bring a cake or had something for morning tea.

So the machine for wages – that was once a week, not once a fortnight?

Once a week – no, once a week they were paid, yeah.

And where would you practise for the plays?  Would you practise at work, or would you practice after work?

Practised down in the woolshed, yes – in the old … old wool place, because at that stage due to the … a lot of the wool had gone … we used to go in there and have a practise.

How many buildings or anything as a rough guess, would there have been there then?  For the whole of the company and the wool store and everything – would it be ten or fifteen?

Oh, it was a big place [speaking together] – oh, it was a huge place, with a top floor where they did the slaughtering, and the sheep yards. No, it was a big place.

And did you get meat or anything from it?

Yes, they had a meat shop open to the public – yes, we could go and buy our meat if we wanted.

And did you get a cut price for the meat?

Well yes, it was cheaper.

Like any meat works probably, at the time.

Yes, yes.

And when you got the meat, what was it wrapped in – paper or plastic?

Wrapped in brown paper that I can recall. [Chuckle]

Yes.  And now just to go back a little bit more – schooling at Hastings Girls’ – did you stay there for a full four or five years, or were you there only for the three years doing a commercial course?

Yes. Three years – three and a half years I was there.

So you learnt your shorthand typing there?

Yes.  And then I went to a night class for a year just to get up the speed of the typing and shorthand.

And was it recognised at that stage that you would have to do forty-two words a minute or something like that?


And was it Pitman’s Shorthand?  Or that other … Pitman’s.

Yes, Pitman’s Shorthand, we learnt.

And what did you do at school?  Did you play sports?

Yes. I loved sport – did all the sport.

Right.  Well when you say all – was it tennis and basketball?

Basketball, yes – swimming …


… I loved swimming.  No, I didn’t play hockey.


Yes, played a bit of cricket …

And rounders?

… fun cricket.

And did you go to a bible class or anything like that?  Dances and things like that?

Yes, I always went to a bible class – Presbyterian bible class. Went to Sunday school as a young girl.

And would Mum and Dad take you, or did you have to walk?

No we usually walked or … yes, Mum and Dad would take us.

And how far would it have been?

Half a mile – wasn’t too far.  ‘Course we had to bike everywhere in those days – we biked everywhere. I biked out to Tomoana which was a long way, every day.

Oh, how far was it then?

Would have been two miles I suppose, was a long bike.  Every day I’d bike out there – rain, hail and snow. Although my Dad would take me if it was pouring with rain or my mother would take me out in the car.

So they were on a farm, weren’t they?

No, we weren’t on a farm, we were in the town.  Yes.

Still quite a way.

It was a long way but – those days we did it. You didn’t think anything of it. That was what we did.

And going back – when did your family first come to New Zealand?  

My father came out from Scotland with his parents and his sister in 1898. He was four years old. And he came out – lived with parents, and eventually got a job at the Herald-Tribune as a printer. He did his time … he was there for many a long day, sixty years or something, he was there. That was his job all his life. He was a printer.

And you had to typeset the printer and everything?

Yes, he did all that.

What about your mother – did she have a job?  Or she just looked after you children?  [Speaking together]

No, mother didn’t work, she brought up the family.

And did she go to Women’s Institute or Women’s Division or anything like that?

No, no, she didn’t.

Or the Guild?

She didn’t.  She brought up four children, and [in] early married life she developed arthritis and she suffered greatly with that for a long, long time and passed away at [a] much young age of fifty-six.  So we were without our mother for a long time. She was a very fine lady, and a wonderful mother.

Did she enjoy you children, though?

Oh, yes – she was lovely.

And did she help you with your homework?

Yes, she was wonderful – a wonderful mother. Everyone adored her.

That’s great.  Did any of the other family members come out from Scotland at all?  Of your grandfather’s time?

No. No.  Just …

Just that one family?

Yeah. Dad was the eldest of his family.

And did they come out for a special reason, or because they thought it was a better life out here?

That I’m not too sure about. They came out and they lived next door to us. We had our grandparents next door as a family growing up, which was wonderful. We just had a gate between us and we could go back and forth as we wanted to.

And Dad probably had vegetable garden …

Yes, we all had vegetable garden[s]. We had a chooks – chook run in the backyard. It was a lovely life we had – very happy home life we had.

And if you wanted to go somewhere, did you have a family car right from the start?

Yes, we had a family car.

No seatbelts in those days.

No – no seatbelts. [Chuckle]  With family …

That first place you worked at, did they have a big office?

Quite a big office – oh, there would have been twenty-five people. There were three typists. I did become a typist after I had been a junior. I [was] relegated to the junior typist [chuckle] which I enjoyed. It was good typing all these accounts – farming accounts. I enjoyed it there, and then I was offered this job at Tomoana.

So they offered you a job?


You didn’t go and apply for a job?

No, I knew several people were there, and I went there.

And where did you meet your husband?

I met … through sport. I played for – netball, or basketball in those days – for High School Old Girls and he played rugby for Hastings Boys’ High School Old Boys. We met through sport virtually – got married in 1954, married in Hastings, yes.

And you never wanted to move away, really?


So going back now to the change from Nelson’s to Tomoana Meat Works – was that a big upheaval or not? 

No, not really.

So she’s just going to read this piece …

‘In [the] year after the earthquake in February, as a small baby aged six months – Hawke’s Bay was struck with the earthquake. My father and mother and brother lived in a tent on the property of my grandparents next door for about two to three weeks, until it was safe to go back into the home. My father, a printer with Hawke’s Bay Tribune, went to the racecourse which was set up to attend the injured, and it was a safe place for the public to go to. The paper was printed the very next day although the Tribune had problems with the building falling – parts of it falling.

Is this when the tremors were still going on?


So you were out of the house – did you have much damage in the house?

No, I don’t think so. No, no.  It was just that it was … aftershocks were coming all the time and everyone was too afraid to go back inside so we lived in this tent on my grandparents’ front lawn.

Jean’s now going to talk about the sports, and then a bit about her family.

Well my life has been busy with sport – always playing some competitive sport. As a teenager [I was] involved in marching, and I was in the Hastings Police Team and Shaw’s Kilties, travelling the country and competing – really very successfully, really. [Chuckle]

Did you win lots of Cups?

Yes, we did.  We won the New Zealand Marching Association top prize.

And then basketball in those days, and then I went on to golf – played golf.  [Chuckle]  And then later in my life took up playing bowls, as I was getting older of course, at that stage.  So, and played competitively, outdoor bowls, for thirty years.

And enjoyed it.

Thoroughly enjoyed it. I was very reluctant about giving it away this very year.  [Chuckle]

Now that just brought to mind something that I experienced when I came up for the Blossom Festival, were you in the marching teams when they marched down the street?

No it was before that time, when I was a teenager, round about eighteen … nineteen.

Yes.  And how often a week would you have had practise for something?

Oh, once or twice a week [chuckle] after work in those days.

Oh, well how old were you when you left school?


And went to work straight away …


… and did the night school for a year?

Mmm, I did night school for a year.

When you met your husband how did you get around – still on bicycles?

Yes, still on bicycles. Oh he had a car, because he was a stock buyer travelling around the countryside so we always had a car until we finally bought a car for my use [chuckle] later on, which was good.

So how many children did you have?

I had three children.

And are they still all around here, or have they moved?

No, I’ve got a son in Taupo – he’s a wool buyer – and a daughter, Wendy, in Feilding, and Tracey, who lives across the road from where I am, so that’s lovely.

And we’re going to talk about your first house when you were married …

Oh, yes.

Did you rent, or did you buy ..?

No, we built a house with the help of my husband’s brother, and himself. Mind you, it took about two years to build but they made it, and we lived with my Mum and Dad. They had a room added on and it was vacant, so we used that room.  And so when the house was built – took eighteen months to two years – we shifted into a nice new home, and that was in Omahu Road, right by the hospital.

Oh, good.

Yes, so we lived there, so it was very nice.

And your brothers and sister – your sister’s still alive?


Is she here?

Yes, she’s here, living on an orchard here in Hastings. My two brothers have passed away. They did very well in life.  Ian, my oldest brother – he was the manager of Whakatu Freezing Works. Of course we all know about the Whakatu Freezing Works. – that closed too, at the time that he was Manager, much … oh, it was a terrible happening in Hawke’s Bay at [in] those days when they closed.  You may recall them closing, years ago.


And Graeme, my younger brother – he was the County Clerk here in Hastings.

A very responsible job.

Yes – they both had responsible jobs. Ian and I used to have a few arguments because I was at Tomoana in those days and he was at Whakatu, and a few words used to be spoken between us.  [Chuckle]

Did he come and work at Tomoana after that?

No. Ian retired then, when they closed. He was there all his working life. He started from a junior and went right through at Whakatu. I’m very proud of my brothers.  [Chuckle]

To go back a bit to Tomoana – when Whakatu closed did it take up the slack of the stock and everything then?

Well yes, they did really. Of course they still had the freezing works down in Takapau, which helped out then too. But however, that’s how it went – they both closed and life went on.

So Jean, when you’re doing this recording are you thinking about the time … when you’re looking back, do you think you’ll remember things afterwards, that were important that we should record?

No, not at the moment, no.

Well if you do, you know – we can do it just like that. Okay. Anything else you want to add as a last minute thing?

I’d say – thank you, for doing the recording.  [Chuckle]

Be good for the family in perpetuity to listen to your voice.

Oh, thank you very much.

Thank you – good.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Erica Tenquist

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