Michael Douglas Poppelwell Interview
Today is 8th November 2017. I’m interviewing Michael Poppelwell of Hastings. Michael, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of the Poppelwell family in Hastings and around?
Well, Dad was a born-and-bred Hastings person. I think he was born in about 1899, and did schooling locally of course, and always wanted to be a draper as a job. And he started in a small drapery shop in Hastings in the early days, and he worked for quite a few of the old local businesses in those days – the Westermans, and the Roaches, and the Blackmores, and eventually in 1926 started his own men’s drapery business by buying a small existing business.
That was in Russell Street was it?
That was in Russell Street, opposite the railway station in those days, and developed that business over the years – I think it was there about eighty years in all, at the end. And it developed into four different shops around the district, one of which was Havelock North, and that was where I started my business and my working career, in our Hastings shop ‘til about 1960, and eventually moved out to manage the Havelock store, and was there for thirty years before I sold it. I had three older brothers …
Well, just come back one step. Your father married a local ..?
No. Mum was from … came out, immigrated out with her mother and brothers from Stirling. And they resettled in Auckland. One of the brothers was a dairy farmer, and the other brother I think was a newspaper man who was in Invercargill. And Dad met Mum in Auckland. He used to … in those days you know, shop owners would travel to warehouses in Auckland and do their buying, and it was through that process he met Mum, and then she moved back to Hastings, and … They were married in Auckland and came to Hastings and started a family and built a home in Charles Street, which still exists. Yeah.
It was there they had – how many sons?
Well there was four of us, of which I was the youngest one. And Dad of course was always interested in … besides the business … was always interested in theatrical things, and Mum was also interested in singing. She was quite a well-known local singer, and so they had a common interest there, I guess. And Dad of course progressed into you know – musical comedy, and entertainment as his own interest, but then that developed into organising other people to entertain, and organise, and raise money and … you know, community things I suppose – he was very community active and minded.
For some of us that grew up during that period, you’d see identities who seemed to put their head on the block and go out and organise things like Greater Hastings and the Highland Games, and then of course the shows that they put on at the municipal Theatre, raising money.
Fun sessions I think they called them, during the war. And it was from there, which was very successful, the Fun sessions, in raising money for the soldiers overseas. And that of course then moved on into … when that finished … what are we going to do for Hastings now? And so that’s where Greater Hastings started to develop. Yes, exciting times really, and I suppose the patch was growing.
I suppose the fifties especially is when we had the wool boom and there was a bit of money coming into the system, which must have been quite exciting for a provincial town, you know – Hastings is a service town. But those people gave their time for nothing.
Yes, they did. And the development of that was … the name’ll come to me in a minute … before Splash Planet it was … not Disney World, but it was …
Fantasyland. [Speaking together] And that was the theme of the whole thing … fantasy … fun, enjoyment of smaller children especially. And it was free. But the effort that so many people put in; the hours that so many put in to raise money … you know. And some of the big factory plants around that had big staff, you know – hundreds of staff, like Birds Eye, and Wattie’s, and the time – they took on projects within that project to raise money for certain things. And all on their own time – after hours, weekends, in the evenings. Same as doing the blossom floats, and the hours that went into creating those things, all done at night.
The enthusiasm that was created by Greater Hastings to do those things – I don’t know whether we could get that today.
I doubt it, because the community has a different sense. When they’ve got young families there’s a degree of that, but outside of that they don’t want to spend time away from family, or from home. They’ve got other interests. Like all organisations today, you struggle to get members, and so that sort of theme – there’s too many other distractions, which is a shame.
In fact a lot of other communities copied Hawke’s Bay, or Hastings – Alexandra did, Toowoomba did. It was catching.
The same people kept coming back … they didn’t do it one year, they kept doing it.
That’s right. Well it became their project. But they spent a lot of time away from their families, and I remember Dad – he’d be out, at a meeting … meetings every other night of the week, and you know, when he came home, we said “oh, Dad’s home”. “Oh, wow!” [Chuckle]
Did you ever work for any other retailer besides your father?
I did spend nine months down in Vance Vivian’s in Wellington, and that was sort of part of you know, learning what other people did, sort of a learning experience, and away from home, and you go flatting and all that. It was sort of not uncommon for that sort of thing, for a business owner from one town. And I remember Michael Thomson did the same thing – as I left Vance Vivian’s he came in to do exactly the same thing, and it was the training ground really.
And so once you moved to Havelock were you independent of Hastings, or were you all bought?
We were part of it, and we’d bought an existing business out there off Bob Thorpe’s Limited – they were a menswear shop – and it was part of the overall umbrella of Poppelwell’s. But then time came by when some of these local businesses ran into a bit of financial trouble really, because the habits of people started shopping differently and a lot of the big stores – there was a lot of menswear stores in Hastings, there was about sixteen menswear stores in Hastings – now there’s only two independents. And so times caught up with them, and we were one of those ones and our store closed, but I was able to separate the Havelock branch from that and I bought that branch from it and continued on.
How many years have you been retired now?
I don’t know, about eight or something. [Chuckle]
No one’s been game enough to start another … a proper one.
No, well the people that bought our business had it … well we had it in men’s and women’s – a little bit, mostly men’s – then they, followers on from us, the other way around, it was mostly women’s with a little bit of men’s. And we did all the local school uniforms, it was sort of a community service in some ways. But there isn’t a menswear shop in Havelock.
And so let’s go back to when you met Betty.
Oh yes. Well Betty’s brother Bevan – she was a twin to Bevan …
Her surname was?
Lange … L-a-n-g-e, which was Lange Appliances too. Betty’s younger brother started [speaking together] Lange Appliances.
Yes, I know Ross.
And anyway, Bevan used to work on a farm out at Waimarama, and he used to hitch hike into town because he didn’t have a car. And one day Mum and Dad were travelling out and picked him up as a hitch hiker, through the summer. And through conversation, he was working out at a farm out at Waimarama, and Dad was impressed with Bevan, and said “well if at any time you think you might like to get a job in town instead of farming … you know, give me a ring”, which duly happened. So Bevan went to work for Dad at a time that I was starting to work there as well, and so there was a relationship then. And then of course he had the twin sister, so she would come in and visit Bevan sometimes, and that’s how I met Betty.
Right. And at what stage did you join the surf club? You were part of the swimming club?
No. I was not part of the swimming club. Dad was very much part of the Heretaunga Swimming Club. He used to … he wasn’t that good a swimmer I don’t think, but he was very good at coaching, and there was a coach specially for diving – he was a diving … and had coached some very successful divers. But he was the one involved in swimming, and through that he was one of the initial starters of the Waimarama Surf Club, because they had a bach at Waimarama, and so the beach was important to them – safety – and so they got involved with other people and started the Waimarama Surf Club.
Once again, an initiator.
Yes indeed. And then of course the surf club did all sorts of things including fund raising etcetera, and … one of the stronger clubs in Hawke’s Bay today.
But then my brother David got very involved as a competitor … swimmer … and eventually became a committee member, and President, and he was very involved in initiating things and raising money as well, and went on to be the National President of surf lifesaving in New Zealand. So my involvement in that was – I wasn’t a great swimmer, I didn’t participate in that way, but I did end up on the committee as the gear steward. They had someone to maintain all the equipment and things like that, which I was interested in and had a reasonable amount of success doing, and still have an interest in that type of thing. That was my involvement.
In fact all the swimmers in the world are no use at all unless you’ve got the …
Got the gear, that’s right.
It’s a team effort.
Yes it is, that’s right.
So how long did you maintain your interest there then?
It was quite a few years I suppose, I wouldn’t really know – it’d be at least … well, I was on the committee for at least four years, and involved in the surf club for as long as we used to go to the beach really, collecting … you know, running raffles or you know, all that other supportive stuff. And they were great days, and still have friends that are involved in the surf club.
Also, while you were in retail in Havelock you were involved in the Business Association?
That must have been exciting for you to …
… rally them round the flag?
Yes, exciting, frustrating, anything you like to think of. It’s very difficult to get retailers, and I say that as being one of them, to support things, or to spend money on marketing and advertising to support something. It’s all about – well, you know, most retailers are on thin ice so to speak, and are really looking to – well, how is it going to improve my situation?
But I was on the committee, and I was on the Hastings Retailers’ Committee before that, but when I moved to Havelock I went onto the Havelock North one. In fact Havelock North Retailers went into receivership really. And then I saw that Council were coming out and doing things in our village without any consultation, and I thought well, ‘they should have someone to talk to’. And so I went around and created enough interest amongst the retailers to start the Association again. So I was President for three years, and I had someone else come on after me, because I thought it was important to keep the ball rolling. But when they resigned after a year or two there was no one else, so I ended up back there again … [speaking together]
Coming back again, yes.
And I did three-year stints three times, so nine years I was President over a period of time. But we achieved a lot, and we started the Christmas Parade, which is part of the Boulevard Day which is still running [speaking together] today, and quite successfully too – it’s gone through its patches. So some of those things you know, we’ve … able to create interest. Some things have faded away, but …
In fact one of the things I’m sure you remember is your contribution and time you gave to the planning of the new village refurbishing … the time you spent with all the planners.
And when you think about it Michael, the timing was immaculate because what has happened there today would never have happened if the village hadn’t upgraded at that stage.
Yes, that’s right. Well when we started getting spokespeople for the business to the Hastings Council … the Hastings District Council … we weren’t represented at all. And they didn’t really see Havelock as being anything but just a little suburb. [Speaking together]
And it was through that committee that we were able to get the revamp that they did … the first revamp with bricks everywhere … and the second revamp which is still there today, which has created the atmosphere which is there. And they didn’t see Havelock as being the shining light that they’ve got – they had it in their hand but they just couldn’t see it. But it was through the efforts of the people on that committee they were able to say “hey”, you know “just don’t forget about this because it’s important”. And it’s proved to be the case.
Dinah Williams was one of the people who supported the village very well as a Councillor.
Yes. She was a very strong person, and she represented the Council with us and vice versa very well.
She was one of the stronger ones that we were fortunate to have. But it’s funny with those crossings in that people used to walk out in front of the traffic as much to say “well, just hang on – I’ve got right of way”. But they never wanted to turn them into zebra crossings because they were going to disfigure everything. It’s now interesting when you see people walk out and the traffic stops for them, they give them a wave of ‘thank you’. And you see that everywhere, but I’d like to think it started that started there as part of that transition thing, and it’s amazing, nearly everyone that walks across waves to the car. But you wouldn’t see a car very often going faster than twenty or thirty.
But you know, Michael, when you look back and think of the input you had into those changes, you must feel proud when you drive into the village …
Oh, I do, and you know, we walk occasionally, we go out and drive around or walk around some parts of the village and see some of the businesses that are still there, doing well, and think ‘oh,’ you know ‘look at that’. And you do feel some sense of satisfaction that you were part of making that happen.
Well a lot of people never ever lift a finger to do anything within the community, and I think how sad that they’ve missed out on all that.
And by being there you have the opportunity of influencing something, and you know, that’s important. We’ve had some pretty powerful people on there that – you know, like the Mackersey Builders for instance – they were on our little tinpot committee because they saw the vision …
… and they wanted to be part of it and influence it may be, but nonetheless, you know … together it all succeeded.
Now also you spent some time in Rotary as well.
When you had time.
I joined Rotary, I think it was about 1970, and I followed on from Bob Thorpe on Rotary. And so I was there for just on thirty years, in Rotary. It was exciting – it was good for me, I wasn’t that strong on being out in front or public speaking or any of that sort of thing. I wasn’t afraid to stand up, but I was … what was I going to say when I did stand up? And I saw Rotary as being quite a development in my personal growth and that sort of thing, because you had to get up and stand in front of … even though it was this selected group of people you still had to do it, and you had to prepare, and learnt greatly, and that helped me in all ways.
And it gave us the opportunity to mix with people who were in business that we might never have mixed with.
Oh, absolutely. Well when I joined I was fairly young compared with some of the other members, and one of the things … well, you address people by the Christian name. So people that I would have said … “hello, Mr Cooper”, all of a sudden I’m calling ‘Frank’. And that can take – in those days – took a bit of … it was good, though.
And so you stayed in Rotary until you retired from business?
‘Til after we’d sold the business, and I still stayed on for a bit longer but then I was travelling – I was living in Hastings and I had to travel to Havelock, to Duart, and then travel back again and I sort of felt as if I was removed from it. And I wasn’t sort of enjoying it as much as I did, it was a bit of an effort, and so … I enjoyed involvement even after that in selling raffle tickets or whatever the fundraising thing was, but in the end I decided that … might have a break from that.
Now the other one you had a bit of interest in was your golf.
‘Cause you were quite good at golf, weren’t you?
Well, I wasn’t particularly good – I was a good average golfer most probably. I certainly enjoyed it and when I first – I was eighteen, nineteen when I joined the Hastings Golf Club. And we’d get up on a cold, frosty Saturday morning, because there was no Saturday shopping, so you’d … off to golf on a Saturday morning because we were hacks in those days and didn’t want to hold anyone up. So we’d go early, and the ice on the ground would crunch under our feet. [Chuckle] Really cold. And our hands were frozen, but we did it every Saturday. Why we did it I don’t know – every Saturday. So you know, I’ve been a member there for over fifty years and thoroughly enjoyed it in competitions and amongst friends. But now, at the other end of the scale, find it a bit difficult to get the time.
How many years do you have to belong to become an honorary member?
I don’t know – honorary members used to come if you’d been a member for … I think it was less than fifty years, could have been forty years or something. But you had to be a full member over that period of time. So I became a country member when the children were being born for about ten years, and that interrupted that. But you used to be able to be a … when you reached that cut-off thing then you would become a free honorary member – you didn’t have to pay. But because there were so many of them coming through, they stopped that some years ago.
Did you ever hold any rank out there?
No. No, I didn’t. No, I was a dodger out there. [Chuckle]
There’s plenty of people that want to stand tall.
Plenty of people, and it’s – like a lot of things, it’s total commitment, you know – if you’re going to do it you’ve got to really get into it. And … didn’t really feel – with a young family I didn’t want to, so I kept some of my distance from that. Well I used to belong to the Havelock North Squash Club too, in the early days of squash, and then later the Hastings Squash Club. And through that I again didn’t go through the ranks very highly, but always enjoyed it. And I broke my achilles tendon playing squash, and so that was sort of the end of my squash days.
Yes, so now coming back to your children …
Betty for a start.
Well she originated from Gisborne, and the family moved down to Timaru, then up to Waipukurau, and basically then to Hastings when she left the Central Hawke’s Bay College, and did her nursing training in the Hastings Hospital. And she raised herself up to be a – what they called a Sister in those days – I don’t know what you call them now, a leader or whatever, team leader or something, but a Sister in those days in the operating theatre. She was a theatre Sister. And she enjoyed that – I don’t know why, but she did enjoy that and she was good at it too, I know. So that was her background, but when we started a family and we had the business in Havelock North which was ours, she became very involved and interested in that, and missed it when we sold it, too. So that worked perfectly, and she could just come out when she wanted to or when she was needed, and she really enjoyed that. Now it’s mostly Church friends that she’s involved with, which is where she is today. So yes, that’s one of her big interests now.
Now, your children?
Our children – yes, well, isn’t if funny? The oldest one now is late forties [chuckle] – who’d have thought? But Richard went to local schools here, to St Mary’s School, and then went to St John’s College, as did his next brother, Mark. And Richard was always very keen in flying, and helicopters, and they used to have a thing then, it was a sort of a work experience day. So he organised himself – he rang up the local helicopter business, said “could I come out and work for the day for nothing?” Which he did, and that started him off in helicopters with … for someone I didn’t know, but he just loved the helicopters. And then he went from when he left school, he was able to get a job – he had different little jobs around, but the main job he ended up with was being a loader driver for an agricultural spraying company. And did that, then he did his helicopter training here whilst he was working in you know, smaller jobs … factory, or being a loader driver as well … did his training there. Then he went to Auckland, got his commercial licence up there and now is part-owner with his younger brother Stuart, in Helicopter Me, which is a business – helicopter tourism mostly, operating from Auckland International Airport.
And the youngest one, Stuart, who is involved in that is also a pilot, but he flies fixed wing planes, and still does that as well as be involved with the helicopter company.
You mentioned the other day that these are multi-engined, multi-country – he flies all over the world in his plane.
Yes, he does – he does fly all over the world. He flies a corporate jet, not an airline. So it’s like a you know, a bit of a chauffeur business I suppose, and he’s flown all over the world doing that.
Quite exciting to think they honed in on that early in their lives and they’ve stuck with it.
Well he was going to Petone, I think it was, to do an engineering course, and was accepted, and then got a letter about a week before he was due to go that there wasn’t enough applications [speaking together] on the course.
People on the course.
So the course was closed. So he thought ‘well now what am I going to do?’ So his older brother said “well why don’t you go and learn to fly?” So that’s exactly what he did. So it was just by chance, really.
So they have children?
They have children – Richard has three children …
Their names and ages?
Oh, the ages? [Chuckle] The oldest one of Richard’s is Faith, and she is coming sixteen. Then there’s Jade, and she goes to high school next year, I think, so she’s got to be twelve, and then Joshua is about eleven, I think.
Stuart’s children – his oldest one is Isaac, and he is five. And the second one is Henry, named after Dad who was Harry, but his real name was Henry, [speaking together] and he is two and a half. And then another one coming end of January.
You’ve got other children …
I’ve got Mark who lives locally, and he’s the manager of a local transport company. And he’s got three children too – Layla, who’s the oldest grandchild, she’s sixteen … sixteen and a half … and then there’s Ethan who is fourteen I think, and then there’s Sierra, who must be twelve – yes, twelve.
And then there’s Fiona, and Fiona also lives in Hastings. And there’s Elijah who is first year high school, so that must be … making him fourteen, maybe. And then there’s Bella, and she’s twelve. And then there is Varlan, and he’s ten and a half I think. So there’s eleven and a half grandchildren.
Now didn’t you have some contact with one of your family working or living in the South Island? Cropping farm?
Oh, that was Stuart’s wife’s family, yes.
‘Cause I remember you telling me about when you went down there.
Yes. Well, that’s right, so I mean they met – strangely enough Stuart ended up flying for the [Hawke’s] Bay Air Ambulance. And through the hospital connection I think, and through Church, met Emma … Emma Lovatt … so that’s where the relationship came – and Emma came from Ashburton where her family lived.
Yes, I remember you telling me about the exercise, and what they did down there.
Yes, it’s a fairly big operation and … yes, so we always enjoy going down – don’t go down that often but we enjoy going down and catching up with what’s happening on the farm and things like that. And we’ve done some motor homing round the South Island, which has really been exciting.
Yes. And do you travel at all much these days?
No. Used to do a little bit of travel, but mostly to Australia. And we did go to America – that was about sixteen years ago, ‘cause Layla, our oldest grandchild, was born in America so we went over there to see her. And Mark was trucking in those days, so I went trucking with him from Little Rock in Arkansas, and we went up to Niagara Falls.
Who does he work for here?
He works for Agnew’s Transport.
Okay, well that’s quite exciting really, when you look back on all the things that you’ve been involved in, but you’ve always had time for your family, haven’t you?
Yes, well it’s … you know, you look back and you think ‘gosh – did I really do enough, or did I do this?’ It’s hard to remember what’s been involved, and I was. But I know were were fortunate to build this home that we’re in, and we’ve been here for forty-six years, which some people find a bit boring. But you know, we’ve always been happy here, and our family … I’d like to think I was involved as much as I could be, and I believe I was.
Do you still have a boat?
No. Well we used to have a bach at Waimarama, then we sold that. I thought ‘what are we going to have as a family interest?’ So we bought a boat, and taught ourselves to ski and had a lot of fun. And over the years we had four boats … yep, four boats … and the last two of them were sort of ski-orientated type boats and family boats, and we had a lot of fun in that. And that was our family interest. As they leave school and start work, summer time is the busy time – no time for boating.
So Michael, is there anything else you can think of? You’re doing some light work with the …
Habitat for Humanity. Yes, when I retired ‘course I jumped into the fire and did real estate for two years at a hard time. And then I followed on from that to do … can’t remember what I did before … oh, it was basically Habitat for Humanity then. I used to go there as a volunteer and just did a few hours a week, and then got more and more involved. And now I do twenty hours a week – I work the mornings basically – and enjoy that because you’re still meeting people and doing stuff – keeps you occupied, and it’s good.
So, there’s nothing else that you think we may have missed?
Think we’ve got it pretty covered.
Well thank you Michael, for giving us that background of your family.
Thank you for your involvement in what you’re doing, because without your voluntary work this part of it wouldn’t be happening.
No, you’re right.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
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