Moorhead, Richard Thomas Interview

Today is the 18th day of September 2018. I’m interviewing Richard Thomas Moorhead of Havelock North, on his family. [Dog barks occasionally] Richard, would you like to tell us something about it?

Right. All right, well I’ll start with the Moorhead side of the family; David Moorhead arrived in Christchurch in … I’d say the late 1800s. He wasn’t on one of the first three ships which was a bit of a shame, because all the good land had been taken, so he bought a property out of Christchurch at Killinchy, near … oh, now … think of the names of these places, there are several little towns just out of Christchurch. Anyway, he came from Killinchy in Northern Ireland, and the little village that eventually happened out of Christchurch was called Killinchy. He was David Moorhead, and my grandfather, Thomas, was one of his sons. David created a farm out of a swamp by plaiting flax and putting river stones onto the flax to create a farm out of a swamp. And because of the amount of work that was involved he actually only lived to be thirty-eight, ‘cause I think the hard work killed him. He had several children. I’m not very up on my father’s history because my father didn’t speak about his family a lot, but I can tell you that my father’s father was Thomas Moorhead and he married Mary … mmm, gosh, the names are going out the window straight away. It’ll come to me shortly.

He married Mary, and in 1903 Thomas moved to Hawke’s Bay where he bought a property at Tikokino … Butler Road and the Waipawa-Tikokino Road … a triangle of land which was three sections. One of those sections had been a dairy farm in the 1920s; how they survived I wouldn’t know, because it was straight river shingle. And then the other two blocks were better land – some very heavy land, almost peat, and some lighter red soils which were very good for growing early lambs. So Thomas obviously was a farmer. He also helped to build the woolshed, which still exists; so that was in 1903, and he built a garage on the house site. I’m not sure how much involvement he had in actually building the house, but anyway, he built a … we’d call it an old style villa with a verandah round three sides; built to the wrong way – built to the south as they did in England – so it was very cold. But he was a lover of trees, and so he planted quite an area of deciduous English trees and other trees which obviously over the years have developed into quite a fine arboretum. So that was Thomas. And Thomas lost his wife with cancer when she was only in her thirties, and I think possibly for this reason, and also that two of my father’s brothers died early in life as barely teenagers, that maybe this was the reason that my father didn’t really speak about his family, ‘cause it was obviously quite a sad time. And at one stage Thomas and family, which consisted of my father and two sisters, Hazel Leigh, who married an architect in Hamilton, and Maisie who married a Riddell – and the Riddells actually lived on Butler Road only half a mile away from us – quite close by.

I’ve driven past Butler Road but …

Butler Road comes off Highway 50 at the mill; just before you reach Tikokino, before you get to the hotel, there’s Smedley Road goes to the west to the ranges, at Smedley Station; and Butler Road comes off …

You’ve got Matheson Road …

Yes, and then Smedley Road. Butler Road – you can turn off Highway 50 down Butler Road and it comes down and does a … Butler Road comes down and then it meets the Waipawa-Tikokino Road, and our property was literally that corner.

And then this road, Makaroro Road, goes up there.

Yes, so … and at one stage Thomas and Maisie and Hazel moved to Waipukurau and lived in Jellicoe Street in Waipukurau; and then … I’m not quite sure whether Mary had died or whether … They then moved to Hastings, ‘cause my father went to Mahora School … Primary School, and then eventually he went on to Napier Boys’ High.

Oh, it’s really annoying me, Mary’s … So Killinchy is in Northern Ireland and both sides of the family, Moorheads and – my mother was a Pettit, and I’ll talk about her in a minute – they were originally in Scotland and then moved to Northern Ireland.

And I had an extraordinary experience when I first met my present wife, Caroline, at Mangakuri Beach where I’d never been before in my life. My first wife loved beaches; I’m not really a beach person, but anyway, Mangakuri Beach is a Williams family area. And so I went the first time to Mangakuri Beach, and it was a foul day in the middle of winter and there were only three other people on the beach. As they came towards us I realised that one was a Williams, a relation of Caroline’s, and she had a couple with them and she introduced me as Richard Moorhead. And these people said, “Did you say Moorhead?” And I said, “Yes.” They said, “We’re going to visit some Moorheads in Tasmania who came from Killinchy in Northern Ireland.” [Chuckle]

And just on that same theme, recently I was in – I’m backtracking – I was recently in the Havelock North Medical Centre for a blood test or something and this lovely girl approached me and I gave her my sheet with my name on it and she said, “Moorhead – that’s spelt the same way as my family.” And she said, “Well, our family came from Killinchy in Northern Ireland”, and I said, “and so did mine.” Quite extraordinary! Yes, and her family farmed in the Waikato. And I actually need to follow that up and try and find out some more history, because part of the Moorhead family moved from Christchurch to Australia; and then there’s a very strong family connection in Canada. In fact there’s a Moorhead University on the boundary of Canada and the United States. I think they were very strong Presbyterians and were in that league of people who didn’t believe in alcohol – what do they call themselves? [Chuckle]

Anyway, Grandfather Thomas – obviously I didn’t know Mary, his wife – but Thomas was a tall man, over six foot tall. He died when I was about eight. Very tall, very upright, very quiet, not a lot of sense of humour, but a nice man; and I think eventually was moved into a home up on Napier Hill, and that’s where he died. And I don’t know a lot about his other brothers. I do have a connection with somebody called Collie Henderson who lives here in Hawke’s Bay. His grandfather was Thomas’s brother, but my mother tells me that one of those brothers was a bit of a blackguard, and there’s all sorts of stories that we don’t know whether are true or not. [Chuckle]

Anyway, we’d bought this property which was named ‘Willowbrook’, and my father obviously farmed there ‘til he was – my father, Leicester Moorhead. [Spells first name] When he went to Napier Boys’ High they couldn’t be bothered with his long name so because he came from Tikokino they nicknamed him Tik; so he was known as Tik Moorhead. And my younger brother is named Tik after my father. So that’s that.

On my mother’s side … my mother was a Pettit; her father was William Charles Pettit, and his wife was Annie McKay. And the McKay family actually had a property just there, where Phil King who’s been prominent in agriculture … that’s where he lives now, so that was a McKay property. So my mother used to relate stories of coming from – they lived in Pettit Valley Road out of Onga Onga – and they used to come in a horse and gig from there to lunch, and it was an all day occasion. And on one occasion when the Waipawa River was very flooded, at the last minute, as a small child, she was tossed out of whatever she was in, and somebody grabbed her before she went into the flood. [Chuckle]

And William Pettit was the complete opposite to Thomas – a very gregarious, humorous man who eventually lost the farm through betting on racehorses. But he was a character, he was the complete opposite to Thomas, and … a little bit of history about him. He was one of the first vet [veterinarian] students at Lincoln College in the South Island, but sadly, developed very bad health and the doctors advised him to go on a long sea voyage for his health, and that’s what he did. So he sat me on his knee as a small child and told me about his travels; and I remember vividly things like the clock tower in the square in Venice where the figures come out and ring the bell. And when I saw it myself I had huge … I’m getting it now [chuckle] … goosebumps down my back. So he was a great character.

In the Pettit family – this is where my art comes from – there’re a lot of artists and singers, and pianists and violinists, and my grandfather, William, could sit down – he could go to a Gilbert & Sullivan opera and come home – and play the whole thing, including the overture, by ear on a piano. And that’s where I learnt my skill at playing; well, that’s … I started playing by ear when I was quite young too. Sadly never learnt to read music, but William was an amazing pianist. So although he was a farmer – and I don’t know whether he was a good farmer or not – but it was the racehorse betting that lost the farm; and that property was then owned by the Liddles, called ‘Merivale’, up the Onga road; so that’s still Pettit Valley Road. And I think William and his wife, Annie – who I never knew; she had red hair. So there’s red hair through the family on several sides, which I’ll talk about [chuckle] a bit later.

Yes. And then my mother had a brother, Jack; his name was Ginger ‘cause he had red hair; and a sister, Yolande, who never married and spent her whole life up the East Coast of the North Island; up and down from Tolaga Bay right down to the lower Wairarapa looking after people’s children. And if anybody should be sitting here relating stories about family it should be my Aunt Yolande. [Chuckle]

My mother went to the Onga Onga School, the old original little school, which is still there as a historic place. But her mother, Annie, died when my mother was ten. So that was all the education that my mother had, ‘cause she went … Yolande was older … and she went home to help Yolande look after their father. So that’s … you know, and if you’d met my mother you would be quite amazed. And I remember an occasion when a new vicar came to visit, and he and my mother were having a discussion at the front door and she was talking about having my brother, Stewart, he is … now is known as Tik … christened. And there was a great debate about whether it was christened or baptised, and my mother was very determined that it was christening – he would be christened – and the vicar was saying, “No, Mrs Moorhead, it’s baptism.” And as they carried on, I was standing behind listening to the conversation. He was quite a colourful vicar this man, and he eventually said to my mother, “You’re very well educated, Mrs Moorhead.” And my mother’s name was Moira, so it was Tik and Moira. And she just looked at him, ‘cause she was a very straight talker, and a very outgoing gregarious person again; and she was a real character. And so she dealt with people … nicely … in a very strong way, and had all sorts of very bad sayings. And I come out with them occasionally and my wife Caroline says, “Oh, that’s another one of your mother’s.” [Chuckles]

And my parents had … my mother actually had – I don’t know whether you want this in the story – but my mother had nine pregnancies, and only three of us survived. And it wasn’t until my father died and we were sorting out church service arrangements and things, that I discovered I had a brother and it had never been talked about. And he had lived for two and a half months, and he was Nicholas. And my cousin, Nicholas … Nick Riddell, who’s part of the family that lived up the road … his second name is Moorhead, and I think he was named after Nicholas Moorhead who died. And until this sitting with the family talking about my father’s funeral I didn’t know I had a brother called Nicholas.

[Are the] Riddells related to the Riddells of Tutira?

I’m not sure about that. Waipukurau; I think some in the Wairarapa. Mt Herbert at Waipukurau was their home.

Not a common name …

No. And they were known as Riddles for a long time, but at one stage they changed the name.

So yes, and so of the nine children, my sister Anne is the eldest survived [surviving], and she is now eighty-six and is still moving cattle on a small property out of Whangarei; lost her husband quite a long time ago. And then I’m the middle one and then there’s my brother Stewart who was a lot younger. And so we almost grew up in three … not three generations, but we really grew up … as younger ones we didn’t relate because there was quite a gap between us – seven or eight years, yes. As I say, I’m seventy-eight and my sister has just turned eighty-six, and my brother’s seven years younger than I am. And my father eventually … I think my grandfather held the reins of the farm until he was quite old, and my father didn’t get a chance to farm until he was … I really don’t know, I think probably into his fifties. But anyway, my father was a very good farmer. It was sheep and beef cattle, and he grew some winter crops for fattening lambs and for feeding up ewes before lambing. And the property was always … my grandfather loved everything to be very neat and tidy, and I can remember as a small child cutting kindling; and you could never leave outside the woodshed without getting the rake out and raking up every single little chip that was on the ground. So he was a very tidy man. As I say, I know nothing about Mary … now her name’s coming to me … no; it will come. So from that point on do you want me to talk more about my involvement?

Yes – your association with Tikokino or Onga Onga …

Right. Yes, well because we only lived four and a half miles from Tikokino, my sister, Anne, actually rode to school through our property and through a couple of paddocks of our neighbours to Highway 50 and then to the school, and there was a horse paddock across from the school where she used to leave the horse during the day. And so she went to primary school as did my brother, Stewart, went to the Tikokino Primary School.

I’m just trying to think at what age my father split the farm in two for my brother and I so we both had round about five hundred acres each. And the shingle part of the farm was balanced by the heavy part of the farm, and then I had the other half which included river bed which has a little stream called Weeks’s Creek which crosses Highway 50; as you approach Tikokino from the south you cross a bridge and that’s Weeks’s Creek, which is a trickle and then turns into a raging torrent. And so my father built stopbanks, mostly on one side of that creek to stop bad flooding. That was about a hundred acres in that creek bed, which we used to put the breeding cows in; and obviously when that flooded we had to get the cattle out very quickly. And we grazed the breeding cows on the shingle country and eventually built it up, and it grew amazing subterranean clover which was amazing for fattening lambs. And my father re-fenced everything, built wonderful implement sheds, barns, lovely new sheep yards out of totara. Oh – and part of this bottom section, actually below it, was part of Milbourne Station – The Brow property; that part of the property was the horse paddocks of The Brow. And there was still, until a few years ago, the original totara posts and a little bit of wire from the original fencing, so that went a way back.

Well The Brow, that was …

Patersons; and numerous other people since. From our garden … before the trees all grew up, you could actually see The Brow homestead from our garden … from Butler Road.

My father was a very good farmer, and he started the Angus cattle that we ran from a pedigree herd of heifers. So we had good stock to start with, and then he would cross them with shorthorn bulls and he often topped the weaner fair in Waipukurau. He also grew very good wool … coarse wool. The Moorheads were early clients of Dalgety’s, which was called something [chuckle] else before that, in Waipukurau; anyway, Thomas was probably one of their first clients. Then we dealt with Dalgety’s for a long time, and also Williams & Kettle in Waipawa.

The property had one other small stream so it was quite well watered, although this main stream was known to go dry, right back to the boundary where there was a large floodgate between our property and the Butler family; and that property had been a Rathbone property originally. There’s a Rathbone homestead on Highway 50, where Weeks’s Creek crosses Highway 50 and goes there.

Now your school days …

Right. My school days. I obviously went to school at Tikokino. I was a very bad asthmatic as a child and missed a lot of school, because in those days there were no ventilators to breathe into, so you had a small white pill which you took and you coughed until you stopped. So I missed a lot of school, and this is partly the reason that I became an artist, because where I lay in bed annoying my mother, yelling out, “What can I do? What can I do?” All day; she would throw magazines and paper and pencils and crayons on the bed and I would draw and copy and do things, and that’s where I started painting. And obviously this art thing came from her father’s family, where they were all … My parents had no art ability at all. My sister can paint, but hasn’t really painted for various reasons in her life, and my brother has no artistic talent at all. So that’s when I started painting, and in fact I had my first exhibition of watercolours at the Tikokino Oddfellows Hall when I was twelve. I still have some of those paintings, [chuckle] which I’ve shown once in a retrospective exhibition, and I’m intending to have another retrospective exhibition when I turn eighty.

So I went to the Tikokino School. Because I’d missed a lot of school I was put back several times, so I was probably a year and a half older than most of the pupils – I then went on to Napier Boys’ High as a boarder, and had four years there where I think I completely wasted my time – if I had my school days all over again I would work, and be a lot more attentive and [chuckle] enthusiastic about things – apart from the things I really enjoyed that were English, geography, art, sport; and so I actually didn’t gain School Certificate; I missed by three the first time and five the second time. But when I was chairing a Queen Elizabeth Arts Council meeting some years later, and on the Regional Council, appointed by the Minister of Arts, I thought. ‘Well actually, I’m all right – I’ve done all right.’ [Chuckles] So that was my education at Napier Boys’ High, and I do go back to the occasional jubilee, but I’m always rather disappointed in the numbers that turn up that I know; but I have tried to keep in contact with some of those people. And I gather that Napier Boys’ High is a very respected school now, for its quality of teaching and sport and everything else.

Oh – and then part of being at Tikokino School was the days of the dental clinic, which I thought was a great idea; I hope they bring it back. And also on Fridays we’d get in a bus and travel to Waipawa for manual training – that was woodwork, and the girls did cooking. And that tells you something about me, that I’m very artistic but I’m totally impractical with carpentry tools and things. And I remember making a shoe cleaning arrangement and I don’t think any of the joins met and I tried to fill them with plastic wood to cover up my bad … and I think I got three out of ten. So as far as practical things … although I managed the farm, and I did enjoy farming for the twenty-five years I farmed, I loved the breeding side of things, and I used to go to national bull sales and buy top quality bulls and the best rams I could find; and again, also like my father, topped the weaner fair at Waipukurau, and sold high quality wool which I really enjoyed. But I got … I guess I got bored with farming, and that’s when I had a change a bit later on.

And my only other schooling was probably through the arts; was going to weekend art workshops and things. And I tell the tale of when I was at primary school, probably when I was twelve; there used to be an adult education arrangement. And there was a fellow, Norman … again, I’ve forgotten the name just at the moment … who arranged these classes for all sorts of things in the sort of arts and crafts world and art history and things. And he arranged a life drawing class at the Waipawa District High School, and I thought, ‘Oooh, that sounds interesting!’ So off I went as a twelve year old thinking I was going to see lovely nubile nude ladies, and this model appeared in a full length black swimming suit, so I was very disappointed. [Chuckle] So that was I guess part of my starting to learn skills in painting.

Just going back to my father – my father went to Napier Boys’ High; I think he was in the First XV, a good rugby player and a very good tennis player, and he did play for Hawke’s Bay; played tennis probably into his sixties. And then at about sixty-seven he took up golf and played ‘til he was eighty-seven, and I think played to his age a couple of times at the Flaxmere golf course; so he loved his sport.

My mother wasn’t sporty at all, but I do remember being shocked one day when I looked out on a tennis court, and here she was having a hit up with my sister. And another day I heard the piano playing and my mother was sitting at the piano tinkering; and she became profoundly deaf when I was born and always wore hearing aids, with varying abilities and proficiencies. So she was a very deaf person, but managed to cope and lip read; and coped with having large numbers of people around dining room tables and things, and enjoyed people hugely. I think I’m going off track here a little bit.

So father was a very good tennis player, and obviously we all started playing tennis when we were quite young and I played in my first tennis tournament – I remember playing in the Waipawa Handicap Doubles with my father, against Mr Ormond and his son, Bill. And that was my first introduction to playing tennis and from then on I played regularly, and I eventually played for Hawke’s Bay as well. Played in various tennis groups in Hawke’s Bay Lawn Tennis in Hastings at the Whitehead Road courts in Hastings, and obviously in Waipawa and Waipukurau. And I served on various committees in the Central Hawke’s Bay tennis groups, and also enjoyed playing squash in Waipukurau – was involved in the fundraising for the squash club.

I did have a big involvement in the Waipawa-Tikokino community on committees and things. My grandfather was the first president of the Tikokino War Memorial Trust, and there was a little roughcast building … tile roofed building … quite an attractive little building which sat on the main street in Tikokino; and he was the first chairman of that board, and my father then went on to that board. When I left school I was called on to that board. I think it was mainly to clean the grounds up before Anzac Day, but I did enjoy it; and that building held Tikokino Library which the community used. And eventually when the new hall and community centre and playcentre was built in Tikokino, the plaques from the war memorial and the library were moved into the new building, so that little building no longer exists. I do remember once though, planting a seed from a pine tree. The seed came from Gallipoli, and I’m not sure … I think that pine tree is still growing up near the road. So that was the first thing I did in Tikokino. I used to help with collecting for the National Party; I was chairman of the Tikokino School Committee for some time; I served on the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council when a local councillor died and I took that position; so I had I think, two and a half terms as a councillor with the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council, which I enjoyed. I found it frustrating because I wanted things to get done, and some things did eventually get done but I always seemed to be yelling against a brick wall. So there was that; and obviously I did help with those sporting groups and also joined various arts groups in Central Hawke’s Bay. The Waipukurau art group who met in a very dingy, dark room behind the Waipukurau Library … I went, and I was quite young, I’d probably just left high school … and was met by a very grumpy group of women who didn’t want a man – especially not a young man – in their painting group, so I didn’t last there very long. And then I joined the Otane arts and crafts group at Otane, and spent lovely years there because they had a very strong group of artists; some very good artists, some of whom trained at the Canterbury School of Art, Ilam. And [I] eventually became president there for two terms as well, and so that’s where I picked up all sorts of painting skills and met all sorts of interesting people. Tutors from England; and we held all sorts of workshops, so some notable New Zealand artists used to come as guest artists, and it was a very strong group, which I really enjoyed.

Oh … it’s horrible having to talk about yourself, but I did at one stage win a North Island junior doubles title in Gisborne when I went to a tournament up there, so that was a bit of a thrill. I remember getting a piece of paper; there was no trophy or monetary gain at all, [chuckle] unlike today’s tennis players that [who] win these ridiculous amounts of money and behave badly. [Chuckle] So sport has been very much part of my life as well as my art, so I’m a bit of a contradiction having been a farmer and an artist and a sportsman – I have a whole lot of different roles [chuckle] I play.

I think they make a very interesting mix actually.

[Chuckle] Yes.

They all complement one another.

[Chuckle] Yes. And after twenty-five years farming I then decided I was getting bored with it, ‘cause the property was highly developed and I had pushed the stock numbers to as high as I could possibly get them. And I decided I was getting bored and I needed something else to do, and it just so happened that because I was involved with the Arts Council and community arts and things, a certain Kenneth Cotman whose family were noted water colourists in England, arrived out in New Zealand to do a lecture tour. And ‘would I help organise this tour for him, and could he come and stay?’ So this man who was in his seventies at this stage, came down on a bus from Auckland, he got off the bus with a leather satchel full of tapes – he’d been listening to music. And he was an extraordinary man; he’d been a window dresser at Selfridges; he was an artist himself, but his grandfather John Sell Cotman, is one of the noted water colourists from the Norwich school of painters in England. And he had other relatives who were very good artists.

So he came to stay and became quite a friend; and it was at this point where I was agonising over what I was going to do with my life. So I was in my fifties, and he said, “Well, what do you want to do?” He said, “You have to be doing something you’re enjoying.” And I said, “Well, I love gardening.” And my parents developed a large garden; amongst the large trees that grandfather planted, my mother and father then created a very large garden of about two and a half acres of hundreds of roses and perennial borders, and sunken gardens and rockeries, and all sorts of things. So I learnt a lot about gardening; not the botanical names or anything, but the actual skill of planting and enjoying trees and shrubs and flowers, very much as a child. And I suddenly decided I thought I’d like to be a garden designer. And so Kenneth Cotman stood in front of me and said, “Right, Richard – next week off you go and start this new career.” And I started while we were still farming at Tikokino, and I also developed a range of metal garden furniture, there’s some behind you, and some garden structures – pergolas, archways, garden furniture – which was called Moor Art, and my business was called Moor Art Garden Design.

I started on that from Tikokino, and then when Gaye and I moved … my first wife, Gaye … do you want to talk about her? She was Gaye Smith who came from Omakere; her parents Howard and Dawn Smith. And Howard Smith was one of the James Smith family from Wellington who owned the big department store. There were four brothers; Howard was one of those brothers. And his other brother, Robert, also moved to Omakere. The other two brothers stayed on in the store in Wellington. So Gaye was the eldest child of Howard and Dawn Smith from Omakere. Dawn was a Bousfield … family I think came from Gisborne.

Oh, I was coming to Havelock North; so Gaye and I moved to Havelock North about twenty years ago, and after … do I tell the story about the house now?


After looking at some fifty-five houses for somewhere to live, we finally found a lovely house in Havelock North, and had an option on it for ten days. And we absolutely loved it – it’s a lovely site, and had a beautiful garden – but we looked at each other and thought, ‘Why are we buying another big garden?’ We had this big garden at Tikokino which we opened to the public for many years, from September when the daffodils were out.

I forgot to mention that my mother bought bulbs from Sir Heaton Rhodes out of Christchurch to start this vast area of daffodils, and one of my mother’s aunts married a Rhodes, so there was a family connection. And then Aunty Aggie Rhodes actually bought a property at Onga Onga called Springhill; that was where they were. Springhill Station is there, it’s changed hands a couple of times since. But they went to live in Victoria in Australia, and the property they owned … it was interesting because it was on the coast, and they had merino sheep which obviously suffer from very bad foot rot if they’re on good country; but they had an island off the coast and when the tide was low they used to walk the sheep … the mob … across in the low tide and put them on the island for a while while their feet mended, and then walked them back again. It was one of my mother’s stories. The Rhodes family owned a lot of property in New Zealand, in the Wairarapa and all over the place; there were several brothers. And I think there’s a connection to the man in South Africa [Cecil Rhodes] whose statue has been removed from Oxford University or something – I don’t know the full story there. My mother talked fondly of Albert and Aggie Rhodes at Springhill, and particularly when her mother died the family were very kind … very good to her, I think. And we have one piece of furniture from the Rhodes family which my daughter owns now. It’s a [an] early Victoria nursing chair with a beautiful carved back, which has been well looked after by my daughter.

So Gaye and I moved to Havelock North, and obviously I started my business. And I had an office in a shop called Chelsea Court in Havelock North which sold interior and garden objects; and that’s where I had my design office. And from the moment I started that I used to do about a hundred gardens a year; a lot from scratch, but also renovating gardens and helping people with their plantings and design and what-have-you, which I really enjoyed. And I’ve only just recently given that up; I still do some on-site discussion with people.

Just where was Chelsea Court?

It was on the Havelock-Hastings road where there was a little … it became an alterations shop; there was a little cafe in front that sold pies and things, which has been closed for quite a long time – next door to Tumu – and it was a lovely shop. And then from Chelsea Court I eventually moved and had an office at the Green Door nursery on the Hastings-Havelock North road. I had an office at the back of the nursery, and my clients used to meet me there. And I used to sell an awful lot of plants for the Green Door company because I’d take people round and show them [chuckle] what they should be buying. And I also dealt with them and other nurseries when I was buying product to put in people’s gardens. So that was something I really loved, and I still have contact with a lot of those clients still.

Were you there when John Purdie ..?

Yes, yes, and Debbie Nott, she used to work … I haven’t seen them for a while. My wife, Gaye, was very good at flower arranging and used to do a lot of work for private clients in Central Hawke’s Bay and all round Hawke’s Bay – weddings and parties and things; she had an amazing skill. And then when she came to Havelock North she worked for Debbie Nott which was a great thing for her. She had some skills – she learnt upholstery; loved her gardening; she was a keen tennis player and also played golf at the Onga Onga Golf Course, which my grandfather had some connection with because he planted the trees that are round the oval, and some of the trees around the golf course were planted by my grandfather, William Pettit. So there’s a connection.

So obviously when I came to Havelock North I decided I should join one of the art groups here, and I became a member of the Keirunga Arts & Crafts Group which I’m still very much part of. I’m President of the Artists’ Group; I’m on the Rebuild Committee, and I’m also on the board of the Keirunga Arts & Crafts … very involved there still. The new building is in process; the rebuild and the new build have started after two years, and so that’s an exciting project.

Back when I was still farming I went to an Arts Conference in Lower Hutt I think it was, and because I got up and spoke about some ideas I had about arts and crafts and how it could be promoted, I was then appointed by the then Minister of the Arts to the Regional Arts Council which was an area from Gisborne to Nelson-Marlborough in the South Island, and I used to attend meetings every two months in Wellington. And of course that was a great joy because I was meeting interesting artistic people in all fields of the arts and crafts; and made a lot of very good friends and enjoyed that very much. And through that I became Chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Central & Southern Community Arts Council, and have had a lot of involvement in things there; was able to get the Dannevirke Art Club their own rooms, and helped get grants for various arts organisations and individuals in Hawke’s Bay. So that was a really good time, and I spent two and a half terms … probably about five or six years on the Regional Arts Council. And as I said earlier, I was called in to chair the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council meeting a few times because they thought I had interesting things to say, [chuckle] and somebody wasn’t there to take the meeting. But that was wonderful because at lunchtimes various people who are now very well known iconic artists would come for lunch, and you would meet them and that was fantastic; so that was a great part of my life.

I’ve continued with my tennis – I still play tennis, so I’m very lucky. I played a lot of squash when I left school and also badminton. And the squash … two carloads of us used to meet in Waipawa and drive to Napier and play in the old original squash courts which were the old reservoir up on the Napier Hill; and then I have to say I don’t know whether I want this recorded, but we used to drink quite a lot of beer and then drive back to Waipawa. [Chuckle]

That was quite normal those days.

[Chuckle] Yes, it was. So I really enjoyed squash, but I also enjoyed badminton. And badminton was played in all the little halls and church halls around the Central Hawke’s Bay area … Hatuma, Takapau, Porangahau, Otane, Waipawa, Tikokino … and in fact the Birdwood Gallery out on Middle Road is the old school hall from St Peter’s in Waipawa, where I played badminton; it is now the home base for Birdwood Gallery in Middle Road. So I walk in there and think, ‘Ah, yes – I’ve had some fun here.’ I did play B Grade badminton, and so used to come to … the building as you approach Hastings, the big gymnasium, whatever it was called …


YMCA building; I used to come and play in tournaments and matches there which I enjoyed. And when I was at Napier Boys’ High I was a keen table tennis player. It was a good reason to get out of school, and we used to go after prep out to various places and play table tennis, which I enjoyed. And we used to have a table tennis table in the woolshed at Tikokino which we used on wet days occasionally.

Coming back to when you originally met Gaye, and then you had your children …

Yes, so Gaye and I actually met at a wedding party; and … my artistic eye possibly … she had an amazing hat, and I think I fell in love with the hat and then I fell in love with Gaye. And as happens, I think, because we were in that area I think we probably went to a lot of parties together but didn’t actually meet or click until that moment. And so we had a wonderful wedding out at Te Manuri Station where Howard and Dawn lived, for a very large number of people. Yes, so Gaye and I lived at Willowbrook.

We did talk about the old house – as I said, it was very cold because it faced the wrong way, but my mother did some quite good alterations; she loved interiors and antiques and things and built up an amazing collection of furniture and bits and pieces. It was one of her joys to go to the McKearney’s sales in Hastings and bid up largely for all sorts of things. My mother never held a chequebook so she had to speak very kindly to Father about what she’d bought. And at one stage we had a large manure shed with bagged manure in it, and I found a table in the corner of the manure shed with a tarpaulin over it. And I said to my mother, “What’s that table out in the shed?” She said, “I haven’t told Tik about that one yet.” [Chuckle] And it happened that one of the legs had a bit of borer in it, and she was too embarrassed to tell him that she’d bought a table and it had borer in it. But that table is still … it’s been repaired and it’s in the family somewhere.

So Willowbrook was a real family home. Some of the verandahs that Grandfather originally created were included into some of the bedrooms, so they had different ceiling heights and things to bring some sun into the rooms. And Gaye and I actually altered the kitchen which was on the west side of the house and opened it up for the afternoon sun. My mother built a beautiful large terrace along the front of the house which faced the tennis court, which was originally grass and then eventually asphalt; and then eventually sealed with pink sand from Auckland Harbour which was a lovely surface to play on; ‘cause it looked attractive in the winter because of the colour, and it was a good surface. And that was used by everybody in the district, and there were always … my father had many tennis parties, and Gaye and I had many tennis parties. And lots of girls … friends of Gaye’s … used to come for tennis days and things, and the children all endured that whether they were kicking a football, riding a pedal car or learning to ride their bicycles. And the tennis court’s still there. So the house still had some walls – even when we left – it still had some walls on scrim; many layers of paint over wallpapers and things. But some of it had been modernised – my mother put in a lovely new bathroom; and originally the washhouse, as it was called, was out across from the back door out in the orchard.

Yes, so the garden – my mother and father created this rather large garden, and Gaye and I then took it on and as I said, had it open to the public. And we went from … the first year we had three buses; the next year we had thirty buses. So that was a lot of work.

So we came to Havelock North, and obviously slotted into the lovely surroundings in Havelock North; and I had my garden design business and Gaye had her friends and family, some still in Central Hawke’s Bay, but she eventually had a sister who moved to Havelock North, and brothers who were still farming at Omakere.

And then sadly, sixteen years ago Gaye developed bowel cancer and eventually died of cancer, which was a huge shock to us all. And then a few years later, in my miserable state, great friends said to me, “We’re going on a trip to Europe; you’ve got to come … you need to get out of it and move.” And I love travel because … oh, going backwards again … when we were twelve the only overseas trip my parents did was a month in Australia. And because we were all tennis mad we went to the Davis Cup tennis in Sydney. And we stayed in and around Sydney for a month, and did treks into the Blue Mountains and up the Hawkesbury River. And I was a twelve year old, and I did start … I was busy sketching then. And I can’t find it, but I do have a little notebook with biro pen drawings of bats hanging in the tree outside where we stayed. So I was busy drawing at that stage, and we had a wonderful month away.

My younger brother Tik or Stewart was left behind with Aunt Yolande, but four of us went off and had this lovely … And I remember – very embarrassing – having to wear a suit … a grey suit. It did have short trousers, but in those days people dressed up and so when we went out for dinner at smart hotels in Sydney or other places, I was dressed up in this little grey suit with a tie. [Chuckle] How times have changed. So that was the extent of my parents’ travel; and I always regret the fact that they never got to Europe, because my mother obviously adored everything English and European … the art, the music, the interior design and all that stuff. Sadly they never got there.

And my father was a very keen follower of cricket, and when we were footrotting sheep in the wool shed for some weeks – we literally footrotted every sheep – ‘cause in those days you had footrot and you didn’t cull the footrotty ones, you just get them going. And he and my brother would have the cricket on, and I was not a cricket fan and this radio would be blaring all day with the cricket tests and all that. Anyway, a few years ago my eldest son married a girl in Melbourne and I had the joy of being taken to the MCG [Melbourne Cricket Ground] was taken into the holy of holies to see all the wonderful relics and memorabilia that they hold there, and I thought. ‘This shouldn’t be me, it should be my father.’

So Gaye and I had very happy times here. And then I eventually decided to go on this trip to Europe because I had had a taste of travel having been to Australia when I was twelve, and remembered all of that vividly. So off I went to England; I travelled via the East and took three and a half weeks to get to England. I travelled on my own ‘cause most of my friends had already done their big OE. [Overseas experience] So I stopped off in various places, Singapore, Bangkok, Delhi in India, Beirut, Athens and Rome and then eventually on to London where I was met by some friends; settled myself in a little B&B [Bed and Breakfast] in Chelsea, and had an amazing eight and a half months touring round Ireland, Scotland, England and Europe. When I went on this trip with this small group of friends after Gaye had died, it was lovely to be with this group of people; and I had stayed with a New Zealand girl who was married to an Englishman. She’d come from Omakere, and her parents were staying and I was to fly from Rome to London. And as I left the house, Sheila Lethbridge, whose family – Lethbridges farmed at Omakere and still have a property there – Sheila gave me a letter for Caroline Ingle, this person who I’d never met. And when I got on to the bus in Rome at the start of our trip round France and Italy, I asked Ros Harker from Havelock North, who was taking tours to Europe at that side [time], “Who was Caroline Ingle?” Because I knew quite a few people on the bus but I’d never met Caroline Ingle. And so I had the letter in my hand from Sheila Lethbridge, and I walked down the bus and said, “Good morning, Caroline – you’ve got mail.” And that was how I met my now wife, Caroline. [Chuckle] And then I eventually realised that … when we came back and eventually were sort of dating and things … that this is the house that she had bought and this is the house where Gaye and I nearly lived.

Isn’t that amazing!

So, and it was very funny. Another lovely story was that I was doing all this landscaping at the time; and at the time I just happened to be working on a neighbouring property just two houses away from here. And there’s those agapanthus along the drive, and Caroline was here by herself; and my friends that I’d been touring with were really pushing this … this thing that was going on you see, you know, thinking it was wonderful, you know … “Come on, Richard!” And all the rest of it; and Caroline tells the story of, “Suddenly there was this man who kept popping his head up above the agapanthus.” And so she came out the front door one day and she said, “Is that you Richard? Would you like a cup of coffee?”

And so we’re back to sort of more present-day things. My family, my children? Yes. Well they’re obviously all … my children, James, the eldest; Caroline; and Hamish, born two years apart. James has lived in Australia for twenty-odd years; he was on his way to Europe to do a Wine Masters, and met a girl and didn’t get any further; and has three lovely family there, and a lovely wife. Runs a big shopfitting business which is a family business, and he’s very involved in the design side, so when you go into Melbourne CBD he can point out numerous buildings where he’s been involved with iron, steel work, aluminium – you name it; and refurbishing hotels and restaurants and God knows what. Also racecourse building; and has provided aeroplanes and cars for fire fighting groups to use for fire practice. That’s one of the things he got into; and also some refurbishment of railway engines. [Chuckle] So he’s got a very wide range of skills in that. And so he’s there in Melbourne.

My daughter, Caroline, is married to Steven Short, and he has a building construction company. He was farming in the Rangitikei, and gave that up and bought part of a fencing contract business; and then got into the building industry, and has Short Construction and also is now the owner of the Versatile franchise for Hawke’s Bay; and is currently at a conference in Adelaide. [Chuckle] And my daughter Caroline did her nursing in Palmerston North and is now works at Royston Hospital which she thoroughly enjoys; and has been very involved in Havelock North fundraising for Havelock Primary, Havelock Intermediate; she’s been on the Brains Trust committee raising money … very involved, and has taken after her father in that regard. [Chuckle]

And then there’s Hamish, the youngest, who did his landscape architecture degree course at Lincoln College, and has a very successful business; was based in Wellington, now based in Carterton, where he’s just recently built a beautiful new home. He works all over the country and in Australia doing landscape design, and was also involved in a TV programme some years ago – has a very high profile, so I’m very proud of him. And the property here at Kaponga Road is a half acre in size, so still quite a lot of gardening goes on; but I am finding that [chuckle] it’s not as easy as it was and we are looking to downsize; and so at the moment I think I’m gardener number four. [Chuckle]

Well that’s perfect; it’s north-facing, isn’t it?

Yes, it is. I could tell you a lovely story … well, my wife, having married an Englishman and lived in England for thirty-odd years, then coming back to New Zealand and settling here again, travels to Europe a lot, and I have been with her a lot. She goes most years to see her daughters and grandchildren in England, in West Sussex, and I obviously go when I can.

So sometimes when we go away we get somebody to come and house sit, just to keep an eye on the property; we find it’s quite a good thing if you’re away, to have somebody here to keep an eye on things and keep things working. So on one of our trips, before we went we interviewed a lady who somebody had suggested; and I think I had met her, she was a very quiet retiring person. Anyway we arranged for her to come at ten o’clock one morning to meet, and my wife said, “Well let’s meet in the study”, which is a little room next door where my wife has her desk and we have some chairs, and it’s a lovely spot in the morning. So she said, “Let’s go in there, we’ll talk to her in there.” So there are three chairs, and we sat down and she sat in a chair away from the window. And we talked about what was required, and could she cope and all the rest of it, and gave her all the bits and pieces. And then suddenly she stood up and walked over to the window; ‘cause she had mentioned about who would be mowing lawns and things like that, you see. Anyway, [chuckle] she – and you’ll excuse my language – but she walked over to the window and she said, “Oh shit!” Because she realised what a large [chuckle] garden we had; and to hear this very reserved, quiet woman come out … we were just hysterical; it was very funny. So we … yes, over the years we’ve had numerous people to come and house sit while we’ve [chuckle] been abroad, but I think that was a particularly funny moment.

And my wife, Caroline, has a great interest in gardening – she’s in charge of the vegetable garden. And this garden was established when she bought here, and I have added in and removed some things. And we have had it open to the public for fundraising events. Caroline is very involved with an art history group; we meet here regularly. And she plays mahjong, and she played croquet for a long time at the croquet grounds on Napier Road until her back gave in.

So we’re involved in the Havelock scene; we’re also members of what is now called the Arts Society, which came from England – the Decorative & Fine Arts Society. I was on the initial committee to start that five years ago, and that has got a huge membership; and they have eight or nine lectures a year – wonderful lecturers who come from England – on all sorts of arts and crafts related things. So that’s a very nice thing we’re involved with. And we enjoy the cafe culture of Havelock North. Caroline’s always had dogs and we have a new dog at the moment and a new cat, so that keeps us busy. And we just enjoy all our friends and family that are here and abroad. And we’re very fortunate.

Well, Caroline has some children?


Where are they?

So Caroline has three children. Her eldest daughter, Victoria, lives in England; is not married. And her younger daughter, Henrietta, is married with three children who are at boarding school stage. And then there was Alexander, [?Alexandra?] who lives here in Havelock North, and is currently the manager of the Redcurrant warehouse which deals with all the stores all round New Zealand; and has a property – she lives in St George’s Road.

Well that’s lovely. Well, thank you, Richard, for sharing …

Well, [chuckle] I don’t know what I’ve said …

with Hawke’s Bay. But no, it’s important because you know, you’re a reasonably high profile person in Hawke’s Bay.

And the only other thing I haven’t related is, when you get to more senior years you seem to spend a bit of time going to funerals. And when I turned seventy I decided that I would have a large party, because when you go to funerals you see people you never see any other time of the year. And so I decided I would have a large birthday party with all my friends and connections to celebrate on a happy occasion. So I hired the courtyard at the Opera House in Hastings, and we had a Mamma Mia party, with the film playing and the music playing. And I had about a hundred and seventy people, and those included my family, my farming friends, my tennis friends, my arty friends and my landscaping friends, and my Havelock friends, and we had a wonderful, wonderful time.

What a wonderful backdrop … [chuckle] Mamma Mia.

And it wasn’t stated as a dress up party, but I didn’t recognise some of my friends in their wigs and get ups; so it was a lovely, lovely party. And I intend … I’m planning a similar thing for my eightieth. [Chuckle] I’ve got a theme and everything already, so … [chuckle]

Thank you, Richard.

All right.


Because my mother at ninety-six eventually ended up in Duart Hospital for the last three months of her life I decided – because I played the piano by ear and have done since I was quite small – I would go and play for the residents of Duart on a Wednesday before their evening meal. And there was lovely staff there when my mother was there; and in fact not so very long ago, one of the staff who’s still there said, “Do you remember when your mother flooded three rooms?” She had turned a tap on in the basin and forgotten it, and [chuckle] flooded three rooms. So there’s just an amazing number of stories about my mother. [Chuckle]

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


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