Noel Bernard Congdon & Elaine May Congdon Interview
Today is the 30 August 2016. I am interviewing Noel and Elaine Congdon of Hastings. They’re going to tell us about the life and times of their family. Noel, would you like to tell us now.
Well thanks, Frank. Elaine and I appreciate the visit and we’ll do our best to cover what you want us to cover, and it might be a little bit disjointed in parts but we’ll do our best to cover the important things anyway Frank. I’ll kick off with my background.
My Dad first of all, was Albert Congdon and he had an orchard here in Thompson Road back at the time of the First World War. He went to the war from here in 1916, but before that he’d bought this orchard in Thompson Road and he had a range of fruits and a glass house with tomatoes. He married a part-Maori lady. She was one of the Sturm family, and she was a daughter of the Sturm who had the nursery at the top of Napier Road, and the Sturmer apple was named after this nurseryman. Anyway, my father went into the War and in the meantime he’d married Queenie Sturm and they’d had a little girl, Joyce. He came back from the war and went back on to the orchard and for various reasons … this was after Queenie got the ‘flu that was so common, so rampant at that time, and she passed on. And for that and other reasons my Dad decided to move up to Auckland where he established another orchard at Albany and married Amy Taylor who was my mother. And we were brought up on that orchard at Albany in Bush Road, which is now of course under concrete largely.
You’ve got a long way to go yet. You haven’t even got out of Auckland yet.
Righto – oh, you want me to get through that, righto. I was brought up on the orchard, and it was a time when – it was the depression time, the early 30s – I was born in 1928, Christmas Day 1928, and the years following that were depression years, and things were pretty tough everywhere. Although on the orchard of course, we were able to grow a lot of our own vegetables, tomatoes and things. And I went to the Albany Primary School which incidentally is due to have its 150th anniversary jubilee in September – this coming month. The Albany school … yes, went through the early years at Albany school, and it was a matter of getting to school on your bike which was along rough metal roads of course. And from there I went to the Northcote College … Northcote Secondary school. We went there by bus, catch the bus at the top of the Bush Road through to Northcote.
Just where is Albany relative … in Auckland, is it west? Was it a fruit growing area?
It was on the northern side – the North shore. Now it’s the first large development that you drive through on the way north from Auckland. The main fruit growing areas in Auckland were Kumeu, Whenuapai, Henderson. Henderson – Lincoln Road and Rathgar Road, they were the main fruit growing areas. They’re all of course housing now. In those days there were orchards on both sides of the road.
From Northcote College I went to Auckland University and studied science and managed to graduate with a BSc degree in 1952. Before I finished my degree I had joined the Department of Agriculture and worked sort of part time while I completed my degree. And undertook a couple of years of training in orchard work and then advisory work associated with fruit growing and vegetable growing and nurseries and also got a grounding in the fruit inspection side of our job which was very important of course, inspecting apples and pears as growers submitted their fruit for export.
So two years in Auckland with the Department of Ag and after I graduated and had had two years, they asked me if I would be prepared to move to Hastings to fill a vacancy in the Department of Agriculture here that Bob June had left. Bob June became the Wattie’s Senior Field Supervisor. So he left and left this vacancy and I was asked to move down here, which I had some misgivings about because in the middle of my training period in Auckland my Dad passed away at the age of sixty, and I was offered the orchard at Albany – to purchase it from the Estate in 1951, which I did. Had a manager who was prepared to stay on the orchard for me while I moved away, if I moved away down to Hastings. And it wasn’t an easy decision but I realised that Hawke’s Bay was the place to be if I was going to pursue my career in agriculture – horticulture particularly – this was the place to be, so I agreed to move down to Hawke’s Bay at the end of 1952.
While you were in Auckland did you play any sport at all?
I was very keen on sport Frank, yes I played rugby, cricket – secondary school …
I eventually got interested in tennis and I eventually concentrated on tennis and pursued that. Athletics too, I was keen on athletics and I held the record for some time on the long jump. We played rugby against other secondary schools in Auckland. They usually did us, because they were much bigger than we were. Northcote College was a minnow compared with Auckland. Auckland Grammar, Mt Albert Grammar, Otahuhu College.
They still attract big strong rugby players don’t they?
Yes. They do. I played cricket when I left school in the North Shore. Yes I was keen on most of the sports Frank.
So then you moved to Hawke’s Bay.
Yes. I’ve never had any regrets Frank in doing that because it was the place to be as I say.
It wasn’t long after I came to Hawke’s Bay that I met a young lady called Elaine Wake and she happened to be an orchardist’s daughter by chance. It was quite a coincidence really and one day when I was visiting Archie Wake this young lady arrived up the drive on her bike from work. She worked at the Power Board. And Mr Wake said “Elaine, I’d like you to meet Mr Congdon”, [chuckle]. And when I spotted her I thought “gee, she’s rather nice. I wonder if she’d think I was too old”, ’cause I was [chuckle] twenty four by then [chuckle] – just about left on the shelf, Frank. So that was our first meeting, and not long after that I decided that I’d see if I could attract her enough to take her out to the pictures. I plucked up courage and rang her Dad one day, and said “would you mind if I ask Elaine if I can take her out?” And he said “sure, sure”. That’s how it all started Frank.
Right Elaine, could you tell us about your family now? We know about it but we want to hear about it from you now.
Elaine: I was born in Hastings. I’ve lived here all my life, Frank. And Mum and Dad were orchardists in St George’s Road South, and that’s where I was brought up until the time I got married really. So that was my only home. I started at Havelock School in the primers there. We used to walk from our home in St George’s Road down to the corner at Pukahu, where the bus picked us up each morning. In those days there was the big dip down over the stream, and there were one or two times we actually missed the bus and had to walk to school -wouldn’t arrive till late morning. It’s quite a long way to walk. But anyway that’s just how it happened. So we did that for all our primary school years until we started riding a bike. And Mum and Dad chose Havelock school against Parkvale so we didn’t have to cross the main Havelock Road.
But it was a lovely school … it was the old school. So I did all my … right up until Standard 6, and then went on to High School which was a mixed school in those days where the Boys’ High is now. They were very happy years and like Noel I was very keen on sport, loved basketball as it was called in those days. Excuse my croakiness Frank, I’m just getting over pneumonia which affected my throat. Loved basketball, tennis, and I was very keen on guiding in those days and I was working up towards my Queen’s Guide Award which I had to get by the time I was sixteen. And with the help of Pauline Tires who was in the guiding those days I managed to get it and – I think if I remember correctly I was the second one in New Zealand to get that award which was a thrill.
I didn’t get terribly far at High School – I had three years, and I think I pestered Dad to let me leave. I must have got round him in the end, and my first job was at J E Peach & Co …
I remember it, yes.
… a garage on the corner of Karamu and Eastbourne Street. And I was enjoying that and then one day my Dad said to me “Elaine I hate asking you this, but your Mother has been offered a trip to go with her sister” – who was Vera Morrison whose husband was Sid Morrison – Motor Mowers. And it was for six months sailing, and Dad wondered if I’d be prepared to give up my job to be at home to feed he and my older brother Graham and younger one Colin Wake. So I did that. I hadn’t had much interest in cooking at that stage. I was too busy playing sport and guiding, and so it was a big learning curve Frank, I can tell you. Mum and I were busy writing out recipes and things before she went. It was a lovely chance for her to go because my aunty Vera Morrison had no family and she was awfully good to us kids.
Noel: It was to England and Europe wasn’t it?
Elaine: Yes, England and Europe.
Just recently I interviewed Jack Morrison who is one of your relatives by marriage. Fascinating man too.
So that’s what I did for those six months, and Colin was only at High School in those days and Graham was on the orchard with Dad. And I did lots of baking for these … because Mum had always made all the morning and afternoon teas for the workers.
Noel: Good training for her Frank.
Still doing it too.
Elaine: Yes. It was a cooked breakfast and all this sort of thing. And because I really wanted to … when I left Havelock School I really wanted to go into the Commercial Course, but – I think it was Gordon White, I think he was headmaster or deputy – and he talked my parents into putting me into the academic course – Latin and French. I think I stuck Latin for one year and French for two. But Mum and Dad thought perhaps [chuckle] I mightn’t have enough to do while she was away so they said would I like to be enrolled with a Mr Olaf up in Oliphant Road, who took lessons at night, 5 o’clock, to learn shorthand and typing. So I took that on too, so that meant I had to have …
[Chuckle] … which I enjoyed, yes, because it was something I always wanted to learn. So a good friend of mine was Val Brittain – Valerie Brittain – who unfortunately passed away this year. And right from that time, getting on the bus together and … she had been a great friend. And she worked at the Power Board and she said to me one day “I think there’s a vacancy coming up about the time your Mum comes home – would you like me to put your name down?” Which she did, and so I was able to go straight into a job at the Power Board. So I was there from ’51 to ’56.
So in the meantime, I know I had been going with a boy for a couple of years, when this lad that was in our driveway one afternoon when I came home … and I thought “oh … rather nice”, but I did think he was a bit old – when you’re eighteen and someone’s twenty four. [Chuckle] Anyway it was a little bit awkward for a wee while.
Noel: I had a bit of competition Frank.
Elaine: Things do sort out don’t they? Yes it takes a wee while. Anyway, and so we did, we played a lot of tennis together in those days leading up to … So we had a lovely courtship.
Noel: But I had to wait Frank, ’til she was twenty one. [Chuckle]
You were getting older too, weren’t you?
I was … I was.
You would have been twenty seven by then.
That’s right – you’re dead right.
Almost over the hill.
Elaine: [Chuckle] Yes, Dad was keen that I waited until I was twenty one for goodness sake – which we did. So we became engaged on my twentieth birthday, then married about oh, a year later. So I gave up work as we did in those days mostly, and eighteen months later we had our first baby, Peter – 10lb baby boy. [Chuckle] And a couple of years later we had a daughter, Christine. Another couple of years after – not exactly two years but they all are just two years apart. Then we had another daughter, Vicky, and we thought we would like a fourth, and managed to get another little boy. Two of each – in fact our eldest boy is going to turn sixty next year.
Noel: Makes you feel old, Frank.
Elaine: Quite amazing isn’t it.
Well that’s good. We’ll pick up the story back with Noel and then …
Getting back to the Department of Ag days in Hastings as it was then it was the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Ag was divided into a number of divisions. The one I was in was the Horticulture division, then there was the Farming advisory division, Animal Health division and the Admin division. Carried on that way for a number of years and we had a team of people in Hastings involved with Horticultural advisory work and Horticultural inspection work, and we had one who was an Apiary instructor and we had one fellow who was a Port Agricultural officer in Napier. So we had quite a team. We were administered at that stage from Palmerston North. The Horticultural Superintendent was based in Palmerston North, Jack Hume, in those early days and he used to come through frequently and we’d sometimes travel to Gisborne together, because Gisborne was part of the Hastings region.
As time went on … first of all the job mainly for me was in the field side – field activities. We worked closely with the research people in DSIR at research orchards here in Havelock North … Don McKenzie and other staff, so I just based there. Worked in closely with them, and our job revolved around very much individual grower visits, following up requests for help in some way – might be advice on spraying, might be advice on establishing orchards and so on – a whole range of things that we got involved in. And it was a free service in those days, no charging for services, which was a great set up for us because we were able to just walk on to orchards and say g’day to the grower, what are the problems, or how is this going or that going – things we’re following up with him or wanted to research or look into with him. So we accumulated a lot of knowledge ourselves as advisors, and we were able to impart of bit of helpful knowledge to them as well so it was a very much a two way thing. And we’d have Field Days, we had major Field Days … fruit growers, vegetable growers … and we were getting involved with the viticultural side as well in those days, and we had frequent meetings with growers. We used to give weekly radio talks over the Napier station with up to date information about where the season was and activities relating to the seasons as it was then. It was quite a popular session with growers.
And we got involved with processing crops as well, working with the processors, looking at things that we could help them do research on. And we eventually moved into establishing a research property at Lawn Road which was concentrating on process crop research – field research type things, in association with Wattie’s and Birds Eye, at the time – things that perhaps they weren’t able to do on their own property we were able to supplement with what we could do at Lawn Road and also in Gisborne, which I became involved in progressively with the Gisborne team. We set up a research property there in Manutuke in Gisborne, looking at citrus research and other sub-tropical research work – mainly citrus.
So my promotion came along. I was made a Horticultural superintendent ’bout 1961. We were cut off from the Palmerston North administration and we became a separate region ourselves, so I was in charge of the Hawke’s Bay/Gisborne region. And that of course involved quite a lot of travel, keeping in touch with staff, getting involved with work that they were doing. But we had a great team and we were very much a family orientated group. We did a fair bit of socialising together. Elaine was very hospitable with people visiting Hawke’s Bay, she had them at home for meals and for what-have-you. We developed a great feeling amongst ourselves, and it was part of the free service that we were involved in at that time.
Of course during that period there were some major changes happening, especially with pip and stone fruit industry because there was the redeveloping of land, tile draining under Selwyn Wilson who was one of your people and then I guess we changed from multi lever to single levers. We moved from pulling hoses round the orchard to spray to glass sprayers and really it was a major developing time Noel.
It was – I was going to cover that Frank.
Technical advancements, mechanical harvesting of various crops, peas, beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes, to some extent asparagus as well. And you’ve already mentioned the training systems with single leader development, which was Don McKenzie’s baby initially, but that was promoted by our advisors in the field when it became obvious that it was the way to go. New root stocks, semi dwarfing root stocks came into use. New varieties were coming along. Grassing down of orchards was something that had been frowned on for … traditionally you don’t grass down orchards, but that along with mulching around the trees came into being. It made the management of orchards much more … not simpler really, but it was better for the trees because the feeding roots were able to come up to the surface and that made for better health of the trees, both pip fruit and stone fruit.
Spraying systems – you’ve mentioned the introduction of automatic spraying and turbo mist spraying. The use of much smaller amounts of water – instead of spraying to run off, we sprayed to a semi-concentrate system, in other words, reducing the amount of liquid that went on the trees by two thirds using about a third of the amount of water. So that came into being and a couple of us guys in MAF, one in Nelson and myself in Hawke’s Bay, were designated to follow the system to make sure that growers were operating it successfully, because there were a number of factors involved in semi concentrate spraying that had to be adhered to. The speed of travel down the rows was essential – had to be right. ‘Course the concentrations used had to be correct and the calibration of the nozzle systems on the automatic sprayers had to be correct.
That was an interesting time for me. I also got involved with field investigation works – field investigation of different sorts, chemical, control of certain insect pests like mealy bug, red mite. There were new chemicals coming along that had to be evaluated out on the commercial orchards. Then I got involved in that. That was interesting.
In 1963 I was asked if I would travel to Britain and Europe to inspect the out turn of our New Zealand export apples and pears. This was a scheme that was set up with the Department of Agriculture and the Apple and Pear Marketing Board. At that time there was somebody went from the major districts each year to report on the out turn of our fruit, and in 1963 I was asked if I would undertake this job. Now at that time we had three kiddies and we were expecting our fourth and I turned the job down – no way was I going to leave Elaine for five months – it would have been away for five months with her expecting our fourth child. However it worked out alright because Elaine’s cousin was a Karitane nurse and she was just completing her duty in this particular part of New Zealand and she offered to come and live with Elaine for the time that I would be away. So that’s what happened, and that enabled me to get away and it was a wonderful experience.
And you produced that little boy.
Elaine: Yes. When Noel said he was going to turn it down I was really disappointed because you don’t get the chance usually again. So Noel said “well, I won’t go unless I can get someone to come and be with you”, so it just so happened that … Ethne’s sister that is, younger sister … and she was wonderful. And having Mum and Dad – by that time we’d shifted out to Norton Road, and our property – Dad had bought the back property from his orchard on St Georges Road – so we had the back track. Mum and Dad were very helpful too.
Noel: So the job for five months overseas, Frank, was meeting the shipments as they arrived in the various ports of England and Europe, and reporting back on the out turn of the fruit on a grower basis. Each grower’s fruit of course was well documented with the registration number. It had the date of harvesting on it so I was able to check on … the harvesting date was right in relation to the maturity that showed at the out turn. And it enabled me to visit places that might have been hard to get to otherwise such as Stockholm for one shipment; Hamburg; down the south of France to the port down there. Plus I was asked to – while I was over there – to visit research areas in the UK and Europe where possible when I had the time, just to provide information on the lines of research that were being carried out in these research stations, like East Malling, Long Ashton, the fruit research trials and Wageningen in Holland was one that I got to and it was great to be able to visit those research stations and see what they were working at in relation to what our needs were in New Zealand.
I was also asked to attend a conference in Rome, an FAO conference, in particular the Codex Alimentarius conference that was being held for the first time. This was to look at international standards for fruit and vegetables. It also involved dairy and livestock farming standards, and there were two other fellows from the embassy in London that were asked to attend. So that was a great experience. We were there for about ten days I suppose it was, attending various committee meetings. It was basically setting the Codex up, because Codex Alimentarius Establishing Standards had never been looked at before in the Common Market set up. So that was a great experience and you certainly learnt a bit about lobbying. Some of the countries were lobbying so hard to get on committees, French and Australians … others. But it was in many ways a great experience for me – managed to see a little bit of Rome as well of course while we were there.
One of the other jobs I had to do was to report on the out turn of a trial we were doing with – or the industry was doing looking at the wooden cases versus cartons for exporting the apples and pears. At that stage traditionally we had been exporting in the wooden case and the fruit often got knocked around so bad, and it was so badly bruised in many cases that the industry in New Zealand was looking at an alternative. One of the alternatives was the carton. So we had shipments of fruit which was packed in both wooden and cardboard cartons just to compare the out turn. And it turned out to be well in favour of the cartons of course and they became the accepted packaging for fruit from there on. So that was interesting.
That was the overseas trip. I returned home after five months and arrived home about five days before our fourth child was born, so that was good timing.
Elaine: It was pretty close Frank, it was – yes. [Chuckle]
And so at this stage you then had four children – some of them would have been at school?
Yes, just one, one at school.
Which school did he go to?
In fact the two older ones had their tonsils out in Royston Hospital while Noel was away. And the little one, Vicky – she was only about eighteen months I think – she got chicken pox which was quite a time.
So you had the lot.
Yes, while he was away. But we kept in touch. Noel had a recorder that we could send our messages back and forth. The kids used to write letters to him.
Frank, we mentioned earlier the development that occurred in those early years, 1960s and ’70s and so on, and you mentioned Selwyn Wilson. I’d just like to comment on Selwyn because he did a fantastic job for Hawke’s Bay and to some extent Poverty Bay, because he joined our team in Hastings from the Wairarapa Catchment Board where he worked. And he was skilled in drainage systems. And he arrived in Hawke’s Bay at a very opportune time when we had heavy flooding in the 1961/62 floods. I think we had … for three months, June, July, August in 1962 – or was it ’61? It killed off twenty thousand fruit trees – peach trees – and I don’t know how many apple trees but a lot of them were drowned out as well. And this of course emphasised the need for subsoil drainage to be stepped up in Hawke’s Bay. And Selwyn and his contractor …
… Don Riach and Graeme Riach. They got together and they formed a great team. They effectively were responsible for the drainage of a large proportion of the Heretaunga plains using pipes, not plastic, but pipes – ceramic pipes – and having to vary the designs of the scheme depending on the soil types they were working in, which required skill and Selwyn had that skill. So he did a great service for Hawke’s Bay. I don’t know that he ever got special recognition for that but as a result of his efforts, and Don Riach’s, it brought into greater flexibility soils that had limitations … limitations on drainage or large areas of soil types and the type of clay loams, and the Hastings clay loams and so on were fine soils but had this limitation for drainage. There were other soils where ‘course there was limitation for irrigation … limitation for drying out – the Twyford series and so on. So looking back we’ve got a lot to thank Selwyn for. And I’ve recently met up with his son – he’s been over here from Australia. He wanted some information about his Dad and I was very happy to give him some information I had about Selwyn. Unfortunately he died far too young.
Yes. I hope to interview Graham Riach in the next week or so.
Selwyn was a fine guy too.
Yes. They just fitted into the whole system of service. But it was an interesting time and Selwyn Wilson was not only very good at his job but he was a gentleman as well.
Oh, Elaine and I met he and Jocelyn on many occasions and socialised with them. We got on very well with them. Unfortunately Selwyn developed a blood complaint which they couldn’t rectify.
Elaine: I think if I remember rightly – was it not Dad’s orchard that he …
Noel: Yes, he did. Yeah, that’s right. One of the first, he was.
Elaine: … first did the drainage? Yes, I can remember those pipes going down.
Noel: St George’s Road area was subject to ponding, heavy rain.
Well I’ll move on to the late 1960s and early ’70s, Frank. About 70/71 the State Services Commission and our own Director General, Malcolm Cameron, saw fit to merge our horticultural division with the farm advisory division to a new amalgamated division which we called Advisory Services Division. We had seven regions as a result – Auckland, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin – seven regions, and each region was to be administered by a regional advisory officer or manager or advisory Services Division. And I was appointed RAO for the East Coast which was from Wairarapa in the south to north of Gisborne. So the East Coast of the North Island became my region. I had mixed feelings about this. I knew that I had to apply, I wanted to apply because I wanted to advance in the outfit, but it meant I had less time in the field and that’s what I enjoyed most – the field work. This became largely an administrative position. A lot of travelling involved, a lot of involvement in conferences and training systems, training of staff and so on. Again we had a great team. We had quite a large team in Gisborne, farm advisors, horticultural advisors and a few specialists in engineering. And in Wairoa we had a few farm advisors there, good guys. Hastings of course was a big office. We established a small office in Waipukurau and then Dannevirke – a group of farm advisors there and in Masterton we had a good team, a big team there. Our seniors in each of those offices were good guys and we used to meet with them frequently either down there or up here in Hastings we’d have our regional managers meetings. They always involved a bit of socialising and Elaine was good again at her baking and hospitality. Sometimes I had to ask the guys to go home, they were sitting round taking up too much time at night and we had a meeting next day. But it was a real family feeling about it.
There was a lot of travelling. I was away a lot. Had meetings in Wellington of course, monthly meetings, Flock House management meetings, conferences, courses. So it took me away from Hawke’s Bay a lot but it was interesting. We got involved in management by objective courses – those principles – and being applied of course in businesses all over the place. And training of managers. MAF employed private consultants and firms to run management training.
And I got involved with noxious plants administration. One of my jobs as a regional advisory officer, had to chair these meetings – they were run in each region. In those days we had a subsidised scheme for farmers to help them control noxious plants, gorse, blackberry. And then there were the severe ones – cat tulip and other …
Yeah, hemlock. Some very important ones.
And then moving in towards the mid ‘80s, from being a free service it became a chargeable service and that’s when things really changed. And from my point of view I could see it being a step backwards … being a disadvantage in many ways as far as the advisory service was concerned, because we relied so much on information we gleaned from growers and farmers to help us in our advisory role – passing on information, running field days free of charge, organising meetings, all sorts of things, discussion groups – not charged but now all our activities had to be charged for. So that grated with me quite a bit. However, we had to accept what I suppose was progress and the Government legislation. The way things were going was user pays in every respect.
Well along with that restructuring the State Service Commission and MAF Head Office decided that the various sections of MAF would be sold off to private enterprise. And our consultancy service, our horticultural advisors, farm advisors – the service was to be sold off to private enterprise and Wrightson‘s was one that showed an interest in buying our consultancy services corporate consultancies. And a lot of our staff decided to go out alone and form their own businesses which most of them did – got involved in so now they operate as private consultants in the farming and horticultural industries. The regulatory sections also were sold off and run by private enterprise as they now are. So my ROA position was disestablished and I was offered an alternative position or early retirement and I opted for early retirement. I only had one year to go so it was a no brainer as far as I was concerned. I was only fifty nine.
It was amazing to see a system that had been so successful on the interchange of information both ways to be dismantled. And the people that were doing it, they couldn’t justify it. It was just something they were going to do. I was a close friend of Jim Hesson when he was here. He was taken out of an entomologist job here and put as a financial manager in Palmerston North.
It was very difficult to come to terms with, Frank.
So retirement came at fifty nine.
At the age of fifty nine, yes. Within a month I was offered … there was a scheme that had been set up by the Pip Fruit industry, which was budwood selection – selecting the best genetic material out of commercial orchards for the ongoing propagation of fruit trees, particularly apples and pears – particularly apples. And I felt I could contribute in that way so I was asked to co-ordinate that scheme. A similar scheme was set up in Nelson. It was promoted by … well a cross section of the industry. Nurserymen of course. They were keen to see it brought in to help them in their budwood selections that they used to do individually, and it certainly was our horticultural advisors were keen to get something going. One of our boys actually was instrumental in really kicking it on and DSIR Fruit Research were also keen. So this was set up and not long after they decided they needed somebody to get it going or to administer it, chair it – chair the committee meetings and I was asked to do that, which I was happy to do. And that went for twelve years. Carried that on till the year 2000.
It must have been very invaluable to the industry because a lot of the nurserymen especially in the ‘70s – I think some of them just got their buckrake and had two or three runs in an orchard.
We had to establish criteria for selection too. Lawrie Cook of course was very keen to get going on it and he was very involved in the scheme. Peter Pattullo was another one, and our boys – MAF. We established criteria for each variety, went out and would have to time our visits to these commercial blocks when we could assess the apples at the right stage of maturity. Royal Gala of course was the variety to get to grips with because it was subject to reversion back to the original Gala type, and it was a bit unstable, or very unstable. I think we managed to improve that one. And there were … oh, I don’t know how many varieties we had under selection … about a dozen apples, three or four pear varieties. It was about mid ‘80s I suppose, I think we selected and sold to nurserymen about seven hundred thousand buds from our scheme. We had nurserymen coming down from Hamilton and other parts of New Zealand to participate or to see what we were doing here, have a look at the blocks with us. We used to have a field day once a year to bring everybody together to see where we were at. It was a good scheme.
But of course as time went on Frank, and new varieties came along and growers became … they brought in their own varieties. They went through the quarantine system and then they owned those varieties – they became owners of those varieties, and that gave them the option to do their own selection if they so desired, and a lot of them did. In fact a lot of them have got their own nurseries now too – they’re big growers. So unfortunately the scheme … it sort of ran out of support, although personally I think the principle‘s still there, that whoever owns the variety there’s still that need to select the best from what you’ve got out there. However it’s largely gone by the board now which is a shame.
So during this period then, here was a man who was on the run down to retirement. You had your young school children? When you retired what age would the kids have been? Not when you retired because you’ll never retire.
Elaine: That’s right.
Noel: Well Vicky – she was just recovering from cancer. She had Hodgkins Disease came upon her when she was travelling overseas with her new husband.
Elaine: Well Peter was born in ‘57 and you retired in ‘87.
Noel: So he was thirty. Vicky would have been …
So they were all adults.
Noel: … twenty five.
Elaine: Grandchildren? Yes eleven.
They keep us poor Frank, you know? Well unfortunately none of ours live in Hawke’s Bay. They‘re all away from here which is a shame. Some of them are in Australia. We’ve got five great grandchildren as well and they are all in Australia.
Elaine: We’ve got one here.
So it’s all right. It’s quite good to be able to go away, [chuckle] and we don’t have to baby sit them every weekend. [Chuckle]
So it’s fascinating the way life develops though, isn’t it? Just sort of unfolds, and associations and … you know, your involvement as a host to the people that came, who worked with Noel. You look back and think you couldn’t plan it any better, could you?
And we still keep in tough at Christmas time with cards. Noel does that share of writing because it’s lovely to keep in touch with them.
So then your new child came home – full time, wasn’t he? So what did you do? I’m talking about Noel – he returned for good.
Elaine: [Chuckle] Yes, I was …
So what have you done during that retirement?
… very pleased to see him home.
Noel: Since the days of the bud selection business, 2000? Gosh, good question Frank. Well I’ve always been keen on the gardening and we had quite a garden up in Kingsgate where we were, and we’ve carried on with a little bit of ground next door. The neighbour is a working girl and she … unable to work the ground very much herself so we went into a … sort of a partnership with an allotment as we call it. We grow a lot of our own veges for her and us, plus the stream work on Friday mornings, that’s every week, every Friday morning. We’re involved with the church, St Columba’s. We’ve got a range of mini fairs going at the moment. We have a fair every year, but now we are just going to a range of mini fairs on a Saturday morning. And I’m the convenor for the plant stall … takes a bit of organising. We play bowls. We’re keen bowlers.
You’d know my brother Jim and Margaret?
Yes, I know Jim.
Elaine: Oh Margaret, the beautiful pianist? That’s your sister-in-law? We were sad when they …
Noel: When they left the church. We’re getting a new minister shortly. for St Columba’s shortly. Roger‘s retired and there’s a group of guys who are heads down at the moment, studying the possibilities.
I see they’ve got the pavilion jacked up on its legs to shift it to its new site. Of course Colin and I – that was our classroom for a couple of years.
Elaine: That’s right. Colin brought that up just the other day Frank. I’d forgotten that.
When you sort of look back and have an overview of the industry Noel it must be very satisfying.
Noel: It is. They were great days.
Because the people you had working with you were all experts in their own field.
Yeah, they were.
Everyone took them for granted. It’s really quite important that we record it because it’s as if it never happened. Those of us that lived through it knew it happened because we saw the changes. They used to pull the hoses around …
… and the gun and …
They used to do that on the family orchard in Albany. That was my job on weekends. [Speaking together]
Elaine: It was hard work wasn’t it?
All the people with all those sprays are still alive. You know, we talk about Arataki, and the smell from the mushroom farm. No one complains about lime sulphur do they?
Noel: No. Exactly.
Isn’t it funny? And you can smell it in the village sometimes.
And you think – obviously because it’s an organic …
Exactly. They‘re allowed to use it because it’s organic, and it was discarded years ago. [Elaine speaking, indecipherable]
Oh, no – they were all parts of survival. So are there any other things you can think of? Do you fish?
Oh, I was a keen fisherman, but I never had ... Peter and I bought a boat together in Taupo. We built a house in Taupo. Had a house up there, and he had his boat. Pete went into the livestock business. He was not keen on horticulture. He went that way and he’s involved in Taumarunui with his own business now. He’s worked up to having his own business buying livestock, supplying freezing works up in the King Country. He had his own little boat which we had at the house in Taupo, so we used to go up there. And I used to go out with Lawrie Cook, fishing, and other growers that had boats. But I never had one here myself.
It was a great interview with Lawrie.
It would be.
Because his life – you know, it went all directions. The big fish, a ranger, a nursery man and he’s just such a perfection..
He is. He amuses us when he and Jan talk about [chuckle] moving into something smaller … downsizing. I say to myself you’ll never leave … you’ll never leave your bach, Lawrie.
I think they will. Yes, I was talking to Jan the other night.
You think they will?
Yes I’m sure she …
Elaine: They’ve been looking and looking.
They’ve been looking for ten years – when I was in real estate – looking at properties.
So can you think of anything else? You’re both now living very comfortably in …
Very happy here.
Summerset in the Vines.
Noel: Yeah, we’re happy here Frank. Yeah, we’re pleased we made the decision to move looking ahead, because I’ll go first you see. I’ll go first.
Elaine: I growl at him when he says this Frank, yes, I do.
Noel: I’ll go first, so I want to make sure she’s somewhere where she’s happy, Frank.
Thank you for letting me interview you and also for the contribution you’ve made to Hawke’s Bay, and you know, this is our place isn’t it? Hawke’s Bay?
Elaine: Yes, it sure is, it’s a lovely place. There’s one thing I thought of Frank. 1963 when Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were going to come out to New Zealand. That was going to be the second time. I think they came in ‘53 and I remember Mum and Dad were away on a … overseas trip. And arrived in the mail this very official looking envelope which we weren’t allowed to touch. There was a couple looking after us at the time. I was collecting Mum and dad’s mail. And anyway the Queen had requested that she would like to visit an orchard when she came to Hawke’s Bay, and this was the envelope – it was asking Dad if she could come to his orchard. So that was a big thrill for us all really. His orchard was selected by the Fruit Growers Association. They nominated Archie’s orchard.
You know I’ve interviewed Colin.
Elaine: Oh, no.
Noel: So you’ve got all this from him then?
Yes. So you’ve confirmed, and part of it a story I didn’t know. That was recognition of the way he farmed – he was a perfectionist. Nothing was ever out of place.
And he never ever got rattled Frank. When there was a hail storm or a frost, you never saw him get rattled. He was disappointed of course with the loss of a crop and so on but he‘d never let it get him down.
Elaine: He‘d go off to sleep at night – it was Mum that would lie awake worrying about things.
Of course when you actually looked at your father’s time – you know, he started off as a dairy farmer, a milk man and – you know, it wasn’t easy days.
No – bit of this and a bit of that together for a while.
So anyway, I think that‘s probably caught most of what we need unless you can think of something else, but we can always do an addendum. If you think of something that’s important that we need we can always stitch it on the end. It’s not a problem.
So thank you both for this interview.
Both: You’re welcome.
Original digital file
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Interviewer: Frank Cooper