Norman (Norm) Eric Robinson Interview
Today is the 19th of June 2017. I’m interviewing Norm Robinson of Wairoa, retired farmer and builder. Currently he’s ninety-three plus years, and he’s now going to tell us something about the life and times of his family.
Well to start from when the Robinsons first came to New Zealand, well there was a William Robinson … would have been my great grandfather, and he was born in London in 1836 and he came to New Zealand with his parents, on the ship ‘John Gifford’ in 1842, so he must have been six years old. Then …
Where did that ship land?
In Auckland. Landed in Auckland, and I’m not sure about him, most of the life from then on with the Robinsons deals with Gisborne. But this William was a solicitor evidently, but I don’t know whether that was in Auckland or Gisborne. Then of course – that was my great grandfather – then my grandfather was educated in Gisborne, and he worked – from 1800s he was the Gisborne Town Clerk, from when he was nineteen years old. He worked for the Council evidently, and then he was appointed, and he did that for forty-three years ’til he died of cancer. And the clock in Gisborne is a memorial to him … in the middle of the street. Forty-three years, like – you know? In those times because he was only … he was Town Clerk, but he was also I think Secretary of the Hospital Board and Secretary of the Harbour Board, and he was the only one for a long time that was … you know … and then I think he got somebody else you know, after the years he did that. And he died when I was ten years old.
Anyway, they lived there and my father was brought up in Gisborne – had his education there. Now he went to school in Gisborne – well, my grandfather, he went to Gisborne Boys’ High School, and my father went to Gisborne Boys’ High School. Both of them were Poverty Bay rep rugby players, and you know, First XV Schools I guess, and they were very keen rowers, both of them. And I did row in Wairoa.
Then my father worked in a bank, but he didn’t like that indoor life so then he finished up … he was a shepherd at Waikatea Station up the Ruakituri Valley. And my mother was brought up at Turanga, so that’s where they met.
What was her surname?
Glassford. Well Gordon … it was a hyphen, Gordon-Glassford, but my grandmother never used – but later descendants used it. Yeah, Gordon-Glassford, but some of the younger ones use that now, but Nana – my Nana never did, she was too busy trying to struggle through the Depression to worry about hyphened names. But anyway, so my Mum was brought up there. They were there through the flu epidemic, 1918, and they were looking after the Maori population because there wasn’t anybody else round them much in those days.
Then of course my Mum and Dad got married, and … RDB I’ll refer to him, my grandfather Robinson … he was Reginald Deason Blandford Robinson. [Chuckle] They were all family names too, from way back. But he actually owned the farm that my Mum and Dad went to up the Waikaremoana Road, and it was at that stage Pokopoko Station, and it was two sides of the river.
And the old original Humphrey Bailey who is a … well, you know, Bailey is a well-known Wairoa name … he and my grandfather were in partnership. I’m not sure, I’ve got a bloke in the archives in Wairoa there looking up like – the date that they actually did it, but sometime before 1900 I would say, or round about that period. Old Humphrey Bailey was a very … the old, old fella, not – John Bailey’s father dead, but the old original bloke you know. He was a bit of a rogue really you know, but in those years, this is you know – hard times, and people that weren’t like that tend to – they go under don’t they? But he was beyond the pale a bit, but mind you it’s a great institution now … mainly trust.
The old fella Bailey – his ambition was to own a million sheep before he died, and I think he near enough to succeeded. But how my grandfather ever come [came] to be in partnership with him … ’cause my grandfather was a master with figures, and he was Town Clerk in Gisborne – this is before my time of course – but he wouldn’t have known which end a sheep ate grass from,
Humphrey Bailey, the old chap, might have wanted someone who was good with figures mightn’t he?
Probably, yeah. But that was just the way it went. So then again you see, my Mum and Dad finished up there, you know – trying to run the farm because – you know, depression times and there was no money. So anyway, that must have been … well, ’22, it’s when they got married so that’s when they must have gone there. So then they battled on, and struggled on, and then of course it was not too long after that they started talking about the power station at Tuai. So they had the idea of starting this milk supply, so they did that for a while. My mother could milk twelve cows an hour by hand in her heyday. So they used to deliver. Then people called Grays took it over after that, and my Mum and Dad decided then they’d put up a … there was no butcher’s shop in Tuai, it was under construction, and the power and that. So they put up a slaughterhouse and all the killing was done there, and they, you know had sausage machines – everything petrol driven, there was no power. So then they used to deliver the meat ’til the Power Station was opened – the first one in 1929, and they were still doing the road through to Te Whaiti.
And then in 1931 my Dad died of blood poisoning at thirty-one years old. So anyway, of course then the farm still belonged to his parents, so … and no money of course … so what happened? My grandmother had twelve hundred acre farm about eight mile down the road just past the Patunamu turnoff, where the forestry camp is? It was just past there, twelve hundred acres, and my grandfather Glassford had died in 1929. She was there and had a … William Digby Smith, or Bill Smith, and he was a remittance man, which you’ve heard about no doubt. Very clever old fella too. And he sort of helped on the farm, ’cause he’d walked off his farm next door to it, like – you know, before that in the Depression, so he worked there. And so Mum and I came down there to leave home. And there was no … there wasn’t any money. It’s in the book actually, but like, Mum finished up – she was allowed to take the bedroom furniture that they bought when they were married, and her own horse, and the gun dog that my Dad had, and myself. That was it. [Chuckle] No money. Anyway, so we came down to my grandmother’s you see, and then of course Mum – you know, they … my grandmother and Mum and this old Bill they ran the twelve hundred acre place then as we grew up. And I had an Uncle, my Mum’s brother – he was only two and a half years older than me, and we grew more like brothers you see.
So where did you go to school then?
At what was then known as Korokoro School – the Ardkeen School? Goes under the name of Ardkeen, but in those days … well I went to Tarapatiki School for a start, right by the Tarapatiki Bridge. You know when you go … there’s a building there, it’s a house now, but that was a one-room school. And when I started, about when I was about five or six I think, about 1929 I suppose, it’d been burnt down. So the first school I actually went to was the shearers’ quarters at Pokopoko Station up the hill. And then they were building the new school and I went there until ’31 when my Dad died, and then I went down to Ardkeen School.
So did you go to High School then?
I did, afterwards then, yeah. Yeah, I had two terms, the second and third term at Wairoa District High School. Well, I didn’t go the first term ’cause I was sort of working on the farm you see, like I was only fifteen or so, but a lot to do. I mean I was milking cows before I went to school, primary school when I was ten years old. Nan always used to have two or three cows, like, you know. And of course, set that little billy of cream. Well that was only pocket money you had in those Depression days. So, anyway I went the second and third term. Then of course I went back … I did stay a wee bit long back at my grandmother’s farm again, but I was very keen in building, so I … well my uncle, Billy Talbot, he arranged … so I got an apprenticeship with Bill Hedley in Wairoa in 1940. But I was under no … the apprenticeship system was different then Frank, because – like, my apprenticeship was five years. See now an apprenticeship is done by a number of hours, isn’t it? Well in those days it was five years if you worked twenty-five hours a day – it was still five years.
And you were actually taught how to build a whole house …
… from the ground up.
[Chuckle] Yeah, [speaking together] wasn’t specialised. Now you get somebody to put the roof on, and somebody to put the cladding on. [Chuckle] But yeah, and ‘course, later years of course that came. But also, apprenticeships then – if you were over sixteen you couldn’t get into an apprenticeship. So you had an option you see, at school, you either – there was [were] two courses – you took professional or commercial. If you were going to be a school teacher or office worker or accountant or something like that, you took the professional course. If you were going to be a lorry driver or work on a road digging drains, or a farmer or something like that you took the commercial course.
I didn’t realise Hedley’s did building, I thought they were just timber merchants.
They and Glengarrys. Hedleys – after I left them … it was big enough when I was there … but after I left them old Bill had his own plumbers, his own electricians and they did the whole lot. Yeah, it was a big, big firm. And then he was a – that’s another story – he was a wild man. But great bloke really I suppose – hard fella to work for, but they were great people for Wairoa. People used to come round for timber when I was there, you know, elderly people I think. “Oh” he’d say “just let them have that”, or “take them a load of firewood.”
Anyway, so from there you see, that was when – because … oh, I can say it to you, I couldn’t have had a better mother and grandmother to bring me up, but my mother wasn’t a decision maker – she was … very capable person eh, but not a decision maker so from about fifteen, like I had to make all my own decisions. I decided whether they’d be good, and this Uncle Billy Talbot you see, he sort of organised it then, ’cause he knew old Bill, so I did that.
But then again that apprenticeship – of course 1940, it was a pretty hit and miss apprenticeship because I was in and out of the Army. I was conscripted in the Army when I was eighteen, and did coastal duty down here for a year, down at the beach. We had a military camp in the rugby ground, and we had you know, sort of week about down at the beach guarding, and then a week back at the camp and there was three platoons you see, you’d just go round and round. Napier had them as well. But then again you see, eighteen year olds were conscripted in 1942 when the Japs started bombing Darwin and that. So the feeling was that at that stage there was nothing stopping the Japanese, they were just sweeping in, and well – New Zealand will be the next stop because we had a lot of food to feed them with. But that was the turning point – after that was when they had the Tarawa landing, and that was when they … terrific death toll, the Americans – and the Japanese, like you know – but that was where they stopped them.
So anyway … then of course, building in those days was classed as an essential industry, so “oh no, you go back to work”. Because Bill Hedley – they were building schools and State houses – that was the big thing in those years, you see. So away I went back again, you see.
Then I volunteered when I was twenty to go to Italy. No – ’cause I’d done quite a bit of military training in and out of the Army then. So yeah, that was all set, but of course as soon as I looked like getting on a … “no way – you just stay at work.” So then in 1945, but it was right towards the end of the War before I could sort of get another go at them, so I left building and I said “well I’m not in an essential industry any more”, and I got into Trentham in the Sixteenth Reinforcements and was home on final leave and they dropped that bomb in …
Saved you a trip.
Well I was a bit disgusted, actually. But anyway, so I thought “oh well, I’ll go in the J Force”. “No you won’t, you go straight back to work – don’t even come back to Trentham.” So that was it. Now I’m still on the Committee of the RSA. This is where men … and okay, at that age … I mean I was very disgusted actually you see, but you know … I didn’t have a say you see, the manpower had jurisdiction over the Army. Like if they thought you were better off you see, with what you were doing, that’s where you stay.
Well when you think of it, it was probably logical.
Yeah – yeah it probably was.
The younger man didn’t think so.
So then you carried on building …
… with the same man that you were working for?
Yes, ’til I went into Trentham at the end of the War. See I started ’40 and I finished in 1945, you know. But that time – I spent two and half years I suppose in and out of the Army during the War. But of course that time went on, but I didn’t learn very much about building while I was in Trentham or Dannevirke. You know, I was in Dannevirke and I was in Napier – sort of all these different camps. But then I learnt more about building when I left, you know, when I finished and started … I learnt more when I was in the Maori Housing Department because we – when I came out of the Army, I went back to Bill’s … to finish was September … went back there till Christmas, then I left and I was on the farm for a while, then I started in 1946 with the Maori Housing Department. And we built houses round about the place – out at Mahia and out at Waihua, Mohaka … round about, you know, cottages they were in those days. Then of course, this Hurimoa thing came up, so they formed a big camp out there and had a whole lot of … as the War finished like, with blokes coming back, they had what we called the pressure cooker builders. They had a two year high…
I could show you some of the houses that some of those built too.
Well, so we roped in quite a lot of those you see, for the Maori Housing Department, and out there. So then I worked there you see, and it was from about ’46 to ’48.
Were you actually building houses, or supervising?
Oh I was working and supervising – bit of both you see, bit of both. But I was building houses too, and cow sheds. And we built the cowsheds. There was fourteen farms at that stage, but they weren’t all – I left about half way through it. But anyway at one stage – you might have heard it – Chris McRae was our Police Sergeant here – he was a legendary Policeman you know, and especially young fellas. You didn’t have Court cases, and of course policemen were allowed to kick butts in those days, so if you did anything wrong he took you by the ear home, and he’d kick you all the way home and expect your parents to do the same when you got … which they did. [Chuckle]
And so he rang me one day – ’cause I knew him, ’cause I had … that will sort of come up I suppose … I was one of the instigators of the Celtic Rugby team here in Wairoa in 1943. And Chris was here then. Anyway he rang me one day and he said “here – you wouldn’t have any labouring work out there at Hurimoa would you? I’ve got blokes sitting in my jail” – ’cause they didn’t go away – if they had three or four weeks jail they just spent it in Wairoa. And Eileen, his wife, she used to cook for them. So, anyway he said “I’ve got blokes sitting and they’re behind with their maintenance payments, and they’re behind with fines”, he said “they’re never going to earn money sitting in my jail”. He said “I want to get them some jobs.” So I said “look Chris, I’ve got just the job coming up.” I said “we’ve got a big hole to dig in the ground, ’cause” I said “the bulldozer won’t cope with the pug, hard pug clay”. See that’s the reason we had to go up the hill. So I said “the hole has got to be dug by hand”. So I said “if you think … you can bring four or five out here any time you like.” ‘Cause I had some blokes too working. And that hole was twenty foot long and sixteen foot wide and eight foot deep. Now that’s a lot of dirt to shift with a wheelbarrow, eh? [Chuckle]
So away we went you see. It all had to concreted in you see, afterwards so that was one of the big jobs. It’s still in operation. But we did houses and that but I left before –… ’cause then I started building on my own. And … couple of the blokes that’d been working with us on the Maori Housing Department – one of them came with me and we did quite a lot of country work, like Ruakituri – you know, farm maintenance work – that type of thing. Built cattle stops for the Council up to Papuni on the roads there, and Mohaka – I did a lot of Bailey’s work actually.
And then I suffered … well that was, yeah, from just when the War sort of finished – but I had to give up building in the finish for health reasons. I became allergic to rimu sawdust. It seems to be – didn’t affect …
‘Cause they were still using rimu then.
… oh yeah, you see it was just … I had two and half years of blood poisoning, then I had three and a half years of boils. And when these boils … you see, it sort of … the blood poisoning itself stopped but the boils started coming then, and sometimes I’d have two or ten or one or six, you know.
One was bad enough.
Yeah. And I was never – for that three and half years – I was never ten seconds without some boils on me … just disappeared then they’d come again. Oh, and very, very, very depressing, eh?
Gosh, your system must have been out of sorts, mustn’t it?
Well, and the doctor I used to go to – he even took, you know, stuff out of the blood poisoning things and made a serum and vaccinated me with it – didn’t make any difference. And then when Margy and I got married we went up to Te Puke to live – ‘course I’d been building around here you see, then. Went up to Te Puke to live and friends up there … sister of the people I used to board with in Wairoa … they said “oh” – they had a dairy farm in Te Puke – and she said “look you should go to” – there’s a German doctor, he’d been in New Zealand for years at Tauranga – “go and see him, he’s got all sorts of funny diet ideas, but” they said “he seemed very good”.
I’d been there about quarter of an hour I suppose like you know? Every time you went to him he stripped you right off. He said “you’ve got asthma”. I said “no I haven’t”. I said “I get the flu two or three times a year like anybody else, sort of thing, but don’t have any problem”. He said “boils are an allergy”, and he said “that’s an allergy to something”. He said “what do you do?” And I said “I was a builder – could be the sawdust”. So I had skin tests and that sort of thing you see, and anyway the lady at the hospital at Tauranga – ’cause I had to go over there for these you see – and she said “oh, what did he think it was?” I said “he thinks it might be something to do with the building”. So they were doing alterations there, and so she went away and got all different sorts of sawdust from these fellas, brewed up stuff in it, put the rimu on and … straight away.
Fancy being allergic to rimu. You could have picked something that was useless, couldn’t you? Like pine!
Yeah. [Chuckle] Well ‘course … and the pine – see I’ve built houses and I built my own house at Mahia and everything, pine no affect whatever – the treated pine. But the thing is that also I think, was when we were building the State houses in Brian Avenue – that was when I started with Bill – used to run all the weatherboard … bevelled back weatherboard … all the flooring – beautiful heart rimu that had been milled up at Ohuka, and I’d be days in there, in amongst it see? And there was no masks or anything and I think I must have breathed it into my system. Because all it was, I’d just – you know how you get a little cut – and I’d get that – sometimes it mightn’t be anything, and other times within an hour or so that would be all flaming red and I’d have a raging temperature, sweating and that sort of thing. And it [there] wasn’t penicillin even then, but they used to have sulphur pills back then.
So Norm, you had to get out of building then?
So I was living in Te Puke then, and building you see.
What age would you have been then?
Well I was twenty, nearly thirty when I got married – thirty-two.
So you didn’t have any children at that stage?
Yeah … had a daughter then, she was born in Te Puke. We were only in Te Puke three years and then came back here. But the boils … I’d said to the guy, I said “oh well, perhaps I’d better give up building”, you see. “No”, he said “I think we might be able to fix it with diet”. So he put on a very strict diet, and Margy said to me “well if you go to him and he tells you what you’ve got to do – if he thinks there’s anything that you don’t do exactly as he said, he won’t have anything more to do with you”. And I don’t blame him for that eh? So anyway he said “no, we’ll try it with diet.” So two months – no beer, no smokes, no potatoes, no salt, [chuckle] …
Told you to cut your head off didn’t he, nearly?
[Chuckle] … and I said “oh, no beer?” ‘Cause it was February, you know? He said “oh why – do you drink a bit?” I said “no, but” I said “I enjoy a beer after … you know, before tea or after work, or you have a few, like on a Saturday afternoon perhaps, you know?” But I smoked then you see. So anyway I tried that – well it cut the boils down a bit eh, but I was still building.
So anyway we had friends up there that had a coal business, you know delivering coal? A big Irishman he was, and he’d broken his leg and he couldn’t carry a bag of … he had a young fella who worked for him, did him up for a whole lot of money, which you know, when you’re delivering coal – great way to make money, eh? So anyway – so I said to Margy, I said “look … go and run that coal business for Bill and Mary,” I said “and see what happens.” Ten days and I never had another boil. You know?
You’d think coal dust would be just as bad wouldn’t you?
Well you’d think … so I did that you see, for a while. During the course of it I came home and built a car shed for my grandmother you see, at the farm – my grandmother and my uncle – about two weeks I think we were there. And that would have been some months since I’d had a boil – I went back to Te Puke with three boils. Some of the doctors that I’ve told about this they – when I was in Napier Hospital at one stage, like you know – ’cause I had a poisoned foot then actually, the locums there, they were sort of lined up around the bed listening, they couldn’t sort of believe it.
Anyway, so that was that. So then I got well, then a family friend – our farm that Mum and Dad – like Mum had been put off – had been leased for twenty-five years and the lease was up. And so old Erickson said “what about come back and try the farming? I’ll give you a hand to go get into the farm.” I had a house built in Te Puke then. So came back, and … yeah, that was good, you know, came back to the farm. There was no money, you know. [Chuckle] Anyway we battled on for a year or two. But while we were doing that there was a bloke down the road built a house himself, with treated pine – he treated it himself and that sort of thing. And so I gave him a hand to put the frame up and everything you see, ’cause he used to help me on the farm too, and he had a tractor and those things there, was only a couple of miles away.
Anyway that was all right, so then of course, he used to just build his house as he had enough money to sort of do it, you see – built it up the hill. Then of course he put down rimu flooring from the Piripaua Mill – beautiful rimu too you see – and he borrowed my floor clamps and he laid it down – ’cause it sat on the floor joists upside down until it dried for about eight months, then he nailed it down, then of course it had to be sanded. So the bloke didn’t worry, he just had the sander – he had a furniture shop and that – and he said to Alan, ’cause he knew Begsey was pretty hard up and that – said “I tell you what – save you paying my man to come up with the sander, I’ll send it up on a freight truck. And get hold of Norm, he knows how to use it.” Two days sanding the floor … hospital with a poisoned foot.
So it was telling you wasn’t it?
Yeah. Anyway, this has gone on you see, and then a few years ago I’d suffered with cellulitis, and that’s a blood poisoning. Anyway – and suffered a lot with it. But it was the same symptoms as the blood poisoning used to be you know. I’d had to ring the ambulance in the middle of the night sometimes because you know, I’d be … but it was a high temperature, but I’d be freezing cold, you know. And of course it got that way … well my specialist said “look,” he said “we’ll make an arrangement”, ’cause it had come up so quickly – I could feel it coming on and within an hour I’d be – you know.
So anyway the specialist said “well, we’ll arrange with the ambulance, doesn’t matter what time of the night – get them, and they’ll put you on the drip straight away,” you see – I had to go on the IV. I said the ambulance driver at that stage – this is about three years ago, eh – I said “can you get a season ticket to ride on this ambulance? ‘Cause I think I need one.” [Chuckle]
But anyway, the cellulitis I don’t get so much now. So that old fella must have been right eh? His name was Otto Einstein.
So then you obviously had to stop building ’cause you were getting so many messages.
Oh yeah, see the treated pine doesn’t …
No, it doesn’t affect you.
I just don’t go near rimu.
So did you have any more children?
Yes, I’ve got a daughter and a son. And they’re now both in Wairoa ’cause my son took over the farm at one stage. My daughter married and she was up at Tauranga.
And then of course – yeah, this is the farm – about thirty years I suppose we were on the farm. And it was just rough when I bought it back, and because you know, yeah, family’s are odd aren’t they? Like, the farm had been leased for five years in 1931, then it was leased to a neighbour for ten years with a right of renewal, and then for another … so it was twenty-five years and then this came up. And then it had to be sold, my grandmother Robinson had died then, but that was six years before we could sell it because the lease was still running.
So anyway this friend said “well what about having a try at that?” So we bought it back again, but you see they had leased it all those years for a minimal amount too at that … Depression times you know, and it wasn’t much more at the end of it. But no, they wouldn’t lease it to me, I had to put in a tender the same as everybody else. But the only thing where I had the advantage – I had a pretty fair idea what they expected they might get for it, totally, you know. So we finished up with that. I don’t know where it was a … but a great place to bring up kids, eh? But when I bought it anyway, there was about a hundred acres below the road round to the Tarapatiki Bridge, and the rest of it was up on the other side of the road. So it was about nine hundred acres with one fence up the middle, and the fence was no good anyway, and a whole lot of fern and manuka. [Chuckle] As I said in my book, you didn’t have to be stupid to farm that pumice country up the Lake Road, but it didn’t help a bit.
[Chuckle] And so then when you finished with the farm you went back building full time did you?
No. No, no, that was the finish for me. But when Allan came back, you see, and ’til he married, he worked for the Ag Department down in Masterton doing TB testing of the possums and everything. Then he and his wife came back to Wairoa and then he came and took over the farm.
Then of course, that was when Marg and I had always said, like you know, “well, okay”. And that’s all they wanted to do was come back to the farm. So – and I’ve always had the tendency … I’ve known so many farms, the old fella stays on, and stays on, and stays on, and he becomes a bloody nuisance to the young bloke. So I said … Marg and I agreed – as soon as he was capable of coming back we’d get right out of the road.
But then of course that was back in seventies … eighties, when subsidies were all taken off and farming was … and so we did stay on longer, but of course we got on all right and that, but Marg got a job. She ran the office at the Power Station at Tuai, ’cause she loved office work and she was excellent at it you see. And they pestered her … ’cause the woman that had been doing it left – would she come and do the job? Marg said … we were about eight mile away from Tuai … she said “well, there must be some women in Tuai there that could do with a job.” We weren’t making a lot of money on the farm, it was such a battle. Anyway – you have good years and bad years. But the bosses up there weren’t keen to have – for confidential reasons they weren’t keen to have staff wives working in the office you see. They said “oh, we’d far rather have somebody outside the village.”
So anyway Marg hummed and hahhed about it … ’cause we knew a lot of … they used to come and do, help with the docking and that, so he knows electricity workers eh? Like – they were good. Anyway, she said “I tell you what I’ll do it for two years, and see how it goes.” Fourteen years afterwards she retired. [Chuckle] But you see, that meant we stayed there virtually, but you know, we had no intention of doing that. But of course then – like, that was more money than we’d had for bloomin’ years, that she was making. So that was how we managed to buy a section out at Mahia, and I left Allan to it as much as possible. But I still used to do building, because Waihi was being developed then for the, you know – ballot farms, and I used to go and do maintenance on the houses up there you see. There was one bloke that they had got to do quite a bit of maintenance and he was delighted, because he was one of our apprentices when I was in Maori Housing Department. And he said “oh,” he said “you know the wheels turn, ’cause” he said “now I’m your boss.” [Chuckle]
Yes, so then you – with the section at Mahia you built a retirement, or a beach home there?
We built a bach there, ’cause we were still then at the farm you see.
So whereabouts was that at Mahia?
Well you know, if you drive on Moana Drive?
That’s the front ..?
Yeah, the front one – well the first cul-de-sac down to the left, Tanui Crescent.
That’s before Fulton’s Camp, isn’t it?
Yeah. Well we had built a bach there, but that was with the intention of just having the bach, you see. Then with Alan home you see, and we looked at lifestyle blocks at Frasertown and round about and everything you see. And Marg had always loved Mahia – they always used to go there for Christmas holidays when she was a kid, you know. So anyway that was how we finished up. But then of course, then I built a house – see we lived out there permanently after that, over time.
So how long did you live at Mahia then?
About fifteen years.
Well, I see you’ve got a nice boat sitting out there – you obviously used that at Mahia?
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
But anyway, well when you were at Mahia you were a keen fisherman, Norman?
Yes, I was a very keen fisherman, but didn’t go nearly enough, because this was you know, when we started to build the bach. But you see there was quite a few people out there … quite a percentage of them … knew I’d been a builder, [chuckle] so it took me six years to finish my own house. [Chuckle]
‘Cause you were helping other people.
Yeah – “oh, could you come and … could you add a room on to our house here?” Not only that, [chuckle] even the bloomin’ water pump crowd over the river there, you see. One day a woman rang … she said “my water pump’s playing up.” And she said “I rang the bloke in town, and they said oh, not sure where our maintenance man is, but go and see Norm Robinson – he’ll go round and fix it for you”. [Chuckle] But I didn’t mind doing it, but you know, Marg used to say to me … and also when you’re out there … even when we were building our house … people – if you’re at Mahia people think you’re on holiday.
Alan Johanssen … ‘course he drowned too of course … but, well I used to do all the plumbing and everything, most of it myself. But I thought – nowadays they just chuck pipes underneath the house – but ‘oh, he’ll do it quicker than I will.’ And he said “this place is like Piccadilly Circus”, he said “people coming in and out all day.” But as we said, it’d be a bugger if nobody wanted to come up and see you, wouldn’t it?
Yes, so you had fifteen years at Mahia … it’s a beautiful place.
We built a home out there, but we would have still been there, eh? But you see when Marg went, that’s seventeen years ago – cancer … sixty-eight. Then after that I started to get this heart problem, see, so I sold the place. It was right on the beach front, million dollar view. Yeah, well you know … you were talking about Baldy’s camping ground … well going along Moana Drive, along the front, there was the camping ground finished there, then Roddy Bell’s, then Kawai Crescent – the street – and then there was Brown’s place and then our place.
When I did sell it, at that time I was very happy with the price, but it was on the way up you see.
The bloke that bought it – he was Kelvin Harrap … Harraps Nurseries … well Heather and Ray are very good friends of mine – they moved up there you see, and they built a lovely home there – just across the road from mine, just about. Anyway, when they came up there – and so Kelvin and Mary, ’cause he’s mainly in Ireland – Ray and Heather’s son – he’s a professional yachtsman – he’s sailed three Americas Cups, he’s sailed the Whitbread, and he sailed the Volvo Round the World, you know. And he’s still doing it … like people all around him, you know – he goes all over the place. He’s married … couple of kids, based in Ireland ’cause Mary was Irish, but he gets these jobs you see, he’s a helmsman and tactician and that, so these millionaire blokes with these big yachts – they get him to go and race their yachts all over the place, you know.
So anyway, they were looking for somewhere at Mahia. When we first got to know Heather and Ray, there was our place, Browns, and then across the road was their place you see. Anyway they said when they – Kelvin was away overseas somewhere at this time – see that’d be … hell, it must be fifteen … well no, it was before Marg died you see, so it’s twenty years ago. And he “what on earth did you buy a place at Mahia for? Fancy going up there to live!” They lived on the beach at Westshore … they had a house – no, at Whirinaki – anyway, once he went there and stayed there – now he’s bought a place since he bought our place. [Chuckle] Yeah, they bought it, and Brian had umpteen friends and they use it like, you know … ‘cause Kelvin and Mary come back now and again. And the Americas Cups – of course he did a lot of his training in New Zealand for them, but he’s not in those any more.
But anyway so okay, we came back … went back to there. The bach, we sold that as well you see. At one stage with Wayne Rosacker was a great friend of ours – he taught at Kokako School – and he moved out to Mahia and we were all building our places together. When it came to Tomorrow’s Schools he was a [an] excellent Principal you know – he said “no way – I want to teach the children”, he said “not sit hours filling out bits of paper that nobody’s going to read”. He said “I wouldn’t last until tomorrow”. So he gave up school teaching and he finished up the lawn mowing man out at Mahia and he died of cancer at fifty-eight.
So, when you came back, was your wife unwell when you left Mahia?
No, she died when we were still at Mahia. We were out there and everything was going well, you know, and she was always keen on sport. But when we lived up at the farm, because Waikaremoana has a Golf course … “no way – I wouldn’t play that stupid game”, she used to say. She was a top netball player; she was a top tennis player; she and a mate when they went to school together, and then even after – they were both Hawke’s Bay reps in what they called indoor basketball then. Anyway, but no way – she wouldn’t play this stupid game of golf. She used to go up to golf, ’cause I played you know, when I could, but we only played on Sundays in those days, you know. Anyway, but when we went to Mahia, and she had a couple of cousins like, that used to play out there – well one out there, and another one used to go – anyway they were sort of trying to tee off. “At least” she said, “I suppose it’ll get … something to get out of the house”. So she was sixty-eight when she started playing golf [chuckle] – no, she was sixty-three it must have been – she was sixty-eight when she died. But she was playing golf and she was good … everything was good eh? And very … very fit and that. And then of course went for a test and had breast cancer. Had to have an operation, and spent you – know time, down at Palmerston North with her treatment. Then everything was good for about twenty-two months. Then both of us got the flu, and got a cough, and she couldn’t get rid of hers. So they said “oh, look – think we’d better have another biopsy.” Anyway they … and she had lung cancer and … went everywhere, so – and that was in 1999, and that’d be about October when we were coughing, and she had to have her first chemotherapy on 23 December. Anyway, she had a bad turn before that, and had the chemotherapy and then came back, and that Millennium 2000, well Christmas – we had that Christmas with her, and the night of Millennium – ‘cause Mahia was one of the first places in the world where the sun rose. So – but then she had a very bad turn, came into the Wairoa Hospital and died on 11 January 2000.
Yes. Okay, now coming back, your family had some associations with the Wairoa Fishing Club.
Yeah, my son. Well I did. I was years on it.
That’s what I mean – we need to talk about that.
All right. Yeah.
Where you were, and then where he is.
Yeah. Well, that was when I was on the farm, in John Jardine’s day if that rings a bell.
Well, John Jardine – I had many talks with John in the old hut in front of the fire.
Did you come across Sandy Bull in your travel? He was the East Coast Fish and Game Ranger for many years. Lives in Gisborne.
I probably have. Gemmell?
Oh, Jack Gemmell. Oh God! Oh, yeah. John Jardine and Jack Gemmell, Alan Begg. [Chuckle] Yeah, okay – well when we bought the farm, came back – and that was in November 1956 – came back, and of course they were working on the Club building. And I gave them a bit of a hand you see, having been a carpenter, you know, you got roped in you see. So I gave them a hand just finishing it. And then – I can’t just remember when, but then it went on that I got on the Committee of the Angling Club you see, and that was in John Jardine’s day. Well it was pretty soon after, so I suppose – but I’m a … life membership, because I’ve got this 40 Year Badge … I think I might have been on the Committee for forty years, you know. Anyway, so then I was Vice President for a while when John was there then. But then … oh, well we got busy with the farm and that you see, but I still stayed on the Committee, you know, we used to go into town. In fact Committees, I would have lost count of the committees that I’ve been on since the … but we’ll keep on with that one. But I was on that one, then when Alan was away … then he came back from the Ag Department and then they took over the farm and then he became a very, very keen fisherman … catch fish, brown trout far better than what I could – like I taught him how, but he could teach me. But anyway, it’s gone right down the family and he was a number of years President, and they’ve done such a terrific amount of work. Now about three or four years ago I suppose, they spent over $30,000, and they’ve got a fancy flush toilet system in, and they’ve got solar lighting. Lot of it’s done, you see. Then he wasn’t President, then he was Committee, now he’s back – he was President for another few years, now he’s just given up. ‘Cause you know, that’s beside the point – well this is, but it’s something to do with it – you see, here I’m ninety-three and a burden on the taxpayer; about two months or so ago he had a bloody stroke – sixty. Sixty years old.
Has he recovered?
Yeah. Oh gee, we’re very, very lucky, Frank. Just collapsed in the kitchen – bang – no warning, nothing. But luckily – he works for VetEnt, and he runs a sheep race that they drench and they dose and everything, and he does TB testing as well. He was working five o’clock in the morning till six o’clock at night, but they said in the hospital that’s probably what helped to save him, he was so … he’s fit.
So his vetting is here?
Yeah. See there’s two vets here like, but he’s VetEnt.
Well what’s going to happen with … d’you think it will be claimed back by our Maori brothers?
Everything up, you know, that we can see … I mean we, Alan and … we’re honorary Tuhoes anyway, like. But yeah, from where we can see … it’s good like it is now, but this Vern Winitana … he’s a Tuhoe that lives in Wainuiomata – he’s a real stirrer and a troublemaker. He’s a Ruapane, and the Tuhoes have had, sort of made … well, the Ruapane – they’re all the one people eh, you know? But now there’s a notice in the … Vern Winitana – he’s called for a meeting – he wants to form another trust.
Well you remember ten or fifteen years ago, the Maori’s stopped us fishing – we can’t get access to the river. They stopped all those places we could go.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
But they don’t use it either – they just deny access for no other reason than to deny it.
Well I had the same when we lived at Mahia, you see – they inhibit progress, don’t they?
And it’s sad.
This is where, you see the stupid part of it … and of course I was delighted a while ago when I went up to … ’cause Alan, like once a year – always once, sometimes twice when he can work it in, when he got a group to go up to the Lodge for a week. I usually only just … well when I was so crook too, only go for two or three nights … but we’d go for a week, you see. And anyway that time – it would be probably this year I guess – went up and that Aniwaniwa building was gone. I thought ‘thank God for that’, like you know? And this Vern Winitana said “no, not … and there’s Maori history …” It was nothing to do with Maori history – it wasn’t put there until the 1970s. But anyway I went up and saw the new building a while ago. Alan went to the opening of that – went up and saw the new building. It’s a lovely building too and that, and good – okay, that’s all set, see. And Tina Winitana – like, she’s been sort of in charge of it there, see. And I said to Tina “well I don’t know what side you’re on, but God I was pleased to see that building gone from Aniwaniwa”. She said “you’re on my side.” [Chuckle]
I always remember it wasn’t the sort of building that I expected there, when it was built.
Well the thing is – I mean it went rotten anyway. But the thing is Frank, having been a builder it was built with the wrong material. Like – I can understand Scott’s son, like – being a bit upset about it, sure, but it was built of the wrong material, in the wrong place, and the wrong design for that sort of weather conditions.
See John Scott – he was a fine man, I would not take that away, he was a great man for thinking things – but whether it was practical or not was another question.
Now moving on from Waikaremoana, you put down your saw and your plane and your hammer and started drawing words with your carpenter’s pencil, and wrote a book called ‘Highway 38’.
Well ‘The Change’ it’s called, yes.
‘The Change’ – but it’s about Highway 38, and Highway 38 for those that don’t know, that’s the road to Waikaremoana. What on earth stimulated your mind to do this?
Well, it was only the fact that because I grew up in amongst it all, and because of the things that I have lived with – even though I was sort of out of the place, but I was still connected with there all my life, eh? And up to the Lake, and at my grandmother’s, and school and that, so … And I thought for quite a long time – as I say I should have done it when my Mum was still alive and Jack Tapper – people like that you see – I thought ‘well, I should do something about it’. And I started sort of – taped one or two – wouldn’t mind writing about some of the memories of it, and then it just went on. So I got to work, but oh … I tell you what, if I hadn’t have been so ill when I was trying to get it finished, I would probably have put more into it. But the basics are all there, how it was. You see the thing is – what I can remember – like, I can remember when the road didn’t go to Te Whaiti. Only just, I was only five years, six years old you see, and I can remember going up there with the butchery business you see, with Mum and Dad. And those poor – there was no dirt money, or wet money, or wet weather gear. Those fellas used to trudge around in the mud … go up there you know, and they’d be trudging to work in the mud and work pick and shovel and blasting powder, through all that bloomin’ rock – what a job! And also you see – so that was the road – the Power Station was being built, you see – the first Tuai one – and it had two machines for a start, you see, they had two machines. That was in the thirties, like in the Depression times, and they opened that in 1929. And probably, had Dad not died he’d have probably just carried on with the butchery business there, you see, ‘cause Tuai was … when Marg worked in the office there was fifty-four houses with electricity workers in.
It was a beautiful little village.
And of course Piripaua, when the super that they had there and he and his wife were avid gardeners. It was an absolute picture, the Piripaua Power Station. Anyway you see it went from the thirties – then way back, even in the thirties they were fiddling around with Kaitawa as an extra power station. So, but all that needs writing about. See and in the forties when they started the Piripaua Power Station … ‘bout 1939 or ’40 … and they had a camp … camp at Piripaua, then before they finished Piripaua they started Kaitawa. See Kaitawa – they were thinking about it then in the thirties. And also, the Whakamarino Lake there at Tuai they got you know, to supply Piripaua – they were originally going to do that before they built the Tuai Power Station. They were going to make that lake and put the … but they changed their minds. But while Piripaua was being finished, Tuai was already established, Kaitawa was being built – there was four primary schools and a high school up there, three stores … no, four stores and three dance halls, a two-up school and a sly grog business, and taxi service, picture theatre. You know, this was a thriving place. And I said “well all that needed to be put down.” And by the time I’ve come to do it, you see, as I say I know now what I’ve put in that book, I don’t think there’s anybody left that can remember a lot of it.
I had an uncle was an electric engineer on Tuai when it was being built, and he was there when it was commissioned – James Wilson his name was.
And the thing is of course I don’t know whether it’s a good thing but I’m able to remember all that you see – right back. Some things you never forget do you? But the sort of thing … and that’s in the book too you see – these Greys that took over the milk run, and that would be – but I know the family were there, and Mr and Mrs Grey ran the cookhouses for the construction camps around the road, and at Tuai. They started this milk business and they had children, went to the Tarapatiki School you see, and it was probably … it would have been before I started school. Anyway, I can remember one of the girls running up to Mum one time – ’cause the Greys were away over the lake after their cookhouses and that – but anyway this girl ran up to Mum – “could she come down because her sister had been shot.” Accidentally, you see – one sister had played … see everybody would have had a loaded rifle behind their door in them [those] days, and nobody ever thought about it did they? This is 1929. Anyway of course, I had to go down with Mum, we went down you see. Dad was away on the butchery run – went down you see, and here’s this girl lying in bed with a bullet hole in her stomach, very wheezy. ‘Cause I knew her, Ethel, you know – and I was five years and three months old. But it’s as clear in there, seeing her lying there, and waiting for the Doctor Ross … came up to see what could be done. She was still alive, but anyway … and Jock Falkham – he’s dead now, but he can remember going up with his father.
Now one thing we must just talk about and that’s – you mentioned a Constable who you said was the best in New Zealand – he did have a rival and that of course was Lou Dolman.
Yeah oohh, yeah, yeah – good old Chris. Yeah, well they were legends those people.
Anyway to get back to Ethel’s shooting – and I can remember them still driving away – the Doc had a big – it might have been a Buick or a Packard, a great big strong car, canvas hood and that, and I remember them driving away. And you know all those years – I never really got round to asking my Mum, whether she died on the way into town, or whether she died after they got to town.
She did die, did she?
She did die, and she was … it was in February – I think in February 1929, and she was eleven years old.
There was one sort of relation to the family. I even had the headstone renewed, like – you know, had a brass plate put in because the other one was just about unreadable.
Over the years I climbed up Ngamoko and Onepoto and all round – when I think back, Lou Dolman and the interested people that cut all those tracks …
Yeah, well see I cut some of that track up to Ngamoko.
And I tell you what we did do … like one of the hardest day’s work. You know there was a big problem with the stumps in Lake … the tree stumps? Well I was part of the sawing of those off. See they lowered the lake to a level and you could see the tops of them. Yeah, well by the powers – what a job that was. But you know Lou took a tally of the number of people that went there over – took us several months, you know, to do … he reckoned there would be over two thousand stumps we sawed off.
I know – thank goodness you did.
It’s really great that you’ve recorded the history of that road, because it encompasses quite a big area, doesn’t it? The gateways are only the openings to …
That’s right. The timber mills, you see … the first timber mill at Miromiro on the Kokako Road, that was established in 1916 people called Ridleys bought Miromiro Station, and then the mill – don’t know whether they put – but the mill was there and it was leased for a number of years, because old Stan Dickie that I knew – his name came into it, and Tom Delaney who had the Miromiro Hotel and he was a diver – his name’s in the early part of it. And the Public Works leased it when they were building the Tuai Power Station for cutting the boxing for the concrete. Then in 1919 when Don Thomas and Trevor Thomas came back from the First World War – brothers they were – they bought it … bought Miromiro and the mill, but they still leased it until 1928. And Don bought his brother … his brother had been wounded in the War and that and he didn’t have good health … Don bought him out and took over the Miromiro, you see. And then Don went down to … ’cause Don was English … he and a friend, they were trained at Sandhurst and they were both in India when the First World War finished for some reason or other. Anyway, but he got this far. He didn’t know much about farming and he knew bugger all about timber milling, so anyway [chuckle] – oh, that’s been recorded, I’m using bad language – but anyway, so he went down to Napier and he saw Robert Holt. That’s more rellies of ours too. Anyway he saw … what would be the best thing to do with a timber mill? Howards were already up there, they had been there in the earlier days. Old Sid Howard and all his family up there. Then Robert Holt said to him “go over to the King Country, see if you can get hold of a bloke called Les Nissan, and you get him and his crew to go up and run your mill, and you’ll be right”. And Don said “if it hadn’t been for that,” he said … never looked back, eh?
See therein lies another story, because these people came from … the most productive native forests in New Zealand were in the King Country – Taumarunui. You know, they’d been there, done it – it was just such a productive area.
Yeah, well you see they came, and because in my growing up time, the Miromiro Mill was Howards and Nissans, and as I said in the book, if they weren’t Howards or Nissans they were married to them anyway, so … [chuckle] And Don said he didn’t know how – and these are the sort of things you see, that I reckoned needed putting down – ‘cause Don said to me, ‘cause I knew him – he’s dead now of course – but he said “I’d have never made it without them”. ‘Cause it was pretty hard times.
Well, when you think about it, mills were established as far as they could haul logs either by horse or by oxen – twenty k’s [kilometres] was about as far as they could shift …
Well, that’s where you see, in doing the history of that, they started off pulling logs out of the bush with horses. They had … steam driven hauler and steam to drive the mill you see, but they had these horses. And then they got one of the old Fordson tractors, the old original one with the steel wheels. Anyway, they had one of those, and I don’t know whether they bought it like that or whether they devised it – and of course the bogies that they had for pulling the logs, like two of those they had at the back with thirty ton logs on them, you know, and the old tractor wasn’t very powerful. So they took a bloomin’ … from the power take off they put a truck gearbox in the front, they were tandem wheels in the front and they put a gearbox in the front one, drove it through this bloomin’ … with a shaft you see, and they put a chain onto the other tandem – like a chain drive – so they had a six wheel drive. Yeah. In the book you’ll see the photo of that bridge that they built – like the viaduct? With the trailers on.
But anyway at one stage evidently the mill caught – ’cause the mill originally was up further than it had been in my time, and they built it down further to get better water supply from the creek. And actually, when I come to sort of research it – where it actually finished up was on [?Kay P’s?] land – it wasn’t on Miromiro at all. But nobody worried about those things.
But anyway at one stage, the mill – when it burnt see, and there was a tractor there – it’d be pretty valuable to them, and it’s in amongst the fire. So Les Nissan said to Don Thomas, “look,” he said, “how about I get the rifle and shoot a hole in the petrol tank?” He said “it might save it from blowing up”, you know. So they did this, and evidently [chuckle] you know, I mean this is where I’m told that, that there was a great sheet of flame like a flame thrower blew out you see. And then they got it off and all they had to do was get rid of the petrol tank [speaking together] …
Put the fire out.
… put some more wiring back on and away she went again.
Well, makes a good story.
See, if OSH had been about in those days we’d have still been riding horses.
Well thank you very much for writing that book because for those of us that know the area it’s priceless, but for those people that haven’t explored it its telling them what it was like, how it was, how it came to be you know.
These people that I talk to in Wairoa – they can’t believe that there was four schools and a high school and everything up there, you know. But that’s all … it’s just those sorts of things and I think those incidents you see, needed writing about didn’t they? Like old Bill Cook was a legend up at the lake. He was there from the construction days – three brothers, Bill and Tim and Stan. But old Bill – he finished up up there, like living at the camping ground up at the Lake, and looking after the boats and things. And he had been a gamekeeper at an estate in England before he came out here. But old Bill – one time there was … probably be right because he was an avid trout fisherman, and he used to row going forward, eh? He’d row sitting front … anyway he went over evidently to the Aniwaniwa River one evening to fish you see, and came back with a deer. [Chuckle] Never had a rifle. Must have been while he was fishing that this deer swam across from the point there, and swam across the mouth of the river, so he chased it in the boat and he knocked it out with the oar, and then towed it home and bled it when he got … [chuckle] See those sort of … they’re all just incidents.
They are, they are. But you know, they’re treasures – they couldn’t happen today.
No. [Chuckle] Different ones … and old Hope Frame that used to be the ranger. He had a lot of stories that I’ve got. And I used to help him when I was even young. ‘Cause he used to have a hatchery up there at Kaitawa, and because it was fry that he used to get rid of. Had the old P & T Bedford truck, cart it round in cream cans you know, and just tip these … every bit of water you know, every puddle of water, he’d tip these things in, eh? [Chuckle]
When the road was finished a lot of these blokes stayed there like, you know. Old Jerry Sullivan round at Mokau, there was another one at [?Haupiri?], then Jim Burke at Aniwaniwa. And they were legends too eh? And they just stayed there, naturalists you know. And they died up there, a lot of them, you know. But old Jim at Aniwaniwa, he could tell stories better, real Irish stories, eh? And of course in those earlier days, people travelling through if they did travel through, you know they’d like to stop and talk to these fellas.
Well, ‘specially you know, people that went to the Lake House – that was their only contact with the back country man who told stories.
But old Jim Burke you see, he had a … right at Aniwaniwa Falls there, you know, he had his hut there – his establishment – but people would stop, and he always liked to have people in for a cup of tea, and he always had … Riddifords told me this … he always had a bone china teaset if there was ladies in the party, and he gave them a cup of tea in that. And they said – ‘cause he was a real hard case – but they reckon people used to go in you see, and if there was ladies – “now”, he said “you’ll have to excuse me, ladies”, he said “I’m a bastard to swear”. [Chuckle]
Just one other question, did you ever know Sam Cooper?
Sam? Used to be Baileys?
Yeah, he’s my half brother.
See I’ve got fifty-five years of my Mum’s diaries under my bed, and Sam Cooper’s name’s mentioned in that when he used to be droving and …
Because, I have never met him.
See okay, when I had my turn there, and then Alan – Alan was still on the farm and his family growing up – well – and the kids’ fishing day they have up there every year. So when Stevie, my second grandson, when he was that age, used to go. ‘Cause they – fly fishermen now – trawling bores me a bit. But anyway, so Stevie, he’s a very keen fisherman you see. So this kids’ fishing day – he won the thing twice in succession, and then of course he got a bit older. Then Ryan – Alan and Jenny had a late comer – he’s eighteen now, but when he came along he won it three years in succession. And they said “oh, we’ll have to do something about this – these Robinsons”. Anyway the great-granddaughter’s nine now – ‘course we all usually go up there this day – so she came along. And Andrew said “oh,” he said “might take Mia up to this fishing”. She won it – five years old and she won it the first time, and the next year she came back and won it again. [Chuckle]
But anyway Ryan – after he – I think it was three or four … $250 fishing rod and gear, so he was just giving it back to either put it in a raffle or draw, have a draw or something. [Chuckle] That’s just the way they’ve been …
All right, well look – I think we’ve probably captured this part of your life.
Is that enough?
It’s telling them about you and your family – it’s a footprint. But I really think that gives a very good – that’ll sound very interesting.
Are you sure? Because you see the thing is – committees, I lost count of the committees I was on. First one I was on was in 1942 and started when I was in the Army, in the rugby ground and started training marching girls. [Chuckle] Then … well it was for a Brownies team, but it stopped. ‘Cause they used to have it before the War then it stopped. Then after the War there was five marching teams, but I did it for about eight or nine years then, like you know. And I’ve raced a speed boat, and I’ve flown an aeroplane.
Yeah. I didn’t get right through – Bill Cookson, another legendary … well he started to teach me, but on the idea … I was going to go through and get my commercial, and topdress for him, but I got married instead and we went up to Te Puke to live, and of course the facility wasn’t there. And I couldn’t afford a wife and learn to fly all at the same time, you know so that …
A lot of my mates used to fly, I don’t know how the afforded it.
Mind you when I worked up at Okare – ‘course at that time you see, I was building – so what I … I had a Model A Ford – and my car was out of action sort of, at this particular time, like up there. So if Bill wasn’t busy, or if he came in from topdressing, I used to get him to come up and pick me up or take me home again you see, because it was about £7 in a taxi for Okare, but of course it was £3 in the plane. But that went down – that’s flying time, so it worked well. But then as I say, I got half way through and then you know, had to go. But I raced a speedboat for a number of years for a bloke. Wasn’t my boat.
What was the name of the boat?
Well, first it was called ‘Miss Pam’ because it was named after his daughter. I didn’t know him – well I did, you know, afterward – but then of course it was during the war. He had it at the last regatta that they had at Waikaremoana in 1939, and that was ‘Miss Pam’ – no, ‘Baby Pam’ at least. Then of course during the War he started, and that’s when I started you know, racing and that, but of course Pam had grown up then so we had to call it ‘Miss Pam’. [Chuckle]
So you were a bit of a petrol head at some stage?
Well yeah, and you know Matt Dolan – he’s in boats and that you know and they start in Napier there somewhere. Anyway, and of course after ten years they managed to get the bridge to bridge water ski race back here three years ago. ‘Cause you see OSH wouldn’t let ‘em do it and the Council wouldn’t let … but they got it back, and that’s about three or four years ago. So of course I went down – thought ‘oh, I better go and have a look at it’, and I went just towards the finish of the day you see, on the Saturday. Anyway this boat flew down the river, and I thought ‘geez!’ We had converted car motors – this is back in the forties – converted car motors – we had a Buick Straight 8, with two carburettors on it. [Chuckle] But gee, we used to do well with it too – but of course fifty mile an hour. I rolled it in the Wairoa River; I looped the loop with it down the Wairarapa Lake; but I tore half the bottom off it in Rotorua one day. And anyway, this ski … I went down to see, and of course this boat, I said to somebody “how the hell fast would that boat be going?” And they said “oh, about ninety mile an hour I suppose”. So I went and spoke to … I didn’t know Matt but went and spoke to him … interested in speed boats … telling him about it, and said you know, that I had rolled … “mind you, it was only fifty mile an hour in those days, eh?” you know. He said “must have been thrilling, though”. [Chuckle] Anyway after a time – I went back to the clubhouse – and he came over. “Look”, he said “you’re interested in speed boats” he said, “would you like a ride?” I said “oh, would I ever!” But I said “oh, no.” Two great big outboard motors on it. You know the boat?
Yes, I do.
Anyway, he said “no, that’s all right, I’ve got to take the cooks” – couple of women that do the catering for it. “Going to take them for a ride afterwards”, he said, “stick around and I’ll take you”, you see. This was when I was over eighty. He said “oh, I’ll be around soon”. Anyway I went down, and Katie Bowen was one of the caterers and she said “oh, you go first”, and she strapped this bloomin’ space suit on me, and she said “oh, I hope you don’t have any bother with heart trouble do you?” I said “oh, well I’ll find out in about ten minutes, won’t I Kate?” Anyway away we went. Ninety mile an hour.
And then a couple of weeks afterwards I saw Kate in town, they live at Mahia … saw Kate and she said “oh, wasn’t that a great thrill having a ride like that in the boat?” And the other woman … lady … Ros Thomas. Anyway I said to Kate “oh, you know you were asking about the heart problem? Well,” I said “I didn’t dare tell you ’cause you wouldn’t have let me go”. I said “the Sunday before I spent all day up at the hospital on the ECG machine”. I said “well at my age it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t come out of it”.
Anyway the next year I went down again, and Matt was there. He said “oh, glad you came back”, he said, “you know that ride you had in my boat?” He said “bit slow.” He said “there’s a faster boat here this year from Tauranga”, he said “I’ll get you a ride in that”. “No, look …” I said “Matt, that flipping boat has four and a half litres of petrol a minute”. Geez, you know. I said “no, look that was my thrill”. “No” he said “this bloke said ‘no, I’ll give you a ride’”. He said “well, we’ll have to go up the river” he said “and warm it up again to get it right.” Came down the river, and of course a hundred and twenty miles an hour. The only thing I was disappointed about … I wasn’t driving it. [Chuckle]
Thank you very much for giving us this window of history into your family and the Wairoa -Gisborne area, so thank you Norman, and good health till we meet again.
Well it’s been, as I say, like my family have told me for years that I talk too much, so I could keep going for hours yet if you wanted to. [Chuckle] Okay.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper