O’Kane, Henry Joseph & Jill Interview

Today is the 15th May 2007 [2017].  I’m interviewing Henry and Jill O’Kane of Hastings on the life and times of their family in New Zealand. Henry would you like to … thank you.

The O’Kanes … my father [Henry James O’Kane] came from Ireland, County Derry, in June 1906 at the age of twenty. He left Ireland for Australia where he met a family with the name of Goode.  He came to New Zealand in 1912, and the two were married in 1913. In 1916 at the age of twenty-four, Mary died, childless. Dad returned to Ireland in 1918 and married my mother, Ellen Mary Doherty on the 25th of August in Boleran, Garvagh.   Mum, or Ellen, was nineteen and Dad was thirty-one. Tom was born in Ireland, and they moved back to New Zealand and built a second house in Williams Street. He’d built one for his first wife and then when he came back he built one next door, and we lived there all my life until I married and moved out.

The house next door was a friend of Dad’s in Ireland, Paddy and Mary McCann, and they were great, you know, because there was a mob of us.

Rose was the second born. And then Dad’s father wasn’t well, so they went back to look after the farm in Ireland – went back with Tom, Rose, Bernie and John.

That would have been no mean feat those days, travelling back to Ireland.

That’s right. Well, Dad worked his passage, and Mum had the kids, and they went back there … forgotten how long they were there, but Mary was born there.  And they came back – they sailed in a … and then I was born, [clock chiming] and didn’t do any more wandering. And Mum brought the kids back too, but he was shovelling coal – he worked his passage both ways.

But even bringing children back on a boat … the whole family back … that wouldn’t have been easy.

Well the story goes that the Purser, or whoever it was, reckoned that Mum had the neatest cabin on the ship with all the kids. She was a marvellous woman, my mother. I mean – all of us, and I don’t think we all went hungry.  We always had a cow, and Dad was never out of work, like he went all over the country – tunnelling down south – he went all over the place. And he worked at Tomoana, and on the Waikoko Gardens – ‘cause Nelson saw him scything outside the office one day, and he watched him for a while and he went to the foreman and he said “don’t ever have that man out of work”, so with the seasons finished, he’d be there. And that happened … he left there in the strike, went from the solo to [?thing?] … and he went back for years.   And then – anyway he went back, and then he used to … he worked with McCracken.   He was the foreman, or the boardwalker, or whatever – you know, head of the … top foreman.  And when the season was you know, going down, they would sack guys … put them off.  And Jock Archibald was head of the yards and he used to get Dad work down there fixing the things.

And so at this stage, Henry, you were all living at Williams Street and so did you go to Mahora?

No, I went to the Convent, then St John’s College, it was in Frederick Street then. I was there for a couple of years and then I used to work – the first job I ever had was with Baldy Christenson, planting … the first paid job … planting strawberries, the corner of Wall Road and Maraekakaho Road, and then Baldy gave me a job out at Lily Campbell’s. Pumpkins were hard to get that year or were short and Lily Campbell had all these cattle pumpkins and Baldy bought them. And we were there bagging them up, and any ones that a possum had got into we cut it out and take it to Mrs Johnston at the Lodge. She had a store, [speaking together] Thompson’s Store.

Yes, yes, yes.

He’s a hard case, Baldy.

Were those the great big cattle pumpkins?


You used to bag those up and sell them?

I don’t know how … what we did, because they were in the pit and we sorted them over.  And then I used to go to Mahora Stud Farm.

Now who used to own Mahora Stud Farm?

Well, the Breens, but Arthur and Jack Miller, Arthur married the youngest one – there was Gertie Breen … oh, I can’t think of the other one … there was Mick Breen, he worked with Dad as a solo butcher at Tomoana – he was a big strong fella.

Was Mahora Stud a dairy farm?

Yeah.   And they used to supply the hospital with milk and cream and pumpkins, they used to take to the … the cooks at the hospital used to save the pumpkin seeds for them. And they’d always get those Hubbard Squash and they’d always get the biggest and the most crinkly and keep those.

You know you can’t buy that seed these days?

No, no. And it was a while before I ever milked a cow there because their tits were that big, my hands wouldn’t fit round them. And then they got a milking machine.  Well it was two-stand, it was. That was a big …  And then Mick used to kill pigs and Chinese used to come and buy the pigs.

Did you play any sport while you were growing up?

Oh yeah, yeah, I got in the Ross Shield team, and I was in the first XV but I was only a sort of a ring-in, because Jimmy McIvor had gone to the Empire Games I think it was.

That’s the boxer wasn’t it?

Yeah, and I got into – I only played a couple of games but you know, I was a bit light actually.   But I was in the Ross Shield team with Buster Reedy and Dudley [?] – quite a few guys. But yeah, after working at Breens’ – oh, I did a paper run and a milk run of course, both at the same time.

Well you had to, because there wasn’t much money from any of it was there?

No, no.  I bought my first bike from … it was a Raleigh bike … from Thomas down Karamu Road opposite – who’s there now, McKearney?  Or that used to be Stewart Greer’s – little shop there. Do you remember that?

No, no.  He’d gone before – we had Paul Hannah and Onward Cycles and Steven’s and – yes.

Hannah was down the main street. And – £14.

You would have felt like a king.

Yes.  Anyway the paper run – I was doing the paper run when I was in the Ross Shield and we had practise night, and I didn’t get back to pick up the papers till late. I think it was when they were sorting out who was going to be in the team. And Buster Reedy and I were playing at the end of the field and Father Seymour came along – he used to coach us – he said “what are you two doing down here?”  And I think Buster might have said “oh, they sent us down here just to play around”.  “Oh”, he said, “you’ll be in the team”.  So anyway, yeah, that was the football.

My paper run I used to go down Karamu Road, Frederick Street and cart papers for the store half way down. Begleys had the store on the left-hand side and then, who was the guy at the end … Henry’s store?  It was Otto Johnson, that store, I used to deliver a bundle of papers there, and then start – then to Tritts’ at Tomoana Road, on the corner there. And then I used to deliver papers – Frederick Street, Konini Street, Waipuna Street, Williams Street, down Tomoana Road to the Works, round the houses there. And then to the cookhouse, and then down Ellwood Road to Karamu Road and down into – what’s the road down there?  Runs back into the showgrounds.


Yeah. And then have to go in there because the showman had the dodgems and things, and a couple of big Alsatian dogs. One day they were loose.  He said to me “go lad, go lad!”. These bloody dogs, he couldn’t stop them.  So I got out of the way.  [Chuckle]  Yeah, so you know, it was quite a stretch.  And I used to do a milk run from … Jim Stopforth, he had the Tomoana Road store sort of transversely across from Tritts’, which is now Four Square. That was built by Jones – hubby and … oh, there was a mother and a son and daughter had the store.  Anyway, Jim Stopforth bought that, and then he bought the milk run off Desie van Asch who milked cows on the corner where Birds Eye is, and Desie used to milk the cows and then he had a bike and a trailer.

And anyway so then my brother Bernie milked the cows, and then Rex McLay milked the cows, and then Frank milked the cows, but I never got into milking the cows, I just delivered the milk.

So Rex McLay started out milking cows too, did he?

Yeah, he used to milk before he went to school, and to work. And milk by hand too. And then when Frank came he – old Desi’s father bought a one stand milking … and Frank said “why don’t you double up, get two?”  Van Asch said “let’s – we’ll learn to walk before we can run”. [Chuckle]  What was his name?  Anyway, he was a land agent for Williams & Kettle’s, and then when Jim Stopforth’s brother bought the McLaren girls’ milk run – used to go round St Aubyn Street, round there.  And I was working at the time … pretty sure but anyway I … yeah, because I had a driver’s licence by then.  I learnt the run and then when Jim’s brother … can’t think of his name now … when he took over pasteurised milk had just come in, so both Jim and his brother were delivering pasteurised milk round the place.  And a lot of people reckoned “no, that was …”, and we were doing the run around Tomoana Road and all through those State houses you know, before Duke Street and Frederick Street. Anyway, the ones that didn’t … they wanted whole milk, we just used to pull the top out of the bottle, pour it in the billy.  And people used to come – they didn’t want it delivered, they used to come to the shop to get it because they thought it … because it was out of a can.  So – and [chuckle] I remember one guy, he played in a band. Kenny Horsfield was his name, and …

He’s still around, Kenny Horsfield.

Was it Kenny? One of [them]. Anyway, just poured it in the billy [chuckle] and he opened the door, and he said “bloody great stuff that raw milk is – wouldn’t have that pasteurised, be undrinkable”. [Chuckle]

Matt Tweedie – Matt and his brothers used to deliver, and you know, you didn’t have proper blocks then, you delivered anywhere, didn’t you?  That would have been before pasteurisation.

Oh, yeah, yeah. Oh well, we had our area and when … Des van Asch used to deliver it, and if people … ‘course his measure was you know – a pint’d be a pint and a half, and then people … it’d be too much and so they’d drop it back [laugh] and he was doing himself out of milk, and he was bloody annoyed when they only wanted half a pint.

They got more than they wanted still, probably.  


So your brothers and sisters – they obviously were doing similar jobs too?

Well the girls didn’t, but Frank and Tom … he worked for Jowsey up where McGowans lived.  He was only I think fifteen when he left school, and he didn’t have a very happy time there I think.

Was that Mangatahi?

No, no just out here – well, it was the same Jowsey.  Then I worked for as I say, Mr Breen’s.  The first job with Tom Ryan.  Dad was to go there and they were threshing – threshed the grass seed – and they were just building a stack, not baling it, and for Dad … couldn’t gather them, and Noel Kitching who lived down the road from us in Williams Street, he’d been working for Tom Ryan, I think – was it Tom Ryan?  Yeah, he must have because that’s how I sort of got into knowing Tom Ryan.  And I went there, took Dad’s place, and forked and threshed hay that went up into an elevator that went up in … sack. And I was fourteen I think at the time.

Yeah, well I’d started with Tom Ryan.  And then I worked … still at school … worked in the season with peas when they had the stationary viner at Twyford.  Tom Ryan had leased an eighty-acre block off Glasson, and then he had a twenty-acre block of his own … I think it’s … I reckon somebody bidded for it. Anyway, they had the viner there, and I used to do the boxes until three o’clock and then I had to go and do my paper run, and I think I did that for a couple of seasons I think, while I was at high school. And they didn’t have any … all the leaves and stuff that came over they dropped on the floor, and I’d get there in the morning and whoever was on night shift never used to shovel that stuff off, and it was … I couldn’t sort of wait until I’d shifted all that bloody stuff – I used to be doing it for them, rushing around. You just had to chuck it out in a bloody big heap.   And yeah, so you know, went on from there actually. Then I started there in 1947, permanently.

This is permanently for Tom Ryan?

For Tom Ryan, and it’s the only job I had really, for twenty-seven years. I worked in the holidays driving a truck for Charlie Kendall and doing the Takapau Plains, spreading shingle there. But that’s the only – oh, I had a bit of stint at night at Wattie’s to earn a few extra bob.

Well during this time then, working with Tom, you saw a lot of changes happen, from the static viner to the viner that you guys built up.

Yeah, yeah – yeah, well we had – the one at we Twyford put on wheels and we used to tow it around to Raupare with a T20 in the middle of the road, [chuckle] pretty interesting.  Axles in the … I think he got to … I don’t know whether they might still be lying out there.  Solid wheels, and – never allowed today, because it just – I [think he] went to Campbells’ or who he went to.  Anyway, we just bent a couple – they were about four by half an inch, flat – and you just shaped them round the axle and I don’t think it was even bolted, I think we just put wood you know …

Blocks – yes.

… big wood screws into it. And when we first went to pull it away, the front axle, or the steering bit, just about came away from the  … because it was only timber, and … so had to hold it and get a few more braces into that.  And then they were going to – Tom was going to do all the vining for Wattie’s, and they were looking at a block of land that the County had as a holding paddock, if my memory serves me right.  But anyway, it didn’t go ahead because he bought three new machines, and they came in boxes and we had them in at Pakowhai Road.   And I put two of them together and we put them on wheels. And Wattie’s took the other two – was it two or three?

Were they static viners you put on wheels?

Yeah, yeah. And they had the petrol motors to drive them. Howard Percy made the transporters, and they had isolating axles, and they had four tyres – like eight tyres, four for each side and two in front, and then we just cut a green feed loader – cut it down to size – and made a drawbar, fitted them, and shortened up the feeding elevator so as the peas dropped in.  And they had a man standing at the top just poking and stuffing …

Yeah … make sure it kept going.  How did you pull these things?  ‘Cause they must have weighed a …

Well, we had a WD6 and Farmall M.  There’d be a photo of that in that thing that I’ve given to the …

Knowledge Bank.

Yeah, they must have it.  And then at that stage too, or after that, Wattie’s brought in the FMCs – what they called the green hornets.  And those machines were made for canning peas, you know, but then when they went to freezing peas, they weren’t any good, and they used to love the stuff that we sent in – said it was a lot cleaner.

And then Tom – all the ones that they brought in were second hand, and then Tom imported this new FMC that came in a box.  And I think Vic Watkins might have carted it, or he lifted it off the truck, whatever it might be – I wasn’t there when it … but anyway, I opened the box and put it together, like put the wheels on.  And they had a new – the screens in them, they were all open, and ‘course bloody vines and everything went straight through them – hopeless.  So we had to make new screens, and I spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day running them through a … made a bit of a jig, and a bit of angle iron welded to a pipe and put it through and hit it to bend it, twist it, bend it, and made up these bloody screens and then took them down to old man Jordan, and they bent them into shape and welded them up.  And we … because stuff went up and across and down, so we just put tin plate on the top so as nothing could fall down there and have to go up and down.  It worked a treat from then. Then the peas went over a mesh whereas the other ones had a drum and the mesh … this was a bloody hopeless thing too … so we got a drum made up and put that in.

So you were all pretty mechanically minded then?  Was Tom Ryan?  You obviously have always been mechanically minded.

Oh well, I went to night school to learn to weld. Well see, he only had a gas welder at that time, and I sort of … suppose nagged him to get a welder. But I was lucky really, because he let me do anything – I did decks for trucks, you know, and worked on his bloody car, putting shelves in it.

I had a booby once. Tom was keen on the races, he and his wife, and we had made a sprayer – it was an old Crossley car that he was going to make into a mower – and shortened it and … you know.  Anyway it sat in the shed down at Twyford and when we came to spraying peas, you know we’d grown peas in fourteen inch rows and cultivated them and then when the sprays came out you know we I think that was the same year as we got the FMC viner. I think it was.  Anyway we planted Turitea, that area there. Anyway we wanted spray, so we got this … I don’t know how many years it’d been sitting there … so spark plugs were still in – cleaned them up, cleaned the points with a rag, and I think we … and we got these big sixteen-inch wheels and tyres and I think we cranked it and towed it and away it went.  So we just put this thee hundred gallon tank on the back, and put a Briggs & Stratton motor on, and made up the booms and we just had ropes to pull them up. And there’s a photo somewhere – I’m spraying and these booms are flying out – and of course it was bower spray too, and if you got it on your hands it’d have to wear off.

I always wore gloves, and a respirator and you know, nothing like that happened to me fortunately.

Coming back to … the wheels and the sprays, take them off and put them on the car, because petrol was rationed, and to go to the races [chuckle] … and I didn’t tighten the bloody wheel nuts.  And I think they got to Pakipaki or somewhere, and felt the car shaking and tightened them up.  But that was about the only blue I ever made.

Once we got the FMC – and that had a Hume reel on the front and you could adjust it, whereas they were mowing the peas.  And we were down at McKays’, down the end of Lyndhurst Road there once, and we used to work with them – Doug Webb had a [an] FMC but we had the only new one.  And Wattie’s had … their Hume reel was driven off the motor and of course if they stopped it was … so they took them off, and they mowed.  And when Ray and the engineer came down and they saw our machine going and it was making a clean job without mowing – they went back and they – because ours was wheel driven.

Yes, so when you stopped it …


… stopped too.

They put them back on their machines – put the wheel – was a big job, but – yes.  I think then he sort of later on gave up growing peas, and like all these things you know, they were small areas I suppose, for growing.

So what age would you’ve been during this period then?

Oh, about twenty-five I suppose.

Had you met Jill at that stage?

Yeah.  What year did we marry, Jill?

Jill:  ’54.

Okay, well probably it’s time that Jill came in and told us her part of the story.

I met Henry at a wedding.  At the reception we were sitting opposite one another. I should have guessed then what he was like. During the reception he was growing peas where the Catholic Church is now in Havelock, and he left the reception to go and spray the peas.  [Chuckle] I should’ve known then what it would be like. Anyway, then we sort of met at the … after the wedding we went to the cabaret – they all … we ended up at the cabaret.  And then … ‘cause I’d come up from Palmerston … it was our friend’s wedding, she came from Havelock and we came up for her wedding.

What was the name of your friends that got married?

Molly O’Donnell – she was Molly Wakefield and then she …

Henry:  Pukahu, they were.

Jill:  Yeah, well – Molly. We were nursing together in Palmerston. So we came up for Molly’s wedding.

Henry:  Then she thought she’d come back and you know …

Jill:  Oh, then I came back. In those days you did maternity separately and I came back here to …

Henry:  Sure.

Jill:  Oh, well actually that was already in the pipeline – it wasn’t because of you, Henry.

Henry:  I beg to differ.  [Chuckle]

Jill:  We came up here to do the six months, and ‘course we met up again when I came back up here.  Yeah.

And so where did your family come from then to New Zealand?

My mother’s side of the family came from Wales – my grandmother was Welsh – very Welsh – and grandfather from Birmingham.  And on my father’s side originally they would have come from England but they came out here in 1840.

Gosh, they were amongst the first ships. And where did they land?

In Petone, in Wellington.

And what was ..?

My … Bevan.  My – whatever, how many greats … great, great –  through the New Zealand Company bought land, came out here. A lot of the … several … his wife, a baby, and someone else – they died on the way out, so when he arrived here, he arrived with four motherless children and to find that the land he had bought was – didn’t exist really. The Maoris were still … had the land. So he had to turn his hand to doing other things and get settled. And his four children he left in Petone, and he came up the coast and started – he must have known something about rope, and he saw the flax and he started making rope. And he brought his children up and they walked from Wellington with a Maori guide, and that actually … the story was in the school journal, that these four children walked up with this Maori guide to their father.

So where was the flax?

Around Foxton, around that area. I have the history because it was written in book form.

‘Cause it was a huge industry at one stage.

Yeah, yes, he had a ship that he used to ship the rope through to Australia.

And so obviously after time, the family moved on from the …

Well, no, no they stayed in that area.  And he didn’t marry, but his son – one of his sons – married a Maori and they had a lot of land around Manakau, and they had a big family and the family all bought … were given farms, so they farmed virtually from Otaki right through to Ohau, or Manakau. My grandmother was … and my grandfather, whose family came out, also married Maori. Came from Auckland, from Rawinia.

It’s surprising you know, over time how many families when they came out married into Maoridom.

Yeah.  Well they didn’t have a lot of choice I don’t suppose.

They didn’t.  So, then you grew up with your brothers and sisters …

I only had one sister, yes.

Okay – is she still ..?

No.  She was born ten years after me so she was a lot younger, and she eventually went to Australia and she died there.

So you went to school in the Foxton area?

In Levin.

And then from Levin ..?

I went nursing in Palmerston.

And then to Hastings where you were entrapped.

[Speaking together]  Yeah.

So then you married, and …


Where did you live then, when you were married in Hastings?

Oh, well Tom Ryan fortunately bought a house and put us in it in Ngaio Street. Yeah. So then he bought the property in Evenden Road so then we moved from that house to Evenden Road.

Well you must be almost a Ryan with all the time you spent working there.


Henry:  Well a lot of people thought I’d married a Ryan.

Jill:  Yes.

Henry:  The Brethrens – they used to think that …

Jill:  Yeah.  We had a lot to do with them. You remember when Rupert was born?

Yes, I interviewed Rupert recently. So your children then – how many?

Yes – came along.  Well we ended up with six, five boys and one girl.

Can you …?

Unfortunately – yeah, we …

I need you to name them for our indexing.

Right.  Well Peter was the first, then Chris – Christopher – and then Simon, and then Paul.  And then we had a daughter, Sarah, and then … it was [?] after-thought … we had Andrew.

And are they all in Hawke’s Bay still?

No, unfortunately, first Andrew, our youngest, was born with a heart defect.  But it wasn’t serious although he did go up to Greenlane before he went to school.

Henry:  The valves were round the wrong way and that.

Jill:  Well it was a valve defect. He went to school and he … he had a great life, because he was very spoilt by the others ’cause he was quite a bit younger.  And he did everything, didn’t he?  He skied and he was …  Unfortunately when he was about seven, things sort of fell apart really, heart-wise. He went back up to Auckland, and Brian Barrett-Boyes, who’d actually been in Palmerston when I was nursing, he operated on him.  He was a well-known heart surgeon at the time.  But, as he said, “the operation was a success, but the patient died”.  So he died within a few hours of surgery. And that was devastating to us, wasn’t it?

And then … then we lost Paul too, in a motorbike accident. And that was devastating to us.   Because he was our engineer, builder of everything, he was great with machinery and building up and designing things.  And that was devastating.

And then our grandson, who was our only male grandson – well we didn’t have many grandchildren because Peter our eldest doesn’t have children, and Chris – it was Chris’s son, he had two girls and Sam.  And Sam was killed – within two months of Paul dying Sam was killed – to the day, actually two months later.  And they were our three youngest males in the family, that we lost.  Yeah.

And then since then Simon, at fifty, had a …

Henry:  Stroke.

Jill:  Stroke, which has left him handicapped. He’s still paralysed down his right side.  But he gets around, but he can’t work. So other than our eldest son, Peter, and Sarah, that’s all we have left. And we don’t have many grandchildren because –

Henry:  You’ve missed out Chris.

Jill:  Well Chris has got cancer now. Unfortunately.  He’s had a lot of surgery and the surgery was successful, which was bowel cancer, and that was twelve months ago – April twelve months – last April. But it’s in his liver and lungs, so he’s had more treatment but they say they can’t do any more.

‘Cause he would be what age?

He’d be sixty … Peter must be sixty-two, ‘cause there was only a year or so between them, so he’d be about … he’s turned sixty.

So other interests you’ve had? You used to play golf.

I did, for a short time.

What are your hobbies – besides looking after Henry?

Oh, yes.  Not really because I’ve always been involved in the business, and I do the paperwork.  And when we had the orchard, we had the orchard, we had the grapes, we had the contracting.   And I’ve always been involved in that, I really haven’t had much time to have any outside interests, other than I belong to Probus, and those sorts of things.

The house in Percival Road … well that was the house you lived in before you left Percival Road …

We built …  The Hills live in our house, yeah.

Did you lay the garden out?

We actually – no, we had two different designers, the first one was the guy from Havelock.

Dene Thomas?

Yeah – wasn’t it?  Dene Thomas?  He was next to the Church. He did the first – did he do the first design or the second?  Yeah – oh, we had help, Richard [?Medhurst?] Designer.

Henry:  But just the house, I mean – nothing to do with the paddock next door.  Just the house.

Jill:  Yeah.  But I enjoy gardening and I do do … yeah.

The big sheds were yours though, weren’t they?

Henry:  Yeah, oh yeah.

Jill:  So I’ve always done … yeah, when we had the packing shed.

So where was your orchard – was it in Percival Road?

Where the Sports … where the Athletic Park … was our orchard, immediately behind the house.

Did you have hedges?

Yes, you could see … they built up a bank where – you can’t see though.

It was lovely down there – lovely quiet area.

Henry:  Oh, yeah.

Jill:  Well, it was.  [Chuckle]

Henry:  Yeah, we went down there …

Jill:  Well you bought that land, we had that land there – well originally you had that land at Clive, and we were going to build there.  In the end we sold that.

So whereabouts at Clive?

Henry:  We were down …

Jill:  Richmond Road.

Henry:  Webbs had a …

Jill:  Gregorys’.

Henry:  … block, and then I bought this twenty acres off John Gordon. It was part of Gregorys.  There’s a couple of houses on it now isn’t there?

Jill:  Yeah. They had asparagus there, ’cause I helped – we planted the asparagus and I was behind the tractor with Peter in an apple box or something.  [Chuckle]

I didn’t realise you were asparagus growers too. We are yet to hear all these other adventures of yours.

Yeah, we had asparagus and beans. We had asparagus as a permanent crop, and you cropped the other half.

Henry:  And I grew spuds there. We grew spuds … was I think the first year we had it. Bought it the week we got married, like previous to getting married.  And then we planted with Peter and Paul Heeney.  Grew up with Peter, we started school together, and they had the gear, you know, and they grew spuds.  So we planted seven acres I think it was, in Arran Banner spuds – and a hell of a crop of spuds.  And we were getting half a crown a bag in Wellington, so we dug them and pitted them. I don’t know – I remember digging them out of the pit and bagging them up, but I don’t know how much we were getting for them, but it wasn’t a lot.  But that was our venture into spuds there.  Then we – yeah, had it in asparagus, and the asparagus didn’t grow that well. It was always cold out there.

Jill:  You get a cold wind off the sea, and we’re pleased we didn’t … we tried to build there didn’t we?

Henry:  Yeah. [Speaking together] And then I was going to put it in apples too, but they said “no, no”, you know.  But of course it’s in apples now I think isn’t it?  A lot of apples out there.  But it was the best day ever, the day I sold it.

Jill:  Sold it and then bought this one.

Henry:  Well we’d bought Percival Road before we sold it – took a while to sell it, then Gregory bought it back. Frank – was it Frank? Or Ralph – was it Ralph?

There was [were] lots of Gregorys, I couldn’t keep up with them.

Anyway – yeah.  There used to be a dip in the Percival Road.

Jill:  Percival Road.  It was a rough road from where the little bridge is, and Evenden Road was only sealed to the little bridge and from thereon round it was a rough road.

Did it not go right through once, Evenden Road?

Henry:  Evenden Road?


Percival Road?

No, but Evenden Road went through but Percival Road came off Evenden Road, but did Evenden Road not go any further – you know where that S bend is?

Oh no, no …

[All speaking together]

Jill:  No, it went all round the …

Henry:  Well I think it was like a lot of these places – like down Raupere Road, you know, surveying.

Yes, or someone had a house already there.

Yeah – I don’t know.  Yeah, because Ormonds owned most of the land, you know, so why they … but yeah, it’d be nothing to do with survey maps or soil, don’t think. That thing too about the soil survey maps, you know – they’re so accurate.

I know.  When Riach and Wilson drained the plains, the Class 19 and 18 reverted straight for Twyford 14. Someone must have taken a lot of soil samples those days.

Well that block in Percival Road on the map is a little patch like that, and it’s dead accurate. Dead accurate. Then that soil …

When they did the survey initially, maybe that was a pond.  See, we don’t know what it was like ’cause that was done in the late 1800s, or early 1900s, and we have no idea because there would have been rushes, there would have been no drains. Well we’d better get back onto your adventures now, of apples, grapes and the development of …

Jill:  Because you cropped.  We were big beetroot growers weren’t we?  ‘Cause we had a beetroot harvester.

Henry:  Oh, well I mean to say … there was John Emerson, Bill Baines, Ted Hill and myself that had beetroot harvesters. Oh – McKeown, because Hills or Baines bought Norm McKeown’s beetroot harvester. He was out at Tiko …


Yeah.  [Chuckle]  That’s another funny one.

Jill:  [?Sundry?].  Growing apples, growing peaches –  he had half in apples and the other half was in peaches for Wattie’s and then we had the packing shed, and then grew the grapes across the road. And grape harvesting.

Henry:  Leased grapes … leased, I had leased [?St John?] Ewart’s block.

That was Highway 50?

And the block out at Havelock, near Vidal’s.  That was leased by a guy and he didn’t do much to it, and they hadn’t been paid for eight years.

They hadn’t been paid for the lease for eight years?

And anyway, it was to be sold and the person didn’t turn up to buy it.  So Valerie, who I went to school with, and Ian, that Valerie took the business over when he … and I was offered the winery.

Jill:  As well.

Henry:  Pulled the back half out, there was twenty-five acres – pulled the back half – they were cabernet.  And then they reckon that it had had phylloxera, and I got smart, so … what the hell was I doing?  Anyway, he knew everything, and he came out to me and he said there was no phylloxera.  And so we tried to grow barley in where we pulled the Cabernet out, but it only grew on the [?].

So then the front block was [?] 22A, and it hadn’t been pruned properly for bloody years, so we cut ‘em right down to the stump – like you know, we pruned them and let them come away again, and we were selling them to Penfolds, because by that stage I’d planted Percival Road in Müller Thurgau.  And by that stage too my brother died, and they sold their farm at Atiamuri and bought the other half.  I’d bought sixteen acres and they [?], so we put the whole lot in …

Jill:  At the time it was the largest block of Muller Thurgau in the …

Henry:  Well, around here perhaps, I don’t know.  Well that’s what he said, but you don’t now.

And then we planted – well we cropped the Havelock block with [?] 22A, and we got hand pickers in – started them I think … can’t stand this bloody nonsense.  Yes, so I got David Cornes in with his harvester.  But it had been harvested before, they were narrow rows and the gondolas that they had were just front wheels, you know, and the spikes, and they’d wound it with bloody wires. Anyway, so we get ’em in there, and they had our forklift with a bin on the front following, And that wasn’t very satisfactory, and that’s when I decided well, if I was going to grow grapes I’d have to get a machine.

And do it yourself.

Yeah.  And it was the first Howard here. They were good machines too, they were gentle on the plants and gentle on the posts because they had a swinging head.  And we went to France in ’82 and we went to the Howard factory – it was on a tour.  It was the …

Jill:  Wayne Thomas.

Henry:  It was the Muller Thurgau.

Jill:  Yeah, but it was … we went to Germany and …

Henry:  Anyway, we saw them being built.  And we only had – Rupert Ryan said he’d give us a harvester. And then we got Selwyn back because he wasn’t happy with the … he ordered the guy out, and he …  anyway.  So then we pulled the [?] 28 to [?] out, and we planted sauvignon blanc on grafted plants – that was about one of the first blocks there. But we needed water, and so we put a well down.

Jill:  Is this at Havelock?

Henry:  Mmm.

Jill:  They say you couldn’t get water there, or something.

Henry:  Well I got a …

Jill:  You got a water diviner out, and he said “put it there”, and there it was.

Henry:  And it was in the middle of the headland – I said “why don’t we put it against the fence?” You know, so – “no – that’s where the water is”.  So we had to put a – you know – a submersible pump, see, so I got a [?ometer?] to … I cut the head off it, and I said “I want it – I’ll put a ‘T’ there and then we’ll bring the upriser up against the fence”.  “Oh, don’t know whether we can do that”. I said “there’s nothing to stop us”.  So we put it down and Paul did the wiring and then encased it – he was great at fibre glassing – and fibre glassed all this thing and dropped it down, and it was beautiful … beautiful water.  It did thirteen thousand gallons in an hour.  So that made a big difference.

And it was hard to get the plants too, because you know, people would sell you chardonnay and tell you that they were sauvignon blanc. We had a few, you know, scattered round the bloody place – bloody nuisance. Anyway yeah, so we had that until they sort of ran out. We were getting good money for the sauvignon blanc for a start and everyone wanted it, and we sold to Australia, to …

Jill:  Garrett.

Henry:  Andrew Garrett. And …

Jill:  He used to come over and …

Henry:  … and we were traitors really, according to Dunleavy, you know – we should be selling it to the locals and then having to wait for six months or twelve months to get paid, you know.

I know, that’s the problem.

Jill:  Still is.

Henry:  Still is, yeah.

Jill:  It’s worse now with the three-month … people don’t pay their bills.  They expect us to pay ours, on time.

So you carried on with that vineyard, your home vineyard, your leasehold blocks …

Henry:  Yeah, yeah.

… and you kept expanding the numbers of harvesters you had?

Yeah, well you know, we harvest for Delegat’s, and we harvested for Villa Maria, and we harvested for Babich’s and Sileni … the other one …

Jill:  Coopers Creek.

Henry:  Did all those, then they slowly got their own machines, you know.  And then we were with Sileni – that was a big area, and then they got their own machines, or machine.  And a lot of our clients pulled out and went to apples, because they were getting a bloody rough deal.

Jill:  Contract growers … there are very few contract growers now.

Henry:  Once they got rid of you know, the Growers’ Association – you know, these fellas wanted to be all in with the wineries and they were just done, you know. And a lot of growers didn’t know what their grapes were worth, and they were … they’d just get … you know.  And that’s why there’s … I mean we had – how many?  Forty-odd clients.

Jill:  Yeah, between forty and fifty clients.

How many harvesters were you using for those?

Henry:  Well we’ve got four harvesters, but we were flat out with them.  Then all of a sudden, boom!  You know, and we just lost one after the other. People just … pull ‘em out and planting apples.

So what sort of harvesters do you operate these days?

Well we’ve got three Gregoires …  [Speaking together]

Jill:  Three Gregoires and one Pellenc.

What were the ones that Hydralada had?

Henry:  Yeah, they were Pellenc. So actually we bought a plucker.  It was the best plucker I’d seen, did a beautiful job, although maintenance is high if you get into … we didn’t do it but – runs along and then sucks the leaves, and there’s a knife that cuts them off.  But if you get into where they’ve got nails in the posts and they [?] them, and make a mess of it.

But then they talked us into … seeing we had the tractor unit on this thing, they thought we should have the harvesting module. Well that was the worst money I’d ever spent, the maintenance on them was just – we’d spend more on one machine …

Jill:  Than the other three.

Henry: … than the three others you know, because they were that poorly – in my view – poorly engineered.  Well I’m amazed that they can still sell them to people that you would think …  See, but they’ve got this sorter on them that they all want because it doesn’t bring any MOG [material other than grapes] and stuff into the viner you see, and they reckon it saving them thousands.  And that’s the way they’re going. The value of second hand ones has gone down, and there’s not the people to buy them.

Jill:  Well, ‘cause most of the wineries now have their own.

Henry:  Yeah, yeah.

Jill:  They’re independent, they don’t … they have very few contract growers, so … and even the contract growers – the wineries themselves sort of taken over the harvesting of, so …

Henry:  ‘Course, mind you there’s a hell of a lot more grapes.  Wineries have planted … you know, we were down South Island a couple of weeks ago, and man!  That’s where we should have been – down there – the grapes!

So you start hitting them in North Canterbury, don’t you?  Just after you leave Kaikoura or …

Picton, yeah.

And then you go down to the Clutha valley – they’re everywhere.

Yeah.  And I was amazed at the number of orchards down there.

And so now, do you have any active part in the harvesting at all?

Oh well, not at the harvesting, I only cart the diesel round if they need it – we haven’t been using much of it lately.

You’re the consultant.

Ha, ha, is that what they call them?

Jill:  Well I just – I don’t know what they’d do without you, if things go wrong who do they ask?  And they do go wrong sometimes.

And do you still belong to Rotary or did you give that ..?

Yeah – no, I’m still just there.

You must have been in the Club a while now?


Jill:  The seventies anyway, ‘cause when Andrew died you hadn’t been in Rotary very long, and he died in ’79 so it must have been about ’76 … ’78.

Henry:  Yeah.

I went to visit several Probus Clubs – it wasn’t what I was looking for, and then I stumbled over this oral interviewing.

Jill:  Yeah, well the Probus Club – I belong to Village Probus in Havelock and we had – our speaker last month was … yeah … from there.

So apart from Rotary, and I know that you’re probably still active in your Church …

Oh, I used to – I played golf one part of it but before I was married.  It didn’t sort of suit, you know, I was … go on a Friday afternoon or something with Paul Heeney, because was playing too.  But you’d get people that … you know, you weren’t good enough to … and replacing …  They were …

Jill:  But then we bought the house at Kinloch.

Henry:  Yes.

Jill:  So we were busy going up and down there in a boat and doing a bit of fishing.  Still got the boat, but it doesn’t get wet very often.

Why doesn’t it get wet – it’s an effort to ..?

Well, my back is not the best and you know, winding it up … and Paul used to do the navigating and I was the fish finder and that sort of thing and I sort of left it to him. I just didn’t –

Jill:  All we do is move it in and out of the garage in the summer when everyone comes to stay, and we can sleep about … I don’t know, how many over there, about ten.

Okay.  Well over time – we started off with peas, beans, potatoes, asparagus, red beet, grapes, apples, peaches …

Jill:  We had carrots.

… carrots.

Henry:  John Emerson and I had a contract with a pest destruction … carrots …

Jill:  That’s where the carrots went.

‘Cause you never grew onions, ever, did you?

Henry:  No, no, no, no. No.

Jill:  Never tomatoes.

Henry:  Never grew tomatoes.  I helped – Ernie Boyes used to grow tomatoes.

Yeah, we went to the Canneries one day, and there was a little Chinese guy.  And Peter and Paul would go in with the truck you know, unloading tomatoes, and then when Frank and I and Peter and Paul went in – I don’t know how we all got in the truck – we might have followed up, but anyway … and this Chinese fellow – “oh, the four brothers, two cartin’ and two pickin’”.  [Chuckle]

So you know, the canneries wouldn’t have been of much use unless they had produce to put in the cans.  It was great to be part of it – we came through some good years.

Jill:  Oh yes – Wattie’s and Bird’s Eye.

Today, tractors … I think they just refinance them.

Henry:  I was just reading a thing at the weekend, you’ve got to keep buying new stuff all the time. You’ve got to – you know – to be up with it, and I think ‘well there, that’s where we’ve sort of fallen down’.  But you know, I had the first big tractor round here, you know, it was … Ted Hill, they used to you know, do all that with a Ferguson 35 and a little rotary hoe.

And then the Fordson 5000 – I had one of those and then I bought a John Deere from McCutcheon’s I think, it was a 30 … 40 or something. And then I bought a new one – well it had been sold to somebody and they couldn’t pay it, and it was a 21, six cylinder American tractor with air conditioning and it was a beautiful machine, and had a hundred-inch rotary hoe, and five-furrow plough, and big rippers.  But the rollers weren’t big enough so I made them so we put one behind the other, but it [?] you know, so as I could – and drills – you know, we had a good set up.

The one trap I always found we’d get a big tractor then none of our gear was big enough.

So now you’re here in retirement, and do you travel still?

No, well I’ve done my travelling I reckon.

Jill:  Overseas?

Henry:  I’d like to see a bit more of New Zealand.

Jill:  Yes, we really hadn’t seen a lot of the South Island ‘til we went down with our daughter, and so she and her husband did the driving Henry was able to have a look, you know – not concentrate on driving and see more scenery, and it was great.

All right, well that’s probably pretty well got the O’Kane story.

Jill:  Covered everything.

Yes.  So thank you Henry and Jill for that and I’m sure in time your relatives and possibly some friends will smile when they hear the story of your life. Thank you very much.

Jill:  Yes – thank you.

Henry:  Thank you.


This is an addendum to the previously recorded interview.  Henry?

When we were growing peas we used to … the first blocks were down at Ormonds’ at …

Heathcote Road?

Yeah, down there.  And we’d always plant them ‘bout the last day in August because you got a bonus. And the last area we’d plant would be down Evenden Road, just opposite Percival Road – Harry Thompson owned it, and then Doug Walker.  Well now, the draining of all that area round there changed all that soil type, because we used to plant that paddock first, in later years.  And that’s the difference it made to drainage, all round.  It made all that area.

And then when we grew peas down – Heeney’s had a block down the end of Raupare Road where the old shingle works used to be – back there, they had eighty acres there, and I … did he buy it for about £80 an acre, or something. You know, cheap [?] … it was silt and sand and couch, but now you know, it’s growing beautiful apples.  And across the road, that swampy ground, you know you’d see the pile of stumps they got out.  And the water that comes out of those springs, you know – it’d supply Hastings, there’s that much water.

The change came quite quickly, because all of the Heretaunga Plains were either dairying, or … because the ground was too wet, and it was good enough to have grass in the summer time, and you could only grow crops on the high ground.  And then some of the changes that rang were driven by Peter Symonds who was the Catchment Board Chief, and Jack Dunlop, and Don and Graeme Riach, and Selwyn Wilson.  And when you look, Selwyn Wilson and the MAF, or the Department of Agriculture those days – they didn’t charge us for any of that service.  They came out and marked out the drainage, and told us what to do, and that was a transitional change, but it changed Hawke’s Bay from really a dairying area into a very highly productive …

Yeah, yeah.

And you know, my farm had a hundred and ten springs on it, and brother Jim’s had fifty or sixty – and they were big springs.

Yeah, yeah.

Run all year round, and that was a trap because when Selwyn designed the orchard drainage, he didn’t think about the water running in the springs all the time, and ‘course the tree roots went down into the tiles when it was dry.

A lot happened you know, around all this area that Ormond’s owned, from you know, milking a couple of cows, or ten cows, to cropping.  And I don’t know how they … some of this ground like in the Sweeneys, and the block that we had before we had grapes, and we cropped it before that – it was very difficult to work, you know.  And Ted Hill’s block – I don’t know whether he told you, but you know, they used to just go round and round with what they called the circus – a roller, harrows and roller, to break the stones up, you know.  But when you get the bigger gear – like, we had this hundred-inch hoe, you know, you could get over the ground and make a, you know, a real good seedbed.  One time I was trying to … and the block I had across the road’s a sixteen acre block, or eighteen or whatever it was … I wanted to plant beetroot or something but I couldn’t get a decent seedbed.  I’ve re-ploughed it to plough all the lumps down again.  You had to hit it straight away, you couldn’t leave it for half a day, or … you had to do an hour’s ploughing and then work it down, you know.  So big changes, but the big gear’s made all the difference.

Oh yes.  And I look at the likes of Johnny Bostock and some of the men that he has working for him, and they are very, very good at agricultural work.  Everything they do is very, very good.

Well, the same too – Ohiti.

And you know, they have GPS, they have air-conditioned cabs – they have all the gear.



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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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