Owen Jerry Hapuku Interview

Today is the 12th of the 8th 2016. I’m interviewing Jerry Hapuku retired. He is a Kaumatua for the Ngati Kahungunu group and he’s going to tell us about the life and times of his family. Jerry would you like to carry on and tell us this.

Kia ora, Frank.

I come from my tipuna called Te Hapuku who had a wife called Whaitiri; they had a son called Arapata who married a woman called Oriwia; and they had a son called Ngaruhe who married a woman from Tainui called Whawhakitirangi Paeturi; and they had a son called Arapata, and he married Mere Toko Pakai, who was my Mum and Dad, and then they had me. So I was born in Hastings Hospital on 10 March 1940. My mother described me as a … overweight baby – I was ten pounds when I was born. My Mum said I caused her a lot of anguish and pain, she reckons. And the nurses there dressed me up and brought me in to see my Mum and they said “oh – he’s the colonel”. And my Mum said “take him away, I don’t want to see him” – you know, jiving – and she said “take him away, I don’t want to see him”. And she said – oh, when she saw me she loved me.

I was named after the midwife that brought me into the world – this was a lady called Sister Owen – and I don’t know what her last name was, but her name was Sister Owen. She was the midwife, so my mother named me after her. And that happened quite frequently to a lot of mothers from our way. I’ve got three other cousins that’re all named Owen too, after the same lady. I have a cousin Owen Wairama, and Owen Purcell, and Owen – that’s me.

So – growing up, and by the time I reached five years of age I went to a school called Poukawa. Poukawa School was a distance of at least twelve miles from where we were, and as a little five year old boy, when it came to winter when you had no shoes or anything, you just ran through the paddock. And the first cow you saw you dropped down [chuckle] to legs and made them warm, and all that sort of thing. And it was quite frequent to have animals along the way, because in those days there was hardly any fences, you could just run straight through the paddock, and hardly any fences to stop your running. So we went to school at Poukawa, and the headmaster was a man called Mr Jas Curran – ooh, quite a – I wouldn’t say … I would like to say what he was … but he taught us, and it was – yeah, you know. I don’t hold any animosity towards him, he had a job to do and he tried to educate us the best way he can.

Anyway we stayed there for at least five years, and then my grandfather decided because there was – oh, the Education Board – they decided there was too many children running and going to school from Te Hauke. So they came and … this was about the 1940s or something … they came talking to families, and looking for a site for a school. And so eventually they found a site, and it was on our particular land. And so my grandfather gifted the school site to build a school, and after a while when I turned ten, and then the school was finished. I think they finished it about 1949 or something. Anyway, they finished the school and so we were educated at Te Hauke Native School – that’s what they called it. And so we had a roll of about a hundred and fifty children, had three classrooms – no, two classrooms. And so we only lived about from here to the road from the school – we didn’t have far to go. [Chuckle] We just hopped over the fence and we were at school. But oh, it was quite a privilege to do.

Anyway, after finishing we had three headmasters. This was a man called Mr Anderson, next one was a man called Mr Beale, and the next schoolmaster was a man called Sir John Bennett, and he taught us there. And I finished school in 1952. I was waiting to go to Te Aute College, and so after ’52 Mr Bennett took my report to my mother, and when I came home she said, “come here, you didn’t have a very good report son”. I said “oh”, ’cause I was expecting to go to Te Aute. And she said “I can’t send you to Te Aute with this report. You can go down to high school called Waipawa with all the other cousins from the marae. I said “whoa! ‘Cause my two older brothers went there and it was my turn, but I didn’t get there. So I stayed at Waipawa District High School for three years and then I decided I’d had enough.

Who was the headmaster there? One of the Bibbys?

Oh he was there, Mr Geoff Bibby; Athol … Athol was at the primary school I think – behind. And we had a man called Mr Sharp – he was the school Principal, and we had a teacher called Mr Ostler – all these men, Army men I think they were. I knew Geoff was an Air Force man, and he used to have us marching around like soldiers. But anyway I stayed there for three years.

Did you play any sports while you were there?

Yes, I played in the First XV the first year I went to High School. I stayed in the First XV for three years. That was the best part of going to school I think [chuckle] – playing rugby. But oh well, I had a good life at Waipawa.

Besides that, when my two other brothers after me, they went to Te Aute, I was disappointed. I was the middle man, I didn’t go to this flash school they called Te Aute, so I … oh well, I thought it was a privilege to go to Waipawa anyway, and I had all my other cousins there that went.

After High School my cousin and I got a job at the freezing works. We went up to Tomoana Works and this man called Mr Bob McCracken, he was the big man, the board walker, you know – he was the big manager up on the top floor. Because well my Uncle said “you fellas all go there, you’ll get a job. You just tell ’em you’re sixteen. Make sure you tell ’em you’re sixteen”. [Chuckle] We were only fifteen. And when he says “righto boys, how old are you?” And I looked at my cousin and I – “sixteen”. [Chuckle] And he goes “oh – oh yes, when were you born?” And I tried to think of when I was born but – didn’t come out. And he looked at us and he knew what … he said “okay, I’ll give you boys a job. You boys can use a broom and push the things around on the chain, wash things and all that”. We got a job there at the freezing works. And that was only just because we had finished school, we had nothing to do and our parents wanted us to go to school.

But anyway we finished at the freezing works, and then we decided to go to Wellington, my cousin and I, ’cause we had an uncle there. And he was on the … what they call … Hume Industries, welding pipes and all of that. So he said “come on you boys – come down with me, we’ll go to Wellington”. So we went with him to Wellington – good experience. And so we got a job at Hume’s too, with him, but not – I was driving the … what they call those cranes? Got all the levers. And the guy taught me how to use them – it was only for lifting up the steel and all of that. When he says “go up” – finger down and all that. And I was doing that job – I thought it was pretty neat. Yeah. And then I got those jobs with my uncle, carrying all his tools. We did all the gas tanks out at Miramar, those big … and I used to be the runner boy, going up and down getting the rods and everything and carrying them up to the top of the Miramar gas tanks, petrol tanks and all of that – petrol tanks – yeah. So that was a good life, I enjoyed that. And then by the time I was eighteen, I decided to come back to Hastings. I’d had enough of the big smoke.

So I came back and I got a job at Wattie’s for a little while. And then I was at home out at Te Hauke and my uncle said to me “can you shear?” I said “what’s that?” He said “oh you know – shear sheep”. I said “yes”. [Chuckle] I didn’t even know how to shear sheep. And he said “oh, come with me. Come on then – I’ll take you to meet the boss of the shearing gang there, and yeah, we’ll see how you get on”. [Chuckle] Anyway, I said “yes”, so he took me to a place out at Omahu, and he said, “this is the boss” – a man called Kuti Tahu. And Kuti said “how many sheep can you shear?” And he said “a hundred?” [Chuckle] He said “okay, you’ll get a start”, because they were short. And so they gave me a hand piece, six combs and a dozen cutters … oh … away I go to the shed with my uncle. Man! I didn’t know how to sharpen the things or anything. But I was watching what the other shearers were doing, so I decided ‘oh yes, do this, do that’. And the next morning away we go. I tell you that was the hardest bit of work I ever done [did] in my whole life. It wasn’t terrible, but I felt sore at the end of the day. I didn’t even get fifty sheep! And the boss came a couple of days later and he looks at the tally and he goes “oh, I see you got fifty the first day”. I said “yeah – just trying to work myself into it”. [Chuckle] And he goes “oh, you got seventy the next day”. I said “yeah. I’ll get a hundred too at the end of the week”. [Chuckle] So I finally got my hundred anyway.

Hell, that’s pretty good to have done fifty the first day, not having shorn …

Not having shorn, ’cause – well I tell you … just going back before I went to high school, my mother sent us with her brother-in-law who worked in a shearing gang. I used to go with him during the holidays to get some money to by our shoes and clothes for high school. So she sent me there – that was my experience anyway. And I used to watch, and I used to be sheepoing and picking up dags and all that sort of thing. But I used to try and get on the hand piece during the breaks and … I knew how to hold it … just to get that feel of it. And that was my first … and when my uncle asked me “can you shear?” I said “yes”. How can you shear? But I could take a belly off, and that was the start. But I kept watching the other shearers – how they went up the neck and down the last side. But I got the hang of it.

After a year, that was the start of my shearing career. I never looked back. That’s what I did right through my whole life ’til I retired – shearing. I went all over the place. I went down South Island, went to Australia, went all over Hawke’s Bay. I know all the sheds that I see on Country Calendar, like Erewhon, and all those Taihape sheds – Ngamatea, Te Mahanga, Gwavas. And all those big sheds way back at Mangatapiri and all those ones out at Elsthorpe – all those sheds, I knew them all. Because we went there and shore down Farm Road, Giblin others and Charlie Anderson – all these old fellas that came back from the War, they were all war veterans. And sadly when I look at the death notices I see a lot of old farmers’ names slipping away.

But life was good … life was good for me. And then I met my wife in the shearing shed. I met Polly …

Where was Polly from? Where did she grow up?

Polly came from a place called Te Akau, which is on the West Coast where Raglan is – on the other side of Raglan. There’s Raglan on that side and they’re across the harbour. Their whenua is what you call Te Akau. They’ve got Te Akau South, Te Akau North. But that’s where she came from. She came down here with her uncle who was a shearing contractor – Tutu Waretini. Well he was her uncle, and he brought her down. ‘Cause I was shearing on Number 1 there, I graduated to the first hand – yeah, I was the big time winner – I was the gun shearer at that time. And so she came in the shed anyway and she was bending over picking up wool, and as she was bending over I put my machine on her backside, and she goes “wooo!” And screamed, and threw the wool all over my … [Chuckle] And that was my first introduction to Polly. And anyway, after a brief romance and what-not, we finally got together and we had forty-seven years of marriage before she passed on. And so we had a good life … we had a good life. As I said we had eight children, four boys and four girls.

So how many sheep did you shear on your best days?

I shore six hundred and thirty-six up at Dennis Beamish’s, up at Whanawhana Station. That was my best tally. There were six of us – we all shore over five hundred. We put up a record. I was the top man.

So who were you shearing for?

For Tutu. Tutu Waretini. There were six of us, and I did the highest tally on that day. We put over three thousand nine hundred I think, for the day. Because there was a gang down at Porangahau, they had put up a record for six-man shearing at Mangarapa Station, and six of them put three thousand six hundred or something, and their top man did five hundred and something. And so the boss came over – Tutu came over and said “you fellas see that record down there?” You know, we go “what record?” “Oh, there’s a gang down at Porangahau and they put up three thousand six hundred-odd sheep”. And I saw him talking to Dennis Beamish, and Dennis … I saw him nodding and all of that. And so Dennis kept pushing all the sheep in the shed. ‘Oh, this guy, he wants to have a go at the record too – he wants to take it off his friend down at Mangaorapa Station’. Anyway, we started at five o’clock that morning. And I knew I could do a good tally after the first run – I did a hundred and twenty-something for the first run, and from then on it just progressed. And the next man behind me was a man called Herbie Morrell – he did six hundred, and the next man was a man called Mike Ramaka – he did five hundred, Robbie Solomon, Robert Waikato, Jerry Waikato – yeah, I think that was it – yeah. Those were the shearers I remember to this day who they are.

How much a hundred did you get then?

I think it was about £20-something, yeah. Wasn’t much. And then it went over to dollars, and then we ended up getting about $35 a hundred, or something like that.

But then we heard I heard about money in Australia, so my brother and I – we decided to go over to Australia and suss out the shearing – well we had a contact – oh, he had a contact – friend of his that shore over there. So we met up with him in Brisbane, and then of course we didn’t have a vehicle so we hopped on the bus. We went to a place called Boulia – that’s a two-day travel from Brisbane to get to this place, two days on the bus, night and day, all this travelling. Anyway, we got to this place called Boulia, yeah. And oh, we had a good life there. But shearing those merinos – oh, that was a tough job.

We went to one Station called Cannington, and the guy that owned it – he had fifty-two thousand head of sheep, fifty thousand head of cattle, and his farm wasn’t measured in acres it was measured in square miles. Huge – he had a huge place. Well he didn’t live there, he lived in … Gold Coast somewhere. He only came there when shearing started. That’s the only time that anybody ever saw him when he came there. And he had aeroplanes and everything to round these sheep up. It was a great experience. It was a great experience … it’s a great experience shearing there, in Australia – it’s a hard row to hoe. You’ve got to put up with all sorts of pestilence, and all sorts of things there – flies. And the thing is – like, this stuff they call burr. When the sheep you know, get it all over them and you’ve gotta … man, your hands are just red with the dragging the – oh, man!

If we walked from here to where the shed is and walked across the road there, we’d be covered in flies by the time we get to where we were staying -you know, walking across the paddock. We had to put our towels over our faces, and then we’re going like this – it was what they call the Aussie wave. [Chuckle]

That’s right – the Aussie salute, yeah. So well that would have been very interesting doing that because …


… it was something to compare with New Zealand conditions.

Oh yes. Nothing compares to New Zealand conditions in Australia. You’ve just got to put up with things. If you come back and have a shower, you only turn one tap – you don’t turn the hot and cold tap, you just turn one tap and out it comes. [Chuckle]

Oh we had some great experiences there. We had this one station and there was a dam there. Out of the way – it’s in the middle of the desert. And we felt like a swim. Anyway, the farmer saw us, and he decided to have a bit of fun with us, eh? And while we were all in the water he got a piece of log and threw it in the water. We heard the splash … if you could’ve seen us! And someone said “it’s a crocodile!” [Chuckle] You never saw Maori boys run so fast out of there. [Chuckle] And the farmer poked his head up and started laughing. He said “there’s no crocodiles there – you’ve got to go somewhere else to get a crocodile”.

But I said to the farmer one day “look at your sheep – I can’t see any grass”. I said “what do they eat? What do they do?” And he said “you see those stones down there?” I said “yeah”. He said “well, they lick one side and when they get tired of licking one side they turn them over and lick the other side”. [Chuckle]

But oh, they do things differently to us. Man! You know farmers here, if something happens to their rails or anything they just ring up Dalgety’s or somewhere “send up a box of nails”. Over there they don’t do that. They’re thousands, or hundreds miles away from a bloomin’ town. Yeah – they just persevere with what they’ve got.

So then you came back to New Zealand and carried on shearing here?

Yes. And I came back from Australia. Oh, Polly and I moved there, we only had four children, and so we were all in Australia, and we stayed there for five years until Polly said “nah, I’m not going to have my children talking like an Australian”. [Laugh] “I’m going home, you can stay here if you want to”. [Chuckle] She said “you can stay here”. Oh well, I did stay there for a week or two and … “oh, I’m going home”. But my young brother – we both went over – he stayed there. He ended up staying there for about forty years, in Brisbane.

But it was a great experience. That’s what I tell young shearers now – if you want some experience in shearing go to Australia. ‘Course things are different now, things are different.

So when you came back home, you had twice as many children when you came home as you went with. And did you shear again?

Yeah, I kept shearing yep. Well we built this house in 1972, and Polly wanted – she asked “well, why don’t we get some land out home?” And during those days, well my Dad said “yep”. But the Council wouldn’t allow any building on your site until you had ten acres, or five acres for us. So we said “no, we’ll come into town”. So we applied to Maori Affairs and they said “there’s a section in Havelock, go and have a look”. Polly looked at it and said “okay, we will take the section”. And then they financed us, and then we put this house up. And by that time – we only had those four there, two boys and two girls – and then we had the next four that came while we were in this house.

And so when you were here, besides shearing did you do anything else?

Well mainly I just kept on shearing. I didn’t go to the freezing works or anything I just stayed in shear. And if there was no shearing I went up to Gwavas Forestry – they had all that time then when you could go and do planting trees, or Kawekas, you know, and so that would take us the off season … off shearing … and so that’s what I did.

So how long ago did you lose Polly then, what year was that?

Polly died in 2007. Nearly nine years now.

So what stage did you start being an active kaumatua?

Oh, well there’s a – I’ll tell you a bit of history about it. My older brother, he was the spokesman for our family – he was the kaumatua. I didn’t worry about those sorts of things and when I was shearing, I said “man – I want to look after my kids – I can’t get any money being a kaumatua”. I said “no, you can do all of that”. ‘Cause he was about four years older than me, and I said “that’s your role, you do that”. And he used to try and encourage me to come with him sometimes when I had nothing to do. I said “na – you go there”.

But anyway, while we were in Australia we met this man called Sam Elkington, and Sam passed away. And so they were bringing him back to his marae in Porirua. And so Polly and I heard through the grapevine that Sam had passed on. He was a good friend of ours. But he was teaching us Maori while we were there, because when I was shearing I didn’t worry about Maori things or anything, but he said “you boys – you’re Maori, you gotta learn how to talk Maori”. And we go “na!” We don’t want to listen to him talk Maori, and he goes “yeah – come on”. And so after we have a break or wet weather and that, he’d just take us aside and try and teach us. It’d just go in one ear and out the other – didn’t worry about it.

But anyway my brother – he was our kaumatua. And Polly and I heard about Sam so we go up to my mother’s house – my mum was still alive then. And my brother was staying with her, my older brother, looking after her. And we get to my mum’s place and then he says “oh – he can’t come to the tangi”. I said “oh, why’s that?” Oh – well he used to work in the freezing works all his life and he became the President of the Takapau Freezing Works. He said “they’re having a big ‘all up’ or something, and the President’s got to be there” – he’s the President. I said “oh – who’s going to talk for us?” And he said “oh – you”. I don’t know nothing! I said “tell me something”, eh. But anyway, he rattled off a few things but – didn’t register or anything – just went in one ear and out the other.

So we hopped on [in] the car – away we go on the way to Porirua. And on the way there my mum said “oh”, you know, “you do remember what your brother said to you son?” I said “yeah, yeah, yeah”. [Chuckle] It just went in one ear and out the other. And I just said to my mum “yeah, yeah – I got it – it’s okay”. So away we go and we get to the marae, and … because my mum and Polly are conversing in Maori. And I hear them talking and I said “oh, what’s going on?” She said “oh – there’s two bodies in the house now”. I said “oh – how come?” She said “oh, there’s another lady, she passed away and so they’ve got both of them inside the house”. I go “well what am I going to do?” [Chuckle] And my mum said “oh this’ll be the end of you son, you just over to that lady and just talk to her. Because you don’t know her, and you just offer your condolences and whatever, then you come back and talk to Sam”. [Chuckle] The way she said it was quite simple and easy.


Okay. Anyway away we go inside and as I get inside I see all these men. I see some of them you know, in various parts you know, of community things and that. A man called John Meha – they can speak Maori, and a fellow – Ngaru Tupaea – and Sam Elkington’s brother, and there was this guy Pairata – there was five of them sitting on what they call the paepae, welcoming us. And I go “oh man!” I was shaking like a leaf. And anyway, they told us where to sit, we sat down, then John Meha, he got up and did everything, and then he finished and passed it over to me. And then my mum said to me “oh”, when I was standing up, she said “say a prayer son, say a prayer”, and I did. [Chuckle] Oh, man! So – well I had the religion, ’cause we’re Mormons. Anyway I just quickly said something in my mind, but this is what happened, Frank. As I was standing – well in my mother’s house she has this Book of Remembrance – it was all part of the Church – and she’s written all her history and everything, and what to say in Maori, and who her ancestors were. Because my brother said to me at home “this is your whakapapa. You start from Tamatea Arikinui who’s the head of the Takitimu waka”. Well as I was standing, this visionary book that my mother has in her house was in front of me like that – just like that, I could see it.

You had this vision …

Yes, and this book was in front of me. Anyway I’m standing there and this book appears in front of me, and I’m looking at it and I’m saying ‘this is what I’ve got to say’ … in my mind. And so I started off with my descent from the Takitimu waka. Before that I couldn’t even say any of that. I couldn’t even say … my brother told me, and it just went in one ear and out the other. And I could see his name Tamatea Arikinui, kaihautu of the waka Takitimu, who his wife was, Muriwhenua. And then he had a son called Rongokako, and who his wife was, Toto, and they had a son called Tamatea Pokai Whenua who had a wife called Iwipupu. And so I was saying this whakapapa right down to me, from his loins right down to me. And before that I couldn’t even say it at all.

Your photographic memory must have recorded it, mustn’t it?

Yeah. I just could see this book in front of me and all the words as I was saying it. And then I mihi to the paepae, told them who I was and everything, and then I sat down. And then those men who were on the other side – they had an idea I must have been learning everything – and so the next speaker got up and congratulated me for my whakapapa, and how I said things and all that. From that day to now I still remember those same things.

Isn’t that amazing? A wonderful thing to happen isn’t it, in your life?

I can say that same thing I saw nearly twenty-thirty years ago, I can say how it is today, without having a book in front of me or anything.

Yes, yes. Yes.

I can repeat those same things that I saw.

And do you get a great deal of call on you from your people as the kaumatua?

Yes. Yep. Throughout the community I’m a …

How big is your area then?

I can go to Wairarapa, and I can speak over there, or I can go to Wairoa, ’cause I can go to my mother’s marae, who’s come from Wairoa, Kihitu – I can go to that marae and tell them my whakapapa, and what my whakapapa is to that particular marae. Same with all the maraes around [here].

Because at one stage in the early days when there was a lot of inter-fighting between tribes, different tribes took over and they were dominant for a while, and someone else took over – and different wives. So would you … would it be four times a week or ..?

Yeah, well I get called on all the time. I’m the kaumatua for the District Council at the moment, for the Maori standing Committee within the District Council; I’m the kaumatua for the Havelock North High School – for most schools.

So you’re committed really aren’t you?

Yes, yeah. Like you know – people ring me and tell me “can you come and …”

Your brother knew what he was doing didn’t he, eh?

[Chuckle] Well he’s passed on, and I’m it.

Nice succession.

Yeah. I’m it. I serve with the Maori King – when they want me I go there, because my tipuna over there, Te Hapuku, he was part of the talking about the start of the Maori King. He was given an invitation to go to a place in Taupo, Pukawa, and all the chiefs of Aotearoa were there, talking about the Kingitanga.

That’s south of the lake isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. You just go past Turangi and go up towards Pukawa – you go straight up the hill. Well he was invited by Te Heuheu to come and be part of the talk about the Kingitanga. And so this role of my being able to stand on any marae is all part of my inheritance, what I inherited from him. Because it usually goes from oldest son to oldest son to oldest son, and from my great grandfather there, Te Hapuku, to his son; then it went to his son Ngaruhe; then it went to my dad; and then it went to my older brother, and when he died, well …

This is the story about when he died. We had him at the marae you see, and everybody was talking “ooh – who’s going to lead us now?” You know, going to be talking for us. Anyway we’re all sitting there having a conversation everybody was saying this and that, and then my Auntie, she comes in and she’s on [in] a wheelchair. And she was, well what was she was at the time … eighty-four, I think – she’s ninety-four now. And she comes in and everyone’s asking “oh Auntie, who do you think should lead us now auntie?” We’re all sitting there you know, and she’s looking around the room, and she looks around and she points at me. She said “you”. And I looked at her and said “na!” She said “you can be our spokesman for our family”. I went “oooh”.

And you look very much like your grandfather, don’t you?


You have similar features.

So she said “yes, you’re it”. And I’ve been it ever since.

Wonderful story. I think it is, I think it’s really neat. And I’m really pleased that we actually captured you know, who is Jerry Hapuku? If your great-great grandchildren wanted to find out who was Jerry Hapuku, they can go in and it will be there forever – never be lost.

So are there any other things that you want to talk about?

Yeah, well I’ll just say that in 2008, a year after Polly died, I was given this New Zealand Order of Merit. It’s all up there if you want to take photos. There’s the citation from the Queen saying that she substantiates things that I’ve done. But before that they asked me about it, this is the Te Puni Kokiri – TPK. Dave Stone was the manager of … he come up home to me, and he said “hey, Hapuku! I want to put your name forward for an honour – for a Queen’s Honour”. And I said “hey, I don’t want to do all of that – I don’t look for things to be honoured”. And he said “you should”. Well, I said “na!” And then he said “think about it”. Anyway, I called all the kids up – some of them were living over… “come back – I’ve gotta have a talk. They want me to accept a citation from the Queen.” They said “oh what’s that Dad?” I said “oh – New Zealand Order of Merit or something, I don’t know”. But anyway, we were talking … ’cause before that when Polly was still alive, she did a lot of community work amongst the youth here in Havelock. And one of the kids said “oh, take it for what Mum did”. I said “yeah, if she was here I would have given it to her, ’cause she was the one that did all this work”. She’d go down the Pakowhai Bridge and pick up kids and bring them home here and have them in the garage, and when I come back I’d say “who’s all those kids out there?” And Polly’ll go “it’s okay – I’ve got ’em all”. Yeah. You know, she’d go and take any child off the street or whatever. And I said “okay. We’ll take it on behalf of Polly, your mum”. So I accepted it. And so they filled out all the necessary papers and got a few things you know, just to substantiate who I am in the community, especially with the late David Barham who’s passed on. Old David – he was a great man. ‘Cause I used to see him up town you know, at the Bank or something, and he … “how’re you, Jerry?” “Yeah, I’m good sir”. Yeah, you know.

Now you are running a …


kohanga here – how long have you been doing this from here then?

Well this is what we call a home-based kohanga, and next year will be our twenty-fifth year. We set this up in 1992 – Polly did. Polly did, because we started having grandchildren and she didn’t want her grandchildren to be – her main thing was to make sure that they know Maori, and that was why she wanted to start. We started with six of our mokopunas first – our grandchildren. We started with six, and then everybody wanted to bring their children over. And so we put the licence up to twelve, and then it got – just got bigger. People were – especially from round here, in this little area. So the Council have granted us a licence of fifteen, and so we’ve got three under twos, and twelve over twos. We’ve got fifteen, we’re licensed for fifteen children, just in this space. And this is our – next year will be our twenty-fifth year. And we’ve been operating just how we are – just simple you know. We’re teaching my great grandchildren now. The grandchildren that we taught are now grandmothers and so all their children are coming. Half of them out there are all my grandchildren.

And have you decided who’s going to take over from you when your time comes? You’ve got some sons, haven’t you?

Yeah. I’ve got four sons, but I’ve got three alive. One of my sons passed away when he was thirty-eight. He came home one day and said “oh, I feel tired Dad”. I said “oh – you okay?” He said “yeah”. And so – he had a little parting from his wife and so he stayed with us here. He was working in the cool stores for – Grower’s? I don’t know what it is now, it’s something. But he was working for Grower’s … 


Yeah, McCain’s, and they had a cool store down … the back of Wattie’s, and so he was like, the manager there. And come home one day … ‘course I knew he was sick, and of course I took him to Wellington to do some exploratory things and that, and then he came home one day and we sat down on the couch and – just talking – and “I feel tired”. But we were just talking like you and I are talking. And then we had one of the grandkids who was working at Progressive Meats on the night shift, and so Polly went down to pick him up and when she came back she went in the room where Paul was, and he was spitting out blood – ’cause he had a plastic bag on the floor. Polly said “you okay?” He said “no, I don’t feel too well Mum”. So she woke me up and we took him to hospital. Two hours later he was dead. That’s how quick it was. They put it down to something like – I don’t know what the medical jargon is but they said that the red cells were attacking the white cells and all of that. They were trying to stem it but … and they did a quick operation and then they wheeled him back into ICU and that was it – gone. He was dead.

Can you think of anything else of interest?

Well, if you see all those medals hanging up there? See where I am? That’s IronMaori. Have you heard of IronMaori? I’ve done three of them – you see those three over there?

Have you done three of them? God you make me feel old and tired.

[Chuckle] I’ve done three – you can see me, look, I’ve just got out of the water there, in that black one there. [Pointing out photos] Just come out of the water, and I’d just getting my medal. That was the first one that I’d done. I did a swim – two k [kilometre] swim. But I tell you – when I was at high school I was the junior swimming champ – I forgot to tell you that.

This is at Central?

Yeah, Central Hawke’s Bay, and Waipawa District High School. I was the junior swimming champ. Because we swam in our own creek, you know – we had a creek. We’d just block it up and then that was our swimming pool.

Yes, so I’ve done three IronMaori. [Chuckle] Yeah, well I was seventy-three I think I was.

When you did the first one?

Yeah, when I did the first one. And it was only me. The kids – my children and my grandchildren were saying “what you doing, Poppa?” I said “I’m going into IronMaori”, and they looked at me – “no you’re not”. I said “yep”. So I started to go down to Beaumont’s swimming in the pool there, up and down, and just you know, trying to get myself back into thing, and do a bit of aqua-walking. And I said “blow it – I’m going to do it”.

Isn’t it funny how we made these decisions?


All right, well I think that’s probably …

I could swim, yeah, you know, because when I was approached – this is the kohanga whanau. And the man that was in charge of the kohanga – I went down to their base which is at Flaxmere and they were all sitting around talking when I came in the door. I stood by the door and the man that was running the kohanga looked at me and he said “uncle”, I said “yes?” “Do you want to do IronMaori?” You know, just like how I said I want to be a shearer. And I said “yeah, okay. What do I have to do?” He said “you’ve got to swim and run five miles or something”, and I go “oh heck, that’s no trouble” – you know, in my mind … ’cause I knew I could swim because I’d done swimming. And he said “you’re in the team”. I said “oh – who’s all our team mates?” He goes “oh well, you’ve got Parekura Horomia, the Maori MP, and you’ve got a man from West Coast, Tim Wilkinson, he’s the biker for you”. He said “all you’ve got to do is be a swimmer”. I said “oh yeah, I think I can do that”. So I started – when they told me I was in the team I went straight down to – well it’s not Beaumont’s now. Anyway I went down there and I asked them what time they opened and all that. They said “six o’clock in the morning”. I said “okay, I’ll be down here every morning, sharp, six o’clock by the door, open … I’m in swimming. Yeah, just a matter of picking up my few strokes and what not, but otherwise I feel good. And so I ended up doing three of them, and that’s those three silver things that are over there. And my grandkids were all lined up on the Pandora Pond – they were all lined up along the beach cheering away. And the same auntie that said “you’re the kaumatua …”

Was she there?

Yeah, she came on her pushchair, yeah.

Oh, wonderful.

Her daughter pushed her along and she said to those three sons of mine that were standing there cheering their Dad on, she said “you boys! You should be ashamed of yourselves – how do you let your Dad swim in the water while you three young men standing there watching a seventy year old man swimming?” And she said “you should be ashamed of yourself”. Well, the following year they all had teams – all my grandchildren, they’re all part of this IronMaori thing. Yeah. And I’ve encouraged a lot of people. When they saw me – a good friend of mine said he was leaning on the rail there, and he said he looked twice, and he said he saw me walking out the water … coming out the water, and he looked at me and he said “is that Jerry Hapuku?” [Chuckle] And he said “I’m going to be ashamed of myself, I’m going to go and hide away”, and he came over and he said “man, Jerry! What are you doing?” I said “oh, I just swam two ks, [kilometres] mate.” He goes “man! I wouldn’t believe it ‘til I saw you getting out of the water, and I felt ashamed of myself – here I’m much younger than you, and here you’re seventy years old and you want to do this IronMaori thing”. But that’s good, Frank, yeah.

Well I think that’s probably pretty well given a story of your life and times of you and your family. Thank you very much, Jerry, that’s been really neat and I think it’s great that we’ve been able to capture that story of your life. So thank you very much.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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