Palmer, Colin Wilton Interview
Today is the 20th day of February 2018. I’m interviewing Colin Wilton Palmer of Hastings – Colin is a retired printer. Now Colin’s going to tell us about the Palmer family. Colin?
We have a brief little history written down here, but I will quote from some of it.
Richard Wallace Palmer who was commonly known as Dick, was born in London on the 18th August 1900. His father was also Richard Wallace Palmer, who was one of eleven children, six boys and five girls. He was born on the 1st May 1863 and lived to about 1938 … it’s a date I’m not sure of. His mother was Clarissa Jane Palmer, née Earl, born in 1864 and died 1907.
My mother was Olive Palmer, née Wilton, [and] was the youngest daughter of Earl and Jane Wilton from Tokomaru, Manawatu.
The earliest photo we have of Dad is one extracted from the school class group, and the next one was when he was working as an electrician in the National Hospital in London. His father knew someone in a shipping line, and helped him get a job as a steward on a ship at the age of fourteen. He served on the ships during the first World War and later worked at the National Hospital.
In 1923 he and a friend, Jim Dyer, who had visited New Zealand in their sailing days and thought it would be a good place to live, migrated [immigrated] here. He hoped to get a job at the new electrical generating station but when he got there the position had been filled, so they wandered around New Zealand where they worked at Fernie Brothers & Roberts’ Taihape Road farm for a short time, before moving to Hastings where Dad got a job at Wilson’s pig farm in Omahu Road near Twyford. While he was working there he went to a cards and music evening at the home of Bob and Maud Burge, at the same time as Olive was staying with her sister, Annie, who was married to Horace Burge. They met there and were introduced and the courtship commenced. They kept in touch and were married at the Presbyterian Church in Tokomaru in 1925.
Dad had two sisters, Clara, who married Arthur Holstock, and Lilian, who married Donald Plaso, who was working for the Marconi Electrical Company during the second World War, creating and improving radar equipment. And he had many patents registered for his inventions. He used to suffer many criticisms and the occasional white feather from people who thought he should be in the Services. Because of the secrecy of the work he could not rebuff them but after the war took pleasure in letting them know.
Clara’s name was Clarissa, and her husband, Arthur, was a night watchman who in his latter years was severely beaten by some criminals who attacked him at his workplace. He never fully recovered, and it spoilt his retirement.
When we visited Britain in 1980 we met Aunty Lilian who was waiting for a cataract operation. She was very pleased to see us and hear first hand about her precious young brother. Over the years they had kept in touch with letters and the exchange of Auckland Weeklys from our end, and English newspapers from them, and on one occasion a phone call at Christmas where we all had a short conversation.
Neither of the sisters had children, and Lilian was sad that Donald’s family had a history of an illness that was thought to be hereditary, so they never had children, and we now presume that was Alzheimer’s.
My mother, Olive, was the youngest of a family of nine. The oldest was Annie who married Horace Burge; Edith who married Robert Guy; Victor who married Myra Watson; Leonard who married Winifred Moody; Bertie George who married Amelia Morgan, and later Ethel Victoria Salisbury; Minnie who married John George Wilson, and Herbert Bowman; Ivy who married Arthur Jones; Roy who married Irene Muriel Hooper, and later Estelle Marsh. They were a close group of siblings and kept in touch through the years with regular visits on birthdays and holidays. In Earl’s later years the families would gather at Spring Creek farm in Tokomaru to celebrate his birthday, and our thirty-four cousins had a great time playing together and enjoying the occasion.
Olive spent her early years on the farm where they were milking a large herd of cows and breeding pigs which were fed with the skim milk from the dairy. Earl was quick to keep up with improvements and technology and bought the first car in the district, a 1917 Oakland Tourer which Ivy learnt to drive, and then Olive, as Earl never learnt the skill. They had a Lister engine which drove the milking machines and also a dynamo which charged large batteries for house and shed lighting. In the early years the car was called upon in emergencies to transport people in the area to Palmerston North hospital. Olive played the organ at the local church for their Sunday services.
As the population of the district grew an advertisement was put in the paper saying that the Minister of Education would be travelling through on the train and they should line up all the children at the station for a head count to see if a school was necessary. Pioneering families were large, so they got their school.
When Dick and Olive married they went and worked on Jack and Min Wilson’s farm at Ascot, Awapuni, now on Pioneer Highway, Palmerston North. Noel and Colin were born while there, and following the Hawke’s Bay earthquake in 1931 [they] moved to Hastings where work was more readily available.
So what age would you have been?
I was five months.
So you really started life in Hawke’s Bay?
Yeah. At the time of the earthquake Dick was topping off a haystack, and he dug in his pitchfork and hung on tight to stay there. The horses working the rake and the hay hoist didn’t like it, and tore around and damaged some of the equipment.
On moving to Hastings they stayed with Horace and Annie Burge at Twyford, where they lived in tents for a couple of weeks because nobody was keen to be in the house. So if anything was needed they would go in and get it and get out quick as they could, as the shocks were occurring regularly.
Dad got a job as Arthur Jones’ delivery man for the Better Bakery in Hastings and for a short period they lived with Arthur and Ivy in Warren Street. They then moved to 305W Murdoch Road. They rented it for several years until one day the owner, a Mr Weems, came and asked if they would like to buy it as he would like to sell as he had other plans he would like to pursue. He gave a discount as they had been good tenants, so they bought if for £300. It became our family home and sanctuary for over sixty years. At that time £4 a week was regarded as a good wage …
There wouldn’t be many houses in Murdoch Road West …
Quite a few gaps, yeah, and several big paddocks.
And I can remember during the war, our neighbours talking about a man who was working for the Internal Marketing Division trimming cabbages to supply the troops in the Pacific Islands and New Zealand, who were getting an exorbitant £5 a week. A loaf of bread was fourpence, and a meat pie was also fourpence.
Malcolm and Trevor were born in Hastings at Sister Cooper’s Nursing Home in St Aubyn Street. My earliest childhood memory is one of a bull-nosed Morris car coming into our driveway, and the Singer Sewing machine man unloading the treadle powered sewing machine that performed reliably for over sixty years. Mother worked out that I must have been about three years old at the time.
All of us attended Hastings West School … now Raureka … and I can still remember that outfitted with a new school bag, I was escorted by Noel, Lois Smith and Doreen Mullinder on my first day there. I was pretty miserable and spent some of the day in Noel’s class, but soon got accustomed to this strange new experience. No kindergartens in my day.
Among my other early memories was a large wooden case with a mattress in the bottom which was placed under the wattle tree as a playpen in the summer time – I can remember Malcolm and Trevor enjoying themselves in this haven. When Arthur Jones gave up baking Dad bought the delivery round and the Bedford van, and contracted Sturrock’s Bakery to supply him with bread and cakes to continue his delivery business. The acquisition of the van opened up our horizons, as on the weekends we now had a means of transport. Picnic outings, visiting friends and relations, and getting around the countryside was now possible.
When Sturrock’s Bakery was near to closing down, Dad entered into negotiations with Ernest Dudding and eventually formed a partnership with him which they named Amalgamated Bakeries, and operated the bakehouse from the corner of St Aubyn Street and Karamu Road, which was originally set up by Jimmy Weatherhead at the turn of the century. Noel and I often went there when it was Dad’s turn to mix the dough in the late afternoon, and occasionally we went on Friday nights and finished up early on Saturday morning. They prospered there and soon engaged Jimmy Southern as their delivery man as the business grew, and he was a good worker and they got on well. Until then they baked at night and delivered in the morning. When they started they used two of the four large brick ovens which had fire boxes on the right hand side, in which they burnt wood shavings from Odlin’s Timber Mill to heat them. And when they were hot enough a piece of wet sacking on a long pole was used to clean out any ash residue before the bread tins were inserted using a wooden peel.
That bakery was only demolished recently, wasn’t it?
Yes, yes. I’ve got something on that here. The bloke who was doing it came round and said the Historic Places Trust want photos of inside, outside … every which way, and he got in touch with me from … someone – oh, [there] was a lady lived in Wall Road, I think, must’ve known something about it – put them on to it. And I went down there, and he’d asked me beforehand you know, what sort of changes are made ‘cause he had the iron off the roof, and had to do it when the Historic Places Trust got on to him. And I drew out a plan on an A4 sheet of paper to what I could remember, you know. And when I went down there she was right on the button. [Chuckle] But the bloke said ‘it looks almost like an architect drew it,’ you know. But what struck me was everything seems so much smaller – the rooms … little – tiny little rooms, they seemed to me, you know.
They bought a large electric double-decked oven which could cope with many more loaves, and speeded up production considerably. The dough mixer seemed very large as it would cope with two sacks of flour at a hundred and twenty pounds weight each, and gallons of water plus the other ingredients, which were then mixed to smooth dough, and was cut out and put into large troughs to allow the yeast to ferment.
Last year I had a phone call from the man who was arranging the demolition of the area to make way for the construction of a new building for AON Insurance, asking what I knew about the ovens as the Historic Places Trust had contacted him asking that a complete set of photos be taken internally and externally. He made an appointment to meet me there, so I drew a plan of the bakehouse as I remembered it from many years ago on an A4 sheet of paper. It was very accurate, showing the bakehouse, the washroom, changing room, office, Mrs Stanz’s bottle store, and the corner dairy. He said it looked like an architect’s plan. It was far smaller than what I remembered. He said that a building permit had been issued for Mr Weatherhead to build stables adjacent in 1912 which were later to become Rex May’s Garage.
After Dad and Ernest Dudding had worked there for about ten years without an extended holiday, they arranged for other bakeries to take up their quota of bread, and then they turned off the power and went on holiday. When they returned the dairy people came and saw them, and said they had a panic when they rang the Electric Power Board and asked if there was an outage in the area, as their lights were out and the ice-cream was melting. [Chuckle] The dairy was originally Weatherhead’s shop, and they had been getting free electricity through the Bakery for years. You would have thought they might’ve noticed the absence of a power bill. I don’t know if any compensation was arranged or whether they put it down to experience. The power account was lighter, subsequently.
Ernie Dudding, Dad’s partner, was regularly playing practical jokes on regular customers at the bakehouse, one of them being the application of a streak of golden syrup on the underside of their bicycle handlebars. And on at least one occasion a lovely old lady, Mrs Holmes, came in to get her regular bread and cakes only to find that while she was going round selecting her cakes he’d nailed her basket [chuckle] to the bench. Yeah. She had a great sense of humour and coped with it patiently.
He also used to keep a few small balls of dough rolled up which he would throw at customers as surprise missiles. One day he heard Mr Phil Tritt, a storekeeper and regular customer, arrive in the yard to collect his supplies. And he tossed a ball of dough towards the open doorway exactly at the time Phil, approaching … suspecting some sort of greeting, poked his head around the door to be hit smack in the face [chuckle] by a a perfectly timed doughball. I stood by the oven laughing at the magnificent timing, and he thought I was the culprit and charged at me, [chuckle] bent on revenge. I dodged his approach and spun in behind him and grabbed him in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground, at which point Ernie intervened and explained that he did it and apologised, so I released my grip, and we were all good friends again. [Chuckle]
When Noel and I were helping Dad we used to get up to harmless mischief by getting a Grey’s tobacco packet and filling it with ashes and rubbish from the fireplace, replacing the waxed paper sealing band to make it look like an unopened packet. We then placed it outside the gate and hid and watched. The reaction of the men who picked them up were interesting … a mixture of glee, furtive looks around, a quick shoving of it in their pocket, and walking happily out and onwards. We hoped they didn’t make too much mess when they got home. [Chuckle]
They kept a couple of cats at the bakehouse to counter any rat and mouse problems. One night while working they heard an unusual squealing and when they went out to the loading bay one of them was lying on its back clinging to a rat and raking it with her hind claws. They were good ratters. On another occasion a customer came in with his dog and the dog went sniffing around the boiler room while his master was being served. Pandemonium! The cat had a litter of kittens in there, and the dog came yelping out [chuckle] with the cat clinging on his back. And it ran out the front gate, at which point the cat dismounted and shot up the power pole. [Chuckle] The customer got his dog back and they talked the cat down from the pole. [Chuckle]
For many years in our youth the family went to Palmerston North where we stayed at Aunty Min’s farm for Christmas, and while there visited all the relatives who lived in the area. It was a happy time and quite often Noel and I stayed on for some of the school holidays, and really enjoyed life on the dairy farm with its many different experiences from town living – helping at milking time, feeding the pigs and being around the horses with the dray and the sledge, haymaking when family and friends came to help, and going to Waitarere Beach to swim and dig for toheroas.
At other times we stayed at Aunty Edith and Uncle Bob Guy’s place, which was a large two-storey boarding house that was accommodation for many men who worked in the flax mills in the early days. Also in the area were dairy factory workers, who also stayed there. It was next to the railway line and there was an overhead road bridge which was fun to go and stand on as a train came through. Sometimes the driver must have seen us and asked the stoker to throw some coal on the fire, and we wound up in a cloud of black smoke. [Chuckle]
On August holidays we stayed at Uncle Bert and Aunty Millie’s place at Spring Creek Farm, when there was a solid gale blowing which blew the top off the chimney, and the phone wires vibrated and wailed during the night making us feel nervous. Nearby a train was derailed by the wind.
One day after we’d been to the blacksmiths in the dray, Uncle Bert sent me back to get his tobacco pouch which he’d left behind. I travelled on cousin Ralph’s bike, and on my way home I was confronted by a cow that was giving birth – my first experience of this very unusual happening for a boy from the city. I was quite amazed that Uncle Bert took it so calmly.
Watercress from the creek, which was fed from a natural spring which was located about twenty metres from the house, was a regular ingredient in our salads. We sometimes amused ourselves by throwing in pebbles and watching them dance in the rising water. It was a real spring.
During the war when manpower was short, Olive and our neighbour, Mrs Nellie Muir, used to cycle out to Lester Master’s orchard where they picked fruit and helped with [in] the shed with grading and packing. And when this was happening I had to come home from school, light the kitchen stove, prepare the vegetables and feed the fowls, while the tea started cooking. We had a gas ring on the stove hob which was good to get the saucepans boiling as it took a while for the stove to heat up.
Friday was late shopping night, and we often went to town to look around and if we were lucky, to get to listen to the town band and the Salvation Army band or one of the local pipe bands which often entertained in Heretaunga Street. One of our regular chores after returning from town was to polish the living room Congoleum square, with mother putting on the polish and the boys rubbing it to make it shine. All of us were house trained and had various jobs to do. Noel used to get up and start cooking the porridge while I made his and my bed and Malcolm and Trevor made theirs. Then breakfast, and prepare cut lunches for school. Trevor was the only one of us who went to kindergarten, and I landed the job of doubling him on my bike to a hall near Central School before travelling back to Hastings West. I was often late because of the delivery. [Chuckle]
I remember when, on one occasion, mother suggested that a lot of mushrooms had been seen around lately and asked Noel and I to get on our bikes and see if we could find some. We went out to Maraekakaho Road where Noel knew one of his school mates lived, and we gathered some mushrooms and we’re invited to stay for lunch, and after playing for a while returned home to find that Dad had been searching the countryside for us, and they were greatly relieved us home again safe and sound. Time didn’t mean anything to us. [Chuckle]
Whenever we went to the beach or river for an outing we gathered any driftwood that was lying around and loaded it into the van to bring home, where with two people using a five foot crosscut saw we cut it to fit the stove, to supplement our firewood supply. With two cousins owning orchards and mother working in another, fruit was always plentiful. At harvest time we had working bees peeling peaches, pears, quinces and apples ready for preserving for use in the off season.
Who were those cousins that had orchards?
The cousins were Percy Flowers at Twyford, and Ivan Bradshaw in York Road. There were in excess of a hundred quart jars preserved each year.
Dad bought a 1924 Rolls Royce Silver race car which had a carbon-fired gas producer, from a travelling sideshow operator known as Margo the Magician who used it to tow a trailer with all his tents and gear on, but decided that a truck would be better. Dad paid £100 for it and it gave great service, taking us on trips which would not have been possible in the period of strict petrol rationing when you could be prosecuted if caught a hundred miles away from home without a permit. The system worked by filling the fire box with charcoal, then soaking a piece of pumice in methylated spirits, then with the motor running on petrol, light the spirits and apply it to the air intake at the bottom of the fire box, which sucked in the flame and started the charcoal burning. And once it was alight, turn off the petrol and then it was running on the gas which had been produced in the tank. And it was filtered before passing into the carburettor, ready for use. Care was needed when refilling it with charcoal, that when you lifted the lid the gas that was in there could ignite and singe your eyebrows. Travelling in the car was luxury after riding in the 1937 Bedford van which although we enjoyed it was restricted in its very limited view through windows which Dad cut in the dividing wall.
Mother used to do elaborate cake icing for weddings and birthdays. Many were two to three decks high with great amounts of rings and loops which were quite a sight to behold, and very fragile. One that was done for Grandfather Earl’s birthday was in the form of a log, and Dad carved this wooden axe which was embedded in the log. We still have the axe and fond memories of the chocolate icing that covered the cake.
One of my more painful memories in childhood was when trying to ride a bike in the driveway I lost control and landed in a large rose bush with the bike on top of me. [Chuckle] I was stuck among the thorns unable to move, and roaring for help. Dad, who was working in the garden, heard me and came running to lift the bike off and began to extract me from the grip of dozens of very sharp rose thorns. I was very sore for quite some time.
My first successful attempt at riding a bike was when on one occasion, Joyce Bungate came visiting, and I took her bike and started scooting up and down Murdoch Road footpath, and eventually managed to mount it properly and peddle to the corner of Freyberg Street, and return. A satisfying achievement.
When we were living at Aunty Min’s farm, and it was soon after driving licences were introduced, Mother was driving Aunty Min to town and was pulled up by a Traffic Inspector who asked her what her name was. And she said “Minnie Wilson”, then she said to Min, “could you please get my licence out of the glovebox, Olive?” [Chuckle] He asked her when her birthday was which she fortunately knew, and then sent them on their way. She knew the licence was in the glove box and did some quick thinking along the way.
During the war in the summer time we often went camping for weekends at the Tuki Tuki river … Craggy Range way … and then after that we went upstream from the Red Bridge where we enjoyed many times swimming, playing in the trees, eeling at night and relaxing. We had a 10ft x 10ft tent with airbeds, and the necessary camping equipment to be comfortable. Happy times.
I received my first bike when I was about ten years old. It cost £4/10 shillings and was bought from Claude Cash’s bike shop. It had an orange frame and black mudguards, and the carrier on the front which was ideal for carrying a breadbasket when we helped Dad do his deliveries. We also had a trike which had a large box on the front between two wheels and the driving wheel behind. It had a capacity of twenty or thirty loaves which we delivered, to speed up the job. This delivery system lasted for a short period, as household deliveries were stopped when Japan entered the war, as a petrol saving measure. They put a small number of vans off the road but obviously didn’t think of the thousands of people who had to go to the shops to collect their bread.
Around 1938 when Noel was twelve, Dad suffered a serious bout of pneumonia and was admitted to Royston Hospital for several days, and spent weeks ill at home before recovering. Noel was the only one who knew the round, so Mother went to school to get him out of class to show her the round and meet the customers. She did the driving and between them they coped with the job and maintained the service, and Noel went back to school when Ralph Taylor stepped in to relieve for a short period.
In Standard 6, our headmaster, Thomas B Jackson, selected our four fastest swimmers to compete at the Heretaunga Swimming Club Carnivals on Wednesday evenings, in an inter-school relay competition. This was my first experience of competition swimming, which has lasted all my life. In 1944 when playing at the Madison Baths, I was approached by Mrs Eva Murdoch to ask me if I would like to learn to swim properly. I said “yes”, and joined the Club and started learning – a process which continues still. The rest of the family became involved in swimming with the beginning of the Hastings West Swimming Club, with Noel filling the position of Secretary for many years, Dad was President for a period, Mother acted as chaperone to teens at Championships, and Malcolm and Trevor served on the committee. I stayed at Heretaunga and served on the committee for twenty-three years and filled the positions of Junior Club Captain, Club Captain, Chairman, and delegate to the Hawke’s Bay Swimming Centre. I competed in the Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay Championships from 1947 to 1961, and I played water polo for Heretaunga and Hawke’s Bay until 1971.
After school one day Eric Welsh and I noticed a large column of smoke rising from the general direction of town, so we got on our bikes and went to see where the fire was. It was further than we thought and we finished up at Drillers Poultry Farm at Waipatu, beyond the Showgrounds, the property of our recently retired headmaster. When we arrived the equipment shed was in flames and the Brigade were trying to dam the small stream that runs through there to pump water to fight the fire, as there was no other supply after their tanks ran dry. Everybody was busy there, so we wandered further into the farm and found several poultry sheds which were of light construction, and they were all on fire and crowded with fowls, mostly on their perches, and the sheds were almost ready to collapse on them. Eric and I opened the doors and went in and chased them out into the paddock where they would be safer than the gradually collapsing sheds. Someone would have a job rounding them up later, but otherwise they would have been mostly burnt. We then returned to where the firemen were still struggling to get a water supply from the stream, and someone came up to us and said “Do you live here?” When we said “no”, he told us to get off the property … “you are trespassing.” We felt offended after our efforts, but he seemed so serious we departed without arguing. Everyone was so busy that they didn’t notice the burning fowl houses further back on the farm, so we thought we had performed a good rescue of the laying hens, and went home satisfied.
Dad was an enthusiastic fisherman and we spent many happy hours at Te Awanga Beach with him angling and my brothers and I searching for lizards in the matted bushes on the foreshore. Dad tried many methods of getting the line out to sea, and the most successful was a pipe gun with a beach spike which was pushed into the sand or shingle pointing seawards, then loading it with a small charge of blasting powder, and tamping it down with the sinker weight which was attached to the baited line. The fuse sent it hurtling out to sea. On one occasion we were waiting – well clear of it – to fire, and an enterprising seagull saw the tempting baits zigzagged out on the beach, laid out ready for an easy take off, and he flew closer just as the gun went off. With the bang of the gun and the fishing line and baits thrashing all round a very confused gull, he accelerated into the air and dodged the flying hardware to go and look for a meal somewhere else. [Chuckle] I don’t remember many fish being caught, but we caught a few brown lizards which we took to school for nature study lessons.
With four brothers and the neighbours joining in, we used to play cricket on the back lawn with the local rule being over the fence is six and out and you had to go and find the ball. Tennis balls were standard equipment as they caused less harm. Post-war we often played in Walter Edgecombe’s paddock when there was no stock in it, and then the rules returned to normal. On once occasion Ray Carrington brought some golf clubs and balls, and we proceeded to play them away from the road. And after I’d played many shots I decided to play back towards the road. My game must have suddenly improved, as the ball sailed back over the whole distance I had covered, plus crossing the road, and hit Muir’s house – fortunately without causing any damage.
Noel started working for Wilson & Beckett at the Cliff Press printers at the age of fourteen and signed on for an apprenticeship to the printing trade, and worked there until retirement. I joined him when I left high school in 1947, and also stayed until retiring at age 61. We started at the Municipal buildings between the Library Reading Room and the Mesdames’ Power haberdashery shop. We later moved around the corner into Hastings Street next to Cyril Cooks Electricians on the corner of Heretaunga Street, where a much bigger factory had been built on what is now part of the New World Supermarket car park. When we moved the largest Heidelberg printing machine with a crane and truck, it was so finely balanced that several of the staff stood on the front of the truck to give it steering grip on the road. It was a successful transfer, but I don’t OSH would have approved.
A few years later Cook’s Electricians was sold and ready for demolition. Jack Rigger was engaged, and thought that tipping the two-storeyed building over would collapse it and expedite the job. A cable was placed around the upper part of the building and the pulling machine started its task. The building reached the point of balance and then crashed to the ground in a cloud of dust. When the dust cleared the building sat on its side in one solid piece [chuckle] – a tribute to the carpenters who built it so many years before. The chain saws and wrecking hammers then took over the rest of the demolition.
When Trevor left high school he also signed on as an apprentice at the Cliff Press and served his time as a compositor, and learned to operate the linotype machine as well as the hand setting type.
While we were there we competed in the inter-firm swimming relay races that were run by the Heretaunga Swimming Club over several weeks each summer and managed to win the Shield on three occasions. There had to be three swimmers in a team, and two of them had to be staff members. Noel had occasional knee problems and when he was unavailable Malcolm was substituted. On one occasion after we had won, a disgruntled competitor made a phone call to Noel Wilson, our employer, and asked him if there were two Palmers working for him and he said “No, there are three”. At this point the caller quietly hung up. [Chuckle] We had a definite advantage as we were trained swimmers and could repeat good times through heats and semi-finals, while our rivals became exhausted quite quickly.
Malcolm served his time as an apprentice at Walker’s Nursery and qualified as a nurseryman and florist. He joined with Mother to operate from Walker’s shop as florists for many years. When Mother retired he worked for CP Flowers … Percy … in the orchard, where he was able to utilise his horticultural skills, then he finished his working career at Ronny Flower’s orchard in Twyford.
Trevor became dissatisfied with printing and left to work for Ron Flowers, who had taken over the original Burge farm operated by his grandparents, Horace and Annie, and it was becoming a very large-scale onion grower. The onion stage ran for many years and then they gradually changed to kiwifruit and general orchards, and cool stores.
As the Cliff Press firm grew the need for a larger building became apparent and eventually Dalgety’s building in Avenue Road was purchased and our second move was made. A mezzanine floor was erected around two sides, greatly adding to the usable space and utilising the height of the building more efficiently. A few years later, as our growth continued, the Dalgety’s seed dressing building was purchased to serve as a paper store. The years marched on and our final move was made when the area was gradually bought out to allow the whole block to be cleared for the construction of the K Mart plaza. We then moved to the indoor cricket building in Karamu Road where they operated until finally closing down.
When we were still at school, Noel and Malcolm took piano lessons with Miss Timms at a house near the Stortford Lodge sale yards, but did not persist in their efforts. I was given a violin for my twelfth birthday and learnt from Mr Tim Kitchen for four years. Mother was a good pianist and Dad played the zither and was a good singer. Trevor in later years bought a banjo and had lessons with Mr Ernie Mulvanah.
When each of us had our twenty-first birthday, a marquee was set up on the back lawn for a party which our parents, with the help of our local aunties and cousins, did a great job of catering for. The music was provided by Mother or Percy Flowers on piano, Horace Burge and I on violin, Brian Clark on piano accordion, Lou Vernon on harmonica, and everybody joined in the singing and we enjoyed them greatly.
Malcolm and Trevor joined the Hastings Musical Comedy Company and I joined the Hastings Orphans Club to further our musical interests. On one occasion on the day of the party, Mother asked me to get out the hired crockery from its cartons and line them up on the table. Imagine my shock when I opened the first boxful and discovered that the people who had used it before had repacked it without bothering to wash any of it, leaving salad and meats and dried food all over them. Dad bundled them into the van and took them back to the shop where he hired them, only to find that they were closed, being a Saturday. So we set to and scraped, soaked and scrubbed them clean – a mammoth job we didn’t need with the catering process in full swing. Dad returned them on Monday with a message about hygiene inspections, and there was no charge. [Chuckle]
Dad was a very calm and unruffled person, but one of the few times I saw him in despair was when he was loading one of Mother’s ornately iced wedding cakes and it tipped over in the van as he was preparing to deliver it on the wedding day. The icing rings and the loops were largely broken and I can remember him sitting on the back doorstep with his head in his hands. But he soon recovered his wits and got into the van to go and negotiate with another customer who had a cake which was iced and ready for the following week. He was successful in getting them to exchange cakes, which were promptly delivered, and Mother set about repairing the damaged icing for the first cake – a crisis averted.
Working odd hours with 2am starts, Dad developed an ability to sleep in his easy chair, and always woke up in a cheerful mood. When asked why he didn’t go to bed sooner he said he liked being with the family, even though he was asleep.
As the family grew, the house verandah which was enclosed to a height of about one metre, was covered in with canvas material and the doorway built on to it [to] provide room for two beds which became a room for Noel and myself. This was used for several years during the war. After the war, a four-man army hut was purchased and set up with three beds at the back of the house, where we had a gramophone, and Noel had a crystal set radio with earphones. In 1946 plans were drawn up to renovate the house and enlarge it considerably. Clarrie Dudding, the brother of Dad’s baking partner, took on the contract at a time of post-war shortages. Work started in September and I dropped out of high school to help around the house. The old scullery, laundry and small bedroom were torn apart and replaced with a large bedroom, laundry, second toilet and kitchenette. An enlarged living room at the front of the verandah was taken into the lounge. Work progressed steadily with brief interruptions when materials were unavailable. Quite often when faced with this problem, Dad would go to town and come home with what was required to keep the job moving. He was resourceful and persistent.
In our childhood Murdoch Road was a stock route so we had to shut the front gates to keep out the sheep and cattle which were being driven to and from the Stortford Lodge sale yards every Wednesday. On odd occasions when we forgot, there was much excitement trying to get them out.
At the age of about ten, Noel and I were encouraged to become St John Ambulance cadets by Mr Dooley Long. In those days their headquarters were upstairs in the Mutual Life Insurance building on the corner of Eastbourne and Russell Streets, upstairs. We went there for First Aid training each week and took our turn acting as assistants to the qualified members who acted regularly as First Aiders at the rugby games around Hastings’ sports grounds. We were also asked to report to Ambulance headquarters with our bikes after any air raids to act as message couriers in case the telephone exchanges suffered damage. At school we had regular practices of evacuating our classrooms to go and hide under the trees on neighbouring properties, in case of possible air raids by the Japanese. They were anxious times but fortunately the precautions were never needed. At home, I remember the Air Raid Precautions inspectors coming around to check that no lights were visible to help enemy aircraft see where there was activity. At this time Dad was on call to act as an emergency ambulance driver with his bread delivery van.
We attended many poultry shows, as Ernest Dudding was a keen breeder of several classes of birds. And one of his friends, Mr George Thornton, who had a clothing and drapery shop at Clive, gave us some good quality bantams to stimulate our interest, which lead us into breeding Buff Pekins, Black Rosecombs and White Wyandotte bantams with which we won many prizes at shows around the North Island.
Around this time the Home Guard was formed to help in emergency situations, and the local men were recruited into groups to prepare a framework for running things efficiently. The local Traffic Inspector was appointed to run the Hastings group, and one night he decided to take the men on a route march around the streets circling the racecourse. Two local business men who had suffered leg damage during the poliomyelitis epidemic in their childhood, asked him if they could be excused and they were declined, because he said it would do them good. They set off on their march and when they came to a place where there were some trees they dropped off the group and hid behind them and remained out of sight, and positioned themselves to rejoin them on their return. When they returned to the drill hall the Inspector sought them out and said to them “now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” They agreed with him wholeheartedly.
Now Colin’s going to cover his speech that he gave to the Orphans’ Club in Hastings – thank you, Colin.
“I’ve been asked to give a talk on my experiences which are quite a few as I approach my eightieth birthday. I had the advantage of being born to parents who loved, cared for and encouraged us all in our efforts and interests. My father was Richard Wallace Palmer, who joined the British Merchant Navy at the age of fourteen in 1914 and after the war qualified as an electrician and worked in the National Hospital in London for several years before returning to the sea and migrating to New Zealand in 1923. My mother was Olive Wilton, who was a granddaughter of Joe Wilton who migrated to New Zealand on the sailing ship ‘Oriental’ in 1841, and settled in Wellington. My parents met at Twyford at a cards and musical evening at the home of Bob and Maud Burge. They were married at Tokomaru in 1923.
After working on a farm near Palmerston North our family moved to Hastings the week after the 1931 earthquake and stayed at Twyford with Horace and Annie Burge, living in tents as nobody was keen to enter the house whilst the aftershocks were occurring. We moved to 305 West Murdoch Road soon after, where the family stayed for sixty years.
Dad got a job working for Arthur Jones at Better Bakery delivering bread. When Arthur closed down Dad bought the round and changed his supplier to Sturrock’s Bakery. This continued until he went into partnership with Ernest Dudding and formed Amalgamated Bakeries, and took over the old Weatherhead Bakeries building on the corner of St Aubyn Street and Karamu Road where Olympic Panel and Spray followed, and later AON Insurance built new offices.
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbour all household deliveries ceased, so Dad’s earlier change from delivering to baking was well timed. Money was never plentiful but we lived comfortably, ate well and were well clothed thanks to Dad’s gardening ability and Mother’s sewing and cooking.
My three brothers and I all attended Hastings West School, now Raureka, where as well as getting educated I was taught to swim by Mr Bradley, and swam my first width at the age of eight and was rewarded with a penny, so I was a professional right from the start. I was a run of the mill student but enjoyed rugby, cricket, tennis, soft ball, long ball, swimming and handcrafts. At rugby my best effort was to get into the Possibles versus Probables game for the Hastings team for the Ross Shield competition in 1944. One of my moments of glory at cricket was when playing Mahora school I went in at No 11 and top scored with three not out, in a total of thirteen runs in reply to Mahora’s fifty. We only used proper bats on match day, and at school we practised with pick handles, and due to wrought iron shortages any ball that was available. I started to get involved in swimming races when our headmaster, Thomas Jackson, started looking for the four fastest swimmers to compete in inter-school relays being run at the Heretaunga Swimming Club Carnivals on Wednesday nights. This was my first experience of competitive swimming and I really enjoyed it. My next step towards swimming came in 1945 when at the Madison baths one weekend, playing around, I was approached by Mrs Eva Murdoch who asked me “do you want to learn to swim properly?” Her youngest son, Bevan, was soon to win the New Zealand Intermediate hundred yards breaststroke championship so I was lucky to receive her offer of coaching.
So I joined the Heretaunga Swimming Club. We trained every day by swimming half a mile in water that was straight out of artesian wells at a temperature of about fifteen degrees centigrade, which slowly warmed up after the Sunday night emptying, cleaning and refilling each week. This was before filters were installed when the new pool was built in 1965/66. I gradually improved over the next few seasons and started competing at Rainbow Shield inter-club events and Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay championships, with breaststroke as my main target. I was runner up to Bevan Murdoch for several seasons and won my first Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay championship in 1947 when Bevan was disqualified. Our rivalry continued with alternating results which boosted our standard of performance, and I gained the ascendancy. I competed at New Zealand Championships from 1950 to 1954 being a finalist on most occasions, and my best result being a third in the hundred yards butterfly at Invercargill in 1953. I won Hawke’s Bay/Poverty Bay championships in breaststroke, butterfly and medley between 1947 and 1958, and set several records in that period.
I played water polo for Heretaunga from 1947 until 1971 and was in the Hawke’s Bay team for most of that period, and captain for both of the later stages. We played water polo in summer and the same group played indoor basketball in winter until I was forty-one. Some of the younger members pulled out because of work and family commitments, and what had been a great run of sporting efforts came to an end and I served on the committee for twenty-three years and was Chairman and Club Captain for some of them.
During my term on the committee we ran regular fund raising stalls at the Highland Games to provide money for the planned new pool and regular Housie evenings at the Central School. We eventually achieved our target, and with Tom Hall as official builder and Clerk of Works boxing up during the week, and many club members and volunteers on weekends mixing and pouring seemingly endless tons of concrete, over a period of several months we succeeded in constructing the pool, new dressing rooms, grandstand, filter system and heater.
When I finished High School in 1946 I got an apprenticeship to the printing trade with Cliff Press Printers who were then in the Municipal buildings in one of the later units later occupied by Hutchinson’s Furnishers. I went to them for a two-week trial and stayed for forty-four years, finishing up as machine room foreman. We grew in size and progressed to ever expanding factories in Hastings Street, Avenue Road and Karamu Road during this period.
I met Noeline Shuker in 1951 and got engaged in 1952. We married in 1953. We had four children, Glenda, Richard, Anne and Mark who are still living in or near Hastings. We were a happy, active and fun-loving family when Noeline was admitted to hospital the day after appearing in a musical show at the Municipal Theatre. Complications set in causing her to die a fortnight later. We were emotionally shattered, but with the support of family and friends I managed to keep us together and carry on. A neighbour, Mrs Nancy White, offered to meet the children when they came home from school each day and prepared vegetables occasionally ready for me to cook, so we managed to cope with life’s problems and keep things going.
I went to the Widows’ and Widowers’ Club a few times, and a few of the people there arranged to go to the Saturday night dance at the old Buffalo Hall. I arrived there and waited but none of them turned up. While I was waiting in the foyer a family friend, Myrtle Ryan, came up to me and ushered me in and introduced me to her friend Margaret Davis, who had just come back from a working holiday in Australia. For me the impact was instantaneous. We went out together for several months and eventually [she] consented to marry me and take on the care of a ready-made family. We were later lucky enough to add to the family with the birth of Brian and then Graham.
I joined the Orphans Club in 1968, and went into Ray Scott’s String Band which included Tom Patrick, Jimmy Boyd and Glen Smythe. My first solo effort was coached by Walter Brunsden. I was given my violin for my twelfth birthday, and learned to play it under the tuition of Mr Tim Kitchen for four years. He asked me if I wanted to join the Orphans Club, but then realised I was too young by five years.
When my swimming, water polo and basketball came to an end I looked around for some sort of activity to replace it, and one night saw an advert in the paper about a meeting to form a new golf club at Flaxmere. I attended and signed on for membership straight away. We started by gathering up tons of pumice rocks, mowing rough greens and for the first season playing target golf to get experience, and spent Saturday mornings improving the course with working parties. The following year the fairways were re-sown and earthworks undertaken to create wonderful greens and awkward bunkers, and hundreds of trees were donated and planted. I enjoyed playing there for ten years and the best I could get my handicap down to was 18.
I then had a yearning to build a yacht and bought a set of plans for a Hartley 16 and commenced working on that. I completed it in ten months, and joined the Napier Sailing Club. With family and friends crewing we raced in the trailer fleet on Saturday afternoons and enjoyed sailing and camping holidays in the Bay of Islands, Lake Tutira and Taupo over the next few years. I then built a Caribou 20 yacht, which had a lot more room with a galley and six sleeping berths, and was great fun when camping with the family. In 1979 I served a year as commodore of the Napier Trailer Yacht squadron.
In 1980 Margaret and I, along with Brian and Graham, went to Britain for a three month holiday, where we bought an old Ford Transit camper van which was our transport and accommodation on a wonderful four thousand mile [kilometre] tour around England, Scotland and Wales.
In 1985 an old swimming acquaintance said to me that a club for master swimmers had been formed at John Beaumont’s pool at Havelock North. At the age of fifty-five I returned to swimming with the advantage of year round activity indoors, competing in age groups run in five year steps from twenty-five years up to the oldest competitors available. At present Cathy Johnson at ninety-two is New Zealand’s oldest competitor, but at the World Championships there have been several who are over a hundred. I’ve had a lot of fun at North Island and New Zealand championship meetings, meeting up with some of the people I competed with over fifty years ago.
When I was sixty-one I received a call from Ivan Wilson of Napier, who had trained several Cook Strait swimmers, asking me if I had a surf life saving medal which is the standard for official beach patrols in New Zealand. When I told him I had qualified at the Waimarama Surf Club in 1951, he said “how would you like to become a world champion?” I said “yes, what have I got to do?” He replied “paddle a four-man surf canoe really fast”. So started about eight months of training every Wednesday and Sunday paddling in the Inner Harbour and off Kiwi Beach. We put in a lot of hard work as the races are four hundred metres out around a buoy, and back to the beach through the surf. We went to Red Beach at Auckland and won the gold medals in the over sixties’ canoe race, and the 4×80 metres’ beach race sprint relay. Our team was comprised of Ivan Wilson, John Watt, Robin Matthews and myself, and we beat the Aussies. We competed again two years later and won the canoe race and came second in the beach sprint with Richard [?Mars?] replacing John Watt at Mt Maunganui. One of the longest races I competed in was from Bare Island to Waimarama Beach near the reef, then a kilometre run to the Surf Club which I achieved in one hour and seventeen minutes at the age of sixty-one. Richard and Graham also completed the course, which made it a family event.
I continue to enjoy my involvement with my family, the Orphans’ Club and Masters’ swimming and hope to persist for a while yet. When programme organiser, Ross Hart, asked me to do this talk, I was sceptical that people would be interested and felt that many other members would have more interesting tales to tell, so if you are one of those people please contact Ross and prove me right by telling your story at the Buffalo Hall.”
The Buffalo Hall I remember, was a dusty, old floored place …
Beautiful dance floor.
It was sprung, wasn’t it?
No, the Assembly Hall was sprung. The Hastings High School Old Boys – I played 4th Grade rugby, and in the winter they used to have a dance there every week run by the High School Old Boys one week, and the High School Old Girls’ basketball the following week, so you knew there was a dance on every week.
Did you ever know Bernie Meredith?
No, I don’t recall him.
He played rugby for Napier Old Boys. He also ran the Top Hat … d’you remember the Top Hat?
Where was that ..?
It was in Napier.
In Napier – oh, no …
Oh, I think we may have had a firm do there one year.
They used to run balls on Saturday nights, and dances on Friday nights, and they used to get eight hundred people come to a dance on the Friday night. They used to have to shut the door, and there was no booze. They ran it from 1960 ‘til 1970. No liquor at all.
There was nothing officially here, but I think a few sneaked away to cars if they didn’t get caught.
Colin in his retirement has made very good use of his time – he’s become a golfer; he was a boat builder … tell us about your boat building.
Our first boat that I built was a Hartley Husky – just a row boat. We used to go and load it up with a net and drop it in, and try to catch fish – unsuccessfully. No motor, that was Armstrong propulsion, and we had a lot of fun with it.
Then the next boat I built was a Hartley 16. I bought the plans and started from scratch – built that over a period of about ten months, and that was very interesting. There were lots of things you learn when you’re building a boat. One of the things that I learnt the hard way – I had a rib I had to cut out and shape to go on to one side of the keel. And I’d done a brilliant job, what I thought was really good and classy, so I thought ‘right, I’ll make another one of them.’ Went and [chuckle] made another one of them, but it should’ve been a mirror image. [Chuckle] Should’ve been a mirror image, and I was working on it and two small boys were standing at the end of the boat watching me, and I said an expletive that they’d never heard before. [Chuckle] They were standing there with shocked looks on their faces. No, there’s things you learn.
We had several years of fun with that. We went up to the Bay of Islands and went out fishing ‘bout every second day, and always came home with some fish. And one day at the end of the fortnight we’d been out all day and no luck at all on the fishing, and we got back to about a hundred yards from the camp and we had a strike. [Chuckle] And we just set the motor going quietly and we plugged up and down and we caught about a dozen kahawai outside the front door of the camp. ‘Course you weren’t allowed to gut the fish in the camp. So we sailed up and down gutting them on the way, and when we got back to camp, without any refrigeration we had to rush all round the camp giving them away. And that was … no, it was a lot of fun.
But then I decided we’d try for something bigger, so I bought the Caribou 20 plans and set about building that, and sold the Hartley 16 to a bloke at Tauranga. It was really solidly built and treated with all the best preparations, and the Everdure and stuff like that to preserve it, so it should be going, somewhere.
And I set about the Caribou. I was given a whole set of frame ribs which I managed – they were for a bigger boat, but I cut them down and utilised them in the various positions for the ribs. And then … it was what they call a double diagonal sheeting … it was plywood – it was fairly thin ply, I’m not sure what the measurement was now, but you used to run it diagonally on the thing. And you had to pull it on and keep planing and planing bits off to cover the complex curve. And that was hours and hours of work …
I can imagine.
… but when I had it finished I had lots of people come in, and I had none of them there – you quite often wear off a bit of the ply – but most of them were there and the ply was all fully intact, right to the outer cover. And I know one man who was a pattern maker, Alan Davidson from Napier – he reckoned that it was an absolutely amazing smooth job for a hull.
Did you cover it with fibreglass?
And then I covered it with fibreglass and resin … dynal cloths and resin … and then painted it.
And so you kept that boat until you retired again?
Yeah, we had that for quite a few years, and then it sat in the shed once the family grew up and left home. I didn’t have the crew, so I eventually sold it – I think it must have cost me about five thousand-odd for materials, and I wound up selling it for $3,300, you know … but someone got a good boat.
I was fairly lucky with the crew I had … I had some good blokes. But what kept on happening was – you’d get a good crew man and he’d get the bug and …
Buy his own boat.
And then I suppose you came through the development of the Flaxmere … Hawke’s Bay Golf Club, I should call it …
Oh, yes, yes. We broke pumice country into a beautiful course, yeah.
You haven’t told me how many grandchildren you’ve got.
Yeah. [Chuckle] They’re still happening. [Chuckle]
So how many?
Well – now, one for Glenda – that’s the branch that’s gone right down to great-great-grandchildren in Aussie – they’re in Perth. Then Brian has got two, Ann has three, Richard two …
And you’ve just done an initial tally-up of grandchildren – on the first count we’re settling for twelve, but there will be more.
You’ve heard a bit about Glenda and the kids, and the boats and things.
So – the garden out the back – is that Margaret’s?
I was good as gold until two years ago – I had a fall competing at the North Island Swimming Championships. I broke the New Zealand record for the hundred metres breaststroke on the Friday night, and then tripped over and just tore my shoulder to buggery. Broke my right kneecap, skinned both knees, smashed my glasses, peeled my nose, and broke a bone in my wrist …
The fact that you have a garden that size and she’s doing it …
Yeah, she’s been amazing actually, yeah. I just can’t hack it anymore. I had a heart turn – what do they call it? Atrial fibrillation – in the supermarket one day and since then I’ve lost quite a lot of steam. But I’m still training … swimming twice a week, and I’m back to the stage where I can swim overarm again. But for about eighteen months I couldn’t swim overarm.
You used to train at Havelock?
Flaxmere. All year round – it’s good, yeah.
John Beaumont – it was sad to see John …
Oh yes, yes – he was great …
… slip away.
… he was great for the swimming.
Professionals – they completely changed the game. At Heretaunga there, we had about fifteen or twenty amateur coaches that were working up to two and three hundred kids, you know? And then you get the likes of them arrive there, and … “I’m the only coach in this pool”, you know? And most people fell into the bloody trap of letting them do it. I remember Jack Taylor and myself talking to one of the coaches here – his Dad was the Member of Parliament for Wanganui – he was one of the pro-coaches and when [?] … Mrs Hall had encouraged him to come there, and we were trying to encourage Bert Cotterill [to] come in there and share the pool, you know. But he said “no. Not sharing with anybody”. That was it.
Okay, well look, I think that gives us a good introduction to the family, so thank you Colin, for that.
Calvin Appleby and I train together regularly. He’s mixed up in your history department I think. He was there when they were repainting and doing up the house.
I think he might be part of the Genealogy. So anyway, well look that’s great – thank you for that.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper