Patrick Ivan Parsons Interview
Today is the 17th December, 2018. I’m interviewing Patrick Ivan Parsons of Napier. Pat, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of your family?
Yes. I’m the descendant of solicitors on both sides. My paternal side, the Parsons side, came from Nottinghamshire in England – very much in the territory of Robin Hood, and Sherwood Forest was right on the edges of where our country estate was. Anyway, my great-great-great-grandfather was Samuel Parsons, solicitor of Nottingham. I know his life quite well because the son left diaries which are in the Nottingham University Library right now – William Parsons was his name. So we’re quite well documented. I won’t go too much into his life, I think it’s just sufficient to say that he was a solicitor. It meant that all of his children were well-educated, and that’s really the point I want to make here.
One of those children was my great-great-grandfather, John Parsons, the pioneer who came to New Zealand. And he arrived here on a ship named ‘Queen of the North’ in 1862 – very much here, into Hawke’s Bay. And he found that a lot of the more ideal properties that he might have tried to purchase had already been snapped up by earlier and wealthier colonists. However, he did manage to get Rukumoana, which was at Te Pohue, and he was there for some years. He was a widower, and he had all but one of his children with him. The oldest was Samuel Parsons, named after the grandfather, who was my great-grandfather. He was twenty at the time they arrived. And then the family trailed down, twenty, eighteen and so forth … I think the youngest one was only about five. The wife had died of a tumour in Nottinghamshire before they left. Also, there was another factor involved – his father had died but the mother had a life interest, so no one’s inheritance was released until the mother passed away, and so it was pretty soon after that, that he came to New Zealand.
… Te Pohue, was it by the river?
No. As you’re approaching Te Pohue on State Highway 5, Rukumoana Road turns off to the left, and then the bulk of the property is still in front of you. In other words having passed that entrance road, Rukumoana goes from there, back up to the Te Pohue lake, on both sides.
So it must have been very close to the Kings’ property?
Yes, I think the Kings later had part of it. And we’re talking about 1862, 1863, before the Kings got there.
Yes, and of course, most of it was still under native forest, wasn’t it?
Now, on my maternal side I’m a Lopdell. And my great-great-grandfather was a very highly respected man in Ireland – John Lopdell. He lived in Athenry in County Galway. He was a solicitor/barrister and Anglo-Irish, which meant that you were, you know, sort of on the outer. But he enjoyed a special respect in the town. Why? First of all, he was very well-liked by the ordinary people of the town, and that in part … because they used to sort of walk up to him in the street and get free advice, which he willingly gave. He owned a property called Raheen Park, one of the big homesteads dotted around the edges of Athenry. He also kept a house in Dublin, in Waterloo Street, and he to-and-fro’d between the two. And then he got the job as the visiting magistrate, if you like – he did the Galway circuit for a long time. And so he built up respect there.
And then, coming into the potato famine is where he really elevated himself, because while most of the other landlords were squeezing their tenants drier and drier when they could afford nothing, he was well-known – he was Chairman of the Relief Board anyway – and he reduced the rents on any of the properties that they were leasing. And he also got in extra supplies of food, you know, like potatoes. I don’t know where they came from, but they came from outside. And of course amongst the peasantry, this enhanced his mana [prestige]. He also wrote letters to the various higher-ranked lords round about, asking them to consider reducing their rentals and all the rest of it. They couldn’t have cared less, and said so. So by the time he died in 1871 he was quite a legendary figure, and he would come back to the country estate for the summer each year from Dublin, and then return. He had a whole stable of retainers … daughters mainly [chuckle] … in Dublin, and he would come to his eldest son who was living in the Raheen homestead by that stage, and live out the summers there, then return. And he liked nothing better than to just walk into the village, and he’d go and visit the old people who had leased properties off him and so forth – very much a man of those people. You don’t get any great indication that he rubbed shoulders too much with the people that he might have done.
We hear about the potato famine … here you have a man who supported …
Mmm – fairly rare.
… and that’s some of the history we don’t actually hear.
No, no. It took me a long time to really pin him down, and it wasn’t ‘til I started finding major obituaries in Ireland and so forth, that I began to get a sense of why he was so respected. His son enjoyed the same respect, I think because of the way he was brought up.
The wife of John Lopdell, of higher status than himself. She was a Blake – her parents were Peter Blake of Corbally Castle which is also on the fringes of Galway between Lough Rea and Gort. And his wife’s mother was Mary Browne, granddaughter of the 1st Earl of Altamont, Westport – sort of over on the coast. That didn’t really feature in our doings at all, sort of thing – there’s no indication that they rubbed shoulders to any degree with that ilk, if you like. But I noticed on her gravestone – she’s buried in the Kilthomas Cemetery, sort of out near Corbally – and it had those details on it. My suspicion is she died of complications of childbirth – twins.
It seemed to be a common occurrence.
Yes. And she wasn’t yet forty at the time, and her eldest daughter [chuckle] … whose name I’m struggling to remember … is my great-great-grandmother. The name’ll come to me in a minute.
Well you have a great memory for detail, don’t you?
Yes. A historian often does.
Now, from that family came my great-grandfather, James Lopdell, who engaged in a military career, as most of the Lopdells did if they weren’t the eldest son. And a lot of the daughters married into the militia as well. There’s the company they rubbed shoulders with. [Shows photo] Anyway, my great-grandfather, James Lopdell and his cousin, William Robinson married twin sisters – Gunnings, originally from Dublin, but who had gone out to Galway. So they decided they would migrate to New Zealand. Both being younger sons, there was no great opportunity for them there, and they came out to New Zealand on the ‘Viscount Canning’ in 1864 to Hawke’s Bay.
That great-grandfather wasn’t nearly as well-equipped for a colonial life as the Parsons great-great-grandfather was. He actually undertook farming instruction back in Nottingham on the advice of his family, and he went and lived in a farming community. He had his eldest son trained as a carpenter for a year, knowing that would be useful here as well – whereas James Lopdell, I think probably had led a fairly privileged life. He had a certain amount of money when he came but didn’t invest wisely, and he ended up with a bait and livery stables in Napier, and then that didn’t do at all well. And to cut a long story short, he ended up at Meeanee. That’s where the Lopdells lived long term, as did the Parsons, of course. And he was a drover … one might say he was ‘reduced’ to drover from potential at first.
And my grandfather, Leo Lopdell, born in 1878, grew up very much in his father’s mould – more at home on horseback than on foot; very good with stock – loved their stock. And my grandfather – by the time he was about twelve he left school. He wasn’t happy with the Catholic fraternity at Meeanee, and they say that on church days he would disappear off down the Tutaekuri River with his fox terrier and arrive back at lunchtime on a pretty regular basis, to keep out of it all.
Anyway, as soon as his father was agreeable he joined his father droving, and they worked for Richardson and Troutbeck on the droving beat, droving … I don’t know to any degree, sheep at all … horses, a lot of the time. And one of their beats was down to the Wairarapa, where they frequently stayed with the Beetham family. And it’s rather interesting … my mother has an unusual Christian name, ‘Wever’. [Spells] And I asked her on one occasion where on earth that name came from. And she said, “Your grandmother named your uncle Brian, the first-born, after Brian Boru”, you know, from Irish history. And then the grandmother said to my grandfather when my Mum was born, “Oh well, I named the first child; you can name the second one. What would you like to call her?” And he said, “Wever”. And I think my grandmother said, “What!?” But – here’s how the name arose: the young daughter of the Beetham family [of] Brancepeth, in the Wairarapa – my grandfather was most taken with her – she was only about five. The Beethams didn’t stand on ceremony, and the drover and son were invited to the dinner table, and here was this delightful young five-year-old. And apparently, my grandfather you know, said to my mother later on, “She was a very lively and alert young child – not a shy five-year-old by any means”, and sort of the life of the table. And my grandfather was greatly taken by her. And when it came to naming the child of his own, Wever she became.
There was a lot of droving in the other direction as well, you know, heading up Wairoa, Mahia, State Highway 5. I know there were occasions, for example, when my uncle said to me, “Oh, your grandfather often said they used to sleep with Te Kooti’s men at Te Haroto”, because there was a roof over their heads – probably in the marae, I don’t know. And my grandfather, Leo, had good relations with the Māori, and quite a lot of that was brushed off onto me.
The great-grandfather lived to be an old man, eighty-six, and died at Meeanee, as did his wife who was Sarah Gunning. And they left quite a large family, but I’ll just focus on my grandfather.
Where did they live at Meeanee?
Between Meeanee and the golf range at Maraenui, fairly well down towards the golf range end, and on the same side of the road as the Tutaekuri River and where Plumpton Park used to be.
So your farm must have backed onto the Eriksons’, who were there from the very early days too.
Yeah – I’ve never actually followed up who the neighbours were, and they didn’t have much land.
My great-grandfather was quite a renowned greyhound racer around here, from his background in Ireland – and a highly successful one. He made more money with his greyhounds, I think, than he did as a drover. ‘White Rose’ and ‘Lancaster’ were his two famous dogs. I have one trophy at home which was a New Zealand title, and my cousin has another which was a Hawke’s Bay title. I don’t know where the other trophies went to, but there were many more.
So my grandfather grew up in that environment as well, and then in the next generation after my great-grandfather, Uncle John Lopdell carried on that greyhound-racing tradition. And my uncle said to me, he remembered Uncle John riding along on a bike, exercising the greyhounds – the only way he could keep up with them. [Chuckle] And he won important titles – I know he won an Australasian one. But that gives you the background to what Leo Lopdell became.
I have two quite prominent … next generation down from the pioneer ones … grandfathers – Phil Parsons, the trout-fly man, and Leo Lopdell. I’ll tell you about Leo first.
Yeah, just coming back to living at Meeanee those days – it was very prone to flooding from the Tutaekuri, ‘cause there were no stop banks, and it was very wet.
Oh I know this – every time there was a flood, it was the greyhounds who were put in the boat; taken to shore while the men waded. [Chuckles] Yes, that was often stated later on, as well.
My grandfather, Leo – he started out very unsuccessfully with his elder brother, Frank Lopdell. Frank managed Ohurakura at Te Pohue for GP and Airini Donnelly. But my grandfather, very much the younger brother – I’d say there was ten years between them, my grandfather being the younger one – and Frank. I knew Frank very well, he was a fiery old character. And so they didn’t hit it off, and my grandfather didn’t stay there particularly long at Ohurakura. He worked for George Walker at one stage – George Walker Estate at Nuhaka … the Wai Station. And even prior to that, he worked for Troutbeck, who he’d been droving for as a boy. And the Troutbecks were at Galatea near Murupura, and Leo spent at least a couple of years working on Galatea before he went to the Wai Station. And then from the Wai Station, he went to Mangaohane, working for GP Donnelly again, and he was there a long time – I’d say from 1900 to 1909.
Now Mangaohane – that was on the Taihape Road?
I didn’t realise the Donnellys owned that.
I think it was a combination of lease and owned. You see, the interest came through Airini Donnelly, the Maori Chieftainess. She was a great-niece of Renata Kawepo, the principal Chief at Omahu, and when it came to the stage of – well, GP was very adamant that Airini needed to separate her interests from the rest of the tribe, or they were getting nowhere. And of course that caused a lot of the friction within the tribe, but it meant Airini got individual title to quite the lion’s share, and with GP, a very capable farm manager, they turned it into a great fortune.
Frank Logan said to me that by 1900, Mrs Donnelly was the principal hostess of this province, of either race. Yeah – that’s the degree to which their fortunes rose. They lived at Crissoge, between Waiohiki and Omahu, and then at Ngatarawa – you know, where the winery is there. I think Alwyn Corban lives in the house now. Anyway, my grandfather became co-manager of Mangaohane with George Sanderson? Or Sanders. I know this because Nana used to go up to visit the grandfather and she had to be chaperoned of course, and she stayed with the – Sanderson, I think it is. And my grandfather – he was manager more at-large, in terms of – it was a very big property. And this is where his dog-trialling started … very prominent dog-trial man. And during the time he was there, he enhanced his dog-trialling breed. I know how. [Chuckle] There was another man who’d come up from the South Island named Willie White, and he drew one of those ballot farms down at Argyle later on. But Willie really was the one who brought the good breeds with him. You’ve heard of MacKenzie, the sheep stealer’s dog? Now when the dog, [Friday], had been found guilty and was about to be executed, everyone was borrowing it and mating it with their bitches.
I can imagine!
Yeah, they wanted that good breed. Willie White brought the breed up to Hawke’s Bay. Because of my grandfather’s interest in dog-trialling, they became good mates, and so there was a lot of interbreeding that went into, you know, the establishment of what we call ‘the Lopdell breed’. Yeah. Now by 1908 while he was still on Mangaohane, I know he won the Centre Short-haired Championship with his dog, Vine the First, and she came through that White-MacKenzie breed. And just following through on that line, by very calculated breeding with well-performing sires all the way, he arrived at ‘wonder-dog’, Speed … Speed the First. Speed the First in 1930, won the North Island championship at Weber, out from Dannevirke, and really from there Leo’s reputation was made. Everyone was wanting to borrow Speed the First as well, you know?
I mean we have several trophies … I have the Gaisford trophy still at home he won on that occasion. Now at that point in history, there was no New Zealand championship. One year it’d be the North Island, the next year it’d be the South Island. And it wasn’t ‘til 1934 at Hawera that they decided that they’d have another run-off on the second day, for … say, the seven best-performed in the North Island … and they’d have a run-off the next day for the New Zealand championship. So the winner of the North Island wasn’t guaranteed to be the New Zealand champ at all, and often wasn’t. My grandfather took Speed over to Hawera and ran him, but Speed was getting long in the tooth by then and he didn’t quite pull it off. But – aftermath – since 2000 they decided to computerise the dog-trial results … you know, down through the ages, and Lopdell’s Speed was discovered to have been the most successful in the country. So the Lopdell breed has sort of achieved …
It would be more practical if we bought a dog that was more kindred to the farm.
Yeah, a working dog. Now Rex continued the Lopdell breed, and very successfully, as you probably know. I interviewed Rex while he was alive, to sort of get a bit more detail on it. So he was one of the ones who continued the Lopdell breed. Another one was Kevin O’Connor, and the chap Allen from Mangleton. Those are the three men that I know who continue the Lopdell breed.
Well this is why [chuckle] it cost twice or three times more than a King Charles spaniel would’ve …
It would have. And you know, something else you said there rings a bell with me. Mum had twin brothers, Ivan and Alan Lopdell who were both successful dog-trial men too. And I said to Alan one day, “What was the special quality of the Lopdell breed?” He said, “You always had a dog that would head its sheep.” It was a characteristic of it. And when you said ‘a good heading dog’ – yes.
I didn’t have to teach it.
No – that’s it. And Alan supports you in that comment. It was natural in them. Funnily enough, quite a few dog-trial men today don’t like the Lopdell breed for that very quality, because they find them a bit headstrong.
Yes, they can’t control it.
Yes, so it’s up to the man who’s running the dog, you know – in the end.
So, okay. Leo was at Mangaohane and about to marry my grandmother. She was a Kendall from Napier, and her father, George Kendall, was a marine engineer. Now he worked on the ‘Tangaroa’, [the] boat that went up to Wairoa, and on to Gisborne and so forth. And so he was the Kendall; Nana’s mother was a Wrightson … same Wrightsons as all these ones around here. And they came from County Durham, England. The Kendalls – from London.
When Airini learned that my grandfather was getting married, she sent him over a cloak as a wedding present, and I still have it today.
It’s a korowai … not kiwi feathers, but nevertheless still a cloak, and it’s one of the strongest associations between the Lopdells and the Donnellys. Three of that group of men-folk worked for GP. They were all Irish by background, and got on all right together sort of thing. And I am the owner of the Lindauer portrait of Airini Donnelly. I have it. I won’t go into all the circumstances behind that. More than anything I’m just indicating that there has been a long relationship between the Donnellys and the Lopdells, the Donnellys being the employers.
I know that after Leo married he came back down to Kaiwaka in the Esk Valley, and he was working there for the Dolbel Estate … the Dolbel brothers. I have Dolbel ancestry too, [but] I’ll wait to get to the Parsons side. Great-great-grandfather Parsons married the niece of old Phil Dolbel.
But anyway, so they were on Kaiwaka when Brian Lopdell was born, and when Mum was born. And then my grandfather moved – he worked for an obscure man by the name of Herman Lewis. Now to get to Herman Lewis’s property, you went over Maungaharuru, down to the Mohaka River, and you turned right into that Waitara Road. And in those days, of course, it was just a horse-track. [Speaking together] And I remember my grandmother saying to me when they moved there, “Nana wouldn’t go without her piano” … going up to the wop-wops, as they were.
Don’t blame her.
Yeah. Well, getting a piano [chuckles] … I know that they had to go down the Mohaka River following the Waitara Road to the junction with Te Hoe. And then they waded across the river and then into … Herman Lewis’s property was in there … sort of where Fletchers are and so forth.
[Speaking together] That’s interesting ‘cause that must be very close to the other family that farm that ..?
Yes. Yes, I know who you mean.
Haliburton. Now, on that occasion when the piano was being taken in – Mary Haliburton’s father was Roy Andrews, who lived up there in Te Wae Wae. I don’t know whether you noticed it on TV last night, on Country Calendar?
Yes, I did, yes.
Yeah, that was part of the Haliburton Estate.
Yes. No, I was watching it with great interest because I’ve interviewed most of the people in Putere …
Have you really? I love Putere – I like to just go there for a drive occasionally.
What happened was, my grandfather’s brother was Jack Lopdell, who married Annie King from Te Pohue. And he was the rabbiter up there, living in the rabbiter’s cottage down by the Mohaka River at the time when my grandparents were going up to Herman Lewis’s property.
With the piano?
Yes, with the piano. So they stayed overnight with Jack and Annie, and then in the morning Roy rode up the track, and they strapped the piano between two pack-horses, and I think Roy had Mum in front of him; Nana rode her own horse; and my grandfather Leo, had Brian in front of him on the horse. They went down the Waitara track, they crossed the river, and then they went into Hautapu … the name … you’ll know that river. And that’s where everything was, in there.
So they lived in there, not for terribly long – Herman Lewis went broke. As I say, I don’t know much about him – Mary Haliburton knew a bit. But he was an honourable man, and he left three months’ wages for Leo in a bank account in Napier so he wasn’t stuck, and then he did a runner, and vanishes from our history.
So Leo came back down and he got a job working for John McFarland here at Maraekakaho. And the property they were on was … you know how there are several of those big blocks there? They’d all come from Sir Donald McLean’s Estate. And so Leo – he had a five-year contract as manager of McFarland’s Ben Lomond – that’s the name of the property. And so that’s where Mum started school. She was born in 1911 and her brother was born in 1910. And they rode from Ben Lomond over what she described as – when she was a small child – ‘the mighty Maraekakaho River’, which is really just a trickle.
And they rode down to Maraekakaho to school there. And Mum loved her schoolteacher, Miss … Whoever, who married a local farmer in the area and left, sort of thing. But they remained there through the war flu. [Spanish flu pandemic 1918] One of the shepherds died of it. And Nana wasn’t going to have any of her children catching the war flu, and Mum said she blew sulphur dust down their throats … just about killed them. [Chuckle] Yes, the cure was worse than the complaint, sort of thing.
So the five-year contract came to an end. By then, Leo’s elder brother, Frank, had left Ohurakura, and he owned a farm in the Esk Valley. He married well. He married May Neill from Neill & Close – and I think they owned the Masonic, didn’t they, at that time?
And I think most of the money was May’s. But that bought the property, and it went from the Esk Valley, over the hills to Seafield Valley. And in the end, May moved into town – she was a bit crippled in later years – and she had an apartment somewhere on the beach front. I didn’t know her, but I knew Frank – Frank lived at … he called it ‘Highfields’, and it was in Seafield Road. And a property was coming up for sale. It belonged to Isaac McCain and it included a dairy farm, and it fronted on Whareponga. Now Whareponga is one of the bays in the Ahuriri Inner Harbour. And so Frank alerted Leo to the fact that this was coming up, and I think also contributed to the money for Leo to get a mortgage on it. And so in 1919 they moved to Seafield Road, Bay View, and that’s where Mum spent her growing years.
‘Course those days, the sea would’ve come right to the …
It was a paradise! So there they lived.
Now I’ve got to go careful on where the focus is here, because we haven’t even got to me at this stage, and I don’t know how relevant …
Everyone needs building blocks …
Yes, and I know them pretty well, too, which helps.
So Mum went to Eskdale School, as did the local children; Gordon Hart – he was on Wairoaiti where the whole family live today. There was Jim Fleming … still living. Jim is either ninety-seven or ninety-eight, lives in Waipuk [Waipukurau] now. But he lived at the property further up Seafield Road … Marshalls owned it. Marshall was a Gisborne man. But I know all of those people, all of those kids – they all rode to school together, you know, and where Mum was at Whareponga, they waited for Gordon Hart and the other ones to arrive – they were ready on horses – and they rode in convoy down to school.
Mum was there when the great flood happened. 1924? Yeah, and I know they couldn’t get home. They all slept overnight at school, and she described seeing the drowned stock floating over the tops of the fences down below them and so forth, and things of that nature. I still have one aunt living, and Mum lived to a hundred, and her younger sister is Lois Powdrell. Lois will be ninety-six next month.
Related to the Wairoa Powdrells?
By marriage … mm.
Yeah, or the Elsthorpe ones?
Do you know, we could start a whole new conversation here because my great-grandfather Parsons – his sister, Lizzie, married that Powdrell – the Opouahi ones. And so all of them are my cousins. Then Lois, Aunt Lois, she married into the Turiroa Powdrells and Powdrell’s Transport, you know, round here? Yes, so we’re very much interlinked, but I don’t have any Powdrell blood. Aunt’s children do.
Had to ask.
Yeah – that’s right. And that family … very long-lived. Mum was nearly a hundred and one when she passed away. Lois, who’s the baby, born 1923, she will be ninety-six next month. The twin brothers both passed ninety, Ivan and Alan. Brian, the eldest, the ‘weakling’, only reached eighty-eight. [Chuckles] But he lived a very good life; he was an accountant in Gisborne and retired back here to Napier, and really, until days before he died, was in quite good nick. You can’t ask for better than that at eighty-eight. And then there was Bon, another brother – he died at seventy-two, and he was another part of Leo’s [enter]prises.
The thing that saw Leo through the Depression, was the dairy herd that went with the Isaac McCain property. And it meant that the poor twin sons often stayed away from school milking the cows, or were late, you know, and so forth – got behind at school and so forth. But by the time the Depression ended and Leo sold the dairy herd, it was 1938. I know who bought it – it was the Dolbel family … bought it back. And by then he was up and running with his Aberdeen Angus stud. Retained very good relations with the MacFarland men – Will MacFarland from Waitahanui, and is it J H? The one who had Ben Lomond?
As a result, Leo was building up his stud herd of Aberdeen Anguses, which by the end of it, you know, in the generation of the sons, Bon and Alan, won the world award. I’m not saying it was the best stud, but it was the best bull on the occasion. And they used to have an Angus forum in various countries, and this particular year, about 1981, it was New Zealand’s turn. And all these international Angus breeders were actually shipping their bulls over for the occasion. And at that world forum – I know the name, ‘Diana’s Massive’ of Kohurau – that’s the line that this particular bull came through – but it won that award. And I have the trophy, which is a … it’s a bronze bull with a shepherd following behind it, done by a sculptor in Auckland. So they got the kudos, if you like, of the win, but then there was a sale of the bulls afterwards. And that same bull fetched top price, as well, so they got kudos plus money. And during the time that that stud thrived, it was on the mana [prestige] that came with all of that. So Leo – very highly respected in the farming fraternity, both through the Speed breed of dog-trial breed, and because of the Wharekoko Angus Stud as well. And I had a lot to do with that man as a boy, and he lived till I was eighteen, so the influence of Leo on me was high.
I went to Napier Boys’ High …
Were you in the Ag division, were you? Yes, yeah.
Yes. So we went to all these famous farms around – they’d line stock us up for us to judge and you know, talk to us about them. You never forget those things, Pat.
Well just hand me over the tape and I’ll interview you [chuckle] because when you put all of these crossing stories together, you get a much wider picture than you do by asking one person. And I think to myself, ‘if you were interviewing, say, my brother or my sister, you wouldn’t get all this.’ They don’t have that same depth of interest in it all. And that’s all right, you know, it’s just the way it goes.
So, coming down a generation from Leo, my mother – she had a very good earthquake story. I won’t go into it because it’s already been well-documented. But she was working in Napier. Her previous boss was Mr Ratima. At the time of the ‘quake she was working for Tony … he was an Aussie. He was in real estate, I think he also did auctioneering, those sort of things … a well-liked man, and he actually leased land at Poraiti at the time where he grew spuds – I think dealt through Slaters. Anyway, the day of the ‘quake, Mum was in her building, where the Daily Telegraph building was in Napier, just along from Sainsbury, Logan there. Edwards … Tony Edwards, the boss – he was upstairs; Mum was on the lower floor when the ‘quake struck. And she said her first fear was that she would smother. She said all the mortar, you know, from the brick-work and all the rest of it – she said it created a very heavy dust. She managed to get under the beam of the doorway, which was a really solid beam, and she said that, you know, meant she wasn’t going to get sort of crushed. But she said by the time the first principal ‘quake stopped, the bricks had piled up literally to head-level. And as she said, sort of trying to drag herself up through the bricks before she choked … And she said when she managed to stand up, she said, you know, the town was lying flat around her, sort of thing. And she remembered Jim Fleming’s brother, Duncan, who was on a bike, riding up Tennyson Street somewhere, from the … what was the building that did survive? The one on the corner. Duncan had to pick up his bike and climb over the rocks, and he said when he arrived opposite Wever’s office, he said, “There she was, looking like the Alabaster Queen; pure white with dust!” [Chuckle] And so forth. Yes, the Alabaster Queen, she was pure white.
Okay, that was 1931. Mum had already met my father by then, Jack Parsons, raised at Meeanee. I know they did a lot of hay, they did grass seeds and they had sheep as well. Not a big property – you know, a hundred and eighty-six acres is what sticks in my head.
That leads us back to the man that came from which was Phil Parsons, the trout-man. Now Old John the Pioneer, he left Te Pohue at the time of the Hauhau movement, worried for the safety of his daughters in particular. The boys were well-trained up with rifles and so forth, and they were on the edge of that big bush, which meant that they could disappear quite easily into it. But old great-great-grandfather didn’t think it was a safe place for girls to be, so he leased one of the blocks down here from the Papakura [now known as Meeanee] Māori-owned blocks. Where is it today? You know all the fuss with the roundabout they’ve been making out there on the expressway? All right … you can turn off to the left to Pakowhai or you can go straight ahead down the freeway towards Hastings – now it’s in that triangle there, going right across to the river … Ngaruroro, currently. That was what John Parsons leased from the Tarehas, and it was a gold mine. He had his son, my great-grandfather, working with him – good farming practice, cropping and all the rest of it, and the lease was for … I think it was twenty-one years. And they could’ve either renewed or in some cases even purchased.
But, tragedy struck. My great-grandfather Sam Parsons, he purchased a block in Gisborne called Bushmere – I’m talking about say 1869, 1870. He had married Annie Roberts … or in correct terms, she was Ann Roberts [pronounced ‘Robare’]. She was a Jersey islander. Now Ann’s mother, Nancy, was the older sister of Phil Dolbel of Springfield and Redcliffe. She never came to New Zealand, she remained on Jersey. And her husband was Pierre Roberts … Brittany-Jersey Island stock, you know, they all spoke a French patois, they called it – sort of a slang.
But it was through Phil Dolbel, being an immigration officer here, and he had his immigration boat – this is how half of the town ended up being Jersey and Guernsey Islanders. He brought his … all his home people out. And Nancy Roberts, his sister, had six daughters, and he brought them all out in dribs and drabs.
My great-grandmother first, and she came out in 1864 and worked like a galley slave at Springfield. Phil Dolbel himself was fine. He was the bachelor one and he was the very successful one. But his brother Richard and wife … and she was a Jersey Islander … they were in Springfield too … and she wasn’t of quite so good a stock – ‘course they always make worse bosses if they’ve been no one – you know, they throw their weight around when they get the chance.
Yes. I had an uncle who managed a Redcliffe station for many, many years.
Is that right? Yes?
Yes, yes – Tiffle Davies.
Good dog-trial man himself.
I probably shouldn’t mention the next bit, but it’s part of the story, too. The Māori chief across the river from Springfield and Omarunui was Paora Kaiwhata, and he was the principal chief of the Hinepare tribe … a great admirer of my great-grandmother. She was a handsome woman and she was a good horse-woman, and the chief offered Phil Dolbel, Omarunui for her hand in marriage. I think Phil Dolbel was a bit horrified – a tattooed chief! And so when Samuel Parsons came on the scene from the property you know, close by, he encouraged his suit and in the end they married in 1868 at Springfield, and Uncle John, the first-born, was born while they were still here. And then he got the property up at Bushmere … Matawhero, in Gisborne, and they moved up there.
Now Springfield is owned by who today?
By Dolbel descendants. It’s actually in the process of being sub-divided now. They don’t need the cash – it’s the Todds … the wealthy Todds, and the Ocasees. Now they all come from Richard Dolbel, and the descent line is Doris Stock and her sister. She was Doris Dolbel – married a Stock, and she had two children that I know of – Beverley is Mrs Todd – she’s still alive, and Jacquie, who’s just died recently – she was Mrs Ocasee.
‘Cause Stock was the man who started the sale yards at Hastings, wasn’t he?
I think so, yes.
And built the hotel?
Right – that’s the family. And then Doris had a sister, Lila … Lila Hannah, and there are the owners of Springfield. [Shows photo] Now they’ve enjoyed that benefit right down through the ages. Doris passed away; Lila passed away years before her; and now it’s the next generation down. Jacquie Ocasee has died, and Beverley’s children – they’re involved, too. But they’re going through the process of surveying Springfield, with the intention it’s going to be divided … I don’t know, lifestyle blocks or whatever. So they’re not close cousins to me at all, but we all do … Do you know, if you go along the whole of that hill line to the west of Taradale and on the Puketitiri Road and all the rest of it, we all have an underground connection by genealogy – the Alexanders, the Trains, the Dolbels, the Pedersens, the Cods, the Parsons – most people have no idea, and yet we are all related. It’s not even a relationship that we do more than pay lip-service to … [speaking together] we never get together or anything like that. But nevertheless, they all have that Dolbel strain in their whakapapa.
Now, getting back to Gisborne, my grandmother said to me many years later, “It was often said that Samuel Parsons would have been the wealthiest of the lot of them. He was well on the road to success when tragedy struck.” Now in one of his diaries – I happen to have two of the diaries that have survived – 1872; 1873. And in the 1872 diary it says, on page whatever it is, ‘Cow calved this morning. Wife had son this afternoon.’ Got the priorities right! [Chuckle] And that was Phil … Phil Dolbel, born in 1872 there, at Matawhero. And then, I said tragedy struck.
A stroppy little Jersey bull on the property turned on Samuel – must’ve caught him unawares or something or other – and it didn’t kill him outright or anything, but I think the horn may’ve got up under his ribcage, and over time … like about six months … it turned to TB. He came back down to Napier with the family, and all but one of the children were born there – one posthumously – and they were staying at Springfield with Phil Dolbel while he got his affairs in order … will etcetera; photographs by Carnell – nothing was left to chance. And then they were going to go back up to Gisborne on the ‘Tangaroa’, and he was at the mirror in the hall at Springfield, straightening his tie, and he dropped dead. And so he’s buried in the Taradale Cemetery near the Dolbels and so forth. And so my great-grandmother was left a widow with seven children, one yet to be born – Auntie Nell was born in 1879, a few months after great-grandfather died.
And then she came back down to Napier; pretty well looked after by Phil Dolbel, but also by her husband’s will. And he had left the trustees, his two brothers – Willie Parsons from Waitotara near Wanganui, who became a very wealthy man – and the brother Thomas – he had a farm at Manaia, out Taranaki way. Now what those men did was, they invested the money from their stake in a dairy farm over there. And Grandma Parsons … Great-Grandma … she got an annuity from it, which kept her going right through from 1880-something, until she died in 1941, aged ninety-three. Her homestead was on Coote Road, right opposite the playing fields of Napier Girls’ High, and she lived there. And as her sisters’ husbands died off they came and joined her as well. Auntie Jane Nicol was a younger sister who lived with her; Auntie Lottie Simon was another one who lived with her. And then next door, was Auntie Ellen Newbold. Now her daughter was still running a colour-therapy place there until very recently, and died in the nineties. I don’t know if I can remember her name – it’s irrelevant, but they had a little Jersey island cluster and spoke that patois amongst themselves if they didn’t [want] anyone else to know what they were saying, and so forth. But there they were.
Now she was Dad’s grandmother. And I was very lucky – I interviewed one of the cousins, an old cousin, about the Meeanee years. Her name was Joan Bennie; she lived in Waipukurau … Hatuma. But she said she regarded my grandmother, Phil Parson’s wife, as her mother. She said her own mother wasn’t at all maternal, and she said every weekend she could, she used to cycle out to Meeanee to stay with Auntie Jeannie and Uncle Phil. And she talked about when it came to Christmas time, because Phil Parsons was a wonderful vegetable gardener. And the French aunts and his mother and so forth would come down, reminding me a bit of the ‘three witches’ sort of thing in ‘Macbeth’. Apparently as they peeled the peas … prepared all the vegetables, they were singing old French folk songs.
Is that right?
I can just imagine them …
Yes, I can.
… stirring the pot and doing all the rest of it, and it was very much the scene, and that was how things were.
Phil, of course, kept getting flooded out, and his grass-seed was getting ruined, so what to do about that? He always promised himself, if he could, he’d get a place anywhere on a hill. And then, just coming into the Depression, rich Uncle Willie died at Waitotara. He’d had no contact with him whatsoever, and out of left field, received an inheritance of £3,000, from a man he didn’t know. And of course, coming into the Depression, it gave it extra buying power. And that’s where Poraiti came from.
Now, why did he choose Poraiti? He married in 1899, Jeannie Benson. Now Jeannie’s father, like the Lopdell grandmother’s father, was a marine engineer. He worked on the ‘Tangaroa’, forty years without a day off. Old John Benson … and lived up on 65th Street, up on the hill. I won’t go into him now, but I’ve got him well-taped as well from the same lady who was talking about the peas down at [chuckle] Meeanee.
So Phil married Jeannie Benson, 1899. And he got the lease of a small block at Poraiti. It belonged in later days to Mason Waterworth. Who did he lease from? Peter Erikson owned the property at that stage, and Phil and Jeannie were only there perhaps two or three years? I know my oldest aunt, Mita, was born while they were there. So was my Mai … Mita Hinemoa; Eleanor Annie Mai. I’d have liked a bit of Māori blood and we never found any, but in those days it was quite fashionable to throw in those names.
Now he got a better house over on the Puketapu side of the property, where the Turiroa Swamp is, sort of thing, on that side. And I know he went to his great-uncle Phil Dolbel, to ask if he would assist him financially to getting into this piece at Meeanee. And Phil Dolbel wouldn’t lend him the money. He said, “No, I’m not going to loan you money to get into a place that gets flooded out every second flood.” And of course he was right. But Phil Parsons went ahead anyway. I’m pretty certain he purchased from Bedingfield – more than that I don’t know – 1904. And they were there for quite some years before the boys were born. There were two girls, who I’ve mentioned, born up at Puketapu end, and the two boys, Sam Parsons … [interrupted by phone call]
It came to the question of flooding at Meeanee. This inheritance arrives from Uncle Willie – against whom we won’t hear a word spoken. [Chuckle]
Now, my grandfather was already hooked on trout-fishing. He had a cousin, Joe Edmondson, who worked for one of the gas companies in town here, and Joe had purchased a section from the Clark estate in Taupo. It was on the beach-front, pretty close to where Rifle Range Road leaves the beach-front, just on the Napier side of that corner. Anyway, Phil got his priorities right – we had to have the bach at Taupo before anything else – so he purchased the next-door section to Joe Edmondson. Joe’s two-storyed house – I don’t know that it’s not still there. And we had a much more modest bach, probably shifted onto there from one of the neighbouring properties. And that happened, I would say, 1927ish? And it was after that, that he looked at this property at Poraiti. It had come from Angus Beveridge Carmichael … his Estate, and I think he was a Puketitiri man. We’re talking about, say, three hundred and twenty-five acres.
Anyway, by the time he was ready to negotiate a purchase, the property was in the hands of AVS Reed of Brooklands Station, who went broke but was married into the Williams family, which gave him a second wind. So if you look at the transactions, my grandfather – it would appear on the surface he’s purchasing from AVS Reed, but actually all of the documentation survives in Sainsbury Logan, if you’re able to get through and read it – and it had reverted to the Angus Beveridge Carmichael Estate through non-payment of … etcetera, etcetera. So that’s technically who we purchased from, and the purchase date is 1934 – the same year Phil Parsons’s wife died of breast cancer … Uncle [Aunt] Jeannie from Meeanee.
So there was the situation going through the 1930s. We already owned that piece at Poraiti, and my grandfather’s thinking was that Uncle Sam would get Meeanee, and the younger son would get Poraiti. And there was a lot of gorse on it … still is, and you know, the men-folk were up there grubbing it up and doing the best they could, and so forth. I think my grandfather also liked it for its duck-shooting qualities. There’s the lake off Rotowhenua Road, [speaking together] and also there was a lake just down in front of the house we rented there, which belonged to Joe Eddy. And when my parents married, they took up a seven-year lease of Joe Eddy’s homestead, which had been knocked around a bit in the ‘quake but was still liveable. It was actually quite palatial. And Mum and Dad married in 1937 … Eskdale Church … and went to live there.
My grandfather, Parson’s Glory – he sort of shared himself around amongst the children and the bach at Taupo. And Mum said he was a great blessing to them because she said, although he was getting on in years, we always had the best vegetable garden by far in town. And he also planted more for Slaters and so forth; for the war effort etcetera. And Mum said, you know, a lot of her memories of him … he was getting quite deaf, but he loved working in the vegetable garden. And she said he’d break off and have a siesta, and then he’d get back in the garden again. And he did the same down at Meeanee, and he went up to Taupo and fished in the season and so forth.
One daughter, Mita, married Walter Deane and they had [a] dairy farm at Te Awamutu, and then the second daughter, Mai, married Lumsden MacGregor and he was working for the equivalent of Port Napier of the time on ferry boats and this, that and the other. And they lived in Harvey Road in Napier.
So – now we’re getting closer to me. The first-born of my family is my sister, Kerry, born in 1938, and she has just turned eighty, and … born at McHardy Home, but went home to Poraiti. So her early years were at Poraiti. So were mine. I was born 1st of November, 1942. I think there was a miscarriage between Kerry and me. She’s nearly five years older. But I was born at the other place – not McHardy, there was one in – not Wellesley Road, was it? On the flat, anyway. Well apparently I was born there, and then went home to Poraiti. So my early years … not my memories, because I was two when that lease expired and Joe Eddy wanted the place back. He was a duck-shooter, too.
What were the characteristics of the baby Patrick? Mum said I had this unique ability to get out of my cot, and they never ever saw me actually do it. And she said I was doing it at ten months, and she said I would come out with a guilty look on my face and peep around the corner sort of thing … “Get back to your bed!” And I was able to get in before they got there to see how. [Speaking together]
Is that right?
Yes. And my sister – her main characteristic was, she used to wander off around the farm. She’d let off one of the dogs as a very small girl … wasn’t afraid of being on her own at all … almost sort of led away. So we were the only two who were born at Poraiti. And then at the end of 1944, Mum was expecting my younger brother Mike, who was born in 1945. And they had an old whare on the back of the property, but it was only a biggish one-room place, and there wasn’t going to be enough room. And with a new baby coming, Leo Lopdell and wife took me as a two-year-old. And so I lived with them from two until five, [years] and bonded with them. In fact, they were much more my parents than Mum and Dad were.
See – that was very much the Māori way, wasn’t it?
Yes. Yes, it was, that’s right. And so I had all that time with them, bonded with them, and it also meant too, that right through my school years I spent all my holidays with my grandparents. And Leo would go up to Poraiti … Mum would pack my suitcase, and then he’d come down to Taradale School, and at three o’clock I walked out of school and there was my grandfather, waiting. I’d spend the May holidays, the August holidays, the Christmas holidays, to a degree that my sister and brother never did. They did stay over there on and off. And the one concession was that they brought me over to Poraiti each Sunday to visit my parents, and we’d have afternoon tea there and then I’d go back to Seafield Road. But to all intents and purposes, I was raised by grandparents – and interesting grandparents, too. Of the two, Leo was much more the hands-on man. He was a gregarious man, he liked company … very generous to the young farmers around about with advice and so forth; employed Māori on the property. And my grandmother, who was born Ethel Constance Kendall – she was the equivalent of an accountant by training, but by description in those days, because she wasn’t a qualified accountant, she always said, “I did the books for Beechams”. Now Beechams I think were drapers in the main street in Napier at the time. But it meant that Leo had an excellent book-keeper, and all his books and accounts and payments – I’ve got them all. I can see who they employed and how much they paid and all the rest of it.
What do I remember of Nana, first? Nana was an austere sort of person. Mum often said to me,”Your grandmother would’ve been quite happy married to your grandfather and no kids at all.” He was the light of her eyes, sort of thing, and the kids, you know, were … they occurred along the way. But my memories of Nana – never maternal; I don’t ever remember her hugging and kissing me, not like you might expect a grandparent to do, but who took care of our physical needs … excellent, excellent cook; excellent gardener; and I remember she was also a very accomplished person. She played the violin; she played the piano; in the evenings, she would put the dinner on, change her dress, and sit down at the piano with her willing audience of one. And she used to play through until the dinner was ready. And I also go far back enough to remember her with her pedestal, playing the violin, and she abandoned that when I was reasonably young, but she played the piano, you know … well on.
Do you play those instruments?
Ah … I’m musical, but the guitar, I play. At that stage, we still lived in what they called ‘the old house’, which was Isaac McCain’s, and in 1952, they built the new house which is up on the hillside, across the road, still in Seafield Road, and we moved up there. And that’s where Leo and Nana Birdie lived for the rest of their lives, and that’s where I spent all my holidays, at least ‘til I was seventeen.
And really, a lot of what led to me into Māori history came from Leo, because he leased Māori land, particularly up at Tangoio. And he used to call in and see his landlord. And he was a hands-on granddad – I said, he took me everywhere with him. I was never left at home. I was like his pet, his companion, sort of thing. I was immersed in Leo’s activities. Now he attended all the sports – I remember going to what we Europeans called Pukahu – Māori, Pukahu [different pronunciation] – Sports; Puketapu Sports; the Bay View Sports – Leo would run dogs there. Nana had this great wicker basket full of food; we were very much in demand – all sorts came and joined us for lunch, and so forth. But that was my life as a young boy, and you see various photos where we were taken at these Sports, and where Leo was still winning dog-trial trophies; so were his sons, and so forth – I mention it as a way of life – this is what we did.
So where did you go to school … when did you start school?
Right. 1947, my father – he purchased another whare from a Māori family at Wharerangi. They had built it, but then chose to live at Whakatu. And it belonged to the Nikera family. Now he bought that, and with horse and sledge he shipped it over to where I live right now. And then they did the same thing with the whare on the back of the property where my brother and sister were living – you know, while I was over at Seafield. And so he got Arthur Stafford, the builder, and the two whares were sitting on the site for the house, not joined together. He said, “I want you to build a link between them all, and we’ll have this, and we’ll have that.” That’s my house today.
I knew Arthur Stafford … a lovely gentleman.
He was – well he actually built our homestead.
Now the Nikeras – they came from Waipatu?
Yes. Yes, correct. Old Beattie, who I knew well, she was a Manaina, and she married Joe Nikera. And of course the fact was that Dad missed the war boom – he’d sold his lands before it happened, you know – weeks. And so there was no money, and this is why we … you know, I mean my house is still not insulated today. But nevertheless, I know which part of us is the Nikera piece, etcetera, etcetera. Now that house was ready to occupy only weeks before my fifth birthday.
And so, from being the only star in the heavens at Seafield Road, I came back to parents, and it was a hell of a shock. I didn’t know my parents; they didn’t know me – we weren’t bonded. And my sister and my brother would’ve thought the same. And so I started school in November 1947 from Poraiti, my sister and I – she’d already been going to school.
Was there a school at Poraiti?
No, it was Taradale … Taradale and Puketapu. And we walked from our house up to the corner of Poraiti Road where we caught the school bus, and it went inland to Brooklands Station, picked up Sir Lew Harris … yeah, it was Sir Lew Harris’ daughter, Deirdre, the handicapped one. I don’t remember any Cods. But for example Carlene … Carlene Pedersen is my age and she wasn’t living there. Robbie Cod and those I think are younger than me. Anyway, we picked up the Cottrell kids – Bob Cottrell’s children, and I won’t go into who else we did, but we got back to Puketapu. We weren’t allowed to go to Puketapu [School] … I don’t think my parents thought it was educational. Probably too, there were Māori kids there – I don’t know what they thought. But it was a long day for me, because that bus then carried around Springfield Road, passed the electricity place there, came round the EIT into Taradale School, where we got off. And some of the children on that bus were intermediate age, so they stayed on board and went into the Intermediate in Napier – longer day still for them. And in the afternoons, the bus picked us up from Taradale School and we retreated.
Tell you one funny story – I will keep the name of the driver out of this. But when we got to Puketapu each afternoon, the driver would stop and mutter something about the mail. And you can guess what he was doing – he was going and having a tot of whisky with the barman from the Puketapu pub. We, the unjudgmental passengers, sat and waited for him to return, and on he went, you know, able to face the rest of the bus trip, I suppose. I have named him in my personal memoirs, but … it wouldn’t bother me at all, but it bothers other members of the family, you know, because the daughter of the bus driver is married somewhere out there and she mightn’t like it. But I just said, “that’s how it was.”
And so that’s how I started. We were still on that bus trip when my brother started school, because I know one day when we got back, Kerry and I hopped off the bus, forgot about him completely – he was asleep, apparently, and it wasn’t ‘til the bus had driven off … my mother was horrified. [Chuckle] And I would say by about 1950 or ’51 we got a direct Poraiti bus. It came up and took us down past the Mission vineyards. I always remembered watching the priests marching down to the gate for their daily constitutional … sort of wondering about them, they looked a bit different in their black costumes and so forth … and we went on down to Taradale School. And that was my life until the end of 1955.
Another tragedy … 1954, my father was killed in a car accident. And that was a hell of a shock, and with ongoing repercussions of one sort and another. My grandfather came straight over and got me and my younger brother. Funny things that, you know, in those days weren’t part of the equation at all, but we never went to his funeral, my brother and I. And an aunt, Bon’s wife over at Seafield Road – we were dumped off on her for the day. So, I had no concept that my father would never come back – absolutely none. All it was … it was a very sort of depressed sort of time.
My mother was wonderful – you know, she held us together through thick and thin. And there was some thin, because we’d got death duties from Phil when he died, still not paid off. And then we got a double-whammy with Dad. And one or two neighbours who had coveted our property were just waiting for us to fall over. And really, thanks to my grandfather Leo Lopdell, in particular – he made sure that we didn’t lose that property.
And that continuity is kept, because you still live there.
It’s why I’m still there today … exactly. So the end result of all that was, Mum was doing farm work. She had an old Māori chap, Kotu, from Moteo – he used to bike across with a slasher and he was cutting gorse and all the rest of it, and even doing fencing. I can remember as a boy of twelve, when I got home from school I’d wander down and find where Mum was sort of thing, and go and join them sort of thing and come back with her at the end of the day. And so it went on, with a succession of poorly-paid shepherds and so forth. But the bottom line was, we didn’t lose Poraiti, much to Mum’s credit, and Leo’s as the backer, if you like.
When I was at Taradale School, my father died when I was in Form 1. And there was no cricket at that school, but there were tennis courts, so we played tennis … tennis and bullrush. And they did have a rugby team – really, the strong sport at Taradale School was Tom Harvey and swimming. We all learned to swim well. And I did the booklet for their jubilee a while ago, and I wrote up Tom well because I remembered all of that. And no one left Form 2 at Taradale not able to swim, and not only that but they were better than average. One of our boys, Kerry Anderson, became the Napier Boys’ High School champion thanks to Tom’s coaching. I think Kerry went on to become Hawke’s Bay champion, as well …
… you know – that sort of input. Ken Riggs, who died just the other day – I went to his funeral. He used to come out with a racquet and play with us boys; so did Hec McLean, another teacher, and Tom. And d’you know, for a young boy, it was quite special that the teachers bothered. And so we used to play with the staff. And d’you know, I developed an affinity for that sport straight off. I can remember myself at home, just hitting the ball against the car-shed door. And the following year, my Form 2 year, we were divided into teams … there was Blue House, Red House and so forth. And by the time it came to the inter-team competitions, I was up and running, and I beat all three of the opposition ones. And Blue House won the … whatever! Then they had the School Championships after that, and I won that as well, which gave me some status. I remember Tom Harvey calling me over later, and just saying, “Well done,” you know, and it meant a lot after what we’d just been through. But it also started a lifelong tennis career for me as well, and you know, I could entertain you for an hour on that alone. But there were two prizes for winning that Championship – Greendale Tennis Club offered me a year’s sub to get me in the door, and there was also a little Maltese Cross medallion, you know, to pin on your … I’ve still got that as well, from 1955.
And then [I] moved on to Napier Boys’ High the following year, 1956. And to get there I caught one bus down to Taradale, then changed and got another bus into Napier Boys’. In those early times you couldn’t even go along Kennedy Road – it hadn’t been developed. We went along Old Taradale Road, must’ve turned across by Tom Parker … somewhere there; Nuffield Avenue, and around to Boys’ High via that route. And then later on, the other roads were developed.
And my head prefect there was Brian Otter, who lived at the foot of the Wharerangi Hill at the time. I didn’t know him – they were pretty remote, head prefects in those days, but he was the head prefect when I first got there. So I went through Napier Boys’. The frustration there was that being bus-boys, we arrived virtually on the nine o’clock bell, and you never got to rub shoulders with the other boys, and therefore you didn’t get matey with your schoolmates. They were in your class, but you had no opportunity to sort of interact with them outside. And that was the pattern in the afternoons as well – three o’clock bell, we had to rush straight up to the bus, no mucking around, you know – five minutes and away. And that was my life right through high school. As a result, any mates I had were from Taradale … usually ones I’d known at Taradale [School], or there were one or two boys at Poraiti, not many.
To cut a long story short there, I accidentally won the Senior Tennis Championship at Napier Boys’. Well, I say it this way – that it was in the Fifth Form, and I wasn’t the top seed. There was a boy there called Peter Roberts who was a better-coached player than me. From memory, he got an attack of nerves in the final, and I pushed past him. [Chuckle] So I won the Senior Championship that year, and then had to go through the nightmare … you’d have experienced this, I suppose … the presentation for all this stuff was usually in the Municipal Theatre. You know, it was pretty overwhelming for me. The Senior Champion had to walk onto the stage, and then someone shouted, “School stand! Three cheers for the Senior Champion!” And [chuckle] … which way to turn a spotlight. But d’you know, I noticed too the effect that winning that title had in my last year at school – it gave you just a bit of standing which you hadn’t had before. No question of a bus-boy becoming a prefect. We weren’t well-known enough to be voted in, unless you were in the First XI or First XV … one or two of them were. We certainly didn’t want to be, but that was [the] situation, but I noticed just around school, I carried, you know, that mantle of ‘Senior Tennis Champion’, which I lost to the boy Roberts the following year. He made sure he didn’t lose it again, sort of thing. [Chuckle] And on the cup was Bob Cottrell’s name from Wharerangi … way back in his day, he’d won it.
What to do for a career? I could’ve done just about anything in those days. The number of jobs advertised in the paper was enormous! Hugh Henderson was the boss. I actually planned to leave at the end of the Fifth Form, with Mum sort of half-persuading – you know, she needed a shepherd on the place, sort of thing. I never did the Ag [Agriculture] course. I was meant to, and I had this silly idea in my head that the Ag boys couldn’t get into the top classes, and I didn’t want that. I changed course without telling my mother – to professional … French! French, if you please! You know, accounting or something commercial would’ve been more sensible. But it was weeks before I told her, and you know, she was a bit startled, but so be it. Yes, so I went through – and also too, had an affinity for French language. I got University Entrance in it. Yeah, and I wasn’t the ideal scholar. I wasn’t raised in a professional family. No particular value was placed on education … it was something you got at school.
You must’ve had some good role models though, from your mother and your grandparents?
Nothing that was visible – not in the sense of Mum sitting and saying “Do your homework!” or anything like that. [She was] much more diligent with my younger brother – much more. I was reasonably able, but I could’ve achieved a hell of a lot better if I’d had better study habits – that’s what I’m saying. And I remember in my Sixth Form year it was patently obvious by mid-year, I was not going to get accredited. And I thought, ‘Well, to get it otherwise you’ve got to sit the thing, which is usually harder.’ And so, coming up to the end of year exams I took a four-day break, and I swotted day and night for four days. And I went along; I sat my exams; and I knew as soon as I’d sat I’d done enough to pass. And then I promptly forgot everything I’d learned in those four days. [Chuckle] It was not ideal, but that’s how it happened.
Now at the end of the Fifth Form Hugh Henderson learned that I was intending to leave, and he called me in to the office. Now I’d never ever talked to him before. Like head prefects, you know? A Principal was very remote – wondered what the hell I’d done wrong. And he called me in and he said, “Parsons,” he said “I’d like you to take home this Rotarian magazine and read the cover story, and come back and see me.” So I walked out with the Rotarian, and on it the cover was, “Are You Selling Yourself Short?” That was the thrust of the article. So I read it, and I told Mum what’d happened. And I went back and saw him, and I said, “Mum said I can stay for another year”. And so that’s how I got to be there for the Sixth Form year.
Henderson was a giant … quite an intimidating sort of a man for a young boy. [Speaking together]
For his size, yes.
Yeah, purely by the size. Hugh Henderson … very good sporting record in his own right, and a lot of qualities that a boy would look up to. Yeah.
So, I remember applying for a job in one of the shipping lines and getting it. I remember Murray Roberts, where I applied for a job and got it as well, but I changed my mind because I was going to go back, you know, to school, so none of those things eventuated. And then some of my mates were looking at going to Teachers’ College, and for no better reason than that, I too applied to go to Teachers’ College, not because I had any great leaning in that direction. If I had had been advised by someone, I certainly wouldn’t have gone teaching. But I guess it’s the way the world pans out, and it led to what I was able at in the end. And so I went up to Ardmore; I had the two years up there; came back to Napier. My PA year I did at Greenmeadows School, and graduated … not well, but graduated.
And then I went through a period where I didn’t really want to be a teacher, and so I did relieving jobs; interesting ones because they put me out in the country. You know, if there was someone who was away for a course for three months, or if someone was ill for three months, I filled in. And it was all round Central Hawke’s Bay. I was at Takapau with … the Principal was Andy Noller there; I went down to Makotuku. I was the Acting Principal at about twenty-two, or whatever age I was – hardly knew what I was doing, sort of thing. And then I moved over to Wilder, just outside Wallingford, and so forth … the Principal had an appendicitis. When he came back, I went down to Porangahau – I stayed at the Duke of Edinburgh pub while I was down there.
It was very nice, and I enjoyed my time there as well. I used to play tennis with the locals at the weekend. And I got on fine with the Māori kids sort of thing, and so forth.
Then I came back up to Napier the following year, ’64. No, hang on – 1963 was my PA year; 1964 I was down there; I had my first OE [overseas experience]. 1965, I hopped on the ‘Orchades’, and I travelled to Europe – a very good trip in terms of where we went – Auckland to Sydney, Sydney to Melbourne, Melbourne to Adelaide, Adelaide to Perth … and then across to Colombo; Aden … sorry, Bombay first … Aden; went through the Suez Canal … I didn’t. I got on a bus and went into Cairo and to the Pyramids and so forth and then joined the ship at the other end. We went through the Straits of Messina between Sicily and Italy; landed at Barcelona; went around to Lisbon. I remember, you know, having a bit of a fright there – as you entered the River Tagus, I think the name is, Lisbon’s just inside the mouth. There was a sort of a tidal disturbance, and it was something to do with either the tide coming in from the sea or maybe the tide going out, but the boat lurched really heavily as it entered, and all the cutlery fell off the tables, etcetera, etcetera. But anyway, we had a night there in Lisbon and had a good wander around, and then landed at Tilbury Docks for London.
Now I envisage here in this interview stopping at a certain point and letting you pick me up at some later stage when it suits, you know, depending on how much time we’ve got here, and also how much steam I’ve got left in me as well.
Okay. It was a wonderful year to arrive in London – 1965. ‘England swings like a pendulum do …’
Oh yes, right.
‘… bobbies on bicycles, two by two’. [From ‘England Swings’, lyrics by Roger Miller, November 1965] It was the explosion of the British pop scene then.
Yes. The Beatles?
Oh, yes, very much … it was all happening … The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield … you name it, it was the capital of the world. And Mary Quant, with her design work and so forth … England was a lively country that year that I was there. [Voices in background] I was fearless. And for employment, I normally went through an employment agency. I didn’t teach at all – didn’t want to. So I got a job at a holiday camp … one of these ‘hi-de-hi!’ sort of places. I remember the name, it was Holimarine, and it was at Burnham-on-Sea over on the Bristol coast. And I had a very happy time there, you know – it was like being on holiday the whole time. And provided that you were prepared to mix in with whatever was needed, you know – all went very well, and I was. So for example, I ran bars as required, not only during the day but they used to have a dance upstairs, and I was quite happy to run the bar at night as well. Also they had a big swimming pool, and you needed, you know, pool attendants and lifeguards and all the rest of it – didn’t mind doing that, either. They provided accommodation for me, and in pretty modern flats and so forth. All my meals were in the restaurant.
And easy friendships as well, you know? In fact, one of the boys that I became friendly with then, Rod Speed, is still a mate of mine today, and two years ago I stayed with him and his wife. Rod had had an interesting career in his own right. He was a gifted sportsman, and he was picked up by the good sports school that was right down the road – Millfield … the exclusive Millfield. Really, if you had sporting talent and could get a scholarship in there – you were made. And Rod … shotput and hammer-throw were his specialities; good rugby player as well, First XV at Millfield. And so he went through the system very well, and went on to Oxford where he did a geography degree, which was a modest thing to be doing at Oxford. But there is something about Oxford … if you graduate, you then wait one year and you become an automatic MA [Master of Arts]. Now you can guess who picked up Rod straight away afterwards – Millfield. And his whole career was spent at Millfield. And the many times that I was in Europe later on I always went and stayed with him, and I had many guided tours of Millfield, you know – with a hippodrome if you were a promising horse-person. They had tennis coaching – most of the good tennis players of Britain came out of there – and any other sport you care to mention as well.
It was also interesting for the sort of people who were students, you know, the Prince of Abu Dhabi’s child …
I can imagine. Yes.
… Elizabeth Taylor’s kids were there, and all sorts, and anyone who was the son of a British sporting great – they were in there as well. Rather nice for a person like me on the outside, just to go … wander through with my mate and be introduced to this, that and the other, and go and watch what was happening here, there and everywhere. And he [Rod] has only retired really, say in about the last four years … he must be seventy …
And he’s been there all that time?
Yeah, he made a whole career out of it. Just the way the cookie crumbled, and yet, a modest lad from a modest family in Somerset. But he was just Johnny-on-the-spot.
Now while I was there, I had learned about my relatives in Ireland, which became special, because it’s special to see … so I wrote to them and I got a reply back saying, you know, “come on over”. And so I did go over, and they were living in considerable style. No one left at Athenry any more, but they were in the north. And Zelie Lopdell, who – she wasn’t even raised at the homestead in Athenry, that was Raheen Park – but her father had been, and so I was able to learn enough about the demise of the Lopdell family there to get a feel for where we sat, because we did fall victims to the Anglo-Irish, you know … the non-Catholic situation later in the piece.
There was a very famous pipe tune about Athenry, wasn’t there?
Yes, ‘The Fields of Athenry’? Yes, that’s the same town. So I went over out of the blue, not knowing the family, not knowing the background, and they picked me up in a … not a Rolls Royce, but the next level down …
It was a Bentley, I think. And they lived in Upperlands in County Derry, where Zelie, the Lopdell, had married into the Clark linen mill family. She was set up well and truly, I can tell you. While I stayed there, the week I was there, I was entertained more royally than I’ve ever known in my life! He had seven miles of salmon fishing rights on the River Bann. And so one day we went out with oarsmen, you know, as we were rowed up and down …
Done proper …
I never caught anything, even though I was Parson’s Glory’s grandson. And we went up on the moors and had picnic lunches …
… up there. And I’ll call her my Aunt … Zelie, she’s not that close … but she made me promise when I left Upperlands to go down to see Raheen Park. And so I did because she’d asked me to. And I caught the train down to Dublin, and then either a bus or a train on to Athenry, and I didn’t spend much time there at all. Basically I walked into the entrance to this park, which had a gate-house and all the rest of it, and went and knocked on the door. And to my great luck the owner was Thomas Kelly, a retired vet. He was an elderly man by then, married, no children, but he had purchased it directly from the Lopdell family way back in 1925. Now, me going in there with no understanding of what had happened and all the rest of it – I’d been told … Zelie was very circumspect, she didn’t … there was a bitterness there. She did have the one brother, Hugh, much later than herself and her sister. Her sister married into the Clarks as well … financially they did very well. And then the boy, Hugh, came along in 1901, several years after the girls, and of course the estate was to go to him. And he became the demise of everything.
The mother was a first cousin to the father – she was a Blake. The Irish Troubles were already in bloom by that stage, and her husband died far too early … Zelie’s father. There was the tragedy. Had he lived to his right age, what happened would not’ve. But he got TB; they took him to Switzerland and all over the place to try and save him. And then they came back to Southhampton, you know, the south coast of England, the summer coast – where he died. And the wife didn’t want to go back to Ireland because of the problems, you know, in their teething stages.
But the three children were all educated in England, around Southhampton, in that area, except for the boy, Hugh. He went to … it’s the smallest county in England and it’s north of London … it’ll probably come to me, it’s not mainstream of the story. But Hugh went to that particular school, and he came through and it was decided that he would go to Sandhurst; Lopdell, military and all the rest of it – even knowing that when he came of age he was entitled to go back to the homestead. What was happening in the meantime, it had been leased out, and she was getting revenue from it.
So Hugh got to Sandhurst, and as the boys do, used to go into London to entertain themselves. And it was there that he met a lady by the name of Mercia … oh, dear! Mercia – by reputation, a fledgling stage actress, and pretty easy on the eye – and Hugh fell for her hook, line and sinker. He graduated from Sandhurst which is on the outskirts of London anyway, and then he married her as soon as he turned twenty-one. That suited her fine – she was an older woman and so forth. And then as soon as he turned twenty-one he became Laird of Raheen … didn’t want to leave the bright lights. Certainly the wife didn’t; to go and live there. The mother had moved back briefly just prior to his turning twenty-one, and spent one … and you see in the paper she’s advertising for staff, setting it all up for the one son to return to the manor. Well, he never got there.
She got attacked – the mother – and told the chauffeur to drive straight on through. That worked and she got through all right. But by the time Zelie, the eldest daughter, was about to marry which was fairly soon afterwards, she didn’t hold the wedding at Athenry at all. She went back to her sister in England, and Zelie was married from there, and so, you know … weakening all our links.
And then Hugh started selling off bits and pieces. And the official explanation I was given was that absentee landlords, you know, had to either go back and occupy, or make it available for sale. And it wasn’t until I met that old vet who bought the property – he said, “Look”, he said, “that’s not quite how things happened.” He said, “The word around here was that he had a fancy lady in London with expensive tastes.” He said, “He wasn’t booted out of here”, he said, “I remember the pieces being sold … ten acres here, fifteen here. And then you’d see he was down in Nice, with wifey”, and so forth. And so this went on until he started mortgaging the bulk of the property, and then what really finished it off was he mortgaged the homestead. And there was no coming back. So gradually, and all before 1930, the money ran out. You can guess who ran out with the money – Mercia Peterson. They had no children.
And so that opened the door for the Kellys?
Yes, exactly – and everybody else. But that was happening on a wider scale. Now it would’ve never happened in the days of great-great-grandfather, the highly respected barrister, nor his son. But when it got down to the grandson’s level, and a military man, and arrogant and so forth …
The gate was opened …
Yes – he didn’t have the same respect as the father nor [or] the grandfather.
And so I, the historian, was left documenting this. It didn’t affect me directly, I haven’t lost my heritage links with there at all, but in terms of the landed estates – yes, those all went under that one weak man, and having no controls put on him.
You know, it’s a story that’s been told many times before in families, isn’t it?
Oh, true – how true.
Okay, well look. I think what I’d like to do is not leave it too long …
No, and we’ll pick up right from there.
Pat – the detail that you’ve got in your mind …
It’s the historian, eh? That’s what’s coming out – I’ve bothered.
You didn’t tell me that you’re a historian.
Well I knew you’d find out. [Chuckle]
[Break – interview continues next day]
You know, going back to that meeting with the two elderly … I’ll call them aunts, but they were second cousins or something or other like that. They were fairly circumspect in terms of how Raheen had been lost and so forth. But the way it was presented to me was that, you know, with the Anglo-Irish and Catholic problems that flared up during the First World War in particular, and straight after, that absentee landlords of which their younger brother was one living in London, were required to either come and take up occupation of their properties again with whatever that might mean, or make them available for sale. And I was led to believe that it was sort of like a forced sale by the government, and it wasn’t ‘til I went to Raheen and met old Thomas Kelly, just during the course of conversation this question came up again. And he looked at me a moment, and he said, “That’s not quite right”, he said, “I don’t know of any forced sales of the Lopdell family.” And I said, “Well … well how did it all go?” And he said … ha! “Well,” he said, “it was well known round here that he had an expensive lady in London.” Now he didn’t tell me that this boy had married her or anything like that. I knew nothing about her except ‘an expensive lady in London’. Then I was able to go back and start asking around.
And also that man, in the end he did have a son by a second wife, and then a daughter by a third one. So I was able to pick up from there. And what we actually did between us was, we reconstructed from both sides because there were things they hadn’t heard too, and I had been told, etcetera, etcetera.
So you got a pretty reasonable picture?
We did. And when the son died – he lived here in New Zealand – I was able to do quite a good eulogy for him, on the day, impromptu. Yes – he was with … Oh! One of the churches anyway, and fairly staunch. And the congregation mostly was within that faith, and I just … I introduced it by saying, “Most people here won’t know, but Tony Lopdell actually is the head of our family. He descends from the eldest branch.” Now even his children didn’t know that. So on it went from there, but I divert a bit.
The bottom line in all that story was that Hugh Lopdell, the youngest son and favoured person, he married the expensive lady from London, reputedly a bit part stage actress. She’d better have been good-looking [chuckle] to justify all this. But she seemed to have a real hold on him. And I know as soon as he was old enough to inherit, the sales started … [a] bit piecemeal at first, but then getting more serious. And you can see – I think it’s 1925 when he mortgages the big manor house, you kind of feel, ‘there’s no coming back from here’, because he’ll never generate enough income to do it. So by the time the money ran out – and Mercia ran out with it of course – there was nothing left by about 1930. He owned some sort of boarding house at Marble Arch in London where his poor mother lived as well. I think he had to provide to a degree for her. And I don’t need to take that story any further, it’s just the rediscovery of my own heritage. And I look at it this way – okay, my family was never going to inherit anything from Raheen itself. But they can’t take my heritage away from me. That’s the important part, and that’s why the historian in me pursued all that, because I wanted to find out what had happened. And I can go back … and I do, if I’m ever in Ireland these days, of course I go back to Athenry. And I can sing “The Fields of Athenry”, what’s more. [Chuckle]
You can’t play it on your pipes, can you?
No, I can play it on the guitar. [Chuckle]
It’s a beautiful song.
It is. And also the background to it is pretty wonderful as well. So I go back there, and in a very limited way the historians amongst the fraternity there, they know who I am. And I was invited to do a paper at their annual whatever – they have a heritage week and have various speakers. But, that was just when I was coming down with polymyalgia. I didn’t quite know what it was, and it got to the stage where I thought, ‘I’m going to go to the sleep at the wheel in one of my rental cars and write someone off!’ You know … rather it wasn’t me too, so I chose to come home instead.
Yes – so that was the origin of the Lopdells, and I’ve already talked to you about James Lopdell, great-grandfather. He struggled in the pioneer environment here. He was ill-prepared for it. I said to you … well-educated, as were the Parsons side as well, because we had solicitor ancestors on both sides. But … happiest on horseback. He belonged to just about anything military in Galway that was on horseback, and those were his mates; that was his life. And when he and his cousin William Robinson married the twin sisters Gunning, they were always going to be doing something that involved both of them. And so they [e]migrated out here … 1864 or 1865, I haven’t checked that for you yet. But they arrived here, and as I say, he was ill-prepared for colonial life. I understand that his father sent him out here with what they called a younger son’s portion, which was £3,000, and he ended up with a bait and livery stables in Napier where people could leave their horses when they came to town and so forth. It was never going to generate a fortune, and his partner in it did a runner – you know, sold it up in a clandestine manner while he was away. He seemed to get piecemeal work with General Cameron as a – what do you call it? A sort of a messenger, running backwards and forwards – and I think it was while he was away this happened.
And then he got involved in the Shamrock Hotel at Meeanee … right up on the beachfront there, that’s where the Shamrock was. And it doesn’t look as though he succeeded there, either. And as I’ve already talked to you about, he was a drover, particularly Richardson and Troutbeck, who were very good to him, and he was an excellent drover – I mean, born on horseback etcetera, etcetera.
And then with his greyhounds – he knew how to train a greyhound, believe me, and was winning things like £50 at some of the major meets.
That’s a lot of money those days.
It’d keep the family going! Better probably than the droving. [Chuckle] And he lived on to old age – he died, I think in 1921, and he was say, eighty-six years old; buried in the Taradale Cemetery in the Catholic section – wife, Sarah Gunning, was the Catholic; he was very Anglican, but he married her … Well – he married her in the Anglican Church in Dublin before they left. But Father Reignier didn’t recognise the marriage out here, so they were persuaded to marry a second time at Meeanee in the Catholic Church.
Yes, my father was christened by Father Reignier.
Look at our parallel histories! [Chuckle]
Yeah, so, the reluctant Catholic, I suppose he was. But my point is, he’s buried in the Catholic section. His wife pre-deceased him, I suppose … “Oh, bury me beside my wife”. And we had his … what? A hundred-and-something or other’th reunion in 2014. I know, I staged the whole thing – I wrote the booklet … everything, I was a one-man band – but it went off very well and they did turn up, which is all you can wish for.
And so … I’ve also taken you on, from memory, concerning my younger years, like when I lived with my grandparents. It was a hell of a culture shock when I came back to live with my parents aged five.
If I can just talk a little bit further about Philip Parsons, the trout-man, because I don’t think we talked about the trout-fly part of it. He was a widower from 1934, the same year he bought Poraiti. Jeannie, my grandmother, had breast cancer at a time when they couldn’t do much about it, so she passed away. And from then to 1942, the year I was born, he lived sometimes at Meeanee with Uncle Sam, the elder uncle; sometimes at Poraiti with Mum and Dad; sometimes with the daughters; but always the trout season at Taupo. And I told you how he bought a section from the Clark Estate and put a bach on it, which I remember as a boy – that’s where we had our summer holidays. And his cousin – I say Joe Edmondson was the cousin – Joe was married to a cousin of his; lived next door. They were good fishing buddies. If I was to name one or two that come to mind … Northcroft, the old Māori chap from Waitahanui … very old chap in the end. Well, the father and my grandfather were good fishing buddies. And he used to come up to the Terraces Hotel – that’s where he camped in those days – before he got the bach, that was – and he used to [go] up to Waitahanui. He was a picket-fence man. And is it the Hinemaiaia Stream?
That was another favoured spot of his as well. And basically, what he was doing was experimenting with his trout-flies, just trying to find something that worked. And Parson’s Glory is not the only one – there was the Rabbit, and there was Dorothy ….
Very similar, but different.
Yes. Dorothy in person – she was a fishing mate of his, too. I don’t quite know where she came from. Either Palmerston … Wanganui … down that end. But someone met her years later, still fishing in the Waikato, and talked to her, and she said, “Yes”, she said, “I knew Phil Parsons when he was …” what’s the word? “Perfecting his trout-flies”. So in the end it ended up with the Parson’s Glory.
And I remember Uncle Sam talking it through with me – fortunately, I’ve got this written down – but I think he dyed the trace with Condy’s Crystals [potassium permanganate] to make it more water-coloured or something or other like this. There was the feather from the jungle-cock … the Malaysian jungle-cock … those were the two wings; either a silver wine dot [chicken] or a barred rock rooster feather gave that other … You’ll know this better than I do, just what was in there.
Yeah, I’ve used them for fifty years.
Yeah, yeah! Well, in the end, people were starting to copy it. And there was someone who sold fishing tackle and so forth in Taupo at the time – this name won’t come to me so easily. But they approached Phil and said would he mind if they copied it and marketed it. Now he was only too happy … he was that kind of man. If people found it worked, he was happy for them to have it. Put no restrictions on it, there was no copyright in those days, sort of thing. So that company then manufactured them. And I think it’s through that, probably, and also some modifications still to the original Parson’s Glory … subtle, but there. And that’s more or less what’s trickled down to this day. All we have from it, I guess, is the reputation that sort of went with it.
The biggest fish he ever caught, he was right off the end of the main street of Taupo … just in the lake there. And word got round that Mr Parsons had hooked a big one! And they went down to watch him bringing it in. And it took him a long time to play it, apparently, it was quite a strong thing. And finally he landed it. It was fifteen and a half pounds.
Well, it was in those days. I mean I’ve seen mounted ones that are over twenty [pounds]. But in those days, and the way it was done and so forth, fifteen and a half pounds was a handsome fish. And we have a photograph of him with his fishing buddy Jimmy Ross, who had a sport shop in Napier. Now he made the Tiger Ross fly. I think today they call it Taupo Tiger. Does that sound right?
Yeah. I don’t know too much else of Jimmy Ross than that. I don’t know whether he’s got any descendants …
I wouldn’t even know where his shop was.
No … Hastings Street.
I like the more quieter places.
Well you see, that was my grandfather as well. I don’t know that he fished Tauranga, Taupo, down that way further. I interviewed Uncle Sam about six weeks before his stroke, and I got this all written down from his memories. And he made me tie one – oh my God! Did it sag on one side [chuckle] – and he took one look and he said contemptuously, “For hell’s sake – show them the other side!” [Chuckle]
At least you tied one.
Well, I did. Coming from a background of never having tied a fly, nor seen one tied. But Sam knew, you know – that was his world.
So there’s the background, and if you read in various other trout-fishing books that it was tied by an ‘English Parson’ or by someone from Raglan or up that way – that’s my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Charlie. He lived up there; he had nothing to do with the tying of the fly. And I guess someone interviewing someone, they got the …
I’ve got a big framed picture of a Parson’s Glory.
Oh, have you?
And if I was harling, I’d have a Parson’s Glory on the end.
If your house is anything like mine – I’m a hoarder historian. And when I happen to pick up the right pile it’s amazing what I find! [Chuckle]
I’m not going to have room in my casket for my shotguns and all my fishing gear! I wonder whether I should have an additional casket …
[Chuckle] I think that’d be quite appropriate. [Chuckle] I think like you … I do. There are certain things … I went through a ceremony the day before yesterday with the EIT, [Eastern Institute of Technology], starting the handover of what I call the Blake … Māori Land Court Interpreter’s records, because I’ve ended up the de facto trustee for a whole bunch of them. And really, what we handed over the other day was just ceremonial. As it turned out, I had them in three packs. And the Māori chap on the marae was talking about three baskets of knowledge, and I said, “Hey – this is quite coincidental – I wasn’t thinking baskets of knowledge at all!” [Chuckle]
Are these the Blakes of Mahia?
No, it’s not. These Blakes here – d’you remember old Jack Blake, [from] Tourist Kelt?
John was a very close friend of mine.
That’s right. It’s his grandfather, J T, [John Thomas] who was the writer of all these. Vivienne brought over – she was there – she brought the portrait of J T Blake, and we had it on display. And I have another portrait by the same artist, which belongs to the Blake family, so we had two portraits on display on the occasion – just dignifying the occasion.
It was sad that the Blake family were going to disappear, because there’s no records, they were dominated by the Kelt family …
I wrote the biography of J T Blake for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. It’s there, in Volume 3. That’s of the old interpreter, Jack Blake’s father. You can interview me – I know his life really well. I knew his daughter, Kathleen Scott, and spent a lot of time with her. Jack Blake’s daughter is still alive – Margaret Roberts. She’s ninety next month, and I’ve talked to her … but Kathleen in particular, because Kathleen was the daughter, and she lived to ninety-six. And I know a lot about the old J T that I don’t think the descendants would know.
Now we better we come back to the House of Parsons …
The Parsons side. Okay, so Phil Parsons … this is what my mother told me. She said – and I did talk to you the other day about it – she said, “He was a wonderful person to have to stay”; she said, “he was a quiet man, because he was getting deaf.” But she said, “He loved the vegetable garden”, and she said, “he was hoeing and weeding and planting”. She said, “We had vegetable gardens second to none!” [Chuckle]
And you’re carrying it on.
No, no, no.
But you said you do some gardening.
Yes I do, but that’s just … cosmetic-type gardening, it’s not vegetables, it’s everything else – lawns and … etcetera, etcetera.
He was still alive when I was a boy … like a small boy. He died … In 1948. Now I was in my second year at school, so I wasn’t even six. How do I remember him? Darkly, you know. Just … I remember my father picking him up – he had bowel cancer. And he was living on the hill with his sister, Annie Ringland, and his second wife. He married again shortly before I was born – I remember Mum saying she sent him a cable at Taupo, 1st of November: ‘I’ve got an eight-pounder – how are you getting on?’ … or something or other – this was me. And then during that year, 1948, he died. I remember him always in a suit, waistcoat, well-dressed; a well-respected and courteous man. He was seventy-five when he died. And so he passes out of the story.
Now, getting back to me. I talked through my high school years, said how I accidentally won the school senior championships than a year earlier than I might have expected to; and also that in a lot of ways, I regret that I hadn’t been raised in a more professional family. Because the expectations in terms of education really were up to me. I wasn’t well-placed to value education or to have the discipline required, or anything like that. So I just sort of went through the system. I told you that really. I made no friendships of any degree because I arrived just as the school bell rang in the morning, as you did, too, and then had to be back on that bus again straight afterwards. So your chances of making friendships purely in the classroom were not high – you needed other things, you know, that you had in common. So I went through high school and then chose … for all the wrong reasons, really … to go to Teachers’ College. I don’t regret it now, because I can actually see in some bigger picture – and invisible one – that certain cogs in my world were brought together, which I feel did steer me to where my actual passions and abilities lay.
All those skills cross-pollinate, don’t they?
I know. And it takes you until … as we’re getting to our later stages … to actually sort of work it out, and analyse and say, “If I hadn’t done that this wouldn’t have happened, and then I would have been the poorer because I wouldn’t have … etcetera, etcetera.” And you know, even the taking of French in high school – my God! My mother would have had a fit! Well, I was meant to be involved for agriculture, and I had this misinformation that the ag boys were all put in a lower class. I was in 3B, which was the second class down, but there were ag boys in my class. I should have been able to work it out, but I had no advisor, no mentor – nothing. And even Leo Lopdell, you know, the most important influence in my life – he never thought education through in that way. He finished school at twelve himself, but he was an intelligent man. Nobody could quote Banjo Paterson like my granddad. I was raised on a diet of Banjo Paterson and Zane Grey, etcetera, etcetera, and I read my way right through his library, you know, as I got into my teens and he was less mobile and so forth. Banjo Paterson came here, didn’t he?
And I think he did readings at the Municipal Theatre … 1900-ish?
I’ve always said, books are no good sitting in libraries – they’ve got to circulate.
Yeah. I don’t say that any more.
I used to read Zane Grey …
‘The Trout Fisherman’s Eldorado’. [‘The Angler’s Eldorado’] I have that at home – I have most of my grandfather’s books.
Yeah, and okay, I’ve already talked through with you going to Ardmore, and the fact that I wasn’t at all sure I was in the right career, even after I’d finished my PA year, which was 1963. And 1964, I relieved, usually a term at a time, and mostly around Central Hawke’s Bay. And do you know, I’ve still got friends amongst those families today, from way, way back then. They looked after me well you know, and they were prominent families, you know, like the McHardys and the Aitkens and so forth. I was invited there, you know, and could just go readily to this day and so forth.
But I had that year that I think I talked to you about, 1965, when I went to Europe, and how it coincided with the big English pop explosion. We never considered anything too special, but we were part of it. And it’s not until later, you think, ‘Gosh, of all the years I could’ve chosen to arrive first – I couldn’t have struck better.’ It was a lively time.
I do keep a bit of an eye on all of that. And now when I get there – Elton John was not on scene in ’65, but I went back to London again in 1970, and I was there in 1970 and ’71. And that’s when Elton John sang ‘Your Song’. I think that was the one, and ‘Daniel’ came straight after that. And … the start of a remarkable career – quite remarkable. Anyway, I digress. Often!
But I came back from overseas at the beginning of 1966. Once again, I wasn’t at all sure whether teaching was me, and I applied for a job in Dalgetys in Napier, which was run in those days by Mr Jervois … Stan Jervois, who later went to Tryphena I think, on Great Barrier [Island]. And I was trying to get into the travel department, but there was a man there already at the time so I was doing accounts. I was paying the wages of the various farmers who dealt through there, and so forth, and it was very routine and repetitive, month after month. I was getting nowhere, and d’you know, I had no longer [sooner] resigned and got a job relief-teaching at Kereru, where my uncle Ivan Lopdell lived and farmed. This is where the Ivan comes from, in Patrick Ivan. At the time I was born, Ivan was … I think he was in Italy at the time. And I guess Mum put Ivan in my name just in case her brother didn’t came back. He did, he’s a tough old nut … pretty hard to kill and so forth.
So I stayed with Ivan and Faye, his wife, at Kereru. And I had a very happy time there, socially in particular. I remember things like Election Day, for example, when we were the electioneers, me and the junior teacher. And of course, we were spoilt by the local community, they were bringing down cakes, and this, that and the other. They were all staying much longer than just to vote. And we virtually sort of had, you know, ‘party Kereru’ going that day [chuckle] and particularly after voting stopped, they all congregated there after the …
And so I went through various stages like that. I went to Rissington afterwards – I was there, say, ’66, ’67. I went back down to Central Hawke’s Bay; I was at Omakere, and that took me through to 1968. And I relieved here at two Intermediates – Heretaunga Intermediate with Ron Hicks … was the boss there, And then Hastings Intermediate with Bill Langford … was the boss there. And I had that year there, and I was saving with the idea of going back to Europe, and at the end of ’68 I went into Birds’ Eye. And I worked nightshift virtually through until I went back to Europe.
I got back over there, and I had already heard of the Berlitz Language School. A friend of mine from here, Gay Robottom, she was more or less planning to enrol over there. She said, “You can do a training course, and then you work virtually where you like in Europe.” And I was actually thinking of my French language, not wasting the five years that I’d had in high school. So when I got to London, I called and saw them. They were in South Audley Street, close to Marble Arch – dingy old buildings – and snapping up teachers. If you had a teaching certificate or a degree in anything – engineering! – you could get in. And so I did a crash course teaching English as a second language. I don’t reckon it was more than about six weeks.
And amongst us they [had a] wide range of nationalities. They wanted all the accents, so there were South Africans, there were Australians, there were Americans, British, etcetera, etcetera. And then it was a question of – well, “Where do we go after this?” Because the choice was ours, and so I said, “Well, I’m going to somewhere French-speaking”, and so Paris it became.
And so I moved over to Paris with quite a pool of others who’d trained with me. They were a transient lot, a bit like me – restless, hadn’t really made up their minds. They all had degrees in something or other, or else they wouldn’t have been in there. And when they arrived in Paris they tended to congregate together. One or two on houseboats; some got flats together. I wasn’t going to be living with anyone English-speaking – my goal, my real goal, was to get my French up and running. I wasn’t too bad at translations and so forth, but I didn’t have an ear for the flow of the language. That’s what I had to learn, and I really immersed myself in it all, very calculatedly. And it worked.
I booked into a small, private hotel somewhere over in the Sixteenth District, and just talking to my local baker and this, that and the other, as best I could, I told them what I was about. And he found someone who was prepared to board me. It wasn’t a long-term arrangement – they were a wealthy family and they had an apartment somewhere in the same district. And they were going away for a couple of months, and really, all they wanted me to do was baby-sit the apartment. Well, some of my mates who I was teaching with, who didn’t have a bath on the whatsit [houseboat] – you can guess where they all came to have a bath!
And so that two months passed, and by then my good baker had found a family for me to live with. They were elderly; the husband owned a bottle store. He was an old gentleman, and he spoke good but very limited English. And for me to get to the bathroom in that apartment – it was up fairly high in the Sixteenth District – I had to walk through his bedroom to get there sort of thing, and he’d be sitting up in bed reading the paper – and his wife had a separate bedroom – and I used to sit on the end of his bed and talk to him. He loved that … just a bit of practice for his English. And then I’d go and have a bath and sort of head off towards work.
The hours in the mornings suited me perfectly; I was never required before ten a.m., and so I could actually walk if I wanted to, right across Paris from the Sixteenth District. The Berlitz Centre was at what they call Odéon … the Odéon area in the centre of Paris. And there were all these kinds of big, cubicle-type arrangements – that’s the way it was all planned. There was an admin as well; Miss Huxter was the boss, a Welsh lady. And so I settled in there quite well, and I once again calculatedly made French friends … not all that easy in a city like Paris. The Hundred Years’ War never really stopped. [Laugh]
At least you were a New Zealander, not English.
Correct. So – All Blacks, you know – you made that differentiation straight away.
There was another factor too, with that – as a sort of social part of the history of my world – fairly unique, and I wouldn’t have experienced it under different circumstances. But I was fairly committed as a teacher to what I was doing, and they did like loyalty – in fact, to the degree that they offered you what they called in French a ‘prime de fidélité’, which was like a bonus for loyalty. And if you stayed a minimum period of time, you got this bonus. And it was a handsome one too, don’t worry, because they had other staff coming and going, a lot of them unsuitable; a lot of them, too, that the next offer they got, away they went. And so I could see how I would make a bit of progress by demonstrating that loyalty – and it was in me, anyway.
So I found after a few weeks, I was getting preferential treatment. How? Each summer they used to have a course in England, and it was held at Hartwell House … in Buckinghamshire, where one of the Louis’ had been in exile at one stage. And of course it was school holidays then. So we just took over their dormitories and so forth … both staff and students … and that was a very pleasant time as well. We would do the lessons during the week, but we hobnobbed with these people – they were our mates, you know. And at the weekends we would hire a bus and we would just become tour guides. We went out to places like Oxford and here, there, and everywhere – didn’t know much about it, but we kept an eye on our students, and that was enough. By the time I went back to Paris I had a group of people that I’d been teaching at Hartwell House, who saw the potential in me. Their courses in Paris were not cheap. If they befriended me to a degree, and invited me home for dinner … and this began to happen quite, well, you know, to the point where I could see it was no accident … and hey, the rules suited me fine as well, because the understanding was that if I went round for dinner, we spoke English. But they soon tired of that and reverted to French, where I benefited, along with very well-cooked meals too, you know? And so there became my social scene. I was advancing much more quickly in French than any of my stable-mates who were flatting amongst English-speaking people. They used to comment, “Gosh, your French is coming ahead in leaps and bounds!” And I remember one day I was with one of the teachers in the street, and she went to walk across the street. And instead of saying, “Look out!” as I would normally do in English, I said, “Attention!” [in French]. And she didn’t know what ‘attention’ meant, and kept on walking. She said, “Patrick”, she said “why the hell didn’t you say that in English? I could’ve been run over!” I said, “I’m getting to that stage where I’m starting to think in French.” And so I was quite pleased. [Chuckle]
And then the boss called me in one day. And they monitored us – they had intercoms in the rooms and listened in on the lessons. They had to have a red button and so forth. But they said, “You’re ready to do residencies now.” What are residencies? It meant that we didn’t have to teach in the Language Centre – we could catch the train out to whatever the residencies were. Now I managed to get one of the good ones. Marine Nationale was its name, which is the French … boat-building and so forth … Institution on a big scale. And so I would travel out there two days a week and teach at the Marine Nationale. And they’d just send the students in to me, usually in groups, say about five or six together.
And another one that I got which was a very good one was Versailles, because if you went out [to] Versailles, you were there for the day. I actually went out there and I stayed there for three weeks, like … [I] was commuting.
Well, there was a Versailles Berlitz. They had rooms there, but the good thing about it was that I usually had a two-hour luncheon, fitting in with my clients. And during that two hours, I could walk into the Versailles Palace and into the Versailles Park and so forth, and I did. I used to take luncheon there, and it was free! I didn’t even have to pay in those days – you just walked in. And so I got to know that area well, and explored it and so forth.
Now, two of the spin-offs from all that was, one of the boys that I was teaching at Marine Nationale, Raymond Luganic, who’s a mate of mine today – he lived in Brittany in the northwest … “We are not French, we are Britons!” You know? [Chuckle] There’s a sort of Celtic bit to them. And Raymond and I became good mates. And he had a partner – they hadn’t married at that stage. She was living in Brittany, and he came into Paris to work for the week, and then went home in the week-end. So he started inviting me back to Brittany where I have some ancestry from the Jersey Island Dolbel strain. And he educated me to love Brittany and the distinction between the Celtic France and the rest. And we used to explore and explore. His partner at a later stage was heavily pregnant, and didn’t want to come sort of thing, so the boys went out – we went up to Brest and Quimper, and Raymond, with his background in Marine Nationale – he had access to a fishing boat and a yacht and so forth. We’d go out fishing and so forth. Doesn’t everyone do this? [Chuckle]
And I also have to say here too – in my cubicle one day, I was looking through and there was a glass panel to the next cubicle, and this lovely girl, Melanie. She was English. And I sort of couldn’t take my eyes off her, you know, she was particularly nice and, anyway, we struck up a friendship there in Paris. No one had any money to burn in those days. But anyway, it came to the came to the question of where I was going to go when I left Paris, because they had a tax-free … or some sort of arrangement where we didn’t have to pay taxes … only for a finite period. That might’ve … I think it was eighteen months, and then if you hadn’t left Paris by that time you were eligible to pay all your back taxes, so you kind of had to go. And you know, I was thinking to myself, ‘Where will I go?’ Now Melanie had only come over … she was completing a political degree from London and part of it she had to do in Paris, and she was teaching at Berlitz just to supplement her income while she was there. So at the end of that time, I thought ‘well, I’ll follow her back to London’, you know, which I did. And then I went back to the Berlitz there to work.
I’ll talk about one or two of the people that I taught in Paris. One I remember well was the top actress from Morocco. Her name was Leila Shenna, and she was the daughter of a general. Now she had strayed into the acting world, and at the time that she was doing her crash course in English, she was working on a film called, in English, ‘Ramparts of Clay’ – was the name. It was a military thing, and it was during one of the wars. But the interesting thing was the lady herself. I probably had pre-conceived ideas of what an actress might be like. She was very well-grounded; she had a career plan in mind. I actually found her better-grounded than I was myself, and she was the famous one. And I taught her for perhaps three weeks, and enjoyed her company, you know … where would I have met someone like that normally?
I remember a lady named Madame Akier. She was about sixty-ish, and I got on fine with her. She was a widow, she was intellectual, and we were talking about people like Édith Piaf. Now Piaf had died about 1962-ish. I got there in 1969, so seven years later, but her legend was still very large in town.
And in the French system they have the population to have a whole stable of individual singer-songwriters. And I remember one in particular, George Brassens, and he used to sing these anti-government type songs … anti-police and this, that and the other. Remember I came to Paris in ’69, the year after the big flare-up at the Nanterre University, and it was very military – the first time in my life I’d seen police wearing weapons. And do you know, coming from a country where you’ve never had that, it sort of makes you a bit uneasy – could they get trigger-happy?
Crossed my mind. [Chuckle] And also, you didn’t give them cheek – no way. All of those things were swirling around in the background.
Madame Akier, the lady I spoke about, was talking about George Brassens one day. She said, “D’you know”, she said “he’s doing a season at Bobino”. She said “I’ll shout you a ticket.” So I went with Madame Akier who knew his works well, and she was able to give me a bit of background on it, and I attended a concert of the famous George Brassens.
Another occasion I remember two of the Irish girls who were teaching with me, I got on fine with. And we decided we ought to go to the opera once and experience a box. So about six of us hired a box between us, and it was ‘Carmen’ at the Opén opera, and so we exchanged, you know, between Acts, two would take a turn in the front seats of the box, and we sort of shuttled our way around. And that was the only time I’ve ever sat in a box at an opera in my life. We knew quite a lot of the tunes and so forth. But I’ve said enough there – just gives you a glimpse of some of the things that were going on during my time.
Then back to Paris … to London, sorry. I flatted briefly right at the end whatever the line was – it took me about an hour to get into work – West Ealing, it was. And I was flatting with an opera singer. Her name was Victoria Elliott. She was past it, but she was still doing concerts; I know she was doing one at New Zealand House that she was preparing for while I was there, ‘cause I used to hear her rehearsing upstairs, and I had a flat down below. As soon as I could, I got a flat closer into town – Holland Park, which was perfectly placed for me – I could get into work in fifteen minutes.
And so I was back at South Audley Street, which I didn’t like; it was a dingy place. We had a much more upmarket division, the Berlitz Total Immersion Centre. And anyway, through shortage of staff just at the right moment, I was sent across to there. It was at Portman Square, also very near Marble Arch. The Churchill Hotel was straight across the Park from where we were. It was modern, and our clientele was second to none. And so I quickly, you know, got myself employed there permanently. So I was at the Total Immersion Centre, the most intensive English-language available at the time. Very often, we were teaching one-to-one … one tutor, one student, and they were paying through the nose – usually their companies were paying for them. And look – I could entertain for you a long time over a whole string of celebrities in all sorts of fields. I taught Paco Rabal, who was the top character actor in Spain at the time … just as grounded as Leila Shenna. You know, these people were all aware that their careers might be finite in that world, and they were looking ahead, learning English, etcetera, etcetera. I taught a very upswept blonde by the name of [?Isa Stockey?]. She was one of Italy’s top models at the time. Once again, a very well-grounded person … we were all in love with her, she was just gorgeous. And I had people from banking; from Arthur Andersen Accountants; I had diplomats’ kids, and diplomats themselves; industrialists from Italy and all over. And what I’m saying here was [is], it was an interesting time. And it changed me as well I guess, you know, I became a lot more worldly. Part of the deal with these students was, they had to speak English from nine a.m. when they arrived until they left at six at night, including lunch. And we would get lunches where we actually went out to lunch with these students. All the restaurants were within walking distance, and so they spoke English non-stop. This is very concentrated English that they were getting; very often, one-to-one. D’you know, sometimes they even had two tutors to one student, so that you could introduce ‘he’ and ‘she’ into the conversation.
Collier-Macmillan, the American publishing company bought Berlitz out while I was there, and they changed all the texts to American texts. And not only that, you weren’t allowed to improvise any more – you had to operate from a textbook, and teaching American English. Didn’t go down hang of a well, but that’s how it was.
Some extraordinary students. One of them, Armand Masseau, I remember him very well. He was down in Africa; he had a hotel and a travel agency … wanted me to go down and work for him, teach him English privately and he’d provide me with other work. But it was his story that was so fascinating. He was captured during the Second World War at the age of eighteen, and whipped off to one of the concentration camps. He said he was one of twelve hundred when they entered, and he said they gradually died off. And he said it became a sort of a sick joke amongst themselves, who would be there still next week. And by the time of the liberation, there were two left – Armand and his mate from France somewhere.
He said the only reason he can think of that they were the two who survived were [was] that they were the two youngest there. They were both about eighteen at the time. And he said when they were liberated, their parents were cabled smartly, because they didn’t think either would survive. They were pushed into a hospital somewhere where they went through a long recuperation, and he said when he managed to get back on his feet, he said he couldn’t settle. He said his mind was all over the place. He said he wrote a letter to the French mate who had gone back home, and they agreed to start walking to meet up with each other, and he said that walk was his salvation. He said, “We never had to look for accommodation.” Word got round – they had farmhouses to stay in, the best of food, well looked after. He said they missed each other – they passed, but not by much, you know, by about a day or two, and word got round, and they met up again.
And then the story of his marriage was a fascinating one too. He said he used to go around these nightclubs – he was a Belgian. And he said one night he was at one of these night clubs and there was a mother and daughter sitting there, wallflowers. So he had a couple of courtesy dances with each. And he loosely arranged to meet the daughter, you know, say a week later – and then of course, didn’t turn up. And he went somewhere else, and the very first person he walked into when he walked in the door, was the girl. She hadn’t turned up either.[Chuckle] And he said they got talking then, and he said, “We were married six weeks later.” [Chuckle] It was people like that …
So you must’ve at some stage decided you’d come back to New Zealand?
I did, I did. For two years I had Melanie there and so forth, but … I wanted to come back to New Zealand. She was a doctor’s daughter, and quite a different lifestyle and so forth, and in the end we went our own ways – sadly in some respects, you know, I haven’t really found anyone permanent at all, sort of thing. But she … probably under different circumstances, would have been the … she was a lovely person.
Yeah, so I … in the last weeks when I was at Berlitz in London, two Italian industrialists came. Carlo Gasparini who owned DASCO in Miranda in Italy, and his mate, Veranezze who owned BELCO – seriously wealthy industrialists. I got on fine with Carlo Gasparini – he was a charming man.
And anyway, I flew back to New Zealand. When are we talking about? End of ’71 … and stayed at home at Poraiti. Couldn’t settle, and I went down to Wellington and I just got a relieving job at Karori West, stayed with a mate’s mother down there at Aro Street. And I got to school one morning … “Oh, Mr Parsons – there’s someone on the phone for you from Italy.” And I sort of thought, ‘Who?’ And it was a mate of mine that I’d flatted with in London who had worked for the other industrialist. And he said, “I thought I was only employed for six months”, he said “I’ve arranged to do something else in Rome.” And he said, “The boss asked whether you’d come over?” So I said, “Yes”.
So I flew back to Italy, called and saw Melanie on the way through, and I met the man who she eventually married as well. Much more appropriate for her, he was a share broker.
Anyway, I arrived in Milan and there was someone with a signpost, you know – DASCO – and so forth … didn’t speak any Italian at all. And so I started eighteen very happy months in Italy. And I knew how to learn a foreign language by then. I immersed myself in Italian culture – they were charming people and I was well looked after. The first words I learned in Italian were all tennis terms, because the boss got me a membership at the local tennis club. And I learned words like ‘revescio’ for backhand and ‘doppio fallo’ for double fault and so forth … quickly got up and going. So I taught Carlo Gasparini’s technicians to speak English. And I also was involved with some of their translations for brochures … all those sorts of things.
One of the highlights there … one of the girls who worked for them – she was a Swedish girl, Agnetha – and her husband managed a paint manufacturing company in Libya. And she said to me before Christmas, “What are you doing for Christmas?” She said, “Come down and join us in Libya.” Which, with difficulty, I did.
My boss, a very good mentor … I had my twelve salaries for the twelve months of the year; he paid me a thirteenth salary which paid for your taxes for that year. And he gave me a fourteenth salary which is my holiday pay, so I was able to fly to places like Libya. Svend, the husband of Agnetha – he was waiting for us at the airport. It wasn’t at all guaranteed we could stay, but we got in, and I had two weeks over Christmas in Libya … in Tripoli. And what an amazing time that was – it was very Gaddafi – no alcohol in sight – not that that stopped anyone.
We also had a dog called Suitus. And Svend wouldn’t let us go anywhere without Suitus. He’d picked up this dog as a pup, all four legs broken by someone cruel. And he paid the vet … got [it] put together, and he had the most loyal Arab-hating dog in the land.
So Agnetha and I – while Svend was at work, we liked to drive out and explore because there were those big Roman ruins. Leptis Magna and Leptis Minor. [Leptis Parva] And we used to go up there, or else go well out of town to swim and so forth.
And coming into Christmas – there were several fraternities in Libya at that time – there was the American complex – they were oil; I think the British community were communications; there was a French contingent as well; and we represented I guess, Sweden, [chuckle] doing whatever we did – paint manufacturing. And we all threw a Christmas dinner day. We were first because Scandinavia apparently does something for Christmas on the 24th [of December], and so we worked our butts off preparing for this, and [it] was ‘Open House’, all day. And the French contingency came in; the Americans did; the British did. And then once we got that out of the way, the hospitality reverted to them. Christmas Day was the British community – and I can tell you, every bit of grog – it was usually home brews, which were concealed from Gaddafi, and if someone had a lucky success then everyone descended on them. And then there are some pretty horrible ones as you can imagine, as well, but I remember the Christmas dinner part of it all … you know, cranberry sauce … everything British. They were all superb hosts. And every second day virtually, someone else was doing the entertaining. The Americans were in a high-rise building somewhere [in] downtown Tripoli, and I remember all the furniture was [a] waterbed. And what were we drinking? We were drinking home brew, or pure alcohol with Seven-Up. Eye-watering stuff! [It] was. But, younger and sillier then.
And then the final of these occasions was the French one, and that was the class one. It was well out of town – out in the desert. And to get into their complex – I remember there was a long avenue of palm trees; guards on the gates; they’d smuggled their wine in via the coast at night, and they had all sorts of provisions in case they got raided. They knew they’d be in trouble if they were found out. But … we went there and we were entertained royally, we really were. And I mention that because I’ve never experienced that since in my life – it was a one-off you know – I really enjoyed that, then flew back to Italy.
Okay, I had my eighteen months there, which is what I decided. I didn’t leave ‘til my Italian was pretty competent. And I left with regret – I could’ve easily lived in Italy, but … always the pull of here – of Hawke’s Bay. Look, I’ve travelled fairly widely, I’ve lived in other countries – there’s nowhere in the world I’d rather live than right where I do. And that’s remained constant, right throughout. And I think it’s, you know … as my destiny unfolded, I was in the right place.
And you certainly tested the water, didn’t you?
[Chuckle] Yeah. And on a very enjoyable level, you know? I mean I had turned thirty. They threw a big party for me in Italy. I had another year there, you know – I was nearly thirty-one when I got back.
And I remember, I arrived back here, say, October 1973. And Mum said to me, “What do you want for a birthday present?” And I said, “I’d like to get the old two Nanas together for a team photo while we’ve still got them.” My two grandmothers. Now the second grandmother was Mrs Phil Parsons the Second, who[m] he married in ’42, Mary. She was his first cousin; she was Mrs Vaughan, from Wairoa. And her daughters … one, Nell, married Geoff Powdrell from Opoho, and the other one married at Ahuriri, Trevor Prosser. But I got on famously with that old grandmother, you know, and she was related distantly through the Dobells anyway.
So I hopped in the car, went over and collected the two grandmas …old Leo Lopdell had passed away well and truly by then, but Nana was still on deck. We got Russell Spiller out as the photographer. And we had that ‘moment in history’ photograph taken … a very good photograph with the two grandmothers, my mother and my brother and sister and I. And then separately we had some with the next generation included in it. And we had all of those negatives in our vault for a long time, as well, together with the other photographers … I forget what the names were.
And okay – so here I was, back in Hawke’s Bay. No sooner had we had that, you know, iconic photograph taken, than the Grandmother Lopdell, within three months, passed away. Here was I … what was I going to do for work? I drove around. I liked the looks of Hereworth School … purely architectural. I liked Hastings Boys’ High with its Cape Dutch. I’m one of those people who never applied for an advertised job. I drove into Hereworth; I went up to the counter and I asked if I could speak to the boss … old David Curtis, the one who died just the other day.
I knew David very well.
He was a good croquet player, and a gentleman.
Yes, he was indeed.
Yeah, very fine man. He’d be quite an elderly man by then? Yeah. And so, I had a chat with him and told him what I could offer. I said, “Really, English and French are the best.” I said, “I can teach Italian too, but”, I said “there won’t be any demand.” Which there wasn’t, not at that stage anyway. There was no job available, but it was … I would say November, before the term finished. And he rang me during the holidays and he said, “Can you start in February?” February ’74. I said, “Yes, that’s fine.”
And so without any glitches I was into Hereworth School, where I had five very happy years as well, observing for the first time you know, what a private school was like. But think of it in these terms as well … as a fledgling historian, I had Sydney Grant on the staff there, who wrote the book on Waimarama; I had Lawrence Rickard, who did a history of Hereworth and so forth; he did a whaling history. Good intellects, these men – all heading me in the right direction.
And while I was there … and this is pivotal … the very first year I was there, one of the boys was a boy named Graham Wilson, who[m] I was teaching. And one day he did a morning talk on his famous great-great-grandmother, Airini Donnelly, who at that stage I had never heard of, and I began to learn that we had associations with her and so forth. And I was intrigued. He had this photograph of her – it was a court photograph taken in London with ostrich plumes in her hair, and she was a very you know … splendid-looking character. I said to him, “Look, next time Mum comes to see you, can you bring it [her] in to introduce to me?” And so I met his mother, Jacquie Wilson, and she was very proud of her great-grandmother. And she brought me in photographs of Otatara, and had a whole lot of stories. It sort of fostered my interest – an important thing for that to do because it was taking me not only into history, but into Māori history, which is what I specialise in now.
You ask in the Māori world round here – they will tell you, “Oh, he specialises in genealogy and customary Māori history.” And that’s very much the direction I took.
This is where it started?
This is where it started … if I was to try and pinpoint an origin that pushed me in the right direction.
So what was her husband’s name?
Her husband was Wilson, obviously. He’s a Scot – he’s still living. He lives in Taupo. Jacquie has passed away.
Because Jacquie was the Karauria, wasn’t she?
Yes, that’s correct.
Bill Wilson. At the time they were living at Tokoroa. I don’t know what he did, but he now fishes almost daily with one of the Northcrofts. That’s his mate, and they usually spent part of each day together. He’ll be in his eighties now – nice man.
There were other children apart from Graham … there was a daughter, Kerry, she’s in Taupo – I think she and her husband live with the father anyway. There’s another girl I can’t remember; Graham’s in Sydney. But the key was, it started me off in a particular direction.
Now, at the same time I had Bob Cottrell, who was the kaumatua at Wharerangi marae, which is not far behind Poraiti – it’s a few kilometres behind. And Bob was a great friend of Leo Lopdell, my great-grandfather. Both were involved with racehorses. Bob was a trainer, and a successful one. My grandfather dabbled more, and you can tell by the results he got – not famous, but it was a hobby for him. He liked … racing had brushed off on him from his father.
So Bob used to bring his children down to the Taradale Tennis Club for coaching. And of course, me being a tennis player and at that club, Bob and I used to sit up on the forms there and just chat idly, sort of thing. And I said to him one day, “Bob, how come the land through the fence from our farm at Poraiti is Māori land, and yet we’re European?” And he said, “Oh”, he said “well, there was a native reserve that was retained when Donald McLean purchased the Ahuriri block.” And he knew how big it was – it was about eighteen hundred acres. And he said, “Through ancestry, my grandfather was one of the beneficiaries of that block.” And he said, “Look – come down one Saturday and I’ll get my grandfather’s trunk out”. And he said, “I’ll get out various papers – I can translate them for you.”
And so he started mentoring me, like as a … the perfect one-to-one Māori history tutor. And he introduced me to things I never knew existed; for example, that Māori people are very ancestor-proud, and they kept genealogy books where someone had written out all their genealogies, and how they related to that family, and that family, and that family. And Bob let me bring one home at a time sort of thing, to sort of digest. I was in a new and fascinating world, and I had a man who … he would’ve probably preferred me to be Māori, but … and he could’ve turned me away if he wanted … but the interest was genuine, and so I kept on going back to him. And I did this over a long period of time.
And he said to me, “Do you know,” said, “a lot of the history of this area is documented in the Māori Land Court minute books?” Now I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, “They’re down in Palmerston”, he said, “it’s a damned nuisance, but”, he said “if you’d like to go down there”, he said “there was a Wharerangi hearing back in 1900.” And he said “All of the old people who were alive at that time gave evidence.” And he said, “Boy! Their knowledge of their tribal history was very good.”
So I drove down to Palmerston one day and got into the Māori Land Court. And so … a treasure trove of primary source history … Well, everyone around here always said, “Oh, you can’t rely on Māori history.”
Because we all thought it was myths …
And that’s what we were taught at school.
So was I!
Why were we never taught this history of Hawke’s Bay? Of the Kahungunu. There were a thousand of them living at Mahia at one stage …
We [they] were in exile.
No one speaks about it.
No. No. Well I would say by 1976, in the middle of my time at Hereworth … And remember, too, there was another well-known historian associated with Hereworth – that was J D H Buchanan, whose work is in ‘The Māori History and Place Names of Hawke’s Bay’. Both Syd Grant and Lawrence Rickard knew him well, because he was the Principal when they first started. And they said Wednesday was Māori history day. He would do the school assembly, but he was not to be bothered for the rest of the day. And he worked on his Māori history – went out to Waimarama and Pakipaki and so forth. And so there was that influence as well.
Now Bob Cottrell said to me one day, “There’s another man you should be talking to.” And I said, “Who’s that?” And he said, “Jimmy Mapu.” He said, “He’s older than me; he’s a very good historian, and same tribe as me.” He said “He came from Moteo marae.” And so he said, “I’ll arrange for you to meet him.” And what a wonderful introduction that was too, because I then had my own two personal tutors in Māori history. And I came ahead in leaps and bounds.
And word got round amongst the wider Māori fraternity that I was being tutored by these two men. Also I was becoming more acceptable on a wider plane.
So Bob died first, ‘bout 1981, so he was seventy-one, seventy-two … around there. Jimmy Mapu lived on ‘til ninety-one, and I treated him like an old grandfather – he lived off just off Vigor Brown Street; married to one of the Tareha ladies … Bella Gillies’ twin sister, Pussy … and a remarkable man in his own right. He had fought at the Battle of the Somme … “Gee! The bullets were whizzing all around me and I didn’t get hit once”, he said. You know? Very matter-of-fact.
And then he was selected in a Forces’ Athletic Team in Paris, straight after the liberation. And they ran in the four hundred and forty [yard] relay, or something or other. And he said, “Oh!” He said, “Our third runner was a disaster and we got well behind. And I ran my heart out in the last leg”, he said “I managed to claw our way back to third.” [Chuckle] And they got a medal of some sort and then came back here again.
He leased a property at Paepaetahi, which is on Omarunui Road. I think it was his father-in-law’s land. But he ran a dairy farm there, and he said, “D’you know – it was a gold mine? I saved ten thousand pounds during the time I had that lease.”
Paepaetahi – where is it? You go along Omarunui Road, you pass the entrance to Breckenridge, and it’s not far past – I’d say before the Omarunui monument … what’s left of it. The house is well back off the road, and Paepaetahi was there.
Because that used to be in grapes …
… McWilliams had it in grapes.
That’s right, later on. Yeah. And of course, I met Jimmy Mapu when he was in eighties … but a wonderful historian, and told me things I’d’ve never learned anywhere else.
Have you been able to replace either of those gentleman?
D’you know, in the end, the roles have reversed. I took fright when they both died, and I thought ‘Where am I going to go to now?’ But two things happened. The Māori Land Court shifted from Palmerston to Hastings in 1982, just after Bob died.
And what’s more, I did my five years at Hereworth, and then I took a year’s sabbatical and I went back to Europe. So I spent 1979 in Europe.
When I got back at the beginning of 1980, I did exactly the same as I’d done to find my job at Hereworth. I drove around to see what place pleased me. And I liked the look of Hastings Boys’. So I drove in, went up to the counter, and I met the remarkable Frank Crist, who became my great mentor, and we were good friends when he died. Anyway, Frank said to me, “Look,” he said, “we’d love you, but we haven’t got a position for you.” And this was just before the summer holidays leading into 1980. He said, “But I’ll take down all your details”. He said, “Frank Whitehead is our language teacher, and he teaches Russian”, and this, that and the other. I got a phone call the week before school was due to start. “Frank Whitehead has had a big hernia operation and has been advised to retire.” So – he said, “Can you start next week?” You know – it was very much Hereworth revisited. And so I went into Hastings Boys’ High teaching French and teaching English.
And I was well aware that Frank Whitehead – he was one of these people mixing with Kim Philby and all the spies at Cambridge. Did you know what I mean? A fascinating man … d’you know, I never met him. When he walked out of that school, he never ever called back again.
Very elusive. But … you know, I heard second-hand a lot of stories about him. I’ll say this too – his French class was very well-tutored. I was finding my feet, but out of that year … that first year … twenty-one of my twenty-three School Cert students passed.
It was, and it wasn’t all me. They had that golden touch from Frank Whitehead.
And Frank Crist, to his credit, didn’t leave the Russian students stranded. He got an elderly man from Havelock called Mr Zapasnik to come in as the tutor and that allowed those Russian students to go through to finish their secondary education – one or two of them went on and did it at university. Frank was a charismatic man.
I had ten years at Hastings Boys’ High – the longest and the last that I ever taught. And I did French and English right through. The French was suffering because the parents were demanding things like Japanese and Cantonese and so forth. And there was German offered as well, and it was eroding the numbers taking French. I don’t know what the situation is today, I never have enquired.
But – at the time I was there, the minute books were at the Māori Land Court in Hastings. And you can guess where I spent a lot of my time …
Yes, I can imagine!
… after work. And with me was Brian Morris, who owns Huia Publishers in Wellington now – Māori chap. And he and I used to go and read minute books at random, and so I had primary source. It was a primary source we didn’t know previously even existed! And so we were able to say, “Actually, Māori history has been documented.”
From 1865 there was a Native Land Act passed saying that no further Māori land could be sold without it being investigated in the Court to find who the real owners were – because the robbing chiefs were flogging things off and so forth.
And so I started to read my way through the minute books, and I kept personal notes as I was going through. I’ve got four minute books of my own where I made notes as a quick reference and so forth, and I’m still the biggest user of the minute books today. I’ve outlived all sorts of staff, and I always made sure that the next registrar, you know, knew who I was so that I didn’t lose that access, because you could’ve done. But I always kept the good will up, and any work they wanted me to do, I did willingly sort of thing, helping, you know, if they needed to find something in a hurry and new staff didn’t know where they were.
Because of your research you’ve become an authority on Māori history, haven’t you?
Correct, that’s right.
And you could authenticate it by the written records?
We need to fill in … “What’s happened here?”
I say it without arrogance, but I am the principal Māori historian in this province, through that long apprenticeship. And … okay, 1970 … I’ve been in this game for forty-five years. I know where things are.
And Māori people … most marae around here, if they’re conducting a seminar on their genealogy, who do they get in as their tutor? Me.
Because you know the pathways.
I do, and also I’m generous in what I do. I draw up the genealogies for them. I make records with those of where I’ve got them from the Land Court minute books, so that it doesn’t look as though Parsons has plucked it out of the air. They all know I’m well-referenced, and that I can take what I’m giving them back to what their own ancestors said. And this is how I discovered Blake of course, and so forth, and end up as a de facto trustee for a lot of his minute books. But for a person of my character … and I think I’ve said enough for you to realise that I’ve been a restless sort of a person …
Well you’ve been searching for …
Absolutely. It took a while …
Did it ever! [Chuckle]
… but …
I got there. [Chuckle]
And we’re very fortunate in Hawke’s Bay that you picked up the cudgel and actually brought the documentation together.
Yeah. I don’t attract students quite to the degree I want to. I’m trying to – I do seminars and I have a group of about eleven. But I don’t get … It takes a lot of time to prepare a serious – or what a Māori would call a wānanga – you know, it can take me weeks. And also trying to get my direction right, because a lot of these students are starting relatively from scratch, and I’ve got to sort of do it in such a way that they can pick it up and start to grow themselves.
Yes, you’ve got to go back to the start with them.
Exactly, yeah. And be patient. And the other bonus I have – I like Māori people. I was raised by Leo Lopdell, very specifically, who had a good relationship with Māori. He spoke some Māori language.
There was an old Māori lady living at the corner of Seafield Road. We used to call her Mother Jo – Taniwha was her real name. But Leo used to pop down and see her, with grandson. You’d sit up on the veranda and chat with her; she’d make us a cup of tea, and she made a great fuss of me because I was Leo’s grandson. Nothing more than that, you know? And then we’d go up to Tangoio where he leased Māori land. Another man he used to visit was Pat Pera Anaru … or Andrews.
I frequently remember going up with Leo … it was no trouble for me to go and visit these characters. I could see they got on well together, they enjoyed each other’s company. And so I grew up with a positive attitude towards Māori – very important in this world. And today … like, I remember my mother saying to me, “Oh, were there any other Europeans at your meeting at the weekend?” Now I had to think for a second, because I didn’t actually notice that, you know? And I said “Oh – actually, Mum, I was the only one there.”
But you were immersed, and that’s your strength.
Yeah. I never overstep my rights … you know, I work to keep that good will. It’s valuable to me.
And I also do the same thing with the farming fraternity, because while I was reading my way through these minute books, I was finding out where the old pā sites were, where they fought and did this, that … and they’re all over the place … they’re out in the Ruahines, and here, there, and everywhere. But I could work out pretty approximately where they were, so I’d ring around that farming fraternity.
And do you know, they have been very supportive … about one who was very suspicious, and in the end I won him over, too. They’d say, “that pā’s not on my property but I’m pretty certain it’s on Joe’s – give him a ring.” And I’d say, “What’s he like? Is he approachable? “Oh yeah, he’ll be all right.” So I’d ring Joe, and Joe said “Do you want to come out and have a look?” So out I’d go, and we’d find these places, and the trenches, you know, if they were fighting pās – still very obvious in most cases.
And the way that I presented those farmers was … I said, “Gosh”, you know “you’re lucky – you’ve got a part of our history on your property – would you be interested in anything I’ve found out about it?” They’d say “Yes, we’d love it!” So I would research the history; I was expected to be able to put a name to that pā, and very often a prominent chief who lived there and so forth. And I’d write out notes and give them to them so that it was more meaningful.
So you’re building the bridges?
Yes. And keeping the good will of those farmers, because it then gets back down to District Council level where they want do-gooders to go in and record these and put them on archeological files, all using my knowledge and my relationship with those farmers. And I’m saying sometimes, “Now just hang on a second here, because”, I said “you’re asking me to reveal private property owners, and they may not have that same desire to have their properties in the public arena, and people wanting to go there and this, that and the other.”
You built a relationship with the farmers …
And I’ll guard it jealously.
And I explain that carefully to Councils, but you know, the holders of the archeological files – they don’t see it that way. They think they’ve got some sort of divine right to have it all. Well I said, “It doesn’t work that way.”
Obviously you’ve been involved with Waitangi Tribunal claims …
And that would’ve been fascinating too, to be able to …
You’ve asked the key question here, because that’s what took me to the next level. I was in my last year at Hastings Boys’ High – Graham Thomas was the boss at that stage. Anyway, one day I walked into the Māori Land Court, and the registrar said, “Well”, he said “are you taking the job or aren’t you?” I said “What are you talking about?” He said, “Well your name’s on the cheque.” I said, “Michael – I still don’t know what you’re talking about”. He said, “The Māori claimants for the Ahuriri Inner Harbour have nominated you to research their claim for them”. I said, “Well they haven’t mentioned it to me!” [Chuckle] And they hadn’t – it was automatically assumed that Patrick would want to do it.
So I went home and I stewed over it for three or four days. And I thought ‘I wouldn’t want anyone else to research it – they’ll get it wrong.’ So I went back to Graham Thomas, and I said, “Graham, I’m giving you a term’s notice that I’m finishing at the end of 1990.” And that’s what happened, and so – as they say in Māori – I changed wakas, from teacher of French and English to Māori history.
So did you get into Heitia Hiha …
Directly, yes. Well he was in that claim for the Napier Inner Harbour, and I worked alongside him right through it.
Information brings all manner of people together, doesn’t it?
All from their own perspectives, from their own direction. But there is a meeting point – that’s what you’re saying. And it’s interesting … I don’t know how much older you are than me. I’m assuming … I’m seventy-six. Only six years difference.
I feel it … I feel it. [Chuckle] And what I did as I was coming out today, I ducked into New World and got a coffee on the way to perk me up because I sort of started slowly, but this changeable weather doesn’t help me one bit. It really doesn’t. I’ve got an in-built barometer and when it started raining last night, I sort of felt myself sort of stiffening up, you know, and … but when the sun comes out…
Is that what it is? I’ve been trying to work it out. [Chuckle]
It came to conclusion, the Ahuriri claim?
It did. I would say that was heard about 1992. And I was very much to the fore, because I was the person who wrote both the claimants’ report, and then later they commissioned me to do a second report – see how was I being quietly led into the field? And the second report was like a customary usage report, also to do with the Ahuriri Inner Harbour. There were still living Māori who had used the kaimoana resources in that harbour before the ’31 ‘quake. And you know, consistently they said to me – in the Pākehā world they all say, “Gosh, wasn’t that lucky ? The quake happening and lifting that all out of the sea, and we’ve got an airport, and this, that and the other.” But they said that wasn’t how the Māori saw it. Yes, they did they get the airport, but at the loss of a wonderful source of seafood which could be harvested without going out to sea and being in great danger.
I interviewed that generation within years of them all passing away. It was quite depressing how I’d just get their story down and they’d go. But they talked to me about things we would’ve never learned from other sources. You know, Pania of the Reef, and Morimori, her ponoturi – son – her son from the sea-people, sort of thing; and their beliefs concerning Morimori, and how he was the sort of … the protector of that seafood, and how there were certain customary restrictions placed on getting it – for example, just one or two things that cropped up – a lady during menstruation was not allowed to go down and gather seafood at all.
And also, sometimes, if they breached Māori custom, Morimori would appear; and he was a shark, sometimes without a fin. And he could appear in other guises, like an octopus; and the first time you saw it it was small; if you saw it again a few minutes later, it had grown. They were all indicators that you’d done something wrong. And as soon as you knew that you dropped your catch, left it in the sea, and you got out smartly. I never heard of anyone being eaten by the shark; it was more like a warning than anything. And they said to me, even if you did get your harvest to shore another part of Māori etiquette was you were not allowed to eat it on the beach. You had to take it away from the beach to eat it.
So I was gathering all these Māori beliefs and so forth from these elderly … mostly ladies. And I wrote them up in that second report which was very useful to the Tribunal. And you’re probably aware that in 1995, the Tribunal found that we had proved our claim. And the essence of the claim was whether the Crown, when they had purchased the big Ahuriri block going right back to the Kawekas, had purchased the waters of that harbour as well. And of course the Crown, from their side, were bringing in their best solicitors and so forth to try and prove they had.
We were lucky – we had the report of a judge called Judge Harvey, which was written in 1948, where he had found substantially that the Māori people had never sold the waters at all; that they were not part of the customary take, as it were.
And so A led to B, led to C. Then it came on to the Mohaka Waikare confiscated lands. They needed a historian to research the grounds of their claim. They commissioned me to do that, and I worked on it with a will; and also, it was becoming a career path. You know there were patches of feast and famine in my new career, but I picked up all sorts of people, very generously. For example, the Napier City Council of those times – they commissioned me to research reports on Māori customary interests in the estuary and so forth; and another lot – who was the Regional Council before they took that name?
The Catchment Board.
Yes, Catchment Board. Now they employed me, and they also gave me a young man from – he was at university – who could operate a GPS. Now I went round the Napier city boundaries – took me weeks – identifying Māori cultural sites, pā sites, pits, dug-outs, the whole lot. And I no doubt didn’t get them all, but as best I could, I did. And I went round doing that – writing them all up in report form; the man was GPSing them and so forth. And that was … you know, the Napier city boundaries go from sort of the Esk River and they come right through Poraiti where I am; they also go out to Otatara, Springfield Road, right to the Tutaekuri River. It was quite a big area.
Now, they liked that first report, and so they commissioned a second one, like a gap-filling one, which included places like Meeanee and Jervoistown, and this, that and the other. So I became the big documenter of Māori history of that area. It took me through the nineties, and towards the end of the nineties I was matey with the Mitchell boys from Elan station near Te Pohue. They were tennis players, as well, and we used to play tennis a lot together. And they were coming up to the centenary of the Te Pohue School, and they were looking at doing a history for it. And they talked to me on numerous occasions. I never ever once got the impression they had me in mind for it, until one day, they put the hard word on me and said, “Well, we want you to do it.” And I said, “Argh! I can’t do this,” I said, “I’m a Māori historian. If you do get it done, it’s got to have a Māori history at the front as well.” And so they talked me into doing it, and do you know, that too gave me a big … what’s the word? I was elevated in terms of reputation as a result of it. Why? Because I became a published historian.
Covering all the breadth of the history …
Exactly, rather than just the Māori focus. And a published historian doesn’t mean much in the Māori world; it means everything in the European one. And so they provided me with a history committee … a good one … and we used to meet every fortnight, and basically I got into a routine of preparing a draft chapter every fortnight. And I used to take it along to that history committee and I said, “Now, you take the next week to read it, and bring back any concerns or any additions”. They also steered me to people I needed to talk to, often who I didn’t even know existed – elderly people from the Te Pohue district. And do you know, I saw it starting to work, and I had big doubts at the beginning. I did the Māori history myself; that was no sweat, but when we got into the European … great-great-grandfather Parsons was at Rukumoana. He left a full scale set of letters from 1862 to 1892 to tap into as well. And so I was starting to function the way you need to as a historical author generally, in terms of getting my research focused. We brainstormed what their expectations were, to be in that book, and it was wide-ranging too. But I got into a routine, a good working ethic, and I was producing a chapter every fortnight until I said to them, “D’you know, we’ll meet our deadlines if we keep on at this rate.” And I didn’t have to do anything about worrying about who was going to publish it or how we could afford it. I got paid my salary as they went. A lot of the farmers there, they donated a few lambs each and when they sold them, that went into the book fund, and all the rest of it.
Your background as a teacher, your discipline as a language teacher, and your interest, all focus in on recorded history rather than mythical history …
You’re reading it very well. That’s exactly how it happened.
Well – my foray into Te Pohue was with Joe King.
Yeah. Joe’s kind of related to me. Well the genealogy really is just the framework on which you pin the wider history. But you’ve read very quickly that all those processes that I went through, they kind of set me up to succeed.
You were looking for that …
But it kept finding you.
[Chuckle] Well expressed. That’s exactly how it’s unfolded; fed the whole time by a deep interest, and an unwavering interest, too. And very good for a little Scorpion like me, who could lose interest in things if they don’t hold their attention. But Māori history in particular always has me beat, you know, and that’s a good way for a person like me to operate.
I’ve had one or two other families I wanted to talk to, and … she said, “No,” she said, “I can’t talk to you about my husband’s history down here, because”, she said, “I come from up north.”
She said “I can’t speak out of my marae.”
Yeah, yeah. And I’m not constrained by that.
No. And currently you’re still …
Even from there … okay, obviously we got that book completed, and in time. They dealt with Central Hawke’s Bay Print, and you know, by the time the centenary cropped up, it was all done. And I’d managed to interview one old key man called Blue Anaru. He was ninety-seven at the time of the anniversary. I drove up to Taupo in the morning, collected him and brought him down, where he was an instant hit, and a lovely man. You know, everybody liked him. He had his photo in the book and he also wrote a little whakatauki to print and we did. And then I drove him back again the same day, and then came down to the dinner in the evening – I was whacked by the time it was all over.
But I was interested in the response to the book; a) it sold well; and also, I sold well with it – something I hadn’t really sort of anticipated. Straight on top of that, Central Hawke’s Bay Rotary approached me: Would I consider researching and writing a history of the Waipukurau district for that? See what’s happening here? It’s leading …
Well, it’s self-marketing, isn’t it?
Exactly. And so I spent that time down there. I said, “I need a history committee”. I knew exactly what I needed for my support systems. And so away we went and I had wonderful people like Alistair … who you’ve probably interviewed; he’s dead now. Alistair … oh dear. Charming man, and he was a great help to me, because he really – if his writing skills’d been a bit higher – should’ve been writing it himself. But he was good, very helpful; Jim Fleming, who’s still alive; his son Peter, the funeral director – we had a good committee. And working on that same principle that I’d used with the other, a chapter every fortnight.
I fell very ill in the middle of it all. About July 1999 I came down with a rogue gall bladder, and they only just got me in time. Really … I reckon the fitness that I’d accrued from my tennis-playing years saw me through. And anyway I survived it, and we launched that at Mount Vernon homestead, 2001. It was Richard who was living [there], nephew of Bryan – Peter Harding’s son. And Peter Harding – married to Mary, daughter of JG Wilson, who wrote ‘History of Hawke’s Bay’. I was surrounded by historians. [Chuckles] So we got that done.
And then … I got into things like, for example, Julian Robertson wanting to build out at [the] Cape, and I joined the team because I believed that we shouldn’t be building out there. It was already a prohibited zone in the District Council’s plan. Did they all roll over to accommodate the billionaire; from mayor down, they were unnaturally impressed by money, and fawning all over him. Now the Hearings Committee for the Council were a waste of time. To a man virtually, they voted to support what their plan didn’t allow. And DOC supported them, and all sorts. In the end we went to the … what do you call it? The next court up?
The Environment Court. We really didn’t have the money [to] be able afford the expert witnesses. We didn’t think we had a hope because Julian Robertson was so wealthy he could buy the best witnesses in the country and so forth, but we had to know that we had tried.
And Rod Heaps, who – it launched him into the District Council in the end – has worked there, and that committee … I say this reluctantly on tape, but we were an ill-assorted bunch, and yet in spite of all that, we must have done something right or else our mission was correct, because we went through the Environment Court hearing. I remember we had Di Lucas, the good landscape architect from Christchurch; she came up. And she had a curious, vulnerable style of giving evidence, almost like, “Gosh”, you know, “Commissioners, I’m sure you and I could sort this out together if we sat down.” [Chuckle] She never sounded as though she was winning, [chuckle] but one of the opposition lawyers tried to discredit her and shoot her down in flames. “Miss Lucas”, she said, “have you ever been out to the Cape?” And she said, “Yes, Your Honour”, because she answered to the Head, not to them. She said, “Yes, I was there at 5:30 this morning,” she said. “One of the men ran me out on one of these bikes”. And she said, “Yes, and I viewed it; and the seal colony”, and so forth. She never got any more smart-arse questions after that. [Chuckle]
And then … the huge surprise when the Environment Court found in our favour. And I also learned to respect Julian Robertson to a degree. I would never agree to meet him, and didn’t, but when the decision came out, he worked out that the tide of public opinion was actually changing towards it. And he said, “The judge has spoken”. He said, “I’ll build my lodge elsewhere.” And the funny part was, we as the people who’d won the hearing, we had the right to approve his new choice.
And guess who had to take us out in the van to meet up there? Lawrence. Lawrence Yule – and I could see he did not like having to do this. But out we went, and I said to our rough committee, I said, “Look, we shouldn’t to be too picky here. We’ve got what we wanted.” Because one or two of them were starting to feel a bit …
Yes, this is right. So, we approved the new site, which is a fabulous site, too – wonderful panorama, where the golf course is and so on.
Yes, I know, yes. Yes.
And so that was the start. Then it got on to windfarms. Titiokura. And I was equally convinced that wasn’t the right place – because I was looking at Woodville and how it’s ruined the landscape along the Tararuas and so forth – very picket-fencey? And so we started off there. And … I don’t know how far you want me to go with all that, but we did go through three Environment Court hearings. And of course one of them in particular was Joe’s son, Perry, who was pretty bitter about it all because I think he was going to get the proceeds annually of X number of turbines at about $15,000 per annum each.
The first hearing, we were very inexperienced. And the Māori component hadn’t come into it all by then at that stage. I did the customary history of Ngati Hineuru for them, so I know their background very well.
Yes. You know, this gives you an understanding of the ground rules, doesn’t it?
Correct. And I’ll tell you this: we argued that Titiokura, that shouldn’t built on, on landscape values only, because that had been identified by the Isthmus Group – along with Te Mata Peak, and the Cape and so forth – as one of the most outstanding landscapes in the province, and they wanted to stick these things all over it.
And I try to be fair too, in this sense, that whenever I give evidence, I do recommend where they could have considered which would have been a better choice. And they were arguing, “Oh, this is right on the transmission lines – anywhere else, it costs a fortune to get in”, and all the rest of it. And I said, “Well”, I said, “Look where else these transmission lines go.” I said, “They pass that big hill on the left just after you cross over the river, called the Kiwis.” And I said, “The hunters tell me they bloody near get blown off their feet, the wind’s so good up there! And they say the same thing about Tataraakina on the other side. The transmission lines pass very close through there, and they said the wind up there is horrendous.” And I said, “It doesn’t seem as though the windfarm companies want to negotiate with Māori. They don’t [want] Māori to benefit.” I still believe that – can’t say it, but I feel that those were two very good options, but they would’ve rather dealt with Europeans.
And what was happening up at Titiokura – three years before they even lodged a resource consent, Lawrence Yule and the mover and shaker behind it, the Brethren guy, Peter Rakes? He had ended [entered] into a negotiation with … Joe Olsen, I think owned Titiokura at the time … to purchase it on the conditions that, you know, a windfarm was to go ahead, because Rakes was going to make his money like that. So it was all up and agreed between Lawrence Yule and Rakes for three years, and not a whisper. They did keep it so well in committee. It had all been virtually agreed on, planned, this, that and the other, and then they lodged the application for resource consent. We had three weeks to respond. Hello? Three weeks as opposed to three years. And as you can see we were greatly disadvantaged, and not only over the timeframe, but through inexperience. We had no one who told us what our rights were and what would be the best grounds of claim; not even amongst our solicitors. Now as a result, it was approved at Council level – we knew that was going to happen; we knew we could appeal to the Environment Court, and we did, costing a lot of stress; a lot of time;
I did my research for aroha – I did it free, you know, and so forth because we needed to be able to pay our expert witnesses in the landscape field.
To cut a long story short we lost that hearing. And it hurt, because the Commissioner said at the end: “One issue such as landscape, is not enough to topple the whole thing at this level in your favour.” As soon as they said that, I saw what was missing from us. It was the Māori component. So I went straight to Ngati Hineuru and I said, “Look, I predict that now they’ve won the first one, they’ll soon be working on Stage 2s and Stage 3s.” This is where they went to Perry King. Sure enough, they apply very quickly afterwards for thirty-two more turbines, going from Titiokura up on to the top of Te Waka, where the tower is. But we were better armed now, we were no longer as green as before. And so we brought in … Ngati Hineuru were willing to come in, because that is a very spiritual mountain to them. If you go onto the marae at Te Haroto – you know how most marae, they identify themselves with a river or a lake, with a mountain and with a tribe? No prizes for guessing – Titiokura is their sacred mountain, and it’s in that whakatau. I said, “That says it all.” You know? And in their uncharitable state, the opponents towards us saying, “Oh, it’s funny – you’re bringing in all this newly invented Māori history which wasn’t there in the first stage.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. They were very critical, until I turned around and I said – well this is 2005 I think this hearing was heard – I said, “Would you like to go and have a look at the book ‘In the Shadow of Te Waka?’” Which was my history. I said, “You’ll find all this Māori history, published in 1996 (or seven or whatever it was), is already in there. This is not an invention for 2005. It was already documented in that other history well before.” And that shut them down a bit as well.
So … we went through the hearing at the Council level with the new block. Of course the Hearings Committee, under instruction, all supported it. We knew that would happen. Back to the Environment Court again, and we weren’t sure how it would go, you know – I mean the windfarm companies had good witnesses. And often I was disillusioned with some of the expert ones lying to [through] their teeth, and happy to change tack. I shouldn’t be saying this – I’ll probably get sued for it all. But what I did find was, very often they would say one thing at one hearing, but if they wanted ongoing work, you know, for another one, they would change tack and contradict what they’d said in the … You know, witnesses at that level should be consistent.
To cut a long story short, at Environment Court level, we won. And you know, Perry was quite bitter about that. It wasn’t really… it was nothing he’d done wrong.
Well these projects are bigger than individuals.
They are. And of course, he’d been promised much, in advance.
Sometimes based on fallacies.
You probably have more stories to tell?
You obviously haven’t finished yet …
No. [Chuckle] Oh my God, no. [Chuckle] Probably wished I’d shut up! [Chuckle]
No, no …
Well, I was persuaded to do it. The girl Stone, is it? Who’s got something to do with here? Sharon Stone, is she? She’s part Māori – she’s got something to do with here. I’m not clear. But she talked to a Māori friend of mine and said, “Do you think he would consider doing this?” And it was the friend who rang me, and I said, “Well”, I said to her … it was Lexi [Kokua?] from [Moutoa?] … I said, “Well, what do you reckon?” I said, “I’ve done one for ‘Bay Buzz’.” And she said, “Oh,” she said, “No, this is on quite a different level.” Having thought about it I sort of thought to myself, ‘Yes, perhaps I should’, because it’s easier for me to do it like this than to have to write it all out myself. And also too, you ask me things which trigger off memories that I don’t necessarily think about when I’m doing my own writing, and therefore, it’s richer.
[Break; interview continues as follows]
Today’s the fourth day of February, 2019. Patrick, would you like to continue telling us …
So we got up to approximately 2000, probably with jumps backwards and forwards, and it did encourage me to go back to my diaries and just have a look and see … refresh my memory of what I have done. How have I justified the last eighteen years? [Chuckle] And I think that the key is the … you know, the growing reputation in Māori history. There was a time in the 1990s where it was all feast and famine, because there wasn’t really enough work in my field to … you know, to keep me fully employed. And I have other organisations to thank for picking up the slack, if you like, for example, the Napier City Council employed me to identify places of spiritual significance to the Māori on the Ahuriri estuary, and then on the wider Napier territory. And that led to another assignment where they gave me a student from Massey University for about six weeks during the summer, with a GPS machine. And we went round recording Māori archaeological sites as well. So once … A led to B, led to C, and so forth.
I think I spoke last time about the book, ‘In the Shadow of Te Waka’, which was 1997, and that also represented a … another direction that I came to take. And it was through the Te Pohue history committee, some of whom I played tennis with, and their ambitions to get a history written to coincide with the centenary of the school. I wasn’t at all convinced that I was able to perform, never having, you know, done a book before. But as we got into it and a system sort of evolved, whereby I would produce a draft chapter each fortnight and then we would meet, and they comment on the previous draft chapter, I’d hand one over. And suddenly I thought, ‘if we keep going at this pace we’re going to get there,’ which we did. And I didn’t have to involve myself in the funding to get it published or anything – that was their problem – so really I was at the coal face doing what I did best. And lo and behold, it all arrived.
That then led to another commission with the Waipukurau Rotary – they wanted a district history written as well to coincide with … I don’t know … not the year 2000 I don’t think … but [the] sesquicentennial [150-year anniversary] or something or other like that. So I went down and saw them and we developed the same sort of system, and away we went. We had some good local historians there; Alistair Jones in particular, was quite a well-known historian. So that all came to pass as well. And I think it was published in 1999; I remember that the launch was at Mount Vernon homestead – the Harding’s property.
You could also then say that ‘West to the Annie’ – I didn’t write the whole book – I think I commented previously, there were thirteen authors, and I volunteered my services to make sure there’d be a Māori history in that book. And that led to another commission within the commission, because no one else wanted to tackle the opening up of the roadways and so forth to the interior. So I ended up doing about four chapters of that book. And they were interesting times. I was at committee level with the old families, like the Lowrys and the Russells and Matt Ford, who’s Matapiro, and the Beamishes and so forth. And they all had, you know, quite a strong sense of who they were and where they fitted in, and all the rest of it. But as a team we began to work together pretty well. And I remember at first when I did the two Māori chapters, some of them didn’t like it, and they couldn’t come to grips with it. So – Ralph Beamish was one of those. And I said, “Look, can you take it home again and have another read through it, and see if it starts to make sense, because”, I said, “what’s in there is accurate, and” I said “it is not dull history.” And in all fairness to Ralph, he came back to the next meeting. He said, “You’re right.” He said, “I’ve developed a big respect to Renata Kawepo, the old chief, and the way he put money into these projects to make sure bridges were built, and schools were built”, etcetera, etcetera. So that got done as well.
Now getting back into the other areas, like the Māori side of Māori things – not commissioned by Europeans – suddenly I was in vogue to do customary Māori histories for tribal groups, and this was to service their Waitangi Tribunal claims; also for their own knowledge, etcetera, etcetera. And I’ve just listed, going through my diary, some of the ones I got.
I see here, 1997: The History of Ahuriri Block, and that was for a Waitangi Tribunal claim, WAI 400. And did I enjoy that work – I reckon that was my best effort. and I worked on it with a will and doing it mostly on my own, and then sort of sitting down with various Māori people. But that was the Ahuriri purchase, purchased by Donald McLean and co [company] for the government. I think it was two hundred and sixty-seven thousand acres. Tutaekuri River was the southern boundary, Esk River was the northern boundary, then it went over Titiokura to the Mohaka River, up onto the top of the Kawekas, and then dropped back into Tutaekuri. And a big part of the argument at Waitangi Tribunal level concerned the Ahuriri harbour itself, which was a separate claim from the purchase. The argument in that Ahuriri Inner Harbour claim was that the Māori argued they never sold the water to the Crown, only the land. As it transpired, when the decision came out – the Inner Harbour claim was earlier, and the decision was 1995 – and they found that the Māori people were correct – it hadn’t been sold. The claim still hasn’t been settled. It’s a bit like Nga Puhi.
And then I notice here too, I’ve got 1999: Kairakau Lands Trust. And they are a coastal tribal grouping – Kairaku, Mangukuri, Te Apiti – that area in there. And so I had to sort of change tack to meet their requirements; they wanted the genealogies in there as well. And that’s really right in the middle of my field anyway. And so when that report was completed, it not only had a traditional Māori history of those lands, but it also had the genealogies provided; any map work that I could do; I chose the cover for the report, which was that lovely gorge at Kairakau.
And so having done that once, just using that formula I went on to do 2001: Aramoana Coastal Survey, which was a similar project to the one I’d just done, but going further south. It had Pourerere in it, Aramoana, Blackhead, and then down to what I call Parimahu Point at the very northern end of the whole Porangahau territory, looking down. And that was done for the Central Hawke’s Bay District Council, so you can see the variety of commissioners, tribal groupings, Councils, etcetera, etcetera.
2003: the Rangitāne tribe approached me. Now, they are more Dannevirke, Woodville and out towards the coast – Weber, Akitio and so forth. And they wanted a tribal history done for their Waitangi tribunal claims. And they were very good too, in the sense, anywhere I wanted to go someone took me. And you know, I had unusual things I wanted to see, like up on the Puketoi Range there’s a particular rock which is of great ancestral significance – Wahatuara is its name, and a prominent ancestor was buried there. And so they ran me up there and we had some photographs taken, and you know, eventually that history came together.
Now it’s not just a question of me doing the report – I’m expected to appear at those hearings and deliver. And so that became part of my work programme too – appearing at all sorts of hearings, and being available for cross-examination; some of them you know, quite confrontational, because they were government lawyers cross-examining me, and [they] didn’t want us to get away with too much, etcetera, etcetera. But it gave me another skill. And you can see where I’m heading, you know, with the windfarms further down the track and so forth – I had to get used to that whole process, and did.
And also too, the belief that Māori history is not well-recorded in writing is quite false. The Māori Land Court in Hastings has the minute books of the hearings going back to 1865, where all the tribal historians who were still surviving appeared at those Court hearings when they were, you know, awarding the titles to the various Māori blocks. And they came into the Court and they told the history as it had been taught to them by their elders. And then that process where each historian was listening to what another one said; and they had a very civilised way of contradicting someone. They didn’t say, “Oh, he’s a bloody liar”, you know, or anything like that. They’d say, “Kete pai. I have listened to what the last witness has said, and he has recorded what his old people told him. Now I’ll tell you what my old people told me.” And it’s a quite nice way of doing it – you’re not demeaning anyone else; you’re telling what you have learned.
Done with respect.
Exactly, yes. And so there’s the key to my knowledge in Māori history – the Māori Land Court minute books. I know them better than any living person, and there’s a reason for that – I’ve been reading them for forty-five years. And it’s sort of reached the stage where if a Judge wants something in a hurry and the staff can’t find it, they just ring me. And normally I can say, “Look, that’s in Minute Book 38”. I look up in the index and it’s there, and then they swoop in and take the book into the Judge and they look like good employees. [Chuckle]
Someone would say something and someone else who lived in the area [would] say “Yes, I remember that”.
It triggers another memory, doesn’t it?
It does. You have a mind for …
That mindset, yes. And I’ve learned another thing, too; that the Māori system of wānanga, where they sit around a table and discuss something like that – it’s a very effective system. I couldn’t help noticing it the other day – I was with the kaumatua from Tangoio, Bevan Taylor, and the third person at this wānanga was on Skype, you know, we could see her on-screen in Wellington, sort of thing. But I noticed that the three different perspectives that were being brought to the table there … it was working very well as a system, and I actually made that observation at the end. I said, “This session’s gone very well”, I said. And I recognise the value of the old Māori wānanga system for resolving these things. And we too, in the European world, we have it too – you know, where you have committees and so forth, that sit down and discuss these things.
Jumping on … 2010 was a busy year for me, because I got two tribal histories to do. One’s called ‘Maungaharuru Tangitu’, and that’s the area from the north of the Ahuriri Inner Harbour going through to say, Bayview, Tongoio, Tutira, the Waikare River and up to the Mohaka River – that territory there. And they wanted a history done because they were subjected to that Mohaka–Waikare confiscation, because the Crown, you know, identified some of their people as helping the Hauhaus, and Te Kooti and … etcetera, etcetera. And so I set to work on that.
And then the neighbouring tribal group inland – I’m talking about Te Haroto/Tarawera, Ngati Hineuru – they wanted exactly the same thing done. And they kind of correlated with the one I was already doing. So I set to work. I was going overseas for a break, and I had to get two draft reports done, but because they dove-tailed well, and because I knew where the information was to be found, I was actually able to deliver both those draft summaries perhaps three days before I took off overseas.
Yes, so it all sort of dove-tailed quite well.
I’ve identified one more here – 2015: The Manawatu Gorge. Now that commission was with the Manawatu Department of Conservation, and with what’s come to pass more recently and so forth, they felt the need for a traditional Māori history of that gorge. And so I’m working with two groups of Rangitāne who don’t necessarily agree with one another – the Rangitāne of the Upper River, above the entrance to the gorge. So you’ve got Woodville and Dannevirke, etcetera, etcetera – so they are Rangitāne of the Upper River. And then when you get to the other end of the gorge, they talk about themselves as Rangitāne of the Lower River, and that takes you right down to the mouth. So as best I could, and consulting with both groups, I set to work on that. And the Department of Conservation gave me a man to help me, particularly with you know, getting around to the places I needed to visit, because I’m one of these historians who has to see it on the land as well. I can’t do it all in the office. So you know, there’s a tapu rock in the middle of the gorge, and various bits and pieces of the history, but I pulled it together; enjoyed doing it, as I do anyway. And so that was all finished I think, in 2015.
And that’s where I’ll stop that section, because all I’m trying to do is give you an insight into a field that I sort of strayed into, and where there was plenty of work for a historian of my type. And there has to be work for them, or else they can’t function. So there was that.
Then I found Pan Pac Forestry. Through the Resource Management Act and various other rulings, they had a responsibility to the lands that they were planting, and in particular, harvesting, [voices in background] to identify places of significance to the Māori, and try and preserve them during the harvesting process – not have logs dragged right through the middle of a pā; and preferably, where they hadn’t been planted already, to identify them in advance so they could leave them unplanted.
I was younger then, so the field-tripping part didn’t bother me. All I did request was another man with me, because a lot of the places I was going, if anything had happened to me no one would’ve known etcetera, etcetera. And also too, it meant I could drop the other chap at a certain point, drive on and then work back towards him so that we were doubly effective and in half the time. And the man who helped me, he was an Irishman and he belonged to some sort of tramping group – orienteering, it was – so he was the ideal man to have with me.
So working for Pan Pac, I did the forests right behind Whirinaki where the mill is. I did the lands up towards Waipatiki, Aropaoanui, around Te Pohue … the forests there … even right back towards Tarawera as well … you know, bigger forests, bush-bashing a bit [chuckle] to get through them and all the rest of it. But it gave me work, and also gave me a feel for lands that I hadn’t known very well before.
And what was happening there was, I was actually spreading my scope on the land, and today the end result of all that is that – yes, there are other historians out there, and some of them have got expertise in Māori history and so forth, but they don’t stray beyond their own tribal history. I’m expected to provide to an overview of all the tribal histories around about – and can.
And in fact that would give you a much more balanced view of what was happening?
Yep. And I’m always reading different pints of view of the same story, and I’ve learned what I reckon are references you can have confidence in and ones that are a bit dubious.
The same thing with genealogies; I’ve just finished a report for Maungahururu-Tangitu on a particular family who reckon they’ve been left out of proceedings – wrongly – and they’ve identified the tribe that they belong to, and they claim that they had the biggest influence over certain areas. Now from my background knowledge, I know that they’re not correct. But I’ve got to prove that. And so I waded through a string of genealogies, because part of what I’ve collected over the years are what they call whakapapa books, where different families and different tribal groups have prepared genealogies; it’s part of their cultural identity and their belief. And some of them are remarkably good books, you know? Not error-ridden … some are, but others aren’t. And so I’ve acquired over the years forty-three of these books. And … they’re photocopies.
And they will be relating to a wide cross-section …
There you are – yes.
Well you have something to compare …
Correct. And among those whakapapa books there are two from Wairarapa; several from the Rangitāne area; other ones dotted right through here; then taking you up to Tutira; Waikare River; Mohaka; Mahia Peninsula. So I’ve got a wide spread that I can consult, and that’s exactly what I did on this project I’ve just finished. And so I was quoting genealogies directly from about four different books to show the disparity between them, and then how I came to the conclusion I did in terms of the identity of these people. And they do belong in Tutira, but not under the tribe that they identified. And I suppose in all fairness to them, if they didn’t have the other whakapapa they had no means of identifying who the other wing was. So I get involved in that quite a bit.
I also get involved in wānangas for marae. Now this may sound a bit strange, but it happens. Most marae around here, if they are having a genealogy seminar where people can expect to attend it, sometimes over two weekends, come away better informed about where they fit in that genealogy. And who, predominantly, is asked to deliver them? Not their own tribal historians – me.
Yes. And I think that’s probably what they like. And also too, during my research project, I draw them all up, and they actually get them. You know, they get perhaps say, ten, twelve, fourteen pages of genealogies in which they can expect to identify themselves. So I’m a good service as far as they’re concerned.
And now it’s come to this stage of my life at seventy-six, and you know, having had one or two health problems and people thinking, ‘well, we better get him before he falls of the perch’ … [cough] I am trying to get together groups of students that I can take out to these places, because there’s another thing that starts to fall off as you get, you know, older – how far you can walk on a field trip. And luckily I still can, but it’s getting harder … course it is. And I’ve done two recently – one, I went up to Willowford on the Tutaekuri River. I wanted to show one of the students a … a tapu rock in the river. They call it Mahu’s Rock … Mahu’s Boulder. Now normally, I could’ve got by vehicle to fairly close to where I wanted to go. There’d been a wash-out in their roadways – it’s a big dairy farm, and we couldn’t go by vehicle so we had to walk, or not go. And I would say probably I did about nine ks [kilometres] there and back, and you’re walking across the terrace of the dairy farm; you have to drop down into the gorge to get to the rock, and you’ve got to climb back out again the same, you know …
Is that in the ..?
Tutaekuri River. To get to Willowford you go up the Taihape road, past Otamauri, and then you turn right into Willowford Road and that takes you across to the Tutaekuri River.
That must lay in behind Hartrees somewhere?
It does. Yeah. And Lew Harris’s old property, Mangatutu Station, is straight across the river. And of course the river was up a bit because of the rains, but we got there all right. [Background noise] And I was pretty whacked by the time I got back to the car. Fortunately I’d had the presence of mind to stick a few chilled cans in the boot so we were able to sit on the edge of the boot and recover.
And I’m getting another phenomenon too now, where Māori people are ringing me, concerned that … am I overdoing it? Like, in the sense, for me, health-wise. One rang me the other day having heard I’d been up to Mahu’s Rock, and that I’m likely to be going up to show them a hot spring even further up the Tutaekuri in a very deep gorge. Now the man who rang was one I took up to see that hot spring about three years ago. And it happened that on the day that I went to it, I was suffering from irregular heartbeat – atrial fibrillation – which I do. And mine’s one of these funny ones which goes in and out of sync, and I can go to the cardiologist and get on the belt and walk, and he’s measuring me; he said, “Your heartbeat’s perfectly normal today.” But sometimes electrical whatsanames … That particular day it took me a long time to get back out of the gorge again because I was panting, and I had to stop a lot. And so he rang me; he said, “Do you think it’s wise you’re going up there again?” He said, “You know, you had difficulty three years ago.” And I said, “I have to choose my day”, and I said, “I can tell when my heart beats regularly – just feel my pulse”, and so forth, but I said, “I do need to take the person, in person.” And I said, “You’re welcome to come again.”
Now one of my tramping mates is Doug Knight, who is a surgeon. And on an occasion we were up at the Sunrise Hut, and I had a day where my heartbeat was irregular then as well, and he was with me. And he rang me two days later; he said, “You’d better get that checked”, he said. “You know, you’re puffing there.” And I said, “I know what it is.”
But okay – so all this to say … people expressing concern, particularly about me going somewhere on my own. And I used to walk along the cliff-tops, identifying pā sites; up Aropaoanui, Moeangiangi; up there, but I used to say to them, “Look – I’m not taking foolish risks; I’m not standing on the edge of any cliffs at all”, sort of thing. But I said, “There is no shortcut to what I do.” I said, “I have to field-trip it.” I said, “It’s no use me sitting and looking at an aerial map and hoping …“, etcetera, etcetera. And I said, “It’s the way I work; it’s how I like to do it, and it gives me a greater knowledge of the land than I’d ever have otherwise.”
Just one question, Pat – Mahu’s Rock. Who was Mahu?
Good question. Because there are several candidates for Mahu. [Chuckle]
Now, how did I even learn about Mahu’s Rock? I was visiting an elderly Māori lady. You know there’s another marae up Taihape Road – you go out from Omahu and it’s on the edge of Lake Ohiti. Runanga is the name of it. Now I was visiting this old lady one day, and when I arrived there, she had another old lady visiting her. And during the course of our conversations, the other lady who I didn’t know, said, “Have you ever heard the story about the seven boulders of Mahu?” And I said, “No, I haven’t.” And she said, “Well”, she said “it was told to me often enough when I was young”, and she said, “the seven boulders are all in the Tutaekuri River.” And she said, “The first one is where you start your count from.” And she said, “It sits in the river bed”, and she said, “I know approximately where it is, but” she said, “I don’t know where the other six are.” She said, “All I know is, as you go up the river, counting from that first boulder, when you come to number seven”, which is well up towards Kaweka, “that’s where you have to get out of the gorge, and that leads you on to the two lakes there, near Kuripapango. If you don’t get out then, you’re stuck in the gorge until you get [chuckle] right up to the mountain.”
And so when I got home that night, I wrote that information down, and where I’d heard it and so forth. And I thought, ‘Well, I’ll go and see if I can find this.’ She was able to identify quite well … like, she said, “It’s opposite Mangatutu Station.” And she said, “Apparently it’s quite an obvious boulder in the river.” So I went for a walk up there, quite quickly afterwards – within a few days. I stumbled across it all right, and I photographed it and this, that and the other. And so I then knew where the first of the seven boulders was, but no one else knows. And that’s why I need to take students and show them, ‘cause otherwise the knowledge dies again.
And also by photographing it, making notes, and I keep them all in a folder; it’s much better documented than it would’ve been otherwise.
But which Mahu? First of all, you’ve got the Mahu that Omahu is named after. It’s conceivable it’s him because he would’ve crossed the Tutatekuri River to get to Omahu. He came from Lake Waikaremoana – that’s where his place of origin was.
Now there is also a tribe or sub-tribe based on the Tutaekuri River called Ngati Mahu. They’re one of the sub-tribes, you know, together with Ngati Hinepare who are at Moteo and Wharerangi. Now this Ngati Mahu is a smaller sub-tribe, but they are under the protection of the bigger tribe. Now it could be named after them because they lived on the river – where exactly? Beyond Dartmoor, you know where Sacred Hill Winery is? Up in that territory there, and heading back in the direction of exactly where we’re talking about. So they too are a candidate.
There’s a third. One of the stories concerning the naming of the Tutaekuri River – and I’m revealing to you something totally unknown before – the previous name of the river before it became the Tutaekuri – all to do with dogs. But the ancient name of the river was Te Wai-o-Mahurangi. And it could be that that Mahu’s what commemorates that as well.
Now who was this dog, Mahurangi? He was one of a set of three ancestral-type dogs … almost mythical. And they belonged to an ancestor called Tamahautu. And he got worried as he got older, who was going to look after the dogs when he died, because they didn’t seem to die like normal dogs. And someone heard about this and they asked if they could have them for their daughter. And he didn’t think that was appropriate so he declined. And that person went away, but eventually, as he was about to die, someone else took them over. His name was Tara – and he’s not the Tara that we know here; he’s a separate one. And fortunately, in the recounting of the story the person who tells it also recites the genealogy, so we can differentiate between the two Taras. Anyway, this Tara inherits these dogs and they are wilful and disobedient. And they kept on running away on him, and he had to sort of chase them and catch them and so forth. Well, they ran into the sea and swam out to sea … I can’t remember the names of the first two. But they never came back, and one became the ancestor of the whales in that mythology. Another one became the ancestor of the seals. The third one swam ashore again and this is this Mahurangi. But … didn’t change his habits; he came running – starting off north of Poverty Bay somewhere – he ran his way down through the province here, and various places were named after things that happened on the way. One was the crossing of the Tutaekuri River, which spawned the name Te Wai-o-Mahurangi. Lake Poukawa somehow or other got its name from something he did there. The two lakes that keep on flooding, you know, in a good storm there near Te Aute College – Roto a Tara is one, but we now find out it’s not the Tara we thought it was – it’s this one who’s chasing his dog. The lake at Hatuma at Waipukurau – that was named … something to do with this dog. And then you get to a place down near Takapau called Te Whiti a Tara; now, it was a clearing in the Seventy Mile Bush. And while he was there, the dog ran off into the bush and he could hear it barking in the distance, and following it, but he heard it from that clearing. And so it kept the name Te Whiti a Tara. Sufficient to say, carrying on down, this kept on repeating, and then when you get to the entrance of the Manawatu Gorge, the Māori name for that is Te Waha o Te Kuri … (the mouth of the dog). And in the distance, he could hear the dog barking. He knew where it was and he followed it through.
Now I could spend an hour telling you the whole story, but in the end, both man and dog were killed by a tribe on the other side of the gorge. And a wind, like an ancestral warning wind, blew back up to where man and dog had come from, and the father of the man was able to read this wind and he knew what had happened. And so he came down with that wind harnessed in a gourd, or something – other container – and that wind was able to identify where the people who’d done the wrong to his son were living. And then he opened the calabash and the wind got out when they were fishing and it blew across them and drowned them all. And so you know, you get these types of stories. So … you asked how Mahu got its name.
It was a simple question, but this is how history can take you on such a big circle.
Circuit – yes, yes. I too – I have the luxury of not having to make a call on it. What I can say is my research has uncovered three possibilities here. And this where I learned them from; this is what they say; and … take your pick! [Chuckle]
I can tell you, both I and Māori generally, when I found that story, we were all grateful because that question has come up before. Because the Tutaekuri [River] was only named in the 1600s, and it must have had a name before. And I thought the same thing myself. Now we do have a name from much earlier. And also too, I found a supporting reference from a very reputable historian. It was old Ihaka Whanga from Nuhaka, Mahia. He actually tells the story too; he gives the same name, Te Wai-o-Mahurangi, and he says that’s the old name for the Tutaekuri River. So I’m confident that you know, I do have a second reference – it’s not just … looks as though Parsons has made it up. [Chuckle]
So I did a lot of work for Pan Pac, and that kept me employed. But looming in the background were these … Cape Kidnappers; Julian Robertson, the American billionaire who wanted to build an exclusive lodge – not where it is now. Well he wanted to put it out at Black Reef to capture that iconic view of the Cape. And as soon as I heard it I recognised that this is one of the seven outstanding landscapes which were identified by the Isthmus Report, and which are in the Council for some measure of protection from just such things happening. But unfortunately we had a mayor who believed that any business ventures were better than none, and that we could surrender the landscape values for a better offer. And so the Hearings committee when Julian Robertson applied for resource consent, they were under instruction that ‘we shouldn’t be being obstructive to this; we’ve got a wealthy benefactor and it’s going to be good for business for the province and [??] famous golf course’, etcetera, etcetera. So almost to a man the Hearings committee said, “We prefer the evidence of Julian Robertson’s expert witnesses.” And we, you know, the opposing witnesses – we were scuttled.
So we had two options: just let it be, or challenge it to the Environment Court which is of much higher calibre than any Hearings committee round here, as we were to find out time and again. [Chuckle] So it went to the Environment Court. We could ill-afford it, you know, we were operating with basic expert staff. And so we went through a whole Environment Court hearing, feeling that we were very much the ‘David and Goliath’ sort of situation, because you know, a man of his wealth could buy any expertise he wanted.
One thing I’ll say here, you know, and other people wouldn’t say it, but I did. I learned something from it: expert witnesses. I have my difficulty with them, because I experienced them hearing after hearing after hearing. What I found was, they were changing their expertise from hearing to hearing, because they weren’t going to get employed if they didn’t go along with what the employer wanted. And I got a bit disillusioned about that because I thought, ‘there should be consistency.’ But if there is consistency, sometimes there isn’t work. And I was being touted as an expert witness, and I felt that really, more than anything, I’d done an apprenticeship. [It] wasn’t university training, but I found that the other people at those hearings treated me with the respect of an expert witness, which allowed me to believe more in myself, sort of thing.
And so we went through that whole process believing that we had little chance of winning it, and you can imagine our astonishment when the Environment Court came out in our favour. And we fully expected the billionaire to challenge it to a higher court; he could easily afford to. But I’ll give him credit there because he noticed something during the course of all those proceedings – that public opinion was starting to change, and it was against him, and he couldn’t afford that. So he simply said, “The judge has spoken. I will build my lodge elsewhere.”
And we, as the adversaries, we had the right to approve his next choice, and not only that, it was the mayor who had to take us around – I could see it stuck in his throat having to do it. But we went out there and I said to our group – because in a lot of ways we were a motley group … people in there with their own agendas and so forth, and some of them really counter-productive to what we were trying to achieve – but I said, “Look – we have achieved our objective, and that’s to keep him off the Cape. I don’t think we should start getting precious over another choice.” So we went out and we had a look. I could see that it was still a very nice panorama that he was choosing, and looking almost directly down on his golf course, and so we gave our approval. He would’ve got it … he’d’ve done it anyway. And so there was number one of the experience of the Environment Court. And my respect for the commissioners – I could see they were of a much higher calibre than anything from a Hearings committee round here.
Straight on top of that, there was an announcement that there was going to be a windfarm applied for at Titiokura. Now, Titiokura is one of the seven outstanding landscapes, too, and I thought, ‘my God – here we go!’ And we were naïve; we were inexperienced – particularly at arguing landscape values; and now we learned during the course of that hearings process that it was Peter Rakes … he’s a Brethren of some sort round here. He had negotiated to buy Titiokura Station off one of the Olsen family for the construction of this windfarm if it was identified as having sufficient wind and met all the criteria. What I didn’t know was that he worked together with the mayor for three years, planning this whole thing – all totally secret – we didn’t even get wind. And so when they applied for the resource consent, we had three weeks to respond to three years of planning the whole thing. And that’s where, through inexperience, and also arguing it under the ONF7 … that means Outstanding Natural Feature Number 7. That was the seventh one because it was in the Council boundaries, and one of the seven that was identified by the Isthmus Report. So we were really debating it on what the Isthmus Report said. To people like myself that was an enlightened document, because they articulated something that we’d half-thought, without being able to put into words ourselves. The more I read through that report, the more I started to take on board the values that were being articulated.
And so we lost the hearing, of course, at Council level. We appealed it to the Environment Court, the same way we’d done with Julian Robertson. It was our only recourse, or else accept them. I was already seeing what was happening at Woodville – how the windfarms were desecrating those ranges there. And I thought, ‘Do we want this? Particularly on an identified Outstanding Natural Feature – one of the rims of the province, and we’re going to have to have windfarms along it.’
We lost the hearing, so we appealed it to the Environment Court. We were arguing on landscape issues almost exclusively. We brought in Richard Holdaway, the palaeontologist, because there’d been archaeological findings. We didn’t bring in the Māori. We were too inexperienced to even think of that, and we lost the Environment Court hearing. And you know, that really hurt me because I really felt that what was being proposed radically was wrong.
In my evidence I always identified somewhere else they could consider. Now those transmission lines carry on over the Mohaka River, up to through Te Haroto/Tarawera, and there’s that big range of the left as you’re climbing up from the other side from the river, called the Kiwis. Now the hunters – you know, pig hunters and so on – told me, “Believe me, there’s good wind on the Kiwis too – you just about get blown over there.” And then the Māori people at Tataraakina, on the right-hand side, they said the wind up there is excellent too. Now they both met the criteria of being close to the transmission lines, so in my evidence I said, “Have you considered the possibility of the Kiwis and Tataraakina?” And I only came to the conclusion in the end that they didn’t consider those because they were both Māori-owned lands … still are … and they didn’t want Māori to benefit from it. They preferred what Rakes was doing; buying a piece of European land with no Māori issues involved, etcetera, etcetera. And they had the anemometers up there, measuring wind, etcetera.
So I said to our group … and it was a different group from the Cape Kidnappers one. It involved the Patoka people – Thomas Cross’s boys and various other ones – good people to work with; good values. So I said, “You can bet your bottom dollar, now they have gained that first one, they’ll apply for a second windfarm.” And they did, within weeks. The first windfarm, as you get to the top of Titiokura, was predominantly on the right-hand side of the road, and now they were applying for another thirty-two turbines going up on to … there’s a tower up there, on the flat Te Waka Range. And so we lodged our submissions opposing that. And I said to the people concerned, “I can see now what was missing from our first Environment Court hearing.” Because the Environment Court in its ruling did say to us, “You didn’t have enough issues in your case to roll the argument in your favour.”
So I went up to Te Haroto and I talked to the Māori people there, and they said, “Mate, we’ll get behind you. That range is of spiritual value to us.” They said, “That’s the mountain we acknowledge from the marae.” You know how usually on a marae they acknowledge a lake or a river, a marae and an ancestor? Well, Titiokura was their sacred mountain. And I said, “Perfect. I’d wish I’d known that when we were doing the first hearing.”
So, at Council level of course, the Hearings committee, once again under instruction, voted almost to a man to approve it. And they disregarded their district plan; they disregarded the protection mechanisms for the Outstanding Natural Landscapes, and went ahead. So we challenged it to Environment Court level again. We had to put in money ourselves to afford the people; the Cross’s were great benefactors; I put in $15,000 and I wasn’t even directly involved. But we had committee members who were wavering – farmers who could much better than me afford to support it, but weren’t. Anyway, to cut a long story short it went to Environment Court, and to our surprise we won, which cut in half the ambitions of the ones who’d won the first one. We’re talking about – it was Unison, first of all. And I said to the committee, “I bet they’ll have another go at us.” And do you know what they did? They lodged another application minus two turbines, thinking that financially they’d break us – pretty accurate! [Chuckle]
And so we had to front up again, and it didn’t look at all promising. The Environment Court Judge – he was asking hard questions. And of course we had good Māori support by now, too – they’d become accustomed to this, and it had been the Māori support that had won us Stage 2. So we went through the hearings process at Environment Court level for the third time. And I said, “It’s not looking promising – that Judge is … he’s pretty hard-nosed. He seems to be in the other camp.” Well, to our astonishment, he judged in our favour again. And we were surprised because it hadn’t looked all that promising, just listening to the evidence. Not that we … they’re the Commissioners, not us, of course. And so we were delighted because we felt that that scuttled the whole of the windfarm issue. And the judge died two weeks later.
Who was the judge?
I can’t remember his name; he was from Auckland. He was obviously unwell. We were so grateful to him because he persevered and got the report finished just before he died.
So, talking to Heugh Chapelle – you know, from National Radio, I said to him, “Heugh, the one that hurt was the one that got away, because if we had had the experience that we’d had when we got to Stage 2 and Stage 3, we would’ve won that one as well.”
Okay. That gave Peter Rakes a buffer zone of six years to start activating it, or else the consent would lapse. Now he didn’t get it started in those six years, but he went back to the Council behind the scenes and they rolled it over for another six years, unbeknown to us. And so that gave them another six years to do it, and at the end of the second six years, if it hasn’t been at least started, we the opponents could apply to have the whole thing blocked. We didn’t know that.
And so two lots of six years passed. Okay, the windfarm thing started in 2005, 2006. 2005 and six is 2011 – that lapsed. The second one took you through to 2017. That lapsed too. Had we known our rules we could’ve had the whole thing blocked. They did the same thing again – they had rolled it over in secret. And then – it’s just been announced they’re now going to go ahead with a windfarm there.
Oh yes. Yeah. Funny, nothing’s got into the media at all – it’s all still very secret and I only learned in October last year.
So without mentioning any names, I went to a landscape architect and I said, “Is there anything we can do?” So he went back to the Council’s own legislation, and he found that we had the right to apply to have the whole thing stopped, because two sets of six years had passed and it hadn’t been started. But we hadn’t objected, and that time had passed.
So I then went back and looked at that legislation. I’ve taken it back to the solicitors for Ngati Hineuru, who are the Te Haroto people, and I’m saying as a private individual, “I’m not happy with this. Your solicitors have let you down. It’s not for me, a member of the public, to identify that there’s something in the legislation which could’ve blocked it. What have your solicitors been doing?” Everyone’s a bit embarrassed, and the CEO, the one I’m working through – I noticed he’s not getting back to me when I’m trying to contact him, and I feel that the solicitors had advised him, “Well look, this is going to be a bad look for us if it’s all brought up again.” But I said to him, “I can take this to the media at the very least, and alert the public to what’s going to happen here and how it’s come to pass.” And I said, “I won’t do it in isolation, but,” I said, “I’ll talk to Ngati Hineuru about it … the people that you’re representing … and see what the consensus is. If they say, “Don’t worry about it, Pat – too bad,” I’ll walk away from it.” But I said, “A big part of me tells me that in fact that windfarm should not be going ahead; that there are cultural values, particularly it being their sacred mountain as they identify it from their marae.” And hello, it’s going to have turbines all along the top of it? And as a gateway, coming into province on State Highway 5 from Taupo, as you come up from the Mohaka River, your first experience of Hawke’s Bay as you go over Titiokura, is going to be these big turbines. All right, so I’ve said enough about that whole issue, but I have brought it up to 2019. [Chuckle]
One other thing that I wanted to mention here, too – I have great respect for [Gottfried] Lindauer, the Māori portrait artist. I have a Lindauer painting, of Airini Donnelly, you know, the prominent Chieftainess around here.
Yes, the former Miss Karauria, that’s right. And the story about how I acquired it’s quite remarkable too, but through my long interest in Lindauer, I’ve found out where the Lindauer paintings … well, put it this way – I’ve made myself quite an authority on Lindauer by going back to his commissions; notebooks; seeing who he was commissioned to paint; knowing that Walter Buller of Buller’s Bird Book was a great patron of his; as well as Partridge, and so forth. I was approached in 2004 about curating an exhibition of Lindauer paintings, and it was all going to be done through the Art Centre in Hastings – and was. And so I set to work with a will and I had to find the paintings for the exhibition. Now, I got thirty-three. And that was about as many as the round room could contain. I was working with the Cultural Trust – a fairly uneasy relationship, because they were under-funding it the whole time. And I wanted security there, and I wanted certain rules about things about being photographed. I did all the work; I found the paintings; I researched and wrote the provenance of each one; and I made myself available during the course of the exhibition … not nearly long enough. It was about, say, ten weeks, but I made myself available Tuesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons to do a one-hour lecture so that people would have that as well.
Where was it held?
At the Art Centre in Hastings, you know the big round room? Well the paintings were all around it. And what I felt was, not only a good exhibition but an exceptional one.
It didn’t get nearly the exposure it should’ve done publicity-wise, to make sure that a big public came to see it. It was reasonably well-attended around here, but at the end of the ten weeks, people from Poverty Bay were saying to me, “We had no idea it was on – we’d’ve come down!” And people from Palmerston saying the same. And I sort of felt – you’re not going to get an exhibition like that together again, because I wasn’t just borrowing from museums, I was going back to marae where I knew they had those paintings. And because of my, you know, association with them, they allowed me to borrow them, and so forth. I borrowed them from private families, etcetera, etcetera. I borrowed several from over Taihape way. And the Taihape Māori were excellent. They came over in bus-loads to see it, and so forth.
I was part of the Havelock community raising money for the Havelock Library. We decided we would run a cultural and art show; we would go to the national museum and we’d get some of our other great Māori painters.
We had four Goldies. We raised a lot of money. We sold all of the stuff that we displayed.
Do you know roughly what year that was? After 2000 or before?
No, no, before 2000.
‘Cause I don’t think I attended that.
No, it was before that. The next one we did, we had all the racing colours and cups from all the horse studs. Hawke’s Bay was very, very strong in racing.
Oh, the Lowrys would’ve had plenty of cups on their own!
Oh … all the racing colours, and …
But you know, I was just one of the team, but we were all walking to the same beat.
As you have to. You do. You do, and you develop an expertise you never had before.
There’s nothing you can’t do.
Yeah. That I have learned.
One comment I’ll make about that [Lindauer] exhibition – we borrowed three paintings from Te Papa, and they were a bit precious about it all – they wanted a and blah, blah, blah. So when they brought them up, we got in various Māori kaumatua and so forth, and we were all sitting in the round room, just waiting. And then the Te Papa people arrived, and they had all the paintings wrapped up and all the rest of it, and we were all noisy and chattering and laughing away and all the rest of it. And then they opened the paintings up, and suddenly everyone fell silent. And I noticed it, you know – I noticed a kind of a reverence, almost as though – Lindauer has arrived. [Chuckle] And suddenly we switched into the formalities very easily and naturally, because of the impact that those three unpacked paintings had. And I knew we had a good exhibition straight away.
So … Airini Donnelly. She [her portrait] was sold here at auction by Murray McKearney. Well, it was over forty years ago, and a bridge engineer from Woodville purchased her, and she’d remained in his family for forty years. He didn’t know anything about her. And then Evelyn Cooper was coming out with her book, and she came to see me and she said, “Do you know who’s got the Lindauer painting of Airini? I’d love to have it for the cover of the book.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know specifically, but,” I said, “you ring Kevin MacIntyre from Woodville – he’s a Lindauer buff – he will no doubt be able to tell you.” So that’s what happened. He was an elderly man, he was eighty-six; I think he’s still alive. He lives in Palmerston – he’d moved from Woodville.
And anyway, Evelyn contacted him and he said, “What a pity!” He said, “I’d always hoped to find the family that my painting came from and offer back to them.” And he said, “Would you believe?” he said, “She’s on the floor at Dunbar Sloanes in Wellington, coming up for auction – only about three weeks away.” And so Evelyn was upset, but she went round the family to see if they’d be interested in bidding for it. And no one was … didn’t have the money, anyway. And so she came to me. I don’t think she had any plans of me trying to buy anything at all, but really a shoulder to cry on. And she said she asked the owner, you know, if he would sell it privately. He said, “I would sell it back to them for the same price I paid McKearney.” And then of course, she couldn’t get that price … was $15,000 I think; you know, it was very cheap.
And you bought it?
I did in the end, yeah. Now what happened was, when Evelyn came to see me, she said, “He would be prepared to sell it back to the family.” And I said, “I wonder if he would sell it back to me on condition that I enjoy it for life because I’ve bought it? And I in my will, [will] return it to you people.” So I got hold of his phone number eventually, and I rang him and I talked it through with him. I said, “Look, would it be acceptable to you if I purchased it, because the family don’t have the money to do it, on the condition that I provide for it to be returned to them when I pass on?” He said, “That would be fine.” And do you know, the old man drove down to Dunbar Sloanes, who were not at all happy because they had it on the cover of their catalogue! And so they fined him $3,000 [chuckle] so they could do a new cover with a different painting, and he brought it home, to his credit. So he then rang me, and I said, “Okay”, I said, “there are protocols are here.” I said “I’ll ring the kaumatua from the Lower River “ … Wiremu Te Awe Awe’s his name … “and ask him if he’ll come to do all the ceremonial stuff for the handover.” I rang Evelyn Cooper and she came down as well. So we went down and we had a morning tea, and there was Airini, sitting on the wall still, and we all – Māori-style – had a little kōrero [discussion, meeting] with her and so forth. And then Wiremu Te Awe Awe did all the correct karakia [incantations, prayers] to change the ownership. And so I then found myself sitting down at the table with my chequebook, writing out the cheque – it was $15,000 I paid. It’s not long ago this happened.
Oh, isn’t it?
No, only in the last two years. Yeah, yeah. No, it wasn’t a high price … well, put it this way … I could afford it. And that was the bottom line, because I thought, ‘I don’t want that painting sold at Dunbar Sloanes and ending up in a boardroom in Wellington or something or other.’ Yes.
So it was at a point at that meeting down there where I felt I almost needed to leave. And I said, “Look, there’s no point in me hanging around any longer”, and so we wrapped her up in bubble wrap and all the rest of it, and I said, “Come on, Airini, I’m taking you home.” Evelyn burst into tears, [chuckle] etcetera, etcetera. So I brought her home and she just sat wrapped up at home ‘til I could get another kaumatua at this end to do the same karakia, to get her up and running.
Now – why did I do this? You only know part of the story. My family on the Lopdell side – we have a close association with the Donnellys. My grandfather, Leo Lopdell, co-managed Mangaohane Station for the Donnellys from 1900 to 1909, and he knew Airini personally, and he knew her daughter Maude, and so forth. And when he got engaged to Nana in 1909, he resigned from up there – he thought he’d better come back down to civilisation. And he got a job on Kaiwaka Station – I think it was the Dolbel brothers then. Yeah, and so when Mrs Donnelly heard that he was leaving and getting married, she sent him over a cloak as a wedding present. It’s a big korowai with the tassels on it. I have it, to this day. That’s really why I bought it. Yeah.
A beautiful story.
Mmm. And so she sits on my wall. I wrote up a set of protocols and took it into my solicitor to include it in my will and … now, I nominated four trustees for the Donnelly descendants. So I nominated my four trustees, I rang them all and told them – Evelyn is one of the four – and I put that in my will.
And so when it came to her launching her book, she rang … “Would I be able to have the painting for the occasion?” I said, “Of course”. It’s part of the conditions I made, and if I travel, I leave the painting with one of the trustees ‘til I get back. And I did that in 2016 – I must’ve already had the painting in 2016 because Doug McGinnis was the man I gave it to until I got back again. So there we are.
And it’s funny how this whole thing’s sort of came full story. In the very first episode of our interview, I identified Airini’s descendant at Hereworth as one of the things that aroused my interest in this whole Māori thing. So it’s payback time. [Chuckle]
My father in about 1937 bought an Oldsmobile Straight 8, and it had belonged to the Donnellys.
Oh, Maude Perry probably, the daughter of Airini. She had big cars.
But that’s a wonderful story.
Now, I’ll finish off by … I’ll just talk about me, now – another dimension of me. I think throughout my lifetime, I’ve been searching for somewhere where I feel I belong. And part of where I feel I belong now, is in the work that I do. I feel I’ve actually come to my right niche, you know, that this is something that I was meant to do. I feel I do it well, and that it’s a job that really needs doing. And now my problem is the handing on of it all. I went through the process recently with the EIT at Taradale; I was starting to hand over my volumes of the Blake collection, which I spoke about.
Part of satisfying that sense of who I am and where I belong is in genealogy and d’you know, I never really thought very much about my own origins until I got interested in Māori genealogy. And there came a very specific day – I was in my thirties by then – where I had almost like an epiphany where I thought, ‘hey, I must have an ancestry too, just like these Māori people do!’ How obvious … and yet it hadn’t really registered with me. And gosh – did that put me onto another good journey – a journey of my own explorations.
I still have two grandmothers living. And one of the spin-offs from that, was that we became good mates, right at that last stage of their lives. And I used to go and visit them regularly; they had good knowledge of my family history; they had old photographs and all the rest of it. And so old Mary Parsons, second wife of Grandfather Phil – she lived to ninety-five, and she was a wonderful help. I would’ve struggled to have got the entrance to my family trees on that side without her. And Nana Lopdell, Mum’s mother – she lived to eighty-eight, and she served the same purpose. Now since then I’ve had a wonderful exploration of my ancestry, going back to the places where I came from, you know, hunting around, just being there, not owning anything there any more, but still having that strong sense of heritage – that belonging part of it all. And d’you know, I maintain today that half of the problem with people who are a bit lost not having that sense of belonging? And I try to instill that in the Māori wanangas I deliver, because they have it built in with their whakapapa and their communal marae base and so forth, and their getting together for tangis [Māori funerals] and so forth; it sort of serves that role.
So over the years, I have always tried to go back to Europe, in particular, although I like the States – for different reasons. I like their national parks, and they’ve got so many that you can visit one a year for thirty years if you can afford it, because they’re diverse, and for a Kiwi anyway, we have an affinity with national parks. It’s sort of built into our wide open spaces and not being overpopulated. So I’ve done that regularly.
I’ve found things I never ever expected to find in my family ancestry. And you know, it takes me back on both sides to a very interesting period in our histories. I think recounted the story about the Crusades and how I stumbled across the fact that my remote ancestor was on one of them. And then on the Lopdell side, we were Anglo-Irish, which was never very fashionable in Ireland.
No, it wasn’t. [Chuckles]
And yet, my great-great-grandfather at Athenry was a revered man in a Catholic community, when he was actually Anglo-Irish and not Catholic. And when I researched that fully, I found that a lot of the reverence that he was held in was how he behaved during the potato famine, and how he was the one man who wasn’t as well off as some of the great lords, who gave nothing. He reduced his rents by half because he knew that the tenants couldn’t afford them and so forth. And he also gave free legal advice, just wandering round the village. And the local … peasants if you like, felt quite free to approach him and ask, and even if they didn’t like the advice he gave, they knew they were getting good advice.
So what I’ve just said there has filled a need within me. I didn’t marry in the end and perhaps an easy way of explaining it is saying I never found the soulmate I was looking for. But there were other components too – I had a mother who lived to nearly a hundred and one, and because of the saga of how we managed to hold on to Poraiti … it was largely through her … you know, I was determined that she’d be able to live in her own home as long as she could. She had macular degeneration and while she was quite self-sufficient, she had the security of me being there, and it also helped me, she was almost like an unpaid [chuckle] secretary as well, sort of thing. And she didn’t go into a retirement village ‘til she was ninety-three. So you might say my life took alternative directions to what it might’ve. If I had had children, if I had had a mortgage, would I have been able to do what I’ve done? And to enjoy what I’ve enjoyed?
And ka mutu te na kōrero … that’s the end of my story.
Pat, thank you for sharing your story with the Knowledge Bank, and Hawke’s Bay, and thank you for the commitment you’ve made to the history of Māori; it’s been actually wonderful hearing a [the] story … it’s been wonderful. So thank you, Pat.
Good – you’re welcome.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
- Patrick Ivan Parsons