Philip Douglas Mardon & Sharon Mardon Interview

Today is the 24th of May 2017. I’m interviewing Philip and Sharon Mardon. Philip, would you like to tell me something about the history of your family?

Oh well Frank, I was born at the Memorial Hospital … Soldiers’ Memorial Hospital … in Hastings, 29th August 1938. I was born there partly because my mother, who had originally come from the South Island … she came up here after the 1931 earthquake and met my dad here through nursing. She nursed in Napier and my dad’s sister was a nurse in Napier Hospital, and that’s how my parents met. So they were married in 1936. My brother David was born eighteen months or something later, and then me in 1938.

So my parents had bought a seven acre property which was mostly orchard in Pakowhai Road in 1936. My dad was a descendant of the large Lowe family of which there were twelve brothers and sisters – his mother was one of twelve; she was the eldest girl. And they lived in Evenden Road on the property adjoining the seven acres that mum and Dad bought. Some of that was in orchard … my grandfather did a bit of orchard work, and he also worked for his brother-in-law, Albert Hill, who had a big property down the road.

So my dad had been a freezing worker – he’d worked on farms, and he had worked as a slaughterman in both Whakatu and Tomoana Freezing Works. So I grew up in this little old cottage on this seven acre property, and it was a pretty run down, rumpty little cottage which mum and Dad had had some alterations done when they came there, but surrounded by lots of barberry hedges which were the bane of my mum’s life. And her [chuckle] ambition was to get rid of these barberry hedges, which she finally did.

And so we lived there until about 1950 when Dad was able to afford to buy … or build should I say … build a new house. And we moved into that I think in early 1950 and the old house was pulled down. However, over those years when his parents died – and they lived on the adjoining property in Evenden Road – Dad bought out his brothers and sisters and that gave us seventeen acres. In those days we used to run cows as well as having orchard and I very much remember the work of the cows – getting the cows home for milking morning and night and cleaning the separator because the milk was separated. We had cream which went to the local dairy factory, and had a few pigs. Eventually Dad planted the land that we had had with cows … with dairying … in orchard, so we were pretty well totally orchard.

But I went to Mahora School. Mostly we walked to school. In latter years we did bike – no bus services, a lot less cars on the road in those days. One little thing I can remember, coming home from school – I’d only just started – and I was so delighted, I was showing my mother who was working in the garden in the front of this old house that I had a pencil case and I had some … I don’t know whether mum bought them or whether we were supplied with them, but I had ‘the tools of trade’ shall I say – a rubber, a pencil case, a pencil, maybe … no, I don’t think I had a pen. But I was so delighted with this. I did reasonably well at school. In those days Mahora went up – like most schools – went to Standard 6 as we called it. It was before the days of Intermediate. Largely I enjoyed my time at Mahora School.

There was quite a group of children in our area just on our corner, on the Evenden Road/Pakowhai Road corner. The Frizzell family, the Beech … Trumper family, Hopes, us, various other kids – probably in the vicinity of twenty kids lived in a radius of half a kilometre, or half a mile. And we used to get up to all sorts of tricks. Oh – we also had some other cousins, the Potts girls who lived next door to us. A lot of these kids were actually second cousins to us because of this large Lowe family – my dad was one of seventy-odd cousins, a lot of whom settled in the Mahora area, not all but a lot, so there were relations and there were other friends. Pretty well all of us went to Mahora. And at the weekends we used to get up to tricks … we used to play hares and hounds in the orchard; we used to have dummy parcels out on the road when there was very few cars came along … and put a parcel out on the road and trick a vehicle to stop. We used to go what we call ‘knick knocking’, scaring the living daylights out of the neighbours on a long summer evening. They’d got used to us just about [chuckle] by the time we got a bit older. But thinking back, we had a lot of fun just in that local sort of north Mahora area, growing up with all the kids of around about our sort of age.

Philip, did you play any sport?

At that stage no, I didn’t. No, we didn’t – other than … other than backyard cricket. One of the families was the Beech family and they lived over on the other side of Pakowhai Road and we used to play backyard cricket with what you’d call ‘Rafferty[‘s] rules’. And rounders … played our own sort of version of rounders … softball … but not formal games. So we had a lot of fun in those years.

Then I went off to high school. And my parents had decided it would be best if my brother David and I – he was a little bit older than me – he went ahead of me in the trades course, and I followed in the trades course. I was always keen on art, and unfortunately didn’t have art in the course that I had at high school. In the third form I got first in form. And then Dad was keen for us to come home on to the orchard. And I was quite keen – I enjoyed growing things. I enjoyed … we used to have garden competitions etcetera which I took part in. And so I decided that yes, I would probably go home and work on the orchard. One of the form teachers at high school thought I was silly, that I should have pursued a career in … because of my art sort of interest … in perhaps architecture or something of that nature. And I was always keen on woodwork as well.

But however, because my dad had been keen to develop the orchard further he and mum had developed this mail order trade where we sent fruit. By the way, he formed Pernel Orchard in 1956, but prior to that we developed this mail order system where we sent fruit to customers, mainly in the sort of central part of the North Island – all went by rail which was a pretty risky business in those days especially with stone fruit, but nevertheless he built up this trade. In those days apples were worth very little money. He actually started exporting, and we’ve got some records somewhere – his first export crops were before the Second World War. But then apples over the war years and just after were not worth much, and he could charge a bit more. And we were growing stone fruit, about a third of the orchard has always been devoted to stone fruit.

So I left school. David had left school the year before. I left school in 1953. Dad had managed to acquire this twenty acres with the hope that David and I would join with him – and that’s when he formed Pernel Orchard a little later. But he managed to acquire this twenty-one acres of a small rundown farmlet that had never had fruit trees on it, right next door to us and he paid a very very high price. I can remember the price being £365 per acre. Now that was a very, very high price at the time – it was an exceptional price. And a lot of people said to Dad, “Percy, you’re mad! You’re mad paying that high price.” But of course being right next door it was worth more to him. Now that transposed to something like … roughly £7,500 (seven and a half thousand pounds). He’d only just signed up the papers … I’m not sure whether he’d actually paid a deposit … but along came the Loo Kee family – Loo Kee, a Chinese family who Dad had dealt with with fruit – and they offered £8,000. However, because Dad had signed the papers and maybe even paid a deposit, he managed to get that property. So we were pretty lucky, we just got that property even at that high price.

Then a bit more luck followed – Dad had always been keen to plant … he felt that there was a real need for more Granny Smith apples. We did grow a small amount of Granny Smith, and he could see the future of Granny Smith as being a variety of apple that was very much in demand, and there wasn’t anywhere near as many being grown as should be. And it was a good apple to grow and he wanted to grow … we eventually planted ten acres of Golden Queen [Granny Smith]. So this property next door was twenty-one acres, so nearly half of that property eventually went into Granny Smith and we had some on the home block as well, ‘cause I think I did mention that we had planted up the rest of the orchard.

At that time then, he decided that the mail order business had grown too large and was too difficult, and he actually passed that on to a relative who had an orchard on the south side of town, and we concentrated on growing apples for the then Apple & Pear Board, and cropping … growing crops for Wattie’s. And so Dad managed to secure … in those early days after buying the property he secured a contract with Sir James Wattie, who was just Jimmy Wattie in those days, who had grown up with Dad and he knew him very well. So we got a tomato contract, and we grew – I think around about eight or ten acres of field tomatoes, the Scoresby variety, all picked by hand – picked by a group of ladies who picked them into kerosene tins … the old kerosene tin. Then they were tipped into the Wattie dump box which was a sixty pound (weight) box. Because this land we bought had hardly ever been cropped – it had been in pasture for so long – they produced a wonderful crop of tomatoes and we had a very good hot summer, we did something like a hundred and eighty ton of these tomatoes; twelve thousand of these dump boxes. And I always joke and say that that’s why we Mardons, especially my brother David and I, or especially me – we’re short-arsed and we’re inclined to be a bit long-winded as well, but we’re long-armed because lifting these sixty pound boxes up on to the deck of this truck and then stacking them on pallets – there were seventy-two on a pallet – and David carted something like eight or something loads a day into Wattie’s. So they paid, I think it was either £12/10/- or £13 or something – pounds, a ton. Anyway that gave us a bit of a start with that good crop. However, everybody else had a good crop of tomatoes that year and Wattie’s had a carryover, and they didn’t want them in the next year.

And so the next year we grew mostly beans, and they were a waste of time. We got fourpence a pound for them, all picked by hand, and we paid the pickers tuppence [twopence] a pound – took a long time to fill a kerosene tin. They sat in the sun; by the time we took them into Wattie’s they’d lost weight so we didn’t even get the tuppence a pound really.

So that year was a bit of a learning curve, and the next year – again difficult to get a contract for tomatoes, so Dad decided, ‘well, perhaps we’ll plant potatoes’. The year before there’d been a glut of potatoes. Most of the table potatoes in those days were grown in Canterbury, and there’d been a huge glut. So the growers down there decided to hell with it, there wasn’t money in it – they wouldn’t grow main crop potatoes, or very few, and there wasn’t much seed available. But anyway, we got enough seed potatoes of the variety – Aucklander short top, which was known also as Sutton Supreme, which was the main crop in those days. And we planted potatoes; we had very little machinery. I think we must have borrowed a potato planter. We got a contractor, a friend of Dad’s, to spray them, mould them. They grew exceptionally well because it was – again, pretty good soil – it hadn’t had potatoes in. We produced one hundred ton that year of potatoes, and it turned that there was a nation-wide famine, which – there has never been quite as bad a famine, if we call it a famine, or shortage of potatoes. And the agents hounded Dad. The man who got him the seed, who worked for Loan & Mercantile in those days, Dad kept loyal to him and he sold most of the crop for us, and we got £100-odd a ton. We ended up with something like £10,000 in return on these potatoes. Now that really set us up, because it enabled Dad pretty well to pay off the debt on the property. But not only that, we were able to buy some decent equipment. We bought a new tractor which we thought was just heaven compared to the old Case tractor that we had.

So what sort of tractor was it that you bought, then?

I think it was a Ford. [Chuckle] And we bought some other gear as well. But that wasn’t many years before the Granny Smith and the other varieties started to come in.

1957 I was called up for my compulsory military training, as all us eighteen years olds had to – I went up to Papakura and was in Divisional Signals – a great shock to me, a shock to the system; never been away from home; never been in like a boarding institution. However, I soon got used to it and made lifetime friends from that … in the end thoroughly enjoyed it, even though it was [chuckle] pretty tough to start with. But unfortunately I spent a week in hospital – although that was an experience in itself because I got an infection in my foot. Nevertheless, we’ve maintained friendships with several folk that I met there – all these years and we only just recently went to a fortieth wedding anniversary of the chap that was actually our best man.

So anyway, oh about 1960 I met Sharon. Perhaps just before I go on to that I would say that we – in 1955 we had a very, very wet winter, ‘55-’56 – a very wet winter, and a lot of the trees that we planted, not so much Granny Smith but Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, and some peaches died through wet feet. And we embarked on an – ambitious then – drainage. We had to do something. Our neighbour next door was very uncooperative, and he wouldn’t let us drain through the natural watercourse through his property. And so we had to dig drains and put in tile drains and then pump the water out on to Pakowhai Road. That was later updated by the Department of Agriculture under Selwyn Wilson, who was the drainage expert at the time, and the Riach family who had developed a machine for mechanically putting in tile drains. Prior to that we did most of it by hand in a pretty haphazard … but it worked. The updated system was just so much better. And so that really got over that loss of trees which was quite significant in those days.

Where did you learn your tree skills as orchardists? Because your father was a freezing worker, farmer …

Very good point. Dad employed an older man – oh no, I should say he was more Dad’s age – older to us. He had worked for the Lowe family on another orchard for many years and then got made redundant through some unfortunate circumstances. His name was Sid Carrington. He was actually a very, very distant relative. Now Sid Carrington was a real character … hard case, with a wonderful knowledge of fruit growing and fruit trees, and so I would say that a lot of the things … he taught David and I things that rubbed off on us.

Was he related to Jim Carrington?

Yes. Yes, he was, from the Twyford family … the Carrington family.

Yes, ‘cause he became an orchardist at some stage too, didn’t he?

Yeah. So Sid Carrington … yeah, he really was, and he and Dad got on really well, and we had a great relationship with Sid.

So then – yes, I met Sharon ‘bout 1960-’61, at a local dance in St Matthew’s Hall. I can remember David and I going to a Saturday night St Matthew’s dance and I just happened to ask a young man that I knew, a friend – I said “oh, who’s that girl sitting over there?” And he said “oh, she lives next door to where I work – that’s Sharon Pluymers – her father works at the Works as an engineer, and she lives next door to me.” So I said “oh well, I’ll go and ask her for a dance.” So that started the romance which ended in marriage in 1964. And we have four children.

Well, at this stage I’ll get Sharon to come in, tell us something about her family. So if you just start off saying where your family came from …

Sharon: Well my mother was a New Zealander who was born and raised in Westport, and she went to Wellington in the mid-thirties and was a secretary there and met my father at a dance during the war. He was an engineer on a British troop ship. The ship he was on was actually a Dutch shipping line boat which was taken over by the British when the war started. He had been based in Indonesia. They got married and had me, and then Mum and I and her mother went to Brisbane when I was still a baby-in-arms, because my father’s ship was calling in to Brisbane more often than it was to Wellington. And my brother was born there, in Brisbane. And then the war ended and the Dutch were offering people caught out of Holland by the war, cheap travel back to Holland. So my father said he was going to take advantage of that because it would be a long time before he could afford to take his family back to Holland to meet his family. So we went to Holland and stayed there for eighteen months, and then came back to New Zealand.

About when would that be, just roughly?

We came back … I was three and a half when we got back, so that would have been mid-‘48.

So it was after the war?

Yes – or was it mid-’47 …

Where did you come back to?

To the Wellington area. For the first little while we lived in a house on the beachfront at Plimmerton, and then Mum and Dad bought a newly-built house in Tawa – and it was called Tawa Flat in those days. And we lived at 226 Main Road. That was the main highway … Auckland-Wellington highway, in those days. And we actually watched them building the new motorway. And shortly after I turned nine, we …

You went to school ..?

Yes. I went to Tawa Flat School for four years. And dad worked at the Evans Bay power station, which of course is no longer there.

That’s interesting, was that a coal fired power station?

Yes, it was out in the bay, and when they extended the airport it went. And that’s when … because that was going, that’s why we came to Hawke’s Bay.

Philip: It became the airport …

Sharon: Yeah.

Philip: … the main airport.

And so you came to Hawke’s Bay in ..?

Sharon: In January ‘54.

Your father worked where?

His first job in Hawke’s Bay was at Stortford Lodge at the cool stores that were there. And he actually met Philip and David.

Because they took fruit there I suppose?

Yes. I can’t remember exactly how many years he worked there, but when he was about forty-six years old he got a job as the second engineer at Tomoana Freezing Works, and he spent about nineteen or twenty years there – retired when he turned sixty-five. Yes – I can’t remember exactly when he retired, but it would have been … the mid-’70s … yes, it would have been ‘75 because he was born in 1910 and he was …

So you went to which school then? And where did you live in Hastings?

Well we lived in a little flat for a few months until they bought a house in Outram Road, on the corner of Outram Road and Park Road South, where there used to be one of those domes in the middle of the road. And we were there for about eighteen months and then shifted to Hastings Street North. And the house that we lived in is now the only one left in that block.

Philip: Light industrial area.

Sharon: Yes. Over the road is where the new club’s been built. The Stevensons who lived in that house, apart from ours, that was the last one to go.

Philip: Yeah, right next door to Owen Hulena the cabinetmaker.

Sharon: He actually bought that section where his business is from my parents. They bought a double section.

Which school would you have gone to?

I had two years at Hastings Central and then went to Intermediate … Hastings Intermediate … and then Girls’ High.

And Girls High’ was in Pakowhai Road at that stage?

Yes. It was fairly new.

So how long were you there?

Three and a half years.

And then what did you do when you started work?

I worked in the BNZ. [Chuckle]

So as life progressed did you have any other interests? Did you play any sports, Sharon, or anything like that?

I played a little bit of netball as a youngster but I didn’t really play … after I got to high school I stopped. I shouldn’t have, but I did.

And social life in Hastings was quite different than it is today. You know, it was a great time to grow up, I think.

Yes, you went to dances or you went to the pictures.

And so did you go to the pictures?

Yeah, quite often, didn’t we?

So just coming back then to meeting this fair headed young gentleman …

[Chuckle] Yeah.

… who swept you off your feet – it would have been the start of another exciting page in your lives? Most of us went dancing, and today children don’t have that – it’s all about liquor, isn’t it?

Philip: And you know, the computers and … they get such a lot of information and they spend so much time in front of the little screen.

Well I think also, Frank, we belonged to … well I had joined the Haumoana Young Farmers’ Club, and we got a lot of enjoyment out of – it was only a small club and there were a lot of … you know, there were a few other orchardists. we didn’t fit into the national curriculum very well because that was based on sheep and not so much dairy, but more sheep and cattle. But never mind, I enjoyed the time with that. And I was in a debating team and those friendships that I made then we still have, and Sharon came to some of those functions. We always had a Young Farmers’ Ball and there was a Fruitgrowers’ Ball.

Who were some of the names?

Well we were just the other day talking to Shirley King. Shirley was married to Graham King who sadly died a few years ago. Alan Bridgeman who lived down the road from us – he’s died. Athol Curtis …

Yes, well he’s in Taupo now.

No. No, we know a bit more about Athol. Athol’s marriage broke up, to Marion, but would you believe – I won’t go into all the detail, but after all these years his second marriage broke up. And he’s got back together with Marion and they have bought a house in Waipawa. She’s been living in McLeod Street. And so Marion and Shirley King and us have kept in very good contact.

Sharon: Yes. Marion was rather … how do you put it ..?

Philip: Buoyant?

Sharon: Yeah.

Philip: Top of the world.

Sharon: Yeah.

Philip: So the two things in my life in a way were, we made long term friendships with – firstly the little dabble I had with army life and then Young Farmers’. Latterly … more latterly, I was involved with the Fruitgrowers’ Association … the local Fruitgrowers’ Association … in setting up a cadet scheme for training young people in horticulture. At that time we had no formal training for folk who worked on orchards, and it’s been quite a satisfaction to me that out of an initial committee that was set up – and I ended up becoming National President – and we had little cadet schemes in pretty well all of the fruitgrowing regions in New Zealand. It’s now been taken over by other organisations but it grew out of that. And a lot of friendships locally and nationwide we still continue with.

Right – we’ll just put that on hold for a minute and we’ll go back to Sharon – tell us about early marriage, and where you lived and children, so Sharon, if you’d like to carry on ..?

Sharon: Yes, well when Philip and I got engaged I was only nineteen, and he said he wasn’t marrying a teenager, thank you.


So I turned twenty on the 2nd of December and we got married on the 5th. Yes, so we were a pair – green as grass, we were. We had a lovely honeymoon, went to Waikaremoana and then up to north of Auckland, and funnily enough we’ve never been … apart from Philip going up to that area to do with the cadet scheme, we’ve never been back and it’s over fifty-two years now.

So I ended up pregnant very quickly … as I said we were green as grass. And I was due early September and Philip – I can remember this quite clearly – one of Philip’s aunts was very suspicious. [Chuckle] Anyway Philip said no, he wanted this baby born a few days early, to be on his birthday which is the 29th of August. And my father said “no – I want it to be born a few days late, on my birthday”, which was the 12th September. Jenny duly arrived on the 5th of September, which if you look at the calendar, the three of them are on the same day of the week. I always said a great diplomat was lost in me. [Chuckles] And the aunt that had … she sent a card when Jenny was born and when I replied I had great delight in reminding her that she was born exactly nine months to the day after we got married. [Chuckle]

Yes. And then of course I was RH negative, which in those days was a fairly big deal. And we lost our second child, which was something our doctor was very upset about. He had never had trouble with a second baby so he didn’t monitor me as closely as he should have. And … yes, so when I got pregnant the third time he was really on the ball. And I ended up having to go to Auckland and spent a month up there before Heather was born and had all the treatments that they had in those days. And …

Philip: Well they gave blood.

Sharon: Yes, they …

Philip: Gave to the baby, inter-uterine.

Sharon: And I decided that the problem with the blood was that the cells that carry oxygen are few and far between and that’s why the babies died, because of lack of oxygen in the blood. So I spent that month in the hospital there keeping very quiet and very still, not doing anything on the premise that if I didn’t use the oxygen, it was there for the baby.

And so Heather was born fit and well?

Yes. They told me she was the fittest baby of her sort that they’d ever had. In fact they said “we’ve only put her in the intensive unit … incubator … because that’s the thing we do” – she didn’t really need it.

Philip: There were very few babies actually survived. That was the pioneering days of that particular treatment – it’s not done now, but it grew. The treatment that they give for that condition now grew out of the work … the research work under the late Bill Liley, or he became Sir Bill Liley.

Sharon: Yes, I actually met him.

Philip: She was one of the few … Sharon was one of the few mothers to come home with a live baby. So we were very lucky.

And so there was more after Heather?

Yes – we had another go after Heather, but that baby didn’t make it to an age where they could treat it. I only got to five months, and that was the end of it. But we wanted more children so we adopted.

Philip: They did say to us “probably the only way you can have more children that will live …”

Sharon: Is to find a new …

Philip: … “is to find a different sire.“ [Chuckles] I wasn’t so fussed on that.

No, I can imagine!

Sharon: One with a compatible blood group.

Philip: ‘Cause all the babies had inherited my blood group, which was the common old O …

Sharon: O Positive, yeah.

Philip: And had Sharon had a baby that inherited her blood group it would have survived. But the chances … I remember an old doctor here – a well-known doctor here whose name escapes me … said your chances are about 90% against you having a baby now with your blood group, so we’d come to the end of our breeding. We were so lucky.

Sharon: We were very lucky – we got Russell. He’s now forty-seven this coming birthday, and Ian will be forty-five this coming birthday. Jenny of course – her next birthday she’ll be fifty-two, and Heather’s just turned forty-nine.

We’ll deal with the grandchildren later.


So all your children would have gone to which primary school?

They went to Mahora, which of course their father and their uncle had been there before them. And their great uncle, their grandfather’s brother, had been a teacher there before the war.

Philip: Before the First World War – that was Frank.

Sharon: Before the First World War … Uncle Frank.

Frank Mardon?


Who was in Wairoa? He was a teacher before he became a ..?

Philip: Yeah, just for a very short time before he went. We’ve just been handed some letters too, by the way, from a cousin that – he’s discovered that were written … some from France and some from Gallipoli. And it’s possible they’ve not been opened – they were opened by my grandmother. They were sent to my grandmother and to my father, and so they’re well over a hundred years old – still readable.

So at this stage then we’ll swing back to the orcharding man, and we’ll pick up when we talk about grandchildren.

Well, so after we were married Sharon and I lived in a rented house down the far end of Evenden Road. We only had that for eighteen months. The idea was that Mum and Dad were going to move off the orchard, and they had bought a section round in Frimley – they were going to build a house there, and we were going to move into the house on the orchard. That didn’t eventuate. Mum and Dad got cold feet … didn’t want to move off the orchard. They sold the section, and we built a house on a corner of the orchard on Evenden Road, with an entrance on Evenden Road. So we lived in that house for about fifty-three years – we went into there as a new house.

So in those years we were … our production of fruit was building, Granny Smith were coming into production as were the other varieties that Dad had planted. And we also had a fair block of Golden Queen peaches which we grew for Wattie’s, and we’d always grown William Bon Cretien pears and Black Doris plums and supplied those. And sometimes we supplied second grade Granny Smiths to Wattie’s. Nowadays we only supply Golden Queen. We must be one of the – if not the – longest supplier I would guess, of Golden Queen peaches anyway, to Wattie’s. I don’t really know of any other family that may have been longer.

However, so we outgrew – our production got to the stage where we needed a new packing shed. David and I … it was mostly David … David was a very talented engineer. We often look back and think that David should have been … his forte was engineering work, metalwork. He was self-taught. We built that shed, the big packing shed, he and I, it was mostly his expertise. And we’d really outgrown the old shed. We had in the old Benzimon grader which most growers had. We just couldn’t handle the crop that we had. So we bought a grader – that’s a sizing machine which was made in Nelson, called an Ansor – and installed that and that was a real disaster. It just didn’t work as well as it should have done; t didn’t handle the fruit well. So we looked then at a new concept of fruit sizing that had been developed for kiwifruit in the Bay of Plenty. And one or two other growers had dabbled with it here, and that was an Orbit grader. So we went into that, and that also was a disaster. While it was a very good system to size apples, it did not have the capacity and it just couldn’t handle the crop that we had. That was the one that threw the fruit into the air … quite an ingenious way …

Oh, absolutely!

Yeah. We went into it too soon in its development. It should have been put in a corner in a shed and played with and experimented with before it went into production – we had a huge production waiting to be packed, and this machine couldn’t handle it.

So from there, without going into all the detail, we were able then to import the basic components of an FMC, or a food manufacturing company in America … FMC company … who had bought out the old Cutler graders. Now the Cutler graders were graders or sizers that worked on weighing the fruit by a spring mechanism whereas the old Benzimon graders did it by size, and a pretty rude and crude method … worked … worked, but it was pretty rude and crude and it was hard on the fruit. It bruised the fruit. I can remember one little thing about – when we were [in] the last days using a Benzimon grader and Dad used to do a lot of the grading. In those days we packed the fruit, and you’ll remember Frank, that we packed a lot of the fruit by wrapping it in tissue. So that was quite an art of learning how to pack the fruit.

But Dad was a very keen … his forebears had racehorses, and he’d spent some time in Canterbury, and he worked for an uncle who had trotting horses. But he was very, very keen on races and he would study the race book for the next Saturday whilst he was grading apples.


So consequently a lot of the apples that should have been put out, David and I ended up grading them as well as trying to pack them in this old system. Anyway, so we managed with the help of the MAF, and in particular with the superintendent of MAF here – that was Noel Congdon – and he gave us a good recommendation. At that time the government would not allow an import licence on a machine, anything that was built here in New Zealand, they considered we should support. But these machines made in America were so much superior so we imported the basic sizing unit, I’ve forgotten how much now it cost us, it was not cheap, but it was a wonderful piece of machinery, and came in big boxes … big crates. And David – and with the help of my father-in-law – Sharon mentioned her father being an engineer. He was a very – like David – a very innovative person, and together they built most of the other equipment like the sorting tables and the conveyor belts, and built the bins around this basic unit that we bought. And all together that worked extremely well. We were the envy of the district, there’s no doubt, when we had that machine.

So we were able then to handle the crop that we were producing and we then went into handling and packing fruit for other growers as well – not a huge amount, but we packed, and we used to pack at night as well like a lot of growers did in those days … became very supportive of the then Apple & Pear Marketing Board. David was elected on to the Fruitgrowers’ Association and actually served thirty years as an executive member of the Fruitgrowers’ Association, and ten years as President. He was President at the time of the hundredth year celebration. He was also President at the time of a lot of turmoil in the industry, and eventually the Apple & Pear Board was dissolved – I can’t think of the right word, but there was a lot of dissatisfaction amongst growers. We as an industry went through a lot of very difficult years with poor prices overseas. Our industry had been based for a while on two varieties, Red Delicious and Granny Smith, and then Braeburn came along and helped.

But we as an industry didn’t diversify enough. New varieties were on the horizon. But anyway, the disestablishment of the Apple & Pear Board was in our eyes a sad time, and since then we went from one exporter … one main exporter, and the next year after the dissolvement of the Apple & Pear Board we went to ninety. The industry has settled down now, and it’s certainly more buoyant. We did go through some rather difficult years.

Then about seventeen-odd years ago – perhaps I had missed that – we realised that being close to town we had developed quite a trade with people coming and buying fruit from our little alcove, or little shop area we’d made in our old shed, so we built up quite a gate sale business. And it was pretty rude and crude so dad decided that we should build a little specially built shop with a small coolstore nearer the road. Now we did that, and that was a great success and had been all the years. Then in … about seventeen years ago we had a fire. A young chap came in – it was early hours of the morning, and somebody that we had no association with decided to break in and get a drink. He could see the drink cabinet through the window and he was thirsty. There was quite a story to that. So to cover his tracks he broke in, got a drink and set fire to the place. And there was a lot of packaging in the back part of the shop where we used to pack stone fruit. And a lot of the packaging in those days was paper bags and cardboard boxes, so the whole place burnt pretty fiercely. Luckily our big coolstore that we built alongside was only slightly damaged.

So to a certain extent that was the catalyst. David being in the role that he was on the Fruitgrowers’ Association and as President, mixed with a lot of people who were involved with tourism; who were involved with the grape industry, which were really burgeoning at that point. And there seemed to be a need for – nobody was taking people on orchard tours, and there was a need because the cruise liners – we were starting to get cruise liners coming, and this tourism side of the whole industry in Hawke’s Bay was really starting to become apparent. And the grape industry had jumped on the bandwagon. We were known as a district as the ‘fruitbowl of New Zealand’ – that was sort of dropped, and it became ‘Wine Country’ as the banner, and that seemed a pity.

So to get back on track we decided to venture into a complex where we rebuilt the shop, we built it slightly bigger and turned the entrance away from being out on the road. We employed a local architect who we knew and he came up with this concept, so we had … we felt there was a need for a museum for storing old artefacts of the industry. And we rebuilt the shop, had a cafe downstairs and a museum upstairs, and developed this tourism trade.

I think, looking back over the years, we went a bit too far – we put ourselves into debt relying on the orchard income to help recover. We did get money from the insurance over the shop, but we went further than that and unfortunately the next season we had hail which is always a risk. We had a series of frosts; series of hail years; and low returns on Red Delicious in particular … Braeburn … Granny Smith. So we had some very difficult times. The tourism side worked pretty well. We also had a gift shop within the complex, tied up partly with the tourism and the cafe. My sister-in-law, David’s wife, largely ran that. So then we were faced with restructuring.

Just before we get to there, we haven’t talked about your sister.

Okay. I’ve forgotten about the year that – we bought twenty-five acres of land … bare land … next to us on the north-western side. And my sister, Joyce, had married an orchardist, Don Jeffery, who I had actually been to school with – known Don all my life. He had a small property over here in Frimley and he grew mostly pears. And he was looking for a bit more land so my dad decided that he would gift them the ten acres on Evenden Road – divide this twenty-five acres, and the fifteen acres that was left we called ‘Siberia’, because it was such a long way away and it was exposed. And one of our staff one day said “when we’re working down there, oh, it’s like Siberia down there”, so that name stuck.

However Joyce and Don developed the ten acres which they called Evendale Orchard in Evenden Road, right alongside us. And … a separate title, separate orchard, separate company … but working in very much with us. For some years we actually packed their fruit. They developed gate sales as well and had quite a lot of stone fruit, but we for some years packed their apples.

Sadly Joyce got ill. Joyce was a great help over the years when my parents … Mum and Dad were elderly … very elderly, and then my Mum had a stroke after Dad died. And Mum continued to live in the home … the house on the orchard … but Joyce would take her at night. So Joyce was a great help. And Don was a great brother-in-law to have because he had very good woodwork skills. He had trained as a joiner carpenter. And … perhaps I missed … over the intervening years we started doing blossom floats for the Blossom procession which was held each year. David and I and Don, as I said we got on well together, and we felt that the floats that were featuring in that Parade in the spring in September, were almost all made of artificial blossom paper. When it rained they looked pretty bedraggled. There were one or two attempts at natural flowers, and we thought, ‘we could do better than that’. So we proceeded to built floats over those years. We did five floats, and again Don featured in helping with the construction mainly. And Frank, you’ll remember the one that you helped with one float in particular – Frank had a little Landrover. And David had developed the idea that rather than being self-propelled which our floats had been up to date, that it would be easier if another vehicle pushed the float. Nobody really looked at how they were connected and they thought they were stand alone, but in fact this little Landrover that Frank had pushed the main float. We won the Champion of Champions with that float. So they were decorated with natural flowers, and over the years – well our first attempt was pretty rude and crude, but we learnt a lot from that. We always had people on them, and the first float had my sister Joyce and two cousins … twin cousins … two girls who were younger and they featured as the buds of these flowers. The idea was pretty good. As it turned out a competitor, another orchardist from over here in the Frimley area, he had much the same theme and he won that competition. Now his float was head and shoulders above ours, but we learnt and we learnt how to use daffodils and to use camellias and it was a great experience and we built up a wonderful team of people who were so enthusiastic and helped the night before – it was a great night, getting it ready, getting it decorated. So that was a wonderful experience and one that I wish we could have carried on with. But it was a big effort, and we ran out of steam I suppose, in a way.

Yes, I always remember those times, and the teapot … everyone gathering around the teapot in the orchard, you know … that was the same people for years and years and years, and it was really a little happening, twice a day.

My mother did the smokos, and we have got a big photo taken not far from my house with a group of us with a wicker basket, and the scones that Mum would do for smoko.

The association with the Safer Sleep blanket, very, very quickly, goes back to many, many years ago. A young chap appeared on Dad’s doorstep when he was packing peaches one Sunday afternoon, and this young chap came by bike – came into buy a few ripe peaches. And he’d been transferred – he came from Masterton – he’d been transferred up here to work in a bank … knew nobody; went for a bike ride; saw the sign out at the gate saying ‘Ripe Peaches’; came in; bought a few peaches and said to Dad “do you mind if I just stay around? I could help, I’ve got nothing else to do.” So he helped Dad for a bit, and then he said to him, “do you think I could come back next Sunday?” And so from that a relationship developed and we still have that relationship with that family. He’s long gone, but that man … his name was Bill Lee … he left the bank and went on and formed this little company which made Safer Sleep electric blankets. One of his sons came up here years later and went to Lindisfarne College – Chris Lee, who’s now a millionaire in his own right – sharebroker – lives at Paraparam. [Paraparaumu] Amazing how these connections can start. Yes, so we’ve had a long association with that family.

And you know, you made a comment about the fresh flowers for Blossom floats – I remember the couple of days before, someone went to Takapau, someone went out to Waimarama Road …

And Frank Cooper got the blue flower from Havelock North.

That’s right, the grape hyacinths.

We used them. We learnt … we learnt what flowers to use.

And ‘My Lady’s Garden’, and ‘The Teapot’ – I think I’ve seen more photos of those than I’ve seen of any other float, because they were quite striking.

They were.

You had to have the idea for a start, and you know, obviously you being an arty person, probably contributed something to those.

Well … well I suppose to a certain extent. I think David’s input with due respect with his mechanical knowledge and innovation … And that particular float, seeing you mention it, ‘My Lady’s Garden’, the one that you were involved with with pushing – David from memory was way down the front steering it and we had a telephone system which went back to you as the driver of the little Landrover. On that float we had a pond and we had a water tank. And it featured a little house in the garden. Sharon and I were both in the house, unseen.

Were you? My goodness me!

[Chuckle] Yeah. We were both in the house. We had a little hand-operated pump, which – I wound the handle. The faster I made the handle go the higher the fountain, ‘cause it recycled the same water. We used grape hyacinths as a feature round the pond so it had some movement. But not only that, we had smoke coming out the chimney of the little house. And that was done by Sharon puffing … not puffing! Puffing a bee smoker, which – I’d got some sacking, so the more she puffed that, the quicker it used it up.

That’s a long time ago. This is history we’re talking about!

Lot of fun …

Oh, absolutely.

… we had a great team.

Yes. And then there was the boat building time.

Oh, shivers … the boat building! [Chuckle] Yeah.

And then we went on to build a clinker boat, David and I – mostly David, which he powered with the little Ford 10 motor and we went off Clifton. We were with a group that went out fishing mainly at Clifton. Nowadays our son Russell has a big boat with a big outboard, and he goes mostly off Waimarama – hardly ever goes to Clifton.

Sharon: Or Napier.

So we’re coming back to the orchard – yes, the winds of change were blowing, weren’t they?

So over my time, I was just looking this morning at the changes that I’ve seen. When I first left school – and I often tell this to the people off the cruise liners when we take them around – over my time how much change there has been. When I left school and came home we were clean cultivators, and most orchards were, where everything … there was no grass. We had dust in the summer and mud in the winter. So one of the big changes was grassing down, and that was quite controversial. Who would go back to having not grass now?

Irrigation, there’s been great advances in irrigation. Going back to those days we had big multi-leader trees; old wooden ladders that we used. One of the innovations of course is hydraulics – the impact that hydraulics has had with forklifts; hydraladas of course, all based on hydraulics; the little Ferguson tractors that first came out after the war with hydraulics on the back. So we went to those semi-intensive trees which the late Dr McKenzie developed and promoted; trees closer together; rows closer together. Not as close as they are now but using a single leader rather than … or truck, rather than the multi-leader.

Sure, David and I had another innovation more like a hedgerow, which we had hoped would have developed so we could use not mechanical pickers but … using people to pick the fruit … but carrying the pickers, putting the fruit straight into the bin off the picker. That proved to be rather cumbersome and you were tied to the slowest picker, so we actually ended up giving that idea away. It’s coming back into favour a bit now.

So now I see the newer orchards have gone to this intensive system – from standard to semi-intensive to intensive, where the old standard system we had one hundred … about a hundred trees to the acre, planted on the square about twenty feet apart. Then we went down to … well we went to metric … three and a half metres apart for the rows and maybe three metres or two metres apart in the row, varying depending on the root stock of the tree because we had the advent of a range of root stocks available to us. And now they’re down to a metre apart in the row or even sometimes closer, and thousands of trees per acre or hectare. Huge establishment cost. Almost impossible for …

Sharon: Well the nurserymen made a bomb out of it.

Philip: … the private grower. Sadly we’ve seen the demise of the smaller … a lot of the smaller growers and the expansion of the larger corporate growers. So the number of growers now belonging to our Fruitgrowers’ Association has dropped dramatically from something like eight hundred a few years ago to now something down to about 3three hundred-odd now. So that’s a sad sign.

There were some major changes in sprayers and spraying …

That was good … good thing. The fact that we went from the old … way back in my first years, luckily I wasn’t involved with the spray arsenate of lead. We had some real nasties in Dad’s time.

We did, yes.

Arsenate of lead.

But they’re using it on the organic stuff again, aren’t they?

There was another one – Blackleaf 40 – nicotine sulphate. Awful sprays. Then we went to the DDT series which were at that time thought to be relatively innocuous to humans, and we didn’t use masks, we just sprayed. They were very good for pest control, but it was discovered later that they built up in fatty tissue, so they were a no-no. Then we went to the organo-phosphates – [?], parathion, which were for a while very good, but very poisonous to the operator … masks and blood tests.

So luckily now, we as an industry have gone on to this IFP programme which is integrated pest control, where we’ve recognised the importance of the natural predators and we only spray … we use monitoring methods and we spray only when necessary. Fungus diseases are a bit harder because you’re more weather reliant, but generally sprays for fungus problems are less toxic anyway. So it’s a whole new approach – quite, quite different, and one that’s more environmentally sound than what it was.

The other thing too, Frank, was – remember when we used to burn all our prunings? Rake all the prunings up and burn them. Now they’re mulched. Mowed grass. So big changes I’ve seen over the years.

And as you said the numbers now of major corporate players who really dominate the industry – I don’t think we’ll ever see families having orchards, not to the extent that we did in the past.

Not that we did in those post war years.

I was just going to quickly say – the other thing we’ve been involved with … we, as David and I and the families … is the Farmers’ Market … fifteen or seventeen or so years ago, the emergence of the Farmers’ Market. And that – to a certain extent David was involved with the beginnings of that through Graeme Avery, who came into the district, and the Farmers’ Markets have been as you would know, a wonderful success. And sadly we’ve stopped doing Farmers’ Markets now, although I’ve helped my son Ian – we’ve gone back to doing the Napier Farmers’ Market over the season – we’ve only just finished. But we built up a clientele of people because we retained a lot of old varieties … while we had new varieties, we retained old varieties like Sturmer, Cox’s Orange Pippin and quite a range of stone fruit varieties.

You had some Ballarats?

Ballarat, yeah. Yeah, there’s still a few Ballarats but I don’t know anybody now that grows Cox’s Orange. There’s some grown in Nelson, but not here, so there’s a need for those. So the Farmers’ Market have been socially and financially very successful, so it’s been a great experience being involved with those.

So at some stage in the last few years the families decided to exit Pernel Orchard Ltd, and that must have been a major decision for you all?

Well my family have been … with my second son, Ian having always been interested in horticulture; worked on other orchards and then worked as manager for the orchard side for the last few years – well some years ago we realised that we needed to look seriously at family succession. And the thought was because Ian of the nine grandchildren – David has five children, four girls and one boy, none of whom were interested in physically being involved with the orchard. Our four children … we only had the one who was interested in carrying on and that was Ian, our second son. So we built a house for him on one of the blocks – the block we call Siberia, in Morley Road with the idea that he would eventually inherit that block anyway.

And we’ve wrestled, I suppose, for the right word – we’ve wrestled with farm succession. We’ve had input from various consultants over a number of years. It’s been a very difficult time. David wanted out – he turned eighty a few weeks ago, and he wanted out of it – didn’t want to do another season. A couple of years ago he wanted out. And he felt … he and his family felt that we’d be far better off selling the whole property, the whole business – all the blocks – selling everything. And if we wanted, or a member of our family wanted to carry on orcharding, that we would then use the funds that we got from our half and go and buy an orchard somewhere else. However, we didn’t agree with that because a) Ian had built a house on the property with the idea that that block at least would be his. And it’s a nice quiet road – a No Exit road, Morley Road – and down further there’s another twenty acre block. And so we wanted to retain those two blocks, which would give us about half of the land area. There’s thirty-six acres in the area that we eventually sold, and about thirty-five in the other part, plus ten acres that we lease alongside … well, that Ian leases. We as Pernel Orchard had leased some of the old Morley property. So that to us seemed the logical way to go about it. So it’s been a long and difficult road to convince the other family. Eventually we did, and that’s what happened. We sold the thirty-six acres which included our home and David’s home …

Sharon: All the infrastructure in other words … yes.

Philip: The infrastructure – the shop, the cafe. Sadly the last few years the cafe has been a liability. Two things really hurt us financially, and that was stopping packing … stopping export packing. We’ve had our fruit packed by others in the last fifteen years or so. We kept the pack house running in a small way by packing local market fruit, but it wasn’t working to its capacity. So that and the cafe … we looking back, believe that we should have leased the cafe some years ago … so leased it out. So that’s been a drain. And David’s eldest daughter who had trained as an accountant got more and more involved with the financial running of the orchard and we as, our family have found her very difficult to work with – extremely. And we’re still not quite out of the final wind up.

But hopefully that’s where we’ll go … we’ve had our first year, we being Ian running … he now owns one of the blocks, the block he lives on, and the rest is in a trust. But he’s formed a new company called Pernel. We were unable to retain the words Pernel Orchard Ltd without tax implications, and so as a compromise – we didn’t want to lose the name Pernel, so Ian’s new company is Pernel 2016. So he’s just completed his first season running the two blocks plus the lease block, not without its difficulties, it’s been hard going but hopefully the returns on fruit … he’s got a lot of good varieties down there like Jazz and Envy, two of the new varieties, and I think his fruit quality’s been pretty good.

I think the timing’s probably perfect because of the way the industry is going, because these major players have certainly created a new direction.

So we’re looking ahead. We’ve moved off the orchard. David moved off last September/October and you know, went to Cornwall Road and we’re only just getting ourselves established here.

I still have some involvement with the Crasborne family who bought the property, I’m helping them. They retained the contract with two shipping companies with doing cruise liner tours, just cruise liner tours. So the small team that we had under Pernel Orchard Ltd, we’ve been doing the tours this year. Not sure about what’s happening next year. So I’m involved with helping Ian when and where he wants me, truck driving, whatever, running to town …

So everything’s going pretty well?

Reasonably well.

Well that’s really good news. I always noted that you were very, or the family was very interested in orienteering, so where did that come from?

Sharon: Well we went as a family. The kids … Ian must have been about five or six at the time, so he was the youngest so the others were older than that. We went to a movie, one of those family type movies in town – it was at the State Theatre, wasn’t it? Yes, as it was then, the old State Theatre. And we walked in there and there, just before you went actually in to the theatre, was a set up …

Philip: A little display.

Sharon: … a display etcetera, advertising orienteering. So this must have been about ‘78 … 1978 …

Philip: Long time ago.

Sharon: … something like that – it could have even been ‘77. And they were advertising this was a sport where you had to go and find things and that sort of thing and that there was an event on down at the Pakowhai Park the next Sunday. So …

Philip: The park wasn’t really developed then, but it was still …

Sharon: So Philip said “why don’t we go?”

Philip: Hot Sunday afternoon … summertime.

Sharon: Yes. So we went down and had a go.

Philip: I had to persuade this lot – I had to persuade them … “what about we go down and have a look at this? It looks interesting – it’s only just down the road.” “Oh, all right.” So …

Sharon: Yeah, and it was good fun so we joined the club. It was about March wasn’t it? Something like that.

Philip: Summertime, anyway.

Sharon: And then for one reason and another we didn’t go again for ages. I said to Philip one day – it was the middle of the Golden Queen season – I said “there’s an orienteering event on up at Te Mata Park.” I said “we went a year ago, we joined the club and we haven’t been back”, because there was always something else on or something. I said “I’m taking the kids and going” … he didn’t come. So we went up and had a go at Te Mata Park. And that’s where it all started from.

Philip: I eventually went to an event somewhere, so as a family – the only one that really didn’t take to it I think was Ian – he wasn’t too fussed. He’d sooner go rabbit shooting or duck shooting, deer stalking. But we went away to events – it’s a sport that you can take part in in various ways, you don’t need to be competitive. One of the good things about it, it gets you to places that you would otherwise not go to – you would never have access, mostly farm situations, and some forest situations. A sport that attracts people from mainly … how do I put it … not necessarily people that are very fit in a sense, and I mean running. One of its nicknames is cunning running and it’s a sport where you’ve really got to use your head. You can be …

Sharon: The fastest runner doesn’t necessarily win because they’re not thinking hard enough.

Philip: So there’s lots of different aspects to it. If you’re very interested in …

Sharon: I mean being a fast runner it does help, yes.

Philip: But you can be involved in mapping and just do that, and some club members are more involved with that. So we’ve gained friendships over the years through orienteering that have lasted for you know, a long, long, long time.

So now you are still involved with Pernel Number 1 on the cruise ship historical tours?

With the new owners, using the two – the tractors and trailers, the two old Fergusons and the trailers that David built, they bought them off us – just doing cruise liners.

And you’re the odd job man for your son?

Pernel 2016. I’m also, Frank, doing a little bit of the gardening … keeping the garden tidy around the cafe. They altered that a bit and I should be doing lawns there, [chuckle] but I said I would keep that tidy for them.

Have you anything else on your list before we go back to Sharon and the grandchildren?

No I don’t think so, I think I’ve covered most things that I wrote down here this morning. Just what our kids are doing …

Coming back to what the kids are doing – well we know where Ian is. And Heather, we know she was at the end of the phone a while ago so she’s obviously somewhere around.

Sharon: Heather – she and her partner Ian … another Ian … have a one and half hectare I think, isn’t it? Something like that … property up the Taihape Road. From here it’s twenty-five, thirty minutes drive. It’s thirteen ks [kilometres] to their entrance from Fernhill, ‘cause they’re 1296, but that’s where their private road comes out. So they’ve built a big shed on that place and they’re actually living in it, but they’re in the process of getting plans drawn up to build a house.

And what’s the partner’s name?

Ian Lewis.

And do they have any children?

No. And won’t – no, Heather’s too old now.

Philip: Doesn’t want children.

And Ian number one, does he have children?

Sharon: Yes. Yes, there’s three children in that family. One we call a ring-in, because Devon, the oldest, he came with his mum. But he’s been with Ian …

What’s his name then – he’s Devon ..?


The other two?

Mya … she’s twelve, and Ella. Mya is twelve and Ella is seven. And Devon is twenty-one.

Philip: Just going back to Heather … Heather worked for quite a number of years for Wattie’s …

Together: In the IT …

Philip: … department. Was made redundant twice by them and then made redundant more recently when this new takeover … However that’s worked to her advantage in a way, because she now has very, very good job which – she works from home in front of a computer. It does require her going overseas. She’s just recently had a week in Perth, often to Melbourne, sometimes to Sydney. She works for a packaging company. This packaging company are always buying up other type packaging and her job is to integrate their office system into the major system. So she’s got a pretty good, well paid job. Her husband or partner is actually doing a course at the moment – he would like to get into the electrical trade. He’s done a variety of things but … well, he’s training to go into electrician’s work. He’s at EIT.

Our oldest daughter, Jennifer, went to Australia many, many years ago …

Sharon: After she finished her four years at …

Together: Otago University.

Sharon: She went over to Toowoomba, she got a job there as a boarding mistress at the local boarding school.

Philip: She actually worked on an orchard. We had an association with some people who had an orchard, mainly stone fruit, almost on the border with …

Sharon: She did that one summer.

Philip: Mmm. And she met a young chap there. In those days, many years ago, we exported a lot of fruit to Australia, a lot of stone fruit. It was partly through that that we got to know this family. She went to work there, met a boy, decided to stay on in Toowoomba. That relationship finished. She eventually married a young chap – he was in the Army – who she met in Toowoomba, and they had two children. That marriage has since broken up.

What were their names?

Their names are Breanna, and Breanna is now twenty-three …

Sharon: And Emily will be 21 in a month’s time.

And their surname?

Philip: Their surname is Macks. So Jennifer for a long time, partly because when she trained in Dunedin she mixed with a lot of medical students … some of her course was with medical students.

Sharon: She did her PE …

Philip: Yeah, Physical Education. She’d always had a bit of a hankering for medicine.

Sharon: After she had done two years of the four year degree, she enquired about changing to medicine because she thought that some of the stuff she’d done could be credited, but she was told no, “if you go into medicine you’ll have to go back to year one.” And at age twenty she couldn’t face that, so she finished her degree, went to Toowoomba, got this job as a boarding mistress which meant she worked from six in the morning ‘til nine, and then from three ‘til whatever. And during the daytime she went to the local – well, it was like our EIT in those days – it’s now a full university, and she did a teaching course and so became a teacher.

Philip: Yes, so she spent some years teaching.

Sharon: And when she got to mid-thirties she decided that she was going to be a doctor after all. So she applied at about five or six universities [cough] all around Australia and even in New Zealand, but the one she wanted to get into was Newcastle …

Philip: Newcastle, Australia. [Speaking together]

Sharon: … because they evidently had a course which was designed basically for older students. But it was very difficult to get into so she tried a number of other universities as well, and she actually got accepted at every one she applied for except Townsville, because Townsville only accepted people who wanted to do tropical medicine.

Philip: So they moved to …

Sharon: Newcastle.

Philip: In the meantime the husband had had a back injury and left the Army.

Sharon: Well it was the Army’s fault he had an accident.

Philip: But then their marriage fell apart, partly because of that. Anyway she is now a fully qualified psychiatrist.

Oh, so she went through and did her degree?

Oh – oh, sorry I missed – yes, so she went through. She was trained as a doctor, she didn’t like the GP – she worked as a GP or in a GP’s …

Sharon: When she finished her degree and then did her internship, then the next stage was deciding what she wanted to be and she had fully intended to be a GP. And her first placement was in a psychiatry practice and she found she thoroughly enjoyed it. The second one was GP’s practice … a big town practice … and she hated it. It was one of these practices where money mattered more than the medicine, and she was told “ten minutes per person”, etcetera, etcetera. And she said “you can’t do that”. She said that you get patients and after a minute or two you know damn well that the reason that they said they’d come in wasn’t the reason, and you had to talk to them to get them to actually admit why they were there. And she said she missed out on lunch so many times because … So she decided to do psychiatry.

So she’s still in …?

Philip: Still in Newcastle. She only recently went down to Adelaide and had her papers bestowed on her as a fully qualified psychiatrist, and now she’s over in America … San Diego. Well she might be in San Francisco by now – she had about a week or ten days tour with another woman – went over to a conference there. So she has actually made comments on occasions about coming home. There’s always a great shortage of people in that area and even though the relative pay would be a bit less here – and she’s on a very high … very good salary – but she felt the cost of living could make up the difference.

Sharon: They could get a house here for far cheaper than they’d have to pay over there.

Philip: And travel and things. Well she’s not remarried, but they’re getting married … her present man is also in mental health. He’s a nurse, he’s not qualified, but he’s within that mental health area.

Sharon: Oh, he’s a qualified nurse!

Philip: But not a doctor.

And what is his name?

Sharon: Phil. Woodley, isn’t he … isn’t that his surname?

Philip: [Chuckle] I’ve forgotten. [Chuckle] I’ll think of it later.

Look that’s good. Well is there anything else that comes to mind?

Sharon: Oh, we didn’t talk about what Russell’s doing, because he’s got two children.

That’s right! We haven’t covered the field.

Sharon: Russell, he spent twenty years or so in the Air Force, and then he spent the next few years flying rich Arabs around in Dubai. And they came back to New Zealand, and that marriage broke up. Yeah.

So does he have any children?

Yes, he has Holly who has just turned eight, and Jack will be seven in June … the end of June. They and their mother live in Havelock North.

Philip: She works for one of the doctors’ practices out there.

Sharon: In Havelock North, yes. [Speaking together] She’s a practice nurse. Philip: She’s a qualified nurse.

And so what does Russell do now then?

Sharon: He has what they call a FIFO job – have you ever heard of that?

Philip: Fly in, fly out.

Sharon: He works for a company that is employed by Rio Tinto in a place called Karratha on the west coast of Australia.

Philip: Way up near Broome.

Sharon: It’s two hours flight north of Perth and one hour south of Broome. So he spends three weeks up there and then three weeks back here. His flights back and forth and his accommodation are all part of his salary package. So he’s on a very, very good … Well Russell’s job – there are obviously two sets of pilots, and he’s actually in charge of one of the sets. And what they do is … it’s a mining port, it’s on the coast … and out from the coast there there are lots of reefs and little islands. So the ships going in and out have to have a pilot to navigate them through, and the pilot takes them out about sixty kilometres. So it’s not feasible to send a little boat out to bring the pilot back … to take a pilot out to bring the … So the helicopters, when there’s a ship coming in, they take a pilot out to it and drop him on the boat, and when the boat goes out they go out and pick him up and bring him back again.

This is by helicopter?

Sharon: Yes. I think they have other small duties and that, but that’s their major one.

Philip: But the other thing that he does, just quickly, is when he’s home … he’s got a very good relationship with the chief pilot here whose name escapes me – [speaking together] one of the Beethams.

Sharon: Was one of his pilots – Charlie.

Philip: Was a pilot with him …

Together: In the Air Force.

Philip: So Russell is rostered into a standby … reserve situation with the Lowe Walker. So that gives them – they’re delighted, because it gives them a bit more flexibility having another pilot. The only downside is that when he’s on call – and he might get three days, two days, something like that on call twenty-four hours – and he’s got to be within four and a half minutes. He can’t go away, can’t even go out to Lucknow School and pick his kids up. So he gets called out at night or whatever. As you know, some of the rescues … more and more people taking PLBs [personal locator beacons] out in the back country, so there’s more and more. A lot of their work is actually ferrying folk from Wairoa. There’s a lot of the calls are Wairoa Hospital, so he scoots up the coast and they’re up there and back pretty quick. And then going … taking people to Wellington, besides the rescue things into the ranges, or small boats and …

Philip: So that’s him.

Sharon: With farmers falling off tractors and quadbikes and things like that.

I know – does happen.

Okay, well that’s given us certainly a nice broad picture of the Philip and Sharon Mardon family, and where you’ve been and where you’ve come to.

Philip: I did miss one thing, and I’ll only very quickly go over it if you’ve got the time. Many years ago – I mentioned earlier we were exporting stone fruit to Brisbane. But the agent over there had the connection with this grower near Toowoomba. However, we were looking for somewhere where we could grow … we had some good varieties of nectarines in particular, like Red Gold and Fantasia, and there didn’t seem to be any newer varieties that were later. They wanted more fruit later in the season which we couldn’t supply, and so we looked around for an area that might produce fruit later. And in those days a chap called Lindsay Smith, who you might remember, was Federated Farmers President … from up on River Road. He was the first person in Hawke’s Bay to grow kiwifruit way back and he planted this little block of kiwifruit which matured ten days later than the normal maturing time here. We knew the people who lived down the end of the road past him, Mike and Jill Bart, at the end of River Road – they were right on the Tutaekuri River. They wanted to diversify into fruit in some way and they’d already put a well in … got a consent and put a well in with the idea of doing something. Robert Dodd, you mentioned Robert – he had worked up there for years with their father. So anyway, out of that grew an association and we discovered that fruit trees up there cropped – not only kiwifruit – ten days, two weeks or ten days later. So we went into a venture with these people, and we grew stone fruit up there and they certainly did ripen and it extended our season by nearly a month. It didn’t carry on – we were there for … oh, I don’t know, maybe eight or ten years. The two things that killed it, one was the transport … the distance because it’s a fair way, and we had to go all the way up the road and then back down a shingle road. So travel – and the other thing was that the chap who was there, Mike, was very enthusiastic – he and his wife were very nice people, but we thought that they would gradually grow into the job and take over more of the running of the property so it would lessen our … There was a lot of people in the district, we had no great problem with getting people to help with harvest, thinning, and … they were quite enthusiastic ‘cause it gave some of the people a bit of work. But sadly it didn’t work, from – they would go off to a horse event or something, right when necessary things had to be done. And they also struck very dry years, so the sheep side of his farm … the sheep farming was under real pressure. He wasn’t a good farmer, nice people. So that venture, although we didn’t make any money out of it, it came to an end. We had apricots up there as well, but it did come to an end. It was a very interesting venture – loved it – [chuckle] one that looking back, we didn’t research enough but I wouldn’t have missed it. Elevation makes the difference.

Well if that’s it, thank you, Sharon and Philip. Who said “what do I talk about?”


So thank you very much.

Thank you, Frank.

Original digital file



Additional information

Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.