Poultney, Thomas (Tom) Alan Interview
Today is the 15th April 2019. I’m interviewing Tom Poultney, one of our very valuable people from the Knowledge Bank. Tom’s going to tell us about his family and his life in Hawke’s Bay. Tom?
Okay. My family moved to Hawke’s Bay when I was fourteen. We came from Christchurch. Dad was changing jobs; he was a Prison Officer, and he got the job as Napier’s Superintendent, in charge of Napier Prison, so we moved up to Napier … 1966 it was. We came from Lyttelton to Wellington on the ‘Wahine’.
Did you? On the new ‘Wahine’ – the one that sunk?
The one that sunk, yeah. It was [the] Lyttelton/Wellington boat, so we came up in that one. I had started high school at Riccarton High School in Christchurch; when we got to Napier I went to Boys’ High School. My younger sister went to Napier Intermediate at the time, and my older sister was still at school in Wanganui, just about to finish.
My parents came to New Zealand in 1952. They were married in 1945 after the Second World War. Mum was a nurse during the war in a psychiatric hospital in London, so she went through the Blitz. Dad was a [an] artillery gunner. So Dad was at Dunkirk, and he was evacuated to England. Two years later actually – I don’t know what he was doing in those two years – he went to North Africa, Sicily, Italy; yeah, I know he was at the Battle of Monte Cassino. He was with the Eighth Army, so if anyone wants to know where he went just follow the Eighth Army.
So I don’t know where he met Mum, but they got married in 1945 at the end of the war; I think they knew each other. Actually, I’m sure they knew each other ‘cause my younger sister found one of Mum’s handbags a few months ago, and in it was a love letter from Dad. Wonderful, yeah, so I’m sure they knew each other.
My older sister was born in Tripoli in Libya. Mum was there, but Dad was stationed in Palestine; I don’t think the women were allowed to go to Palestine with the men, so Dad used to fly over on leave to Libya. My younger [older] sister was born in Libya. Then they went to Germany. I was born in Germany, in Münster, and in 1953 Dad handed in his papers and left the Army, and they moved back to England. I’ve got photos of me sittin’ with my grandparents and one of my aunties, Mum’s younger sister, who’s still alive.
Is she really?
Yes, she’s in her eighties … just about ninety. There was a big age difference between Mum and her younger sister. And in 1954 they emigrated to New Zealand, so I was eighteen months old when they came to New Zealand. I don’t remember any of that. The first place I remember is Waikeria Prison. All the prisons in those days used to have housing for the Prison Officers near the prison, so the first place I remember is Waikeria.
I started school at Kihikihi School, which is near Te Awamutu; we got bussed over there and back. Actually, I went online not long ago … Google Earthed it … and stood on the street outside the school, and it still looked the same; even the bus stop was in the same place. I think the buildings were newer buildings, but they’d built it in the same, you know … long school, it was a long building … it was still the same. And yeah, I was quite surprised at that; but you know, I had a walk around like you can on Google Earth. The bus stop was still in the same place; I remember the bus stop.
And then we left there, and Dad transferred to Rangipo Prison so we lived at Rangipo, right next to National Park, for two years, so I went to Tongariro School in Turangi. While we were at Tongariro my sister started high school at Wanganui Girls’ High, I think it was – boarding school. Then we moved down to Christchurch, where we were there, you know, [a] couple of years before we moved here to Napier. My sister was still at high school and finished high school, I think the year after we arrived in Napier – the older one.
While we were down at Christchurch, at Paparua, there was a big riot there. I remember the prison burning; they set the prison on fire. Dad had to go in and rescue hostages, and that was in 1965. And he got [was] awarded a British Empire Medal, BEM, for gallantry. He was awarded that and presented at a medal ceremony, you know … honours ceremony in 1966, so … I mean, we lived near the prison and we wandered around the countryside, but we never really interacted with prisoners. The only strange thing, I think, is all the parents in the streets that you lived in all did the same thing – they were Prison Officers, and that was a strange kind of childhood.
So then you moved to Christchurch?
From Rangipo, yeah, and then to Napier of course. I got here and we lived in a house above the prison. You looked out the window and you could see the beach, and in those days there was plenty of swimming on the beach; there wasn’t all the hooha about “It’s dangerous”, or anything like that; they had a surf lifesaving club there. And I used to look down – I could see my friends on the beach, and of course I was off. I was down the hill, across the road, and going for a swim. And I loved it! I loved Napier, I really did. There was talk about Dad moving back to Christchurch, and I told him bluntly I wasn’t goin’. [Chuckle] No way I was going back down to Christchurch; I liked Napier. And actually before anything came of it Dad had a heart attack and died.
In Napier, 1969. Mum bought a house out at Greenmeadows, and I continued schooling until I left at … I was eighteen when I left. I was a year behind in school; they held me over a year when I was at Kihikihi … put me a year behind. I had very bad eyesight, and they operated on my eyelids to lift them up out of the way. They’ve sunk in again, but that improved things. Couldn’t play rugby or sports like that, took off my glasses and I was hopeless.
Anyway, when I left school I was supposed to go … in January or February, I can’t remember; it was a few months away … for an interview to join the Forestry as a forestry worker. They were going to train me up. I wanted to go out of town and work because I’d lived away from cities in small villages, and I wanted to get out of town. My young sister badgered my mother to tell me to get a job … my older sister actually, it was. So I found a job, and I started working at Marewa Hardware & Seeds for the Fergus family. They were a great couple; they were really good to me. And the date for going out and joining the forestry come [came] and went, and I didn’t go.
When I was working at Marewa Hardware & Seeds, the son, Earl, got me into rowing, so I joined the Hawke’s Bay Rowing Club at Clive, and I was in the eights and the fours. I did give sculling a go, you know, the single rower, but I was hopeless at it, and I really didn’t like it. I finally left the club, because there was not enough people to fill the eights or even a four, so I left. For a few years, you know, I bummed around sort of; just left home, went and lived in a flat; left the flat and went back home; went to another flat, lived in another flat, went back home.
The Fergus family, they sponsored me to Outward Bound. I did go down to Outward Bound; I was about nineteen or twenty, and I was at the Rowing Club at the time, and I thought I was fit, but … no. A piece of advice for anyone going to Outward Bound: make sure you’re fit before you go.
I remember gettin’ there the first day, and we were split into four groups, you know; and then put on your physed [physical education] gear and go out and do calisthenics straight away. They pushed you so high [hard] one guy was actually physically sick. So while we were in camp it was calisthenics every morning, and a five mile run or something like that; then a cold swim in the sea. And it was cold. I mean it was summer when we went, but it was still cold. And then we went sailing – this is the order we did it in – then you had a group tramp in the ranges around the Marlborough Sounds, where you learnt map reading and you had an instructor with you. Then we went rowing around the Sounds – [that’s] when I learnt how to do it.
And then we went sailing by ourselves – this is the order we did it – and if there was no wind – it was a cutter – you had to row it; so we had to row that thing ‘cause there was no wind. The fastest we went when we were rowing it was when the tide was going out in [chuckle] Queen Charlotte Sound, and the tide goes out there quite fast. We were supposed to sail out of Queen Charlotte Sound to a rock pinnacle and then back inside to the Sounds, but we never got that far ‘cause we for most of the time we didn’t have wind. So we parked up on an island on the last night of a three-day trip; and the next morning we sailed back and we had great wind – it went like a rocket, the last day.
And then we went for our tramp in the bush without the instructor; four days I think that was. You had to find your way around twenty peaks in four days; so I think we reached sixteen as a group. And we were up top on the range one night, and it bucketed down – and I mean, it really rained. And the next night it rained again, but we’d cheated; we’d come down out of the ranges and we were walking along and we just stopped by a farm and asked him if we could sleep in the barn for the night. And he took us down to a boat shed in the Sounds, and we slept in the boat shed. Perfect! It bucketed down again.
But where we went canoeing there wasn’t enough water in the rivers to kayak down the rivers, and we had to row around the Marlborough Sounds – down one sound, up another sound, and then we had to portage our canoes back over to Queen Charlotte Sound and row down to Outward Bound, which is at the end of Queen Charlotte Sound across from Picton.
Frank, you’re right, we did spend a day in the bush, or an overnight in the bush by ourselves. And in the morning we were supposed to tell them what time it was. They come [came] to pick me up; it was night time when they picked me up and asked me what the time was. I didn’t have a clue. Not allowed a watch, of course; not allowed a radio; you had to spend it by yourself. I think they checked up on us though, ‘cause a man came round and sat in his boat and fished in the bay. I had my suspicions that they were checking up to make sure … yeah, I think so.
Physically I found it a challenge; mentally … well, it was supposed to build mental toughness as well. I suppose walking around twenty peaks in the bush when you’ve only just learnt to read a map is pretty challenging.
I know it’s very expensive to go now – several thousand dollars.
I think it was expensive in those days; I didn’t even think about it. That was … yeah, I’m not sure what year I went down. I was nineteen or twenty, so it was ‘71 or ‘72, I’m not quite sure.
But it was fun, and the Ferguses were a great family; they were really good to me. But let’s face it, working in a shop is not good pay and I wanted more money; and I left there after a couple of years, and I worked in a wholesale electrical, and was stationed in Carlyle Street – Neeco. They were building the mill at the time; we used to have truckloads of cabling go out from there.
You’re talking about the mill at Whirinaki?
Yeah, the paper mill at Whirinaki that is, yes. And … well, I wasn’t really very good at doing that, and after three months I was asked to leave; so I left, straight away.
So when did you join the tannery then?
A day later. A friend of mine says, “They’re always looking for workers, Tom – come over to Pacific Leathers”, or it was Cyrus Dales in those days, in Thames Street in Pandora industrial area. So I went over there and – I left on a Monday; I went over there on a Tuesday and I started work on Wednesday. I had one day off. And I started as a machinist in the tannery, and within a month I was earning three times as much money as I was …
Makes a difference too doesn’t it?
It makes a difference; and you know, bought a new car and all that sort of stuff.
What sort of car did you have?
I bought a Vauxhall … was it Cresta or Velox? A Velox PB which is a 3.3 straight-six.
Quite a smart car.
They go fast … they would go fast. To me, a car with a big motor and …
Well you’re a big man …
Yeah, they would just go fast … they just go fast. But at that time too, I was still out at the Rowing Club, and I was driving out there nightly for training. We used to go away in the Rowing Club; we used to go to Karapiro, Wairoa, Wanganui, Rotorua; to the national champs – I went twice. Karapiro was an interesting place, ‘cause that was where you really got to see the Waikato team; in those days the best eights I think, in the world.
Well, when you look at the facilities they’ve got now with the buildings and that, it’s just incredible.
Yeah, it is incredible. And that was Waikato Club, and Waikato Club in those days, the eights … you watched them and it was incredible watching them. I mean the boat was balanced, all the oars went into the water at the same time; they all popped out at the same time and it was balanced, and they could make that thing really get up and move. It was beautiful to watch. And then of course, they had the Olympics, where New Zealand won the Gold Medal for the eights. Avery Brundidge was the Olympic Committee Chairman I think, and he presented the medal; [I] think he made quite a reference to you know, what amateur sports did in those days.
Anyway, I started workin’ at the tannery, and I worked for about three years on a variety of machinery – I was the machinist, always fleshing lamb pelts – there was a machine to peel the flesh off lamb pelts before you tan them. And then we used to do a job called wet wheeling, which is buffing the flesh off and makin’ sheepskin suede. That’s what the tannery was doing when I first started there, makin’ sheepskin suede. And then [?Cyrus?], which was an American company, sold their half of the company to Richmond’s and they started to tan cow hides and deer skins, and started to expand the tannery. We had three tanning drums, and they ordered a tanning drum and we expanded it to four. And I was still working on machinery; I did what they called splittin’ hides, and we were doing deer skins, so I was doing deer skins as well.
Well at some stage Graeme Lowe bought the company, didn’t he?
Yes, that was only a few years ago.
Did you ever move to …
… Coventry Road?
No, I never. I was always bugging them about joining the tanning department, and eventually they, you know, I left machine work and went into the tanning department, and worked in the tanning department; studied for my Leather Diploma which is a three year course. I found that very tough because by this time I’d met my wife, Pamela.
And been away from school for many years?
Yes; but not only that, I was workin’ full time. We had two small kids … two children … and so you know, I was workin’ six, seven days a week sometimes, and trying to do a [an] assignment; we had eight assignments a year and then an exam at the end of the year; an in-house course down at Massey, at LASRA Leather and Shoe Research Association. And it was … yeah, with all that going on, it was tough; I really struggled I must admit, but I passed. In 1984 I got the job as Tanning Department Supervisor, and I stayed on that job for sixteen years.
Well it was worthwhile getting your ticket, wasn’t it?
It was worthwhile. It was still tough though, being Supervisor in the tanning department; it was running twenty-four/seven. I mean, it really was, I mean the fact is if the drums weren’t turning tanning something, they weren’t making money. So they were always turning over. We didn’t have a night shift on all night; we had two shifts.
You just let the machines run?
We just let the machines run, but they were on an alarm system so if something went wrong, then they’d go to the people that monitored the burglar alarm as a plant failure, and they called up me and I went in. So yes, I put up with that for sixteen years, and at the end of sixteen years I was really burnt out – I really was. I asked if I could just go back down on the floor and be a worker again, and I shifted to the dry department where when the leathers come out [of] the re-tan and dyeing drums, comes to be dried and finished.
But I had an interesting life in the tannery; I mean we did a lot of products over the years. I mean we did moccasin shoe leather while it was popular, those shoes were popular; we did clothing napa, you know, for leather jackets; we did deer skin suede for a woman in Queenstown who made deerskin suede coats that she sold to the tourists; we made motorbike leather, and we sold that to Jet Leathers in Hastings, they were one of our customers. Mostly we did shoe leather and upholstery leather.
So you really had a good look at the industry, didn’t you?
I really did, yes. I was a machinist, a tanner, back down on the floor again, and I guess you could call it a machinist again. And during that time of course, I met Pamela, my wife. I met her through a friend – I’d become friends with this young man like me I suppose … met at the pub; drinking buddies, interested in motorbikes. I had a motorbike he was interested in.
So what sort of motorbike did you have?
I had a Triumph 650. And he had this girlfriend, and he says, “Her sister’s comin’ up to Napier to live – why don’t you ask her out?” So I asked her out … Pamela … and that’s how I met my wife. Now Pamela had a baby daughter; she was six weeks old when I met Pamela. I had to sell the motorbike and buy a car, because [if] you start going out and getting serious with a woman who’s got a baby you can’t take her on a motorbike; so I sold the bike and bought another car, ‘cause I’d sold my car earlier, my big car, and so I had to buy another car.
In 1980, or ‘81 I think it is, we bought a house that was cheap on Hastings Street; needed a fix up. It was a doer-upper, and during the time we were there we pulled the washhouse over and rebuilt the washhouse out the back; put a new roof on it; ripped the windows out and put in aluminium windows; totally re-did the lounge room. And then we got to look at it and the cost of doing it; and I was workin’, didn’t have time, so we looked at the cost of gettin’ it all done at once – a new kitchen, a new bathroom, the outside painted and the rest of the house decorated inside. And we got up to $50,000 and we thought, ‘Nah – we’re not going to get any money out of this with all the money we’ve already spent on it.’ So we sold it, and we bought in Foster Terrace ‘cause it was near Colenso High School. But we lived in Hastings Street for fifteen years; it was a good start for us, and it was close to the beach. We you know, took the kids swimming at the beach, and when they got older we used to drive over to Westshore, and stopped for an ice-cream on the way home every time.
And we enjoyed … with the kids we went bush walking, and you know, the kids never … we never pushed them to do sport at school; they never did sport. When I had time in the weekend I used to like goin’ bush walking, or out and about with the kids, you know. At that time my sister lived in Christchurch and I remember – it was ‘86 – we drove down to Christchurch and visited … my younger sister … and visited her in Christchurch. My older sister lived in Palmerston North. We visited them quite often too. We never really toured around or had a caravan or anything like that, and when we went out we usually went to family and stayed with family – we never stayed in motels. Cheap! Family life.
Mum bought a house in Taradale; sold the one up in Greenmeadows and moved to a smaller place. And in … I think it was ‘89 … she was gettin’ on and havin’ trouble, so she sold up that and she moved in with my older sister; moved her in with her in Palmerston North. So she went to live with Jane. When Jane and Robin moved up to Tauranga, Mum moved up to Tauranga too, and she died in 1991. She was seventy-three, so she’d been on her own for basically twenty years. Dad was fifty-three when he died. He was young, and they were born in the same year, 1915, so they were the same age.
So did you have your accident while you were working?
Yes. I was working in the dry department, and I was actually renovating my double bedroom; I was painting it. And it was at work; at that stage I was either walking to work or biking to work. It wasn’t very far away, it used to take me thirty-seven minutes to walk to work – that was my exercise. And I’d walked to work, but we only had enough work for half a day so I was going to go home for lunch; I was going to quit by lunchtime and I was going to come home and paint. So I rung up home, but I didn’t get my wife. But my daughter was here with her two children, and she said, “I’ll come and pick you up, Dad.” So she came to pick me up. She got there and I said, “Where’re the kids?” ‘Cause the kids usually came with her, you know, [to] pick up grandad. And she said, “One’s watching television and the other one’s playing computer games.”
Anyway, we were on the way home, and we were turning off Kel Tremain Drive into Ford Road. And my daughter was driving; it was her car. A truck came up behind us, and he was reading a report he’d just got from the weigh station, or filling out his logbook – something like that – and he didn’t see us, and he ran into the back of the car at seventy kilometres an hour. He saw us at the last minute, swerved to avoid us, but … too late. But it spun the car out across the road, and the car coming the other way hit the passenger side where I was sitting. I must’ve been out for a few seconds, ‘cause I woke up with my daughter screamin’; she was twenty-three weeks pregnant. And the seat belt had jammed and she was screaming, “My baby! My baby!” And she says, “I can’t get the seat belt undone.” I reached across and grabbed the seat belt and pulled it loose, and says, “You’ll have to push the button, because …” I says, “I think the bloody bastard’s broken my arm.” And that’s the last I remember until I was talking to a paramedic; and he was asking me … it was a she actually … asked me what kind of meds [medications] I was on, you know, and I was telling them I was on blood pressure and all that sort of stuff.
What age were you then?
Fifty-three. And I woke up; Pam was there and she says, “You’ve been in an accident.” I wanted to tell her. “I know that”, [chuckle] “I remember it.” And she says, “You’ve been unconscious for three and a half weeks.” Now if I’d been standing up I think my jaw would’ve dropped to the floor; three and a half weeks – it felt like I’d only been out for a few minutes.
It makes a black hole. For a long time I was walkin’ around with three and a half weeks missing, and wanted to know what the hell had happened … what I’d missed in those three and a half weeks. Anyway, yeah, it was quite major. My daughter was okay, more shock than anything …
Baby all right?
Baby was okay. She’s now twelve.
So how long were you in hospital and recuperating?
I was in the hospital for five weeks. I was supposed to go down to [the] physio ward but they didn’t have any room, and I wanted to go home. So they sent me home, and I was supposed to drive out to Hastings every day to have physio, but apparently the woman who was supposed to teach me wasn’t ACC [Accident Compensation Commission] accredited so I couldn’t go out there. So I ended up going to a ACC accredited place in Napier, a physio place in Kennedy Road – I can’t remember the name of it. And I was on physio for a year, and it was six months until I was strong enough to go back to work.
But in the accident my shoulder had been broken, my shoulder blade had been broken, all the ribs on my left side had been broken, some of them in two places, not just fractured, broken. I had a punctured lung on the left side which collapsed, and they had to do the old … stick the needle in and … I also had two fractures in my back; one was a fracture which can mend, and the other one was a crush fracture, and that’s at L2 right down the bottom. And they tell me crush fractures never heal. I am lucky I’m still walking, and not only lucky I’m still walking, but lucky I don’t have chronic back pain. Now and again it gets sore and pain[ful] but not very often, and I think I am very lucky where that’s concerned. But my shoulder gives me constant pain, and if I do physical work, I’m only good for two or three hours. Ribs give me so much pain that if I keep going they’ll put me on the floor.
So when did you learn computerisation? Was that at work?
Well, computerisation … I bought my first computer in 1984. It was an Atari … ha!
Never heard of it.
No. There was a lot of computers around in [the] days before IBM and Microsoft became popular – there was a lot of brands. There was Commodore computers, Sega, [?] for me it was, Atari; and so I bought a computer. I thought these were the upcoming things, and bought it for the kids, and then I hogged it. [Chuckle]
And at the same time as I was made Supervisor in the tanning department, they automated the tanning drums, but they automated them with a punch card system. These punch cards were about two metres long, and what you did is you opened the door on the front of the punch card panel and you pushed the card in, and it slid down; and then they had a curve in it to make it come back up, and they had a curve in the top, so you’d push it down, and the end of the card was right where the beginning of the card was. And they had motor driven … they had holes in the side of the cards, and you had a v-shaped cut, and you pushed it very gently up over the … There was [were] forty micro switches behind the card; you pushed it very gently up, and on the punch card was all the information. It was called a punch card cause you punched holes in it. There was a machine there – you pushed a pedal, and it pushed a punch down, and it was 5mm long. So you had to put all this information on that punch card with this pedal. It had forty tracks; each track did somethin’ different, so there was [were] timers, drum forward, drum backwards, drum speed; you know, chemical addition from the batch tank to the drum; sent a signal over to the protomix which weighed out liquid chemicals; sent it to the batch tank; put in water to the drums. It was magic, but the trouble was my job was to make these punch cards – being the Supervisor in the tanning department, I had to make it. So what I did is, I got the recipe for each process, you know, and I wrote out a programme to make the punch card so I’d have in front of me. So I’d do step one, and then step two, and I had a slide that slid under the step, you know … step three. And I wrote out all these recipes at home on the Atari – and I pinched the paper from work and printed it out at work, you know, from [on] paper from work – at home, on an old dot matrix machine. So I had this information sittin’ in front of me, and that way I could make all the punch cards the same.
And you could do it without pushing ..?
Well, you had to. What you do is you slide the card into the punch card maker and it slid over like that. And then you had a hole, which were [was] numbered, where you pushed a pin, and that was the track number that you wanted; corresponded with that pin. And you pushed the pedal down and it punched a five-millimetre hole. So if you had a hole, you know, you had three timers; there was a timer which moved the card at five millimetres a minute, right? Then you had a timer that was two minutes, and then you had a timer that was half an hour. So if you were timing something at five millimetres a minute, you’d give it one punch. So then you’d move it and punch it again, and then you’d move it.
But once you got it on the computer, that would simplify things a lot?
Yes. We converted the punch card machine. A very clever man called Alan Cooper from Falcon Electrical, says, “I can computerise that.” And I says, “Please give it a go.” So what we did – where the punch card was there was a big plug that had forty pins in it of course; so we put that plug, or he did, in a box of relays, so the box of relays was switched on and off through that pin; so the relays took the places of the micro switches. But the relays were activated by the computer. So you now had a chip in a box – forty chips instead of forty switches. You activate each chip by the computer, so we now had a computer activating or taking the place of the relays and activating the chips, and taking the place of the micro switches in the punch card. And then you could just write a computer programme to …
That would have been quite …
Well it was quite time saving, because you only had to put the recipe in once. We had eight tanning drums by that time, and one computer controlling the whole lot. When the tanners wanted to put in a recipe they just came over, said what drum they were using, selected the recipe they wanted; then they went over to the machine … to the panel where the punch cards used to be, and turned it to ‘Auto’ and pushed ‘Start’, and that started the computer running that recipe.
That must have been a real saver.
Oh, it was a real time saver. The trouble was then, that I was the Supervisor of the tanning department but I didn’t make any of the recipes. The man who made the recipes then decided, ‘I can do lots of experiments now; I can change the blimmin’ tanning recipe as much as I like, ‘cause it’s computerised. It won’t take much to change the recipe.’ I spent a lot of time changing recipes. But it was good, and by that time the whole place has got computers anyway. I mean they sent me on a computer course to study Microsoft Office, and spreadsheets and typing programmes, and I also had to learn, you know, time management and all that sort of thing. And we did a fair lot of work, the supervisors.
Well someone has to keep the ship going in the right direction.
So yeah, And also we did 9001 ISO. [Quality Management Systems] We wrote a programme – how to train people, and the job breakdown for every job, and train people using this manual.
So you really were a tanner machine operator right through, weren’t you?
Yep. And I really got into computers. I wish I’d left the tanning and studied IT [information technology] and become a computer guy. I like computers, I like playing with them – I’m not so interested in gaming on computers, or social networking; I like computers that you can do work with, you know. Even though I had the Atari at home, my primary introduction to computers was [the] punch card system, which really was a computer, even though a basic one; and then computerising that.
So how long did you stay on tanning?
Well, I was a tanner after I stopped machining, machine work; twenty-eight years I was in the tanning department. I could have left and gone to other tanneries, I mean I was offered jobs, but some of the jobs were … it’s not so much the job as where they were. Like, I was offered one job where they built a freezing works out in the Australian outback, and next door they built a tannery. And it’s like … ‘Oh, do you want to work in a tannery in the middle of the bloody outback?’ I mean, you know, the nearest town was two hundred miles away. I mean miles, not kilometres. And besides the one that was there where the freezing works was, [???]
So did you retire from the tanneries?
Well I stopped work at the tanneries. I tried to go back to work tanning after the car accident, or work in the dry department, but quite honestly the physical work was too painful. I had so much damage that if I did physical work my ribs started to hurt, and let me tell you, I couldn’t work through it. I mean, if I kept going the pain would get so bad I would be lying on the floor. I was on ACC for three years after I finished at the tannery; I finished in 2007. The car accident was in 2006 in July; I finished in 2007. I just couldn’t do the work.
And so you came home?
I came home, and I sat round for three years. I was kicked off ACC and went onto Invalid’s benefit, ‘cause I really couldn’t do anything. A friend of mine who worked at Hawke’s Bay Hides says to me, “Tom, we need a temporary lab [laboratory] technician.” And so I went over there, and I knew what tanning was all about; I hadn’t worked in the lab but they trained me what to do. The lab technician over there was a woman and she was pregnant, and she was taking time off and I was supposed to be there for six months. She left to have a baby, came back to work, was there two weeks and left.
Left you holding the baby …
Left me holding the baby. And even that job, even though it was not hard physically, at the end of the day I was screaming in agony … my ribs were killing me. The pain in my ribs has never gone away. And I said to him after eleven months, I says, “I can’t continue to do this”, and they found someone else to take it over; and I left and I never worked again.
Then in 2013 – my wife belongs to the Lions organisation in Napier – we went on a mystery bus trip around Christmas time … or December it was … and we ended up out at Stoneycroft, having a tour of Stoneycroft, and James Morgan givin’ us a talk and telling us about the history of Hawke’s Bay and the history of this house, and how the Hawke’s Bay Digital Archive was gettin’ people’s records together and they were going to digitise them, and they needed volunteers to digitise them. I was at home at this time of course, not doing anything, and I thought, ‘This is really light work, I could do this.’
So I put my name down and I started as a volunteer in 2014 – January, when they went back from the Christmas break. And I’ve been out there ever since volunteering at the Hawke’s Bay Digital Archive. I only work in the morning; I still get pain in my ribs. Most of the time I go out to Hastings – I go out by bus, I get off at the hospital and I walk down to Stoneycroft, and then I leave about quarter to twelve and I walk back down to the hospital and get on the bus … it comes at five past twelve, ten past twelve. And a lot of times I get to the hospital and I’m pretty sore; I have to ring up Pam and say, “Pick me up.”
Have you always had an interest in photography?
No. James put me on the camera, and I had to learn about photographing documents. He says, “You can do the camera.” I don’t know anything about cameras. So this camera’s [an] overhead camera that’s hooked to a computer; you turn on the camera, you turn on the computer programme; and it’s called a [?] camera, and you have lights shining on a table called a light table for obvious reasons. And then you open live view on the camera by this computer programme, the [?] programme. You focus on what, you know … zoom in and out to the page you want to photograph, and photograph the page. Or if people have got big portraits that can’t be scanned … too big to be scanned … we photograph them too. But mainly the reason we photograph them is because they’re too big to fit on the scanner, so we photograph them.
Pam obviously has been very supportive of you working away at
I think she’s more supportive of me going out to Stoneycroft to get me out of the house. [Chuckle] So I was at home for … what year did I leave Hawke’s Bay Hides where I worked for a year as a lab technician? I left there in 2012, so I’d been at home for a couple of years doing nothing. I was going nuts, I really was. You don’t go out, you don’t see anyone, you don’t interact with anyone. I think a requirement to anyone retiring is … make a plan of what you’re doing to do. You’ve got to do something, or you will go nuts. And so, yes, Pamela kicks me out of the house. If I say, “I’m not going”, she says, “Yes you are!” Pamela is great. We’ve been married since … when did we get married? 1976 … what’s that? Forty-odd years.
So how many grandchildren have you got?
Well I’ve got three children; Alicia the oldest, Penelope and Andrew. Andrew’s got three children, Alicia’s got three children – that’s six. Penny hasn’t got any children.
Your grandchildren’s names?
Ah … So that’s Harley, the oldest, Crystal, Lexa, they are Alicia’s children; and then Tiffany, Marcus and Daniel. Now Crystal is a young woman now and she’s got a child, so I’ve got a great-grandchild as well.
Andrew lives in Australia, in Newcastle. He’s a chef … a head chef of a restaurant in Newcastle. I don’t know the name of it; I don’t bother to find out the names of the places he’s workin’. He shifts jobs so often … he’s had more jobs than I ever had.
I think it’s a fairly volatile area, being a chef.
Yeah, I think it is. But he’s doing very well – he’s an executive chef, that’s the word I’m looking for. And he’s on … well, good money in Australia, more than he could earn in New Zealand. My youngest daughter, works for the ANZ Bank in Wellington, and my oldest daughter in Auckland works for the Post Office.
All good jobs.
My son, Andrew, he gets more than double what he’d get in New Zealand. And I mean, I’ve been over to Australia, and the rent they pay is no more than in New Zealand. The food I find is cheaper, and they’re making more money so they’re better off. And they have compulsory super. I would love my son to come back to live in New Zealand so I could be closer to him, see him more often; see my grandchildren.
Is he like you, your son?
What d’you mean? I suppose he looks like me, but he doesn’t have red hair. I haven’t got red hair any more but I used to be a redhead, and I think I had a redhead’s temper as they call it. I was pretty volatile. [Chuckle] I don’t know, I think I’ve slowed down over the years.
So what else have you go on that sheet for me?
Nothing, I think we’re finished. You could talk forever though, Frank, but I think we’ve covered the highlights.
You’ve given me a fairly good brushstroke of your life and of your family, and what you’ve done and what you’ve achieved at Pacific Leathers.
Yep. Now I volunteer; but one thing I like, being a volunteer – if you have to go somewhere all you have to say is, “Sorry, I can’t come”, and you just go. I mean this year already I’ve been down to Wellington; been up to Auckland. And I wanted to drive down State Highway 1 from Auckland to Wellington which I’ve never done; so I did that. Tried to do it all in one day, but we got down to Foxton. Pam’s brother lives in Foxton, and it was another hour and somethin’ trip; and we’d been on the road seven or eight hours – it was time to stop. We stopped in Foxton and said hello to him, and stayed overnight.
Okay, well I think we’ve probably got most of it.
Thank you, Frank.
That’s all right, it’s my pleasure, and Tom, thank you for your contribution to the Knowledge Bank and the work you do, ‘cause you’ve become a bit of a specialist there.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
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