Purdie, Gavin John (John) Interview

Today is the 19th April 2018. I’m interviewing John Purdie, a retired nurseryman, gardener … many, many things to do with gardening. John, would you like to tell us something about the life and times of the Purdies of Farmlet Road?

Well, Frank, originally the family came out from Scotland. They departed from Greenoch on 12th September 1849, principally to come out to Dunedin. My great-great-grandfather was a surgeon, and he came out as a ship’s surgeon on the ‘Mooltan’ and they arrived in Dunedin on Wednesday 26th December 1849. So that’s where we started from. He had five or six children; two children died on the way out to New Zealand and they were buried at sea.

There were two sons survived and two daughters. For the eldest son, I believe Ashley Downs Station was purchased; and for the younger son, my great grandfather, Cottesbrook Station was purchased, where he managed and worked. And then for some reason he decided farming wasn’t going to be his thing. His father had initially wanted him also to be a doctor, so as I think he didn’t want to be a doctor he went on to become engaged, and decided Cottesbrook Station wasn’t for him. So that was sold. He went to Melbourne, leaving his fiancée behind for six whole years, and trained as a dentist. So he practised; when he came back he married, became I think pretty much ensconced all his working life in Christchurch where he had his family. And my grandfather was one of his sons who also became a dentist. And he was in Christchurch practising; and somebody in Pahiatua of all places, moved on and they had no dentist in Pahiatua so he came from Christchurch to Pahiatua to fill in, which he did I think for about twelve months; and in the meantime met my grandmother … she shoved her hoof in the way. Grandfather never went back to Christchurch.

You wouldn’t know who the dentist was in Pahiatua, would you?

No.

Adams – my uncle Leon was the dentist there for many, many years.

Well, the Adams family of course, I know here. Margaret Palmer, Donald Wilson the nurseryman’s granddaughter, married … oh, the young Adams, I can’t think of his name now. And he was also a dentist in Pahiatua, but at the time of grandfather coming there was no one else. And … a pretty small population.

And interestingly enough, Grandfather, as I say, married Grandmother. Then there was my dad, and he didn’t like Pahiatua; he went off to boarding school, I think at the age of twelve. Pahiatua being too small, he became a journalist and went on to report for the Dominion in Wellington, and then moved from the Dominion to Gisborne, I think, for the Gisborne Times or whatever the Gisborne paper was called. And that for some reason closed down – I can’t think why – and they moved from Gisborne to Hawke’s Bay where he was journalist for the Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune.

Had he met your mother at that stage?

Met Mother at school, at boarding school in the Wairarapa.

So her folks came from the Wairarapa?

Yes, mother’s family …

Do you want to tell me anything you know about them?

Yes. Grandfather and Grandmother came out from England at the turn of the century, I think. Grandfather came out … they were engaged in England. He was a cabinetmaker; came out in about 1899, I think it was, also to Dunedin. Grandmother came out here later, and they were married in of all places, Geraldine. Why wait to glory in Geraldine?

It’s a lovely little spot.

Oh, I know! But I mean from Dunedin to Geraldine … in those days when travel wasn’t like today.

Well they must’ve gone for the view …

Must’ve done something.

Of the mountains.

And the Vicar asked Grandfather would he like the bells peeled; and Grandfather said, “Ooh, rather!” Yeah. And so they were married in Geraldine – I’ve never been to Geraldine. And they moved from Dunedin for some reason, to Wanganui.

Now your mother’s full name was Beatrice ..?

Yes. Beatrice Bright. And Grandfather worked for somebody in Wanganui for starters, and then moved on his own account to Masterton where he set up A E Bright Furniture factory, which was there for many, many years. And he made all sorts of furniture, usually in oak … English oak, and if he couldn’t get English oak, American oak was next best. He liked English oak; everything was English.

And Mum and Dad were married, and then as I said Dad moved to Gisborne, and she was there as well. And then they came down in 1938 to Hawke’s Bay and all their furniture was stuck on the Wairoa bar. So they arrived to their new home somewhere in Hastings; no furniture – it was stuck for some weeks on the Wairoa bar. Dad worked here, and then he became a diabetic, which the family was unfortunately full of from his mother’s side … the Mackersey side … and he had to give up the pressure of journalism because he had to have meals at regular times. And so they bought Farmlet Road, where I am today. Farmlet Road was purchased in 1951, and we moved out here; I was four … just four; four and a bit perhaps, in 1951, and my sister was nearly two.

And her name?

My sister’s name is Jan; Jan Purdie … Jan Wilson. And I’ve been here ever since; this is the only home I’ve ever known. When we came here, firstly there was one glasshouse, and the back portion of the five acres was planted in asparagus, and the variety was Paradise, and it was just supposed to be the best at the time. Well that bed lasted for I think twenty-one years.

Yes, it was one of the oldest beds and it was one of the highest producing beds.

It was amazing. Dad meticulously weighed everything of course, he had that sort of mind.

Of course there was no waste; every spear was harvested.

Yes, even the thin stuff was bundled up and sent away. And the markets, when it first arrived, thin asparagus, it got a better price than the prime stuff. [Chuckle] And we wondered why; and of course restaurants would use it for asparagus sandwiches – easy to spread. So there was nothing wasted. Everything was, you know …

Now tell me about the tomatoes, and then the move into …

We had the back paddock as I’ve said, was planted in asparagus. That was probably about three acres. There was a big glasshouse – I think about two thousand square foot, which originally was hothouse tomatoes, and I think Mother and Dad kept the tomatoes up … oh, for three or four years. I remember Dad having to get up to stoke what was then a [an] underground, or partially underground, boiler because the way of heating the place was by water; there were big water pipes running around the outside and through the middle, which kept away the frost. And that was coke; we used to burn coke, not coal, and Dad used to have to get up in the middle of the night … one o’clock, two o’clock in the morning to stoke it in the winter months.

And then they gave away the tomatoes and moved to cut flower carnations. At that point Dad was going to build another glasshouse – they were doing very well – and so the big new glasshouse was put up in 1961; again about two thousand square foot. And that paid for itself in thirteen months.

With carnations?

With carnations. They were a real money-spinner at the time.

I always remember looking at them and thinking it must’ve been a major job stringing out.

It was.

Because very plant was supported.

Exactly. It was very labour intensive. And then not only, Frank, did you have them all growing up in their own little … you know, squares … every stem had to be disbudded. So you had lots of lots of side buds coming off; they had to be removed to leave the one top bud, to get the flower size. And some of the stems were oh, three feet, or a metre, and they were terrific. That variety was a Simmon variety, and I think the earliest planting here – in those days it was quite simple – they were imported from Denmark … from a grower in Denmark. And they arrived by air in a pumicey type medium called perlite. I’d never seen perlite before; very strong, beautiful plants. Can’t remember the name of the nursery now, but they were a huge producer of carnation plants for commercial growers. And so that was interesting. A lot of people didn’t understand why you’d import plants from Denmark, but that’s where they came from.

And so there were two big glasshouses full of these. We had a lady employed. In actual fact the little five-acre block, when I look back, was very highly productive. I mean we lived as a family here and we lived well. Well, we didn’t want for much, I don’t say we were wealthy, wealthy people, I don’t mean that, but you know, we didn’t want for much. No, it was a good lifestyle. But we all had to work. But every other property down this road grew something.

Initially they were all chopped up … mainly five acres; one or two I think at the end of the road were slightly bigger after the slump in 1933, to house people. I mean they were balloted apparently, for people who were pretty destitute. As I remember, I think they were given a cow and also walnut trees to plant; and I think hedging plants for those who, you know, wanted to plant hedges for shelter. And I think the O’Shaughnessy family, I think – next door to us here – they were original people; I think they were the first to actually move into their house while others were still being built. And it was all pretty, I think, close by; but not all the same builder built the same houses.

I remember the Kyles were pig farmers.

Yes, they certainly were. Well the O’Shaughnessys, initially they had pigs too. And we hadn’t lived here for very long and one of Mrs O’Shaughnessy’s pigs – I used to lean on the belly round the hedge here – and this pig was making a bit of a nest. And I came back and said to Mother, “Look what’s happening under …” “What are you doing under there?” And I said, “There’s a pig making a nest.” “Oh, yes”, not knowing one end of a pig from the other. And anyway, I was laying under there and I came squealing inside, “Mum, Mum! Come quickly, the pig’s having babies.” And she said, “What?!” She was horrified! “Well, you come inside now!” she said. [Chuckle] And out of course were popping all these piglets … amazing! So that was living life in the country. And those little pigs survived; and of course they were sold into beautiful pork.

And so just turning the clock back a bit – you went to which school?

Went to Mangateretere over here. Pretty much a Polynesian school; well in those days racism, per se, really didn’t exist. The Māori families there mainly worked at the Works [freezing works] or in the shearing gangs, and I think all of us really, as families, were pretty much in the same boat. So I was very fortunate there.

So when you left school did you work for a nurseryman?

I went on from Mangateretere to Napier Boys’ High School, did the Ag [Agricultural] course there.

I went to Napier Boys’ too.

Yes, I can remember seeing your picture somewhere, Frank. Yes, I can remember. [Chuckle] I did the Ag course, and I started my first job I think … well, my first job – my only job really … for Donald Wilson of Wilson’s Nurseries, in about 1963 or ‘64; ‘63 I think it was, the end of ‘63, because we went straight into budding – and that was hard work. Bent double budding roses for starters; and the stocks had been planted the previous year. And then we had to scrape everything off with a hand trowel to put the bud below ground level so it would be on a short stock. Long stocks were not tolerated; and as I say, we nearly … well you had to bend double, – we were working below ground level. But I’ve always had a very, very good back, and I put that down to that early training. And we used to grow a hundred thousand roses; fruit trees … well, thousands upon thousands. And after the disastrous floods of 1966 or ‘67, we had rain – on the plains here – it rained and it just didn’t stop raining. And you probably remember, the Golden Queen peach trees were dying in the wet fields all over the district. And Wattie’s had to import pulp, and I think peaches, from Australia to carry on with their canning. It was some years they had to do that, because you had to wait for the trees to grow and produce again. I think that was the year Mr Wilson came on to the scene with his drainage; you remember the tile draining problems?

Yes, Selwyn Wilson, Don Riach.

That’s right, he did the work.

Heretaunga Plains to that point were subject to flood; high water table, and it was not really a proper horticultural land use. When they came and tile drained, they changed Hawke’s Bay from a reasonably damp spring area to a very highly productive horticultural area.

Very much so.

And you know, they didn’t charge for any of those things they did, the Department.

No, they didn’t either, you’re right.

I only hope history remembers the work that Selwyn Wilson did.

Well, it was pretty intense really, wasn’t it? I mean there were huge areas where you’d see Mr Riach’s equipment working on [it]; I mean as I said earlier, he’d put drainage in for us, Selwyn Wilson; and I’d forgotten that it was Mr Riach, but yes, it was. And it was all done by laser – am I right?

It was later.

And I just remember thinking, ‘Good grief, where are we headed?’

But I know a lot of useless land … useless because of the fact that it would get so wet … was made very productive. Frank, we’re getting old; we’re starting to talk like old men. We’re going back in time. [Chuckle]

It’s too late …

[Chuckle] You’ve done it? Oh well, I’m fast heading …

And then I came home for some of the seasons here, to help with the asparagus season. Then when we bought this block in Norton Road, half of that went into asparagus; a bit wet, but we got some money off that and the rest would either be maize … An old friend, Frank Cooper, used to come and plough it all in for me and we’d start the process again. But it was very heavy country. The soil here on the home block is river silt, and beautiful to work.

All made up by the Ngaruroro River.

Oh! Just superb.

Class 14, perfect.

Just perfect. And it would grow anything really. Never ever needed drainage out here, it was all … in this particular area. Two hours after a decent rain you could mow lawns again; it just vanished. Beautiful. Where are we now, Frank?

So you’re at Wilson’s, coming home to work here when they needed you.

Oh, that’s right. And that’s how it worked; I was at Wilson’s, coming and going – Wilson’s Nurseries – for twenty-one years, and I would do the winter seasons there and come home for the asparagus season. It worked very well – very well. And then I worked for a time after Wilson’s [at] Dene’s Garden Way in Havelock North – that was another twenty-one years. So I really put my mark on the horticultural … well, I don’t know, it was just my life really.

And of course people were the other part. And there’s no barrier – this is the funniest thing in horticulture or plant knowledge – there’s no barrier because everybody’s the same, we’re all searching for the same answers. And horticulture, as you well know, you don’t know it all and we never ever will.

But you had a love of plants?

Well trees, yes.

And you didn’t have that bias, you had a very broad …

I like variety. I mean I was not anti-native at all, but Dene was a pittosporum man, which was a shame because they were short-lived. They do their thing quick and fast, and then …

Fifteen years they were gone.

… gone, and of course there was nothing left.

And they didn’t stand trimming.

No, they didn’t like that at all. But he still is doing a bit of work out there; a bit of landscape work. He hasn’t really changed very much.

And then I got to the age and stage where really I sort-of retired. Health packed up a bit, and so I was, in the finish, forced to retire.

But at some stage you were working for Green Door though, weren’t you?

A very short time, yes, I was with Green Door.

You still had black hair and [a] beard at that stage.

Yes – I think things had begun to change, or beginning to change.

Autumn colours.

Autumn colouring – I like that. So … well, you can’t do anything about that, I’m afraid. No; and so on we go.

Yes. You’re sitting in the middle of all this lovely growth of trees and garden, and it’s like a little oasis in the middle of Farmlet Road, isn’t it?

Well it’s the way I planned it really; [background noise] it was the way I wanted it to be.

Well who had the green fingers?

Dad hated the garden. Mother gardened; Dad hated the lawns, [timer bell] very happy to hand them over to me. Dad’s father was a great gardener. Whether he’d been pushed as a kid to have to mow the lawns or … no, he wouldn’t have been pushed to do any of the gardening. But my great grandfather Purdie – he had green fingers. The first tree that was planted here was given to me; it was a fan palm in a little pot which Grandfather had grown, and it’s still here. Planted when I was five, and that’s when it started, that terrible tree planting disease.

It’s fascinating, Frank, because I can go just to various places which I’ve been back to, where people would come and ask, you know, for a bit of help to plant some trees. They had a bit of space – not so much landscaping; I wasn’t really a landscaper. A small section I mean. Farm shelter – I did a lot of farm shelter with Wilson’s, and I drive up the Taupo Road even today, and I’ll see some of it’s survived, and I’ll think, ‘Good Lord! Yes, I remember that farm’, and make enquiries, and of course they’re either dead or they’ve moved on. Very few of them left farms to their sons in that sort of generation.

I think the sons saw better opportunities.

I think probably you’re right.

Kay and I moved to the farm in 1976; planted two and a half acres around the house, put a lake in …

Did you have a spring?

Our farm was all springs; it had a hundred and ten springs on the farm. And we dug the lake [speaking together] in front of the house … freshwater lake.

And that was spring fed?

Yes, springs in the bottom of it; it was about three foot deep. But when I sold the farm in 1989, the first thing they did was pull the plug and drain the lake.

Oh, you’re joking! And they filled it in?

No, just left it as a great big hole. I’ve never been back.

Well you had that wonderful avenue up the drive of golden elm, and of course … who did you planning, did you do it yourself?

Yes, Kay and I.

Your Kay was always very keen too, wasn’t she?

And we had the space to do it.

That’s a very big thing, isn’t it?

It really broke Kay’s heart when we left there.

Yes, well it was beautifully done.

But anyway coming back … I’m not the one that’s being interviewed. You consequently did some part-time with Green Door, you said … a short time?

Yes.

But most of the rest of your time has been concentrated looking after Farmlet Road.

Oh, major part, yes.

Have you done anything else as a hobby at all, besides encouraging people to plant? You’re a bit like Johnny Appleseed, aren’t you?

[Laughter] He was very famous.

Yours were already [laughter] growing.

Exactly. No … Johnny Appleseed – my goodness me.

Just think of all the people you’ve had contact with in Havelock and Hastings.

Well yes – I’ve always encouraged people. It was in the blood, and I believe it begins in the blood and remains so. I just loved trees. I remember as a very small child being taken to some native bush. I think Grandfather must’ve still been alive ‘cause I think he was still there, or it was he that took us there; and I must only’ve been about three, or four at most. And I just remember standing in this native bush looking up, and there were totara trees, there were rimu; and beautiful straight trunks going up for miles. Can’t think exactly where it was, but it must’ve been in the Wairarapa somewhere, or in Tararua … one or other, I can’t remember; and I think that was the start of it, for me. Trees … loved trees! And … oh yes, I remember as a child being driven down Oak Avenue; never seen anything like that before. And of course later in life I got to England, and the trees! Unbelievable!

Yes I went to Eastwoodhills [a] couple of years ago; I couldn’t believe how much it’s grown, and how steep the hills have got to walk around it.

Oh, we’re getting on a bit. I scrambled all over Eastwoodhill as a seventeen-year-old. Mr Cook was still alive in those days, and … well, it was well-known he was quite eccentric; but we just seemed to hit it off. I mean, he was an old man. And I always remember he wrote a letter to an aunt in Gisborne – after my aunt had taken me there – he wrote this letter to this aunt of mine … great aunt … about how impressed he was with ‘the boy’s knowledge’. And I was working at Wilson’s then, but I mean I had never seen anything like the collection at Eastwood Hill[s]; well, you don’t see it anyway. It was wet your pants material really, for a tree or plant collector.

You made a comment about the bush. I used to go in the back of the Ruakituri River …

Beautiful, yes.

… and we got into these stands of totara – these huge trees …

Stunning.

They have a togetherness, a bit like rimu – dozens of these trees, all two, three foot through …

Beautiful.

… and just straight as straight. But the sad thing was that at some stage they’d been splitting battens there, and there were stacks of battens all around these trees, and they were in piles. They’d been there for so long.

They were still there.

They were still there, they were starting to deteriorate, but no, it was beautiful.

Good Lord!

So anyway, of course your parents moved to …

Well when I bought this place they moved to Simla Avenue in Havelock North. Had a lovely spot up there; I was very sorry to see that sold really – I would love to’ve gone there myself. Oh, it was just perfect.

Yes, I always remember Alan; we were in Rotary together.

Talking about Rotary – Dad had forgotten to tell us you were having a do somewhere, I don’t remember what, but somebody was needing a piano. And they were away at the beach. You were there, Frank Cooper, and who else? Speers, Jan Speers’ husband. I came home and I got into the driveway and there was a trailer and a truck, and somebody was in the front room here lifting out the piano. You remember that? You were there. And Dad had given one of you, either you or Norman Speers, the key.

Well Norman would’ve been the piano player …

Well Norman was there.

Or Neville Norwell.

Yes, Neville Norwell was there too, but you were certainly there, ‘cause they needed men … you know, big men to …

That’s a long time ago!

And I came home and I thought the house was being burgled. [Chuckle] Dad had forgotten to tell me and they were away at the beach; and somebody had given the key to somebody and of course in they went – nobody home. I must have got back from work or been out, I don’t know …

So where would the piano have been going to?

Well it was lent to somebody who was going to be playing the piano, some do; I don’t know. Anyway, I thought, ‘Oh well – goodo.’ [Chuckle] Out went the piano, somebody handed me the key and said, “Well you can lock up. I’ll let you know when we’re coming back.” And the piano was gone – I think on somebody’s flat trailer. I thought it was yours; I’m not certain now, but you were certainly there.

Yes. Well it’s a while ago.

It is a hell of a long time ago, Frank.

So anyway, is there anything you’ve forgotten to tell me about?

Well I don’t think so; I mean, we’ve had some great characters down here in Farmlet Road over the years.

Work your way down; tell us how Farmlet Road came to be ..?

Oh, well just quickly. Farmlet Road came to be … a block chopped up; I don’t know who actually owned it initially, but I have a feeling that it was Holden land which was sold to the government for so-called closer settlement, for people who I gather were absolutely destitute or in very poor circumstances, as after the slump of course, lots of people were. They had nothing. And they were balloted; they were all mainly, as I said earlier, five-acre blocks. And you applied, and if you won your ballot you moved in here. And that’s how it initially was all set up.

This property here … our property … was the first freehold; all the rest were government lease, and they were still only paying £12; when dollars and cents [decimal currency] came in, $24 a year, all those years later. So Crown lease was very cheap. But this property – the Deans family who arrived here in 1933, they freeholded it later and it was the first freehold property. And they altered the house … doubled the house, or nearly doubled the house in size … and it was the first flush toilet in Farmlet Road. My mother would never’ve moved here had she no flush toilet.

The houses initially were like small State houses.

Oh they were; they were all the same.

And they’ve all been developed. So let’s start at the beginning of the road; we have the O’Shaughnessys …

No, right at the very top we had the Burtons. Next to the Burtons were the Mertons. Next to the Mertons were the O’Shaughnessys.

And they had fast and slow horses?

Yes.

And some asparagus?

Yes. Ian had very good slow horses; one or two fast ones, but mainly slow.

And then there was the Deans family – my parents bought their property in 1951. And then next to us were Patersons; then there was Paynes; then there was Nowell-Usticke … his town block, Mr Stanley Nowell-Usticke; and then there were the Webbs; then there was the Hardings; then there were the Whites, who had nine children and they are to this day all still alive. Derek White was ninety just this last year, he being the oldest. And they’re all alive. And then there was Roland Wall, who you would remember – absolute character. And then there were the Sloanes; Spencers next to Roly; and then there were the Reids – do you remember Doug and John Reid? And then of course the Kyles, who you knew. Bill Lepper bought their place … Bill and Sadie Lepper. And then there were the Gillespies. Now the only house in the road that is still in original hands … oh, the Reid family, but not now Reid, it’s Davey; but the Gillespies – what’s his name? Paul was the older brother; Geoffrey, the younger brother – he lived here until just recently. He’s built a new home in town somewhere, but his son is going to buy the place. So that’s five generations have lived on that property, so that’s unusual, really. But it’s great really – I don’t know what he’ll do with the orchard.

Yes – it’s unusual because it’s a little no-exit road.

Yes, it is, yes.

It was always a nuisance at the end because there wasn’t room to turn much …

No, there was no room to turn anywhere. It’s quite a … well, it’s still a narrow little road, really.

I’ve seen an awful lot of change; and I think I said earlier to you before we started recording – a lot of these properties down here were sold by word of mouth in those earlier times. They never came onto the market as such; the last one being the Goulds, down where the Whites were. I think … did they advertise themselves, I think … the Goulds, and they put up a sign, ‘Property For Sale’ at the top of the road. Three days later the sign was gone, and I thought, ‘Oh, somebody’s ripped that out.’ And I was talking to Vicky Gould just later, and I just jokingly said, “Look, I promise I didn’t pull it out.” “Ooh no”, she said, “it’s been sold.” They didn’t go through a real estate agent at all, it was sold quite privately. And a whopping amount of money. So I remember the neighbours … when Dad bought this place from the Deans family, and he paid £5,150 in 1951, and the neighbours went mad! ‘Cause their rates all went up. It was a major, apparently.

That was a lot of money … ‘51.

But when you think of all the families – if they weren’t making money off their property they went out and planted crops or …

There were no idle hands down here. Well you couldn’t be; I mean, there was just … isn’t it amazing how times have changed?

Yes. Well of course people that were living here had been through hard times.

Very hard times.

And they knew the only way out of hard times is to work your way out.

Well, it’s all you can do. A lot of the menfolk – not all, but a lot of them – worked at the freezing works over here at Tomoana.

Frank Kyle across the road of course, he was a bricklayer, and some of his work’s survived to this day – the Mangateretere School fence, you know, the front fence – ‘Lest We Forget’, the memorial fence there; and other places. Great brickwork. His concrete paths over at Rowan House – some of them still survive, and look as though they’re brand new. He knew what he was doing, but my God, he was a grumpy old Irish tiger.

What was her name?

Mabel. Mabel Kyle.

Yes, my father used to drink with him in the pub, that was our association with the Kyles.

Oh, right. Right. Joe Bicknell who married June Kyle once said to me, “My father-in-law … I didn’t really like him very much.” He said, “He was bog Irish.” And I’d never heard that expression before. He was bog Irish.

I don’t know any of Joe’s family; I only knew the Kyle side. But their son, Justin Bicknell, he looks like Frank, but he sure as hell isn’t like Frank. [Chuckle] Frank Kyle.

But you know, people were allowed to develop as identities, too.

Well I think we had a lot more identities in those days.

Yes. Well the men tended to go and socialise together.

Wherever; I mean I know that Mr Deans, Mr Reid – when they were milking cows here, that’s a way, way back – Mr Deans would unfortunately have cut his finger; and he loved a whiskey. Mr Reid across the way, he loved whiskey; wasn’t allowed to have a drink at home, and I don’t think this one here was allowed to have a drink either. [Chuckle] And he cut his finger; he’d have to get in touch with Jock Reid over here, and Jock would come over and milk the cows, supposedly. The bottles we found buried around the cow bale years and years later was hilarious. Characters … characters!

And you know we miss them. Someone asked me the other day, “Why don’t you go and interview Slats Wylie? ‘Cause he’s one of the only identities we’ve got in Hawke’s Bay.” And I said, “Oh, I don’t really know Barry”, who I’ve always known him as, but he’s commonly known – you know Slats?

Slats; yes. I see him on his bicycle.

No, that was Darcy on the bike.

Oh, Darcy …

Darcy died a few years ago. Slats was the one that delivered the firewood round.

Oh yes, that’s right. But they were characters, weren’t they? The Wylie family.

Well they were identities.

You talking about identities – I was talking to somebody the other day, just fairly recently, about identities in town – old Mabel who had the walking stick with a nail in the end of it, and she’d go round picking up cigarette butts. And then there was old Mrs Stent, the donkey lady.

Canadian Kate …

Canadian Kate and her daughter on the bike.

And the chap who used to sing Irish songs; what was his name?

[Chuckle] I don’t remember him.

He was shell shocked from the war. And Rewi round the corner …

Oh Rewi Starnes – well that’s another story, isn’t it? Bill O’Shaughnessy, next door.

Yes. So anyway, well … we’ve probably pretty well covered most of …

Well I hope, Frank, that this has been a success. It’s been a trip down memory lane for me, I can tell you.

Well it’s … once this is done and it’s edited and transcribed, it goes on to the website and it’ll be there forever.

Amazing isn’t it – absolutely amazing.

And the history of the Purdies of Farmlet Road will be there in the voice of young Purdie who now is …

A bit old; [chuckle] yes, past middle, I’m afraid.

Okay, it’s lovely sitting here looking out through your French doors and French windows into the garden and all the greenery. It’s a lovely spot.

Mmm – well I’m glad you appreciate it. I’ve loved it all my life. You know, it’s home, and home is where the heart is.

That’s right, so thank you, John.

You’re very welcome.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

Accession number

496405

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