Robert (Rob) William McLean Interview

Good morning. It’s the 10th May, 2016 and I have with me this morning Mr Rob McLean from Porangahau, and Rob’s going to give us a talk on his family.  Rob, good morning, and I’d like to ask you just to let us know about your early start in Hawke’s Bay, your grandparents, when they arrived here, where they arrived and virtually their complete history, and then right up to the present day with you.  And I’ll just hand the floor over to you.

Good morning Jim, and ‘morning everyone that will listen to this talk.

On my father’s side his first people came up to Napier. Now it’s my grandmother’s mother, Lucy Seed – she was born in Wellington and came up here to Napier, and as a twenty-seven-year-old met Edward Reames Courtenay Bowen, who was an Irishman.  And he had come out to visit New Zealand and have a look because his uncle, George Bowen, was a brief Governor for about three or four years in New Zealand in the 1870s. So Edward Reames Courtenay Bowen had come out and was working in the Customs Department in Napier at that time, and he met Lucy – I’m not sure how they met, but she was twenty-seven and he was forty-seven.  So they married and had three children – my grandmother, Ethel Courtenay Bowen, Elsie Bowen, and Courtenay Bowen was the only brother. They were brought up in Napier, in Shakespeare Road in Napier.

So then Ethel, my grandmother … my father’s mother … she had friends in Porangahau, the Sebleys, and they used to go out and visit occasionally.  And maybe it was on one of those trips that she met my grandfather, James Alexander McLean, a returned soldier, who drew a ballot farm on the 5th May 1918 on the Whangaehu coast where the historical walk is going to take place on this Sunday, the 15th May, 2016.

But previously, the year before my grandfather, Jim’s brother Alec had already drawn a ballot farm on Cooks Tooth Road.  And the farm was called Mount Pleasant and it has the actual cook’s tooth outcrop on it – the Maori name being Tukutea – but we all know it as Cooks Tooth.  So he drew that, and my grandfather had come out to do a job to convert the old cattle building where they actually housed the cattle – and calved them in those days – on Mount Pleasant, which used to be all part of Whangaehu Station, the forty-thousand-acre Station set up by Ashton St Hill in 1856, when the sheep came up from Wellington. It took them three weeks to come up from Wellington, all the way up the coast, crossing the rivers as they did with the early coastal Stations all the way along the Wairarapa into Hawke’s Bay.

Anyway, Alec drew this ballot farm, and I have the original maps of these ballot farm blocks all the way up Cooks Tooth Road in my records.  And so my grandfather, Jim – they used to call him Jim – he and his soldier mate, Vincie Windle, drew the two ballot farms in Whangaehu itself, and it was between the Station. He drew the four hundred and thirty-four acres of the coast, and moved out from Wellington.  He was a carpenter in his father’s engineering business.

His father was Donald McLean, who had come out in 1871 on the ship ‘Dunedin’.  He made his way into Christchurch for a number of years – two or three years – and then he arrived in Wellington in 1874.  So that was his father, Donald McLean, and he was born in Lochmaddy, Outer Hebrides, The Isle of Uist, and he got himself educated in Glasgow as an engineer, and that would have been the early 1850s I suppose, ‘cause by the time he came out and got married he was like, thirty-one, and he married a woman who had lost her husband already and had four children.  And so he married her and set up his engineering business in Wellington.

So yes, there was [were] a number of children – there was [were] probably eight of them altogether, but these two brothers chose to be farmers.  And his brother Alec was a cadet already, before the First World War, in the Wairarapa.  So he had some knowledge of farming but as I said, Jim McLean, he was a builder in his father’s big building company. They built wharves and buildings around the country; they built the hotels up and down the main trunk line as it was developing.

They were great sportsmen, these brothers – they were great swimmers, and they actually swam with Freyberg. They were all Wellington College boys in those days, and they used to swim down there in competitions – I remember my father talking about them.  And even when they went away to war – Jim went to Samoa, to take Samoa as a First Expeditionary Force, from Germany who had run that as a colony.  And the word is said that they took Samoa without a shot.  [Chuckle]

And anyway, he and his brother went on to Gallipoli and spent all those months in Gallipoli.  And when it came time to leave Gallipoli, the story goes that they set all the rifles up and everything, and they had buckets and they had water dripping so that the triggers would fire, and everyone pretended that – you know, they were still in the trenches.  So my father used to … my father, Courtenay Bowen McLean … he used to tell me that there was [were] four men that drew straws to see who was going to swim back from the shore to the boat, you know, to set the whole thing going, and one of them was my grandfather Jim, and Freyberg I think – not sure of the other two – but anyway, they were all good swimmers.  And he swam at the beginning of Spring all his life, and even when he retired to Napier, to Westshore when he was eighty, he was still swimming.

So yes, he started the farming career in the Whangaehu Valley, and his brother was up at Mount Pleasant.  And 1922 he married Ethel Courtenay Bowen – had a big wedding in Napier – got the photos are in the album there.  Yes, so they set off out there to the coast, and in my photos I’ve got their little hut that grandfather had put up when he first arrived in 1918.   So this was a number of years … three or four years … until my grandmother arrived out there.  And in those days Whangaehu Station was pretty busy.  It still had the second big bungalow homestead, which I have photos of – the record that Ashton St Hill-Warren gave me – copies to put on a stick, which I have.

And so their hut was put up in the karaka trees on the bend of the creek.  And this particular bend in the creek officially didn’t belong to the soldier – his inheritance block – because it actually belonged to Pongi Tutaki, who was one of the Kuru family men from out there. So he swapped the bend in the river where he put his hut up for another bit of ground across the creek on his side, because in the future when the road was going to be developed he needed access on to the road, you know, what was going to be the road.  So he negotiated, and Pongi Tutaki did the swap and away he started.  And today you see, the driveway is actually on the Tutaki land, so from the gravel road when you go in the actual driveway is still on Tutaki land.

And in talking about building of the huts and everything, the timber would have come in on the surf boat, and then on the bullock dray, and then a short trip up the valley. And this valley, in those early days even when he arrived there, the vegetation – my father used to tell me that it was just full of toetoe, the odd karaka grove that had been planted for karaka berries by the early Maori families. They’d planted the seeds for harvest you know, when they became trees.  So it was quite a good supply of food in those early days.

Anyway, the valley was just full of toetoe and rushes, and the sea really was the … everything sort of came in from the sea. There was [were] no real formed roads or anything like that, so people used to come in to the station, goods, supplies – all that sort of thing – and the wool would go out, masses of wool, all on the bullocks … would bring them down to the beach, store them in the … they had a big wool dump shed there … and then on to the double end of the boat.  And I’ve got the photos of the reef and the wool going out.  And that went on even, my father said, into the thirties, ‘til the road was formed. I’m not sure of the date of the Cooks Tooth Road being formed, but I have photos of the early cars carrying boards – they all carried duckboards in their cars to get across the slips and everything [chuckle] – and shovels.

So he began, and in my album I’ve got the photos of his buggy, and his milking cow, and the development of his little hut into a house, and then the layout of his little garden, and the extension in 1922.  His father came up from Wellington, and when they went on their honeymoon – my grandfather and Ethel … Jim and Ethel – went on their honeymoon, and Donald McLean had come up from Wellington – he was seventy-one then – and put the extension on the house.  So that main house survived until 1974 when I helped take it down, and then the double storey house now, that my uncle and his builder built, is there on the original site. So up until my father was born, 1925 – July 1925 he was born – and he was born in Napier.  And my grandmother still had her parents in Napier, so she would have gone up there and waited, and he was born in Napier. And there’s pictures of him standing in front of the old house, and there’s photos of him as a wee boy down on the beach by the old dump shed … you’ll see him … and he’s standing there.

And there’s old Mac McCutcheon with one arm who was a soldier friend of Alec and Jim’s.  Four … the same boys were on the same machine gun, and they all ended up farming all together in the same area in the valley – all their lives they were inseparable.  And the two brothers actually were called ‘the inseparables’ – these two McLean brothers, because of the bond of … well, just these two were inseparable.

Yes, so old Mac, he’s there and he was the Whangaehu Station gardener, and he was very clever. He was a wonderful carpenter as well.  And before the War, around the Heretaunga Plains – he was from up here – he was a plumber, so he used to bike all around the district with his plumbing bags on his bike, doing his work.  And then of course he became a soldier, went overseas and then in the end the bond that they struck – the soldiers’ bond – was so great that he decided to move down to Whangaehu Valley and work for the Station owner at the time.  And all these four boys would just carry on their life and have a whale of a time – plenty of parties, and played golf, and in fact Jim started the Porangahau Golf Club down at the Porangahau beach.  Plus they swam, you know, they played cricket. Grandfather loved cricket. He represented Wellington College even when he was about a thirteen-year-old, I think as a wicket keeper, my Dad said.  Because by the time he was fifteen he was doing his apprenticeship with his father’s building company –  they didn’t stay at school that long in those days but they had a very practical education. So he was running his father’s building crews before the War, so they had some great experience of building and organising people.

My father was born in 1925 and his brother three years later, Donald, so there were just the two boys, Courtenay and Donald. They went off to Hereworth, came up to Havelock and went to boarding school.  But before that they actually moved into Waipukurau – they started their schooling in Waipukurau. The old house used to be there. It was taken down a number of years ago, and Dad used to say when the circus used to come to town, grandfather used to let the elephants [chuckle] use the back yard … the back section … to graze or something like that.  So I guess my grandmother would have loved being back in town having been brought up in Napier.

Yes, so they carried on their education and then they went to Wanganui Collegiate for a number of years, two or three years.  And then when the second War came my father signed up. He was under age I think, as a lot of them were, and went off to train in the Fleet Air Arm – went down to Blenheim and became a pilot and went off overseas, and went to Canada and they learnt how to fly all sorts of planes there, and into England. Before the end of the War, he didn’t have to do sorties or anything, he didn’t actually fight, they were still all training at the time and then the War finished.  And he volunteered to bring the troops back on the ‘Queen Mary’ I think it was, so he spent quite a while earning some more money [chuckle] – as much as they got in those days – doing that.  And he said to me “oh”, he thought “maybe Canada”.  He always thought maybe he would … because he had such a great time in Canada, he’d always thought maybe he would go back to Canada and do something.  But by the time he got home things changed, and I think – you know, the pressure of settling down, and the farm.  So already, in 1942 his father had already bought his soldier mate out – Vincie Windle – and the place had come to eleven hundred acres by then, so that was quite a sizable little chunk of land in those days, for a family to run.  So at some stage my father must have had to make a decision to stay and become a farmer in the Whangaehu.

And so between 1946 – yes, those three years up into 1950, he was starting to develop the farm and carried on flying – he loved flying – so he would go into Waipukurau and still fly there at the Waipukurau Club aerodrome.  And he was dating all sorts of local ladies all around I’ve heard.  But – funny thing – when he was at Wanganui Collegiate they would be playing tennis, and school dances with the Wanganui Girls’ College.  So there was a particular young woman there at Girls’ College called Gwitha Spooner, from up between Taihape and Waiouru. There’s a little area called Raketapauma. There’s a little marae there, and there’s a little valley called Maukuku.  So they used to dance and play tennis together.   And then for some reason my father had asked some of his friends when he got home, or he must have kept a thing in his heart about this young lady called Gwitha Spooner, because one time he’d found out where she was teaching.  And she was trained during the War in Christchurch at the training college down there – she used to hop on the train, go from Taihape to Wellington, jump on the boat and off to Christchurch. So she was a teacher after the War in Newtown [Newton] in Auckland.  So the story goes that one day he flew up in the Tiger Moth that he’d rented from Waipuk [Waipukurau] aerodrome, flew up to Ardmore I suppose – one of those fields up there – and found his way into Newtown [Newton] and was waiting at the gate.  Found out where she was teaching and [chuckle] he was waiting at the gate when she walked out the door.  And I think she just gasped, and went “oh, my goodness me, it’s Courtenay McLean from Hawke’s Bay”.  The story goes that Hawke’s Bay farmers were, you know … I don’t know … there was a thing about Hawke’s Bay farmers amongst the women around the place [chuckle] trying to get hooked up with a Hawke’s Bay farmer.  I don’t know – some women wanted to particularly, and maybe some others didn’t really want to get hooked up with the Hawke’s Bay society [chuckle] for some reason. Anyway my grandmother had actually mentioned that as well – my mother’s mother – had mentioned the Hawke’s Bay … ‘cause she had actually done a little stint over with the Chambers, and looked after … become a nanny with the Chambers I think, in the generation before.

But yes – so he persisted in courting her, and she sort of gave in and thought ‘well, he’s persistent’.  And they got married in her family’s beautiful garden, her ancestral land … her full-blooded Maori great grandmother’s land … Maukuku the name is, over there in this beautiful valley.  And the old house is still there, built in 1904, and the land was sold to a member of the family.

But – beautiful garden, even when I was growing up. We as children growing up – our grandmother and grandfather – we used to go over there regularly on trips. And mother would take us over – the Gentle Annie, even. Oh my gosh, we were in this old Plymouth … us four boys.  There was [were] four of us under five, and we’d trail over there on the Gentle Annie road.  And my mother didn’t know how to drive until she came out to Whangaehu, Porangahau, and my father had to teach her how to drive in this old Ford truck, or the old car.  She had thirteen gates anyway, to open on this old gravel road.  Gosh!  It wasn’t so dissimilar to her country bringing up, because she was brought up on, as I said, her family ancestral farm and had a huge family over there in Taihape.  She had like – seventy-one first cousins – her father was one of fourteen.

And she lost uncles in both Wars … an uncle in the first War.  And her father, Parenga, had gone and served in the first War and just briefly got shot … just grazed in the head on his helmet I think … and was sent home.  Yes, so in the second War she lost another two or three cousins as all the families did.  We can’t imagine the grief, you know, of those days – of sisters losing brothers, of mothers losing sons, of fathers losing sons, and cousins losing cousins – never ever to come home.

And also, when you were isolated in areas in the country, cousins married cousins – you know, it wasn’t so dissimilar to our particular family, ‘cause where I came from in Porangahau there’s a lot of big Maori families, and cousins marry cousins, and that would have been the same in my mother’s family.  She was very keen on one of her cousins and he got killed in the second War, so … can’t believe the heartbreak. But they had to persevere and move on, so she did.  She decided to marry Courtenay McLean and came over to the farm, and she lived with her mother-in-law Ethel, down in the valley in the original house that was pulled down in 1974.

And also the one-armed man, Mac McCutcheon, had come from the Station just down the road and moved in with them as well, because he got sick of working for Bert White. I think he had a gutsful of his whole working career down there, and Dad – my father said “oh, come up and help us”.  You know, they were two young men ready to get into farming in the start of the fifties, so he moved up the valley a short distance – it’s only like a kilometre.   And so my Mum had her mother-in-law, the old boy Mac McCutcheon, three or four of us boys at the time, husband, other working people, so she was dumped into a very busy farming career, and she never ever wanted to marry a farmer, [chuckle] she said.  She just was loving the city life, and she liked to paint, and she used to do water colours and stuff.  And away they went, started farming.

And so we were born – us four boys were born in the Whangaehu Valley.  We were actually born in Waipukurau at the Home there, but brought out to Whangaehu.  So there’s not too many people left any more, even in 2016, that can say they were born and brought up in the Whangaehu Valley. There’s one person still – Bill McGregor. He would have come and visited his grandfather, Bert White, who ran Whangaehu for many, many years. He’s still alive up north of Auckland, Bill McGregor, and it was his mother Fanny White, who was the daughter of Bert White who took over part of Whangaehu – it was called Arataura Station in 1899.  But he moved down into the old Station house … 1908 I think, so by the time my grandfather arrived in 1918 he was already on the old Station.  And he died in 1953, so he was born in 1874 I think, Bert White.  And his father, John White, he was a big storekeeper in Porangahau and made a lot of money, and set his four sons up on various Stations in Porangahau.  So Bert White was set up in Arataura – that block which wasn’t really part of Whangaehu. It maybe was in the early days of the 1850s, ’60s and ’70s, but by the time Bert White had it, he’d already had gotten it from another person by the name of McLean who’s not a family direct relation.  So now the Stoddarts, Walter and Mark Stoddart bought that in 1975, Arataura Station from the Whites.

Yes, so I have early photos of Whangaehu Station leant to me by Ashton St Hill-Warren, and it was his mother who was born down in Whangaehu.  And his mother’s father was a St Hill, and married a Price – Annie Price – and she’s buried there in the wee cemetery in Whangaehu, in the valley. There’s Ashton St Hill – his relation who came out from England and took up the lease of forty thousand acres – and he’s buried there, in 1904 he passed away; Annie Price – she was thirty-seven when she passed away, but she was a minor – at seventeen she was married to A H Price, and he was twenty-seven. And there’s another person, McKenzie, buried there.  He might have been a … not sure about the connection with the name McKenzie.  But the graves – in 2016 they need a bit of upkeep, so I’ve had a thought to approach the Prices and get them out to – say, do up the small little area that’s got a little fence around it.

Yes, so landscape has changed quite dramatically in the valley, when we look at the old photos, and even now [in] 2016.  There’s been a lot of people who have passed through Whangaehu since 1856.  When you see the etching of 1856 of the first whare and enclosure where the sheep were held – and this enclosure would have been made by the help of the Maori families, the original families that owned the land in the valley. And they gave them – this is quite a joke really, when I look at it – they gave them the swampy part of the valley tucked away from the early morning sun, away from the sea, and it wasn’t till a bit later … I don’t know how many years later … that they moved down to where the present homestead site is.  But of course all the early Maori families had their camps down by the beach, you know, to gather seafood and everything like that.  And it wasn’t till a little while later that … my father said that there were three homesteads originally in the valley, on the site. There was a double-storey house which was burnt, and by 1885 when … there’s a painting … on the ‘Early Sheep Stations of Hawke’s Bay’ there’s a painting done by Baden-Powell, and he’s painted this painting of Whangaehu Station – in Miriam McGregor’s ‘Early Sheep Stations of Hawke’s Bay’ – on the front cover, and you’ll see the bungalow station house there.  Well that survived from the early 1880s to 1931 when my father said it was burnt down.  So that was quite an era.  And the earliest woolshed – you can see it on this painting – and that was up in the walnuts.  And all that land hadn’t been developed or ploughed until this summer.  Barry Stoddart came in with his digger and dug a big drain right through that whole area and removed masses of stones that had been taken off the beach and brought up by bullock dray, and set out – because it was a horribly damp, wet valley … this Whangaehu valley is in the winter – you cannot believe how wet it is.  So they had placed tonnes of stones as foundation for the sheep yards, round the little hut, buildings, cottages that would have been there, and it was only this year that the place was sort of dug up, which is a great shame.

Funny enough – you don’t know how much to be a policeman on these sort of sites, because I’d already got them labelled as historic places, trust sites.  And because we all grew up together – he’s a great farmer, Barry – I never quite knew how to approach what he was doing.  And that’s on the what you call the Eriha land … the whanau Te Kuru land.  That’s still on Maori lease land – all this area that I’m describing just now is.

So the bungalow where the Christian camp is now, that was burnt in 1931 – my father remembers somebody coming down to their place because they had the telephone – one copper wired telephone coming down the valley – and they’d come down to use the phone to ring up someone – I don’t know, there was no help, there was no hope of retrieving anything.  But by 1931 Dad said that the old bungalow house was leaking, and Bert White didn’t spend a bloody thing [chuckle] on anything.  He didn’t want to spend a bean. That’s why probably, he was like the fourth richest man in New Zealand, because of the … huge wool barons in those days – the wool cheque was just … we cannot believe how much money came through on the back of the sheep.  You know – some of these really monstrous sheep station owners – incredible.  But Bert White was really shrewd because even by the time he was twenty-one, he already owned the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel which was a bit of a no-no. You know, if you owned a hotel it wasn’t a very reputable thing to do.  So by 1895 he was twenty-one, so he would have owned the Duke of Edinburgh Hotel, the big old hotel which is still there now.  So he must have been a great businessman, Bert White.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a bit.

So we were born … four boys … Mum had us four boys under five, and we started to be brought up down in the valley in the old original house that Jim had built, and lived there with old Mac and Ethel, our grandmother … McLean grandmother, or Ethel Bowen, her maiden name.

And then my first recollection of growing up and doing things in the valley is playing in the creek, damming the creek up.  And we had a lot of ducks to use for duck eggs for the house. And actually the biggest memory is old Mac … Mac’s garden. He was a great gardener, and he used to do the garden for Whangaehu Station down the road, and then when he moved over to the family … up the valley to the family, and Dad invited him up … he had this massive garden across the creek behind the house, and I remember he had rockmelons and watermelons, he had kumeras – you could grow anything in the valley in Whangaehu – tree tomatoes, he had a big massive old grape vine which was taken down, and it must have stood there for sixty years and it was a real shame that we lost that. Had an orchard – apples and all sorts of fruits as all the old houses used to have out in the country, and in town – they used to have orchards and gardens and the like.

So we moved up to the top where the house is now that Dad and Donald, my uncle, and Eru Smith and Koro Cunningham – they had done building apprentices – they were from the village … village guys … and the four of them worked on the building of the house that Barry Sweet designed. Barry Sweet had married … the architect from up here, Hawke’s Bay famous architect.  Anyway, Barry Sweet was working with him, and he’d put together [the] present house design.  I was just trying to think of the date when the house was built – about 1958.  We were only really quite small, we would have been about four or five by the time we walked up the hill.  I remember walking up the hill, all the way up Whangaehu Road to the top of the hill and looking at the new house site.

Dad had bulldozed the knob with their TD6 that they’d bought for the farm. They began working over the paddocks in the late fifties it was, into 1960.  They began their frantic farming business together as a McLean partnership – McLean Brothers it was called.

Yes, so we grew up there, and our grandmother, Ethel, moved from the bottom house into the cottage.  The wee cottage that still stands now had been built of army huts by Dad and his father Jim, Grandpa McLean, in 1950 – four days before they got married they were whacking up these army huts and joining them together for them to live in.  Beau was born in there, our older brother – he’s just eighteen months older than me.  Old Mac had moved up as well – Dad had been given this old whare, this old station whare which belonged to Bert White.  So they towed it all the way up Whangaehu Road, up the gravel road on skids with their TD6, and parked it behind the cottage.  So the old boy, Mac, lived in that, and Gran McLean lived in the cottage, and us four boys and Mum and Dad were in the new house.

So once again Mum had [a] very busy time cooking and looking after us ratbags.  Plus we used to have home help, so various ones would come and help, especially the MacDonald sisters, Rongo, Roseanne, Tohi MacDonald. These are Winnie and Mason MacDonald’s children, and Winnie was a descendant of the original families.  And she’d actually given the name of the house and area to Mum when my mother moved over from Taihape, and it was called ‘Moananui’, and so I’ve got that at the gate. And the significance of that is that the Pacific, out in the front – the old original name for the Pacific is Moananui-a-Kiwa – and so Winnie MacDonald said to Mum and Dad, “have that as your name for your house at the top of the hill looking out over the Pacific”.  Moananui means basically big sea … big sea view, or similar to that … but it’s the short version of Moananui-a-Kiwa. Yes, and Dad had a mail box built, and McLean Brothers on it, years before the rural delivery – this must have been thirty-five years before rural delivery arrived on the road, but that in the end just rotted away.  But I resurrected the name for our backpackers and homestay book-a-bach business.

So our father and uncle had this amazing partnership for thirty-eight years under the name McLean Brothers, and they farmed the eleven hundred acres, plus they had a lease of eight hundred acres of the Wichman block – it was one of the Ropiha blocks down near the village at Porangahau.  And they bought other little paddocks around about from … one of the Tutaki little paddocks right next to Ashton St Hill-Warren which they made lucerne. They were really top farmers, Dad and his brother – they were the top farmers in the district.  And they got the Catchment Board out and they began planting poplars frenetically every year, losing thousands and hundreds over the years with drought and lice rubbing on them, but still they persisted.

And then they pioneered with the Catchment Board the contour draining. Because the coast has got this big bentonite deposit from Porangahau right through into Tautane – just a kilometre or two from the coast, and it just goes inland about a kilometre.  And this bentonite is mined next door – the Stoddart brothers mined it – and started in the mid-thirties.  And it can cause massive slips, so Dad and his brother got the Catchment Board out and they were sitting on the side of the hill looking at these massive slips and thinking what could they do to dry these slips out, so they thought about the Chinese about their moving water anywhere they wanted to, and they thought ‘well, if the Chinese can move water around the place, why can’t we?’  So they got their little TD6 out, they experimented with tracks taking the water, slowing the water down, moving it off to the side, back, side, back, side, and taking the water slowly plus the planting of poplars.  And now today in 2016 you can see the amazing effort that that has done – it stopped the slipping, and we still carry on a smaller poplar planting programme. But the contour draining – sadly we haven’t been able to persist in resurrecting them – we’ve tried … we tried to resurrect the remaking of the contours but … hasn’t often worked and it’s a really costly thing, because in the old days the Catchment Board used to be subsidised, hugely, and now it’s not subsidised so you have to have a good budget.

They carted masses of super. Dad had an old De Soto green truck and they used to whack on the super, and then had four and a half sheep to the acre, on eleven hundred acres [chuckle] – it was just crazy.  And also they belonged to a Young Farmers’ Club in those days, and there was a guy called Linklater from the Manawatu, and they copied the dairy farmers in subdividing their paddocks into smaller paddocks, and so they pioneered the splitting up of their farm into small paddocks. They realised that the more you … it’s like cutting your hair, the more you cut your hair the more it grows, so they realised the dairy farmers were on to a good thing and they tried to copy that by making much smaller paddocks and shoving on the superphosphate.

In those days of course it was … prices of petrol and getting it all the way from the super works down to Porangahau was a massive effort.  In those days too they used to have rules and regulations that you could only cart as far as the closest railhead, and that was Waipukurau. My father objected hugely to all these regulations, so we remembered him. They had a guy in Waipukurau – he was sort of like an officer, like a police officer, sort of – to keep an eye on all these regulations, and his name was Errol Bunningham.  My father would have huge barneys about these regulations, and he’d be ringing up … Prime Minister at the time, Sir Keith Holyoake, he was in the Pahiatua electorate. So Dad and his brother knew him, and he’d be ringing him up and winding him up and scolding him, and “why do we have these regulations?”  And “why can’t I do what I want to do – cart my super and my stock wherever I want to go?”  So it took … yeah, took some years of breaking down those old rules and regulations, which they were a big part of at the time.

And then one of the other big fights that happened in the early seventies was the wool acquisition. The Government wanted to take over the sole running of the wool, and set the price, so Porangahau farmers got together – Don Mouat, my father, Aitchison, Watts – these are the surnames.  Anyway, about half a dozen farmers in Porangahau. They used to charge round the whole country and have these meetings about opposing this, and in the end they booted it out. I don’t know whether they booted the Government out at the same time but they certainly stopped the acquisition of wool. That was a major fight started by the farmers at Porangahau. So yes, that was their career.

And of course the seventies were pretty tough when England went and joined the EEC, and prices … yeah, that was pretty tough years all right, and they held on and carried on. They had this land and they bought another block down the bottom of the Cooks Tooth, which my sister as the Trustee sold two or three years ago.  Plus they bought another block in Onga Onga to put our cousin in.  So they might have had close to three thousand acres I suppose, at full capacity.

But somewhere along the line things had to split up, and so 1989 the partnership split up, and it wasn’t a very nice kind of thing to happen, but however, it did happen.  And they had to sell Mount Pleasant which the uncle had got in 1917, and so that broke my father’s heart I think, and from that time on it was not looking too good for his … kind of mental health, and just … state of mind, I think.  Having to sell land – he always … he’d just … “never ever … never ever sell your land”, he used to say.

But my older brother Beau went into partnership with my father, and they continued to farm the remaining land which was the lease block, and another little … middle block that we called … on Cooks Tooth, plus the home block.  By 1989 they had to sell Mount Pleasant and the Onga [Onga Onga] block to pay my uncle out.  So he went and bought a farm up in Lucky Hill, up on the Napier-Taupo Road.  Yes, so we carried on as a family trying to hold it together – my brother and I’d come home and help, mostly at crisis times.

Just moving quickly from ‘89 – we’re up to 2016 – we had it leased for thirteen years about. Beau, the older brother’s son-in-law had a go at running it, and now – we took it back in 2011 – and now my sister Jean, she’s the Trustee, and we have four beneficiaries. The youngest brother, Richard, was bought out of the farm, and the oldest brother, so now we have four beneficiaries still on the farm, so we’re really blessed to be able to still have our coast farm.  So that’s 2016.

Good.  Robbie that’s a very, very interesting talk that you’ve given this morning – brought up some great history on Porangahau. I think it’s about the first one we’ve had from Porangahau, and I really appreciate you coming up and giving this talk to the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank – they will be delighted to work on it, and I thank you very much indeed.

Thank you Jim, and your organisation.


Robert McLean put together a photographic display in 1997 and describes the images to Claire Peuvrier below.

This is an addendum to [the] interview.  So you would like to talk about the display you did?

Yes.  I’ve collected a lot of photos over the years, and in 1997 put this display together in an art course I did in Masterton, in the Wairarapa.  This was kind of a dream, because my father would tell me stories about the land, and how it was developed and who lived where.  So I will just speak to the display, starting from the right-hand side where the old woolshed is, and then we’ll progress along the valley.

So the panoramic photo was taken in 1994.  I stood on the Trig, which is the eight hundred foot high hill that comes up off the ocean, and so I just stood there snapping shots.  And then at the art course I was able to blow them up and my teacher at the art course helped me display all this as you see it now.

The old photos … the old photo of the woolshed – the twenty-stand woolshed which was built in 1888, down on the right-hand side, that wasn’t the first woolshed.  The first woolshed was in the water colour painting of Baden-Powell of 1885.  And that used to sit up on the – which is now the Eriha land – up next to some walnut trees, so that must have been quite a sizable woolshed.

Did it belong to your family?

No.  We’ll go back to the big sheep station when it was settled in 1856.  St Hill – Ashton St Hill – he leased this forty thousand acres from the original Maori owners, and brought the sheep up from Wellington in 1856, crossing all the rivers, and arrived in the valley.  And I have an etching of the first settlement in my possession, and it used to be down where my ‘Stray Cat’ sign is – there’s an old titoki tree, and it’s where the old bridge used to come across, and the original whare used to sit there.  And then they must have moved from the middle of the valley where the Eriha Stallion is at the moment … which I’m looking after for him … and then they must have moved down to where the old settlement is now … where the old painting is … just up back from the old cattle yards.  Well actually, they were the old horse yards originally, because in this photo – one of the St Hill photos – you can see the horses in the paddock.  So this part is now owned by our family, the McLean family, in a Trust.  But in those days, there was quite a lot of this area across the creek where the old sheep dip is and going right down to the beach, that looked like it must have been the horse paddock where the stallions and the mares were kept at the time.

So – my father said that the current house that is a church camp now – it’s been renovated – but my father used to say that was the third homestead.  The first one was a double-storeyed one;  the second – you’ll see a bungalow with the family sitting outside – that was burnt in 1931, so in the painting of 1885 it looks like it’s very new.  In the distance behind the woolshed there’s no gardens or trees, very much, so I’m guessing that the house must have burnt down not long prior to that building of this big bungalow.

And last year our good neighbour, Barry Stoddart, he leased seven hundred acres from the original Maori owners, whanau Te Kuru block.  And in his diggings up there where the old woolshed was, and the old walnuts are I’ve found cobblestone … stones, just in cobblestone.  And I’m guessing maybe that the original double-storey house used to sit close to the woolshed, because in England and that, they used to have their buildings and house their animals really close together, right next door in the same sort of area.  But of course today we don’t – we have the woolshed and yards quite separate.

Yes, so St Hill along with Price, A H Price – he jointly leased Whangaehu for a number of years, and … see in the photos there, a couple of the young people in that photo, those old photos of Ashton’s … I think that was Ashton’s mother as a young child, and grandparents and various other members of his family.  So he kindly gave me these photos to copy.

Yes, so the wool … all the wool used to come by bullock dray from the old woolshed which is in the painting … along, out down the track, and there used to be a dump shed.  I haven’t got the photo here at the moment – I have it in my grandfather’s album that you’re recording.  There’s a photo of them sitting in front in about 1930s … early 1930s.  Well that building must have been very old by then.  It’s no longer there, but they brought the wool down there and stored it there ready for the boat.  You see the double-ender boat off the reef there – they used to bring it in, and the bullocks would come along, bring the bales, and offload the wool.  And off they went out to the big boat that was sitting off-shore, Richardson & Co Shipping Company, and off to Napier.

My father used to say that Bert White – he went on to lease Whangaehu.  It was about five thousand acres when we were growing up, in his time.  He actually took over Arataura … Arataura Station on the boundary of Tautane in 1899, and he had the big house – he built a ginormous house up there where Mark and Walter built their house.  But there’s no photos of it, although Mark does remember going into the house.  And not long after that – it must have been 1956 – it was taken down, and all the timber set aside.  But then Bill McGregor went and burnt the timber, because a rabbit had run underneath and he tried to flush the rabbit out, and so he lit a fire and burnt this huge quantity of original native timber.  So it was a pretty sad day.

Prior to that, my father used to say the swaggers lived in it – when they were walking all around helping, doing jobs, they would stay in the big homestead and walk down to Grandpa’s house and down to Whangaehu, chopping the wood and doing odd jobs for their food.  Mmm.  And they think about the homeless today – it’s a big problem, but you know we’ve always had homeless people, and people used to keep walking around the country, and that’s how they lived.  Probably a lot of them were soldiers from the first War, and had shellshock and various things – they couldn’t settle down, and it would have been a huge problem for all the returned soldiers in Europe, and Australia and New Zealand, and India, South Africa … all the peoples that went to the Great War to have settled down.

Because on the Cooks Tooth we have the two rehab blocks – the one that the grandfather drew on the coast, and then the one Vincie Windle drew, going up to the top where the family home is now.  Vincie Windle had his hut across – down Island Road – he built there.  And he only came in 1918, and by 1942 he’d sold that block to our grandfather McLean, so that added eleven hundred acres.

Now in some of these old photos there’s all sorts of various yards … sheep yards … and the oldest yards still standing are around the old sheep dip on our side of the creek.  And I’m just looking at the sheep dip now – there’s my father, Courtenay – he’s standing there next to the sheep dip.  The holding tanks that are standing there were renewed in 1918, and the yards were done up after World War II.  My father, Courtenay, used to say that they were one of the oldest sheep dips in New Zealand … in the country.  The bricks were handmade and fired in the paddock, and there used to be a depression in the paddock where you could see where the clay … our father pointed out where the clay had been mined for the sheep dip.  But it was used up until the 1960s … we remember the sheep dip, and possibly you could just start it up again and it’d work perfectly well.  So that was the big sheep dip for a huge area of the old Station – everything used to come over to Whangaehu, to the valley.

Moving on to the bullock dray … the photo of the bullock dray up the back, coming down with some wood.  And that was the old trail, or the old track or access to Porangahau.  So we used to go up that ridge, along the top and down the fingerpost to Porangahau.

And the earliest days the telegraph came from Napier to Wellington – it followed the coast and along the Cooks Tooth Island Road and then down through Tautane, and then down the coast.  That was prior to the bush being felled in the 1870s, inland where the State Highway is now in Norsewood and Woodville.  People used to walk up and down in front of the coast, ‘cause it was the main … and on the boat – by boat or by walking and horse, on the coast because of the huge forests that were … seventy mile bush that was inland.

Now there is on the cliffs where we have our cliff walk now, which was finished in 2015 – the whole coast from Whangaehu to Poro Poro’s fenced and it’s possibly the longest QEII fenced part of the coast in the country now.  It’s about five kilometres, so from right over there in the Karakas, right down to the beach … Whangaehu Beach … it’s fenced.

There’s a part that my father pointed out to me that before refrigeration in 1881 when wool was big and all the income was made from wool, they used to kill the wethers – the old sheep that were no longer of any use – they’d seen their use-by date – they would cut their throat and tip them over the cliff into the sea.  Yes.  They had a few yards up there, and then roll them down the cliff.

So you can’t eat it?

No, there was far too many to eat, and this was before refrigeration, in the 1880s.  Yes, because all the … you know, the meat and butter would come from New Zealand across to England, [chuckle] so we were their, like … butchery and dairy for all those years from then.

What else?  The vegetation – my father said when his father came in 1918 there was hardly any manuka and kanuka in the valley.  It was all just remnants of bush, but he used to say that maybe six hundred years ago there was a giant fire that went right up Hawke’s Bay and just demolished most of the bush.

So the remnants of bush in the valley now were pretty old, because we have Tautane reserve; we have our reserve on the farm which was begun in 1973 and then finally fenced in 1975, so it’s sixty acres.  And then Tautane did their reserve which has the largest rata tree on the whole coast, from here to Wairoa – they still have the largest rata.  And I’ve been able to get cuttings, and Jack from Tree Guys in Otane has grown them – the cuttings from this giant tree.  And I have about three at home and last year, the summer of 2015, I got the seeds … first seeds off the cutting … off the little tree, so it was quite historic.  And then Mark … the Stoddarts have their reserve, and then they have one next to their house as well, so we have three bush reserves now in our valley, plus the coastal fence, plus Nireaha – Barry’s keen on fencing that.  Karakas – they used to have big karaka groves along the valley but unfortunately, the last twenty years, they’ve pretty much died out – they’ve reached their use-by date.  They were a great source of food in the old days … the old Maori days.  And there’s one tree still that’s in what we call the cow paddock, and just by the track going across the creek there’s this old karaka.  And the old fencer, Les Howell – he used to say that had the largest berries of any of the trees in the valley.  And over the years I’ve been able to collect it and grow them, but it’s getting pretty old now – it’s ready to go.

Now toetoes – there used to be a lot of massive toetoes, and there’s hardly any left now because of the cattle.  They grazed them out, and burnt them, and ploughed them up, so the original vegetation is pretty much going.

Now the development of the valley – this photo from 1994 – I need to take a new photo because we have big pine plantations now.  And there’s a big development that happened in the 2000[s] – prior to that we had one, two, three, four lifestyle blocks when Robert Buchanan bought Bill McGregor out in 1990 … end of 1989 – 1990, and then he gradually started to develop, so the whole landscape has very much changed.  Even the old woolshed – there’s only part of the wool room floor left now in 2016, much to my despair, ‘cause it was our historic building – one of the oldest historic buildings in the valley.  Yes.

So ongoing projects are the planting of the coast walk on the cliffs, so over the years I’ve grown pohutukawas, and I’ve a little nursery at home that I’ve been trying to, every year, plant so that the birds now …

And this is interesting about the birdlife, talking about the birdlife of the valley, because in 1990 they had this massive possum poisoning programme, and in 1993 a bellbird … our beautiful songbird called the bellbird … he turned up in the valley – two of them, and they nested by the house.  And we’d never had them before because of the possums.  They were such a big problem, and they arrived in the valley in 1945 my father said, just after the War.  They moved up from the Wairarapa.  And Scotty Mills was the rabbiter, and my father said to him “what’s been eating the orchard … you know, the buds on the fruit trees?”  And he said “oh, that’s the Australian opossum”.  And no one had ever really … no one had seen them prior to that.  And so he gave my father a fox terrier, and said “that’ll keep you going – that’ll keep them out”.  So ever since then we’ve had fox terriers in the family.  And I see in St Hill’s photos they had fox terriers.

And then tuis have bred so fantastically that … think it was yesterday or the day before … I must have counted twenty in the garden, and many bellbirds and my resident wood pidgeon family.  Unfortunately we’ve lost two this year – they’ve hit the windows.  They try and fly so low that they’ll crash into the window.  But yes, we’ve had great success with our native birds.

And also the reserve’s been rat-baited for two summers now.  Craig and Kay have a conservation business and they live at Tamumu.  And she helped get funding from the Forest & Bird, so we’ve got seventy rat bait stations in the reserve and we fill them up twice a year just to give the birds a break from the rats so they can go ahead and breed, which they have been doing fantastically.

Cats – we’ve always had cats in the valley and on the coast because my father used to say they used to have muttonbirds in the cliffs.  And that was probably nearly a hundred years ago now.  So we’ve always had cats, and they’re still such a problem but … many of us trapping them, and I think I can get fifty cats a year … feral cats, they are.  They just keep coming back and back and back.  But we try to keep on top of … you know, to have a conservation programme.

What else is there?  Oh, the walk.  Oh, yes – so twenty years ago I set that walk pamphlet up.  I got it produced with the help of some geologist, and he gave me good advice about the age of the rocks and so … but it wasn’t until we got the whole coast fenced in 2015 – twenty years.  It caused a barrier and then it made it possible to actually have a designated walk. So last year I was able to put up the signs – the pink signs – for the walk, and we had a school walk on the 15th May.  It was our first official walk.  We had seventy-two walkers and they loved it – the weather was perfect.  And I’m going to make some more signs when I go home – I bought a router today so I can build some more signs saying you know, where the access is – better access and better information.  We still haven’t got a [an] information board yet, but hopefully by the end of this year we’ll have our information board.

What else?  Oh!  I could talk about old Mac … our grandfather and his brother Alec, and their two mates, Wilf Northcote and Mac McCutcheon.  They were the four men on the same machine gun during the War, and they were wounded on the Somme.  Yes – in the first War, but they all ended up by farming in the valley.  Grandfather drew this block, four hundred and thirty-four acres on the coast, and Alec drew Cooks Tooth, or Mount Pleasant, and then their two mates came out and joined them.  So Wilf was the cook at Whangaehu, and Mac was the cowman-gardener.  But he was [an] amazing man, he had … his left arm was shot off at the elbow.  But he still … before the War he was a plumber u around Hastings here.  He used to bike around with his tools on his pushbike as a plumber, so he was very handy.  And as wee boys he used to live with us down the bottom, at the bottom house as we describe it.  And he was [an] amazing gardener, and I always remember him in his garden.  And then when we were a bit older he moved up to the top house with us and lived in the whare.  And we still have the oldest liveable whare … we call it a whare … it’s like a bach.  It’s on skids, and it used to belong to Whangaehu Station.  And Bert White gave it to my father, and they towed it up the road with their TD6, their tractor, and old Mac used to live in it behind the cottage.  And our grandmother, Ethel McLean, used to live in the cottage, and us four boys in the main house, at the top house.  That’s how we grew up, and then the two sisters were born a bit later.

I just have a question – when did you get these photos? 

These old Station photos would have been turn of the century, 1900.  They haven’t got a date on them, but they might have been just a bit before the turn of the century, before 1900.  My grandfather of course, in his album, he recorded all his … a lot of his farming photos, but these are the ones prior to his arrival in 1918.  So when my grandfather arrived in 1918, in his albums you see his photos of his first hut, and the development of his house, and his buggy, and his car, and orchard.  So he has recorded his own farming programme, which I haven’t got here because there’s too many photos.

Hopefully that’s a little bit more information of the beautiful we were brought up in called Whangaehu in the southern Hawke’s Bay.  Thank you.

Thank you, Robert.

Original digital file


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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin

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