Rose, Keith Montague Interview
Today is the 7 April 2016. I’m interviewing Keith Rose, [who] worked within the Stock and Station agencies for all his life. He’s going to tell us the life and times of his family. Keith would you like to tell us something about your family?
Well I can only go back to the date of my birth, which was the 28 April 1933 – born in Waipawa at the Rathbone Maternity Home, and I was the fourth of the family of five. I have an elder brother, Charlie, who is eighty-seven; a sister deceased, Shirley – who would have been if she was still alive, eighty-five; a brother Richard who is deceased, who would have been eighty-four today; I will be eighty-three this month, and the youngest sister – now it’s got me thinking – Viv would be eighty and turning eighty-one. So there are two deceased and three of us still surviving, which … we all managed to get to the eighties.
My grandfather, as far as I recall, started off with a horse and cart carrying business in Waipawa carrying mail and items with a horse and gig from the Waipawa railway station, and doing deliveries of mail and goods that used to arrive by rail to what used to be in those days, the stock firm Williams & Kettle, Bailey Edwards & Rudder’s … all different shops … Ashby’s and so forth. And they were all … have been right in the early 1900s I would think, or might have even been the late 1800s. I don’t remember my grandmother on my father’s side. I remember my grandfather, who lived with us in Waipawa in Melville Street, and he was called Charlie Rose, which [who] my elder brother was named after. I know it was our job as children to look after all his needs and so forth.
My father, Bert Rose, took over the business from grandfather and eventually, when grandfather was still alive, from memory they borrowed and bought a Model T truck and moved from the horse and cart, and then continued on doing their normal deliveries. When grandfather died my father took it on and continued to run it. From the Model T I think we went to a Model A, and built up the business slowly as Waipawa progressed slowly. Unfortunately in the latter years and it would have been in the late thirties, ’39-’40 – I’m guessing a weeny bit here – he collided with a train on the crossing by the Waipawa town clock, which wrote off the truck and nearly wrote him off – he ended up with a bit of a bung leg. But anyway he continued, managed to get another vehicle, and continued the business up until about 1944-’45 from memory, where he decided that it was time to move and we moved to Hastings. I’m a bit unclear on that date. It was just about when the war was finishing. We sold … my father sold the licence to another person who continued with the business – Prebbleson if I remember – and eventually Prebbleson sold his business to Billy Oliver, who then started off Waipawa Farmers’ Transport as it is today.
So we moved from Waipawa to Hastings where we rented a house on the corner of Heretaunga Street and Charles Street … which is now Pak & Save … which belonged to the then mayor of Hastings, George Ebbett, and we lived in that five bedroom home right up until virtually my parents retired. My father died and my mother moved into a Home care. By this time all the family had moved on.
Just going back to Waipawa – you would have started school in Waipawa?
I’m sorry – yes. We lived next to the Waipawa Primary School in Melville Street so I did my – I think up to the end of the primers – might have been into Standard 1. By that time my brother was at the high school which was virtually by the Rathbone Maternity Home. I think my sister and brother Richard, who’s deceased, we were at school together. My younger sister Viv would have still been in the pram I think … just can’t quite remember.
When we moved to Hastings my brother continued at I think Hastings Boys’ High – only for a short time where he joined the Post Office as a telegraph boy taking telegrams round on his pushbike. My second to oldest brother Richard, who as I say is deceased, he continued at high school and I was then going to Central School. Then we shortly got rezoned, and from Charles Street we were rezoned because we were on the western side of Charles Street and had to go to what they call Hastings West so we had to change schools half-way through.
Was that the Raureka school?
Which is now Raureka. Well is it Hastings West now, or is it ..?
No, it’s Raureka.
I then moved on to high school. My elder sister by this time had left school and she was doing nursing training so I ended up going to high school in 1947 from memory and spent about a year and a half … something I’m not a hell of a proud of, but I think my last report was virtually saying ‘this boy is wasting our time and your money. If you can find him a position it would be a good idea.‘ Something along those lines.
And did you play any sport when you were at school?
Well we played the usual from what I recall, cricket with a pickaxe and rugby, a bit of athletics and so forth, but nothing major until later in life.
It’s interesting you mention the pickaxe handle, because a lot of people wouldn’t even know that we couldn’t afford cricket bats.
We didn’t have cricket bats at …
And [the] handle was something that you could knock the head off at home.
You just used to smooth it down a weeny bit. That’s all we were supplied at school. We had the swimming sports at school, at Hastings West where you had to – and you were forced to – you had to swim a mile to get your certificate. But that’s a bit hazy. I need a bit more time to think about that. But we, as I said, progressed to Hastings Boys’ High School, spent about a year and a half there. My father by this time had joined a firm – or started when we moved to Hastings – Williams & Creagh, and he was a truck driver that used to do a mail run every day, and he would do a mail run of Crownthorpe, Sherenden, Fernhill, Whanawhana, and then the following day he would do Kereru, Mangatahi, all round different areas across either side of the Ngaruroro.
That’s interesting Keith. I haven’t heard anyone mention the mail runs being run by Williams & Creagh.
Well, because where we lived in Heretaunga Street, my father used to head that way every day past and in front of us there was a grocer’s shop. Billy Manley used to have it, and a lot of times he would be stopping there to pick up groceries for some of the farmer clients. Further along there was Finlay’s Bakery which was right next door to … which is still there today … Rush Munro’s, and he would pick up the bread for all the farming clients. So he would be delivering the mail – Post Office first, get the big canvas mail bags for each different individual farming client – and he would pick up their bread; he would pick up bits of groceries for different ones; he would pick up stuff from the chemist for different clients, and generally used to – up until about eleven o’clock – be sorting out, getting mail, picking up all the bits and pieces, getting the bread and getting the milk and then head out. That was interesting because it leads on to … And there was a run Saturday, we used to work Saturdays and so forth, so us kids used to get pushed to get out of our mother’s hair and so forth. And the mail – you know, to go with Dad in the mail truck. And as the older brother and sister sort of moved on to their thing and I was still the younger, but my sister Vivienne was still too young, so I used to get to go with Dad a hell of a lot more. And I say this with a lot of pride – he was so well respected. And he did that run for just on fourteen – fifteen years and we never ever went without firewood, fresh meat, mutton, beef, milk, cream, cakes, food at Christmas time. And we would always stop at Matapiro for lunch when we did the Crownthorpe-Sherenden district, then Poporangi Station when we did the Kereru run, and Harold Beamish’s right in at Kereru, so we always got lunch at the cookhouse and that went on for years and years.
Yes, ’cause the mail run plus the other deliveries was like a life line.
Well it was because that was all that the farming community had. And at times it was only the mail run – we never picked up bulk fencing gear or anything like that, but we would pick up little bits and pieces, and Dad was excellent in that.
So we went through to there until my father retired from that job, and then went and worked for Redgrave’s driving the Redgrave’s truck, and delivering all plants and fertilizers round to the old dears. And just progressing from that a weeny bit … when it became obvious that my school days were past their best, and because my father in his capacity of the mail driver used to call in to most of the stock firms to pick up stuff – de Pelichet McLeod’s, Dalgety’s, Loan Company, Hawke’s Bay Farmers, Williams & Kettle’s – he’d be picking up bits and pieces. And then he called into Murray Roberts once and they were looking for a grocery boy, so he came home that day – two days later I started at Murray Roberts on the 5th July – American Independence Day, 1949.
How old were you?
Just over fifteen. And I took over from a chap called Bruce Reid, who used to be a Hawke’s Bay tennis rep. And my first day arrived – he said “I’m just going to spend the day with you and then I’m finished”. He handed me … he said “this is yours”. It was a grocery bike, balloon tyres with the basket on the front, and you could put a wicker basket in there. And if you turned the handle the basket went straight ahead but your handle … you know, you turned it until you got used to that. So my job then was to deliver bits and pieces to butchers, and bakeries, and brown paper, and bags of sugar, and quite often a 150lb bag of flour sitting on top of the frame, with a 72lb bag of sugar sitting on top. And if you lifted your bottom off the seat you’d just about tip up.
So we used to deliver cigarettes in the company … we used to have cigarettes wholesale. We used to deliver those to Jack Davey and … I just can’t recall all the …
Yes, ’cause you were wholesalers, weren’t you?
Yes, we were – wholesale groceries and so forth. We supplied groceries and so forth to a lot of the grocery … Tom King, Lushes, Graingers and different grocery shops and smaller dairies and so forth. And the smaller stuff I used to deliver and we did have a little van that a chap, Billy Hill, used to drive until I got my licence.
But one of the funnier incidents is – we used to, as I say, deliver barley meal – and again 150lb bags – and believe it, we used to deliver those to most of the butchers and the butchers would use that to put into their sausages. I don’t know whether they still do it or how legal it was, but this particular day it was raining flat out and I had to go to J B Fletchers … well known butcher in those days … and they loaded me up with 150lb bag of flour and sent me on my way. And J B Fletcher’s building is still there today opposite where M J Kelt used to be, which is in Heretaunga Street West, and it was raining – all the gutters were flooded. And next to J B Fletcher there was a second-hand shop called Wards, and they had a great big plate glass window. And I thought ‘oh, Rose – you know where the bridge is, you’ve been over it often enough’. So I thought ‘oh well, I’ll go through’, and not using my head I started to get through, found the bridge all right but the flow of the water – I was starting to lose momentum, so I lifted my buttocks off the seat and the next thing, wobbling she went – ended up through the plate glass window of Wards. Cut the bag of barley meal all over the place and water on it and water and barley meal just doesn’t … the mess, I will never ever forget. And I will not say what Yorky Fletcher, when he came out to see what all the noise … and he was a real Yorkshireman. But you know, that’s just one of those little incidents.
Another time, balancing paint on top of … we were taking somewhere, and I went across the railway lines in Heretaunga Street by the town clock, and hit a bump there. Off flew five gallons I think it was, all over Heretaunga Street. Little incidents.
So we … to progress from there, eventually I got up to 12/6d a week, and saved up to buy a Raleigh push bike from Kiwi Cycle Shop and that was paid off at five shillings a week and half a crown a week to my mother for board and I had a few pence to play round with.
And so as we progressed I was with friends in the company. Some people might know the names. Cooky Colvin, Dick Klingender, Murray Menzies – they all worked for Murray Roberts and they worked in the office. And I think it was Peter Colvin said they were looking for an office boy in the office, so somebody suggested “why don’t you apply for it?” So I plucked up courage and went and saw the Branch Manager, who was Aubrey Hearn – A F Hearn. So they gave me the chance as office boy, so I transferred from the grocery department – which I forgot to mention, I was paying a shilling a week and the company subsidised it, into superannuation – we had a separate superannuation scheme and it was subsidised you know, a hundred percent. And so when I moved into the office I started at fifteen shillings, and the subsidy from the company went up to two shillings and I had to still put in a shilling to get into that pension scheme. And still, my pension scheme – and I mention this because it adds up in the end – stayed in the grocery division. They could not transfer it over into the office pension. So it just started to accumulate, still with the company contribution but not mine, until somebody woke up to the fact that that’s a bit of a rip off. But that’s another story.
So anyway we worked through as office boy, and my job was to absolutely lick the stamps and post all the statements and all the mail. And we did have a little roller water table which you … supposed to put the stamp on to wet it, and put it on the envelope but that was so slow. You ended up by licking it, and I’m not exaggerating, you’d be doing … and ‘specially at the end of the month … you’d be doing – seemed a heck of a lot in those days – two hundred or three hundred statements, and you were generally there until about six o’clock at night and so forth, because all the statements were hand written.
So without dwelling on that too much I eventually got up a bit higher and I was put into inward cashier, where my job was then, as people paid their accounts, to write the receipts and so forth and then give them to the new boy to post out, and say lick this and post this out and so forth. And then they would have to address – you know, as I had to – address all the envelopes, and away we went. But eventually they got instead of the stamping machine, a franking machine, where you just fed the envelope in and turned the handle, and then you had to balance that up at the end of each day.
So progressed from inward cashier to outward cashier, where again you had to write all the cheques out and enter them in a journal – for each cheque you wrote out and the amount, and then pin it to the account, give it to your … well in those days it was just the Manager, Bryce Tweedie … and he would have to sign them all. And then he’d bring them back to you – generally about four o’clock, always – so you had to then get them all and give them to the poor office boy and get them all ready. ‘Cause we were supposed to knock off at five o’clock. But that was just “yes sir, no sir”, you didn’t argue, you just had to do it. There was no come back whatsoever.
So from there, then an opportunity arose where the company decided that they would put a vehicle on the road as a grain and seed merchant … personnel … to service the clients. We used to have a vehicle – a guy by the name of Errol Smith – who used to be the grain and seed Manager, because we dealt like all the stock firms. in the grain and seed business. But in the earthquake the old Murray Roberts building landed on his vehicle which was parked outside and they never replaced it.
So by this time it was about 1962, and so I was called into the office and there was our Head stock agent, who was a sort of a God in those days – James Gillander Mangatutu Scott – and Aubrey Hearn, and the manager Bryce Tweedie. And I thought ‘my God Rose, what have you done now? What have you got caught out on?’ And so they sat me down and just said to me, if I was interested in going to Massey for a course to learn grain and seed and so forth, and working in with Mr Smith as a grain and seed clerk. So I jumped at the opportunity, not knowing a damn thing. I thought ‘well hell, anything’s better than what I’m doing’. So anyway, away we went to Massey for a short course, I think it was two to three months – I can’t recall – about three months. And came back and went into the office to do the grain and seed clerk work, and I’d only been doing that for a couple of months when they called me in again and said “well – we’re going to put a vehicle on the road and we would like you to take over serving our clients”.
So by this time Tony Roberts, a member of the Roberts family, was Branch Manager – was he who actually, in the background, who was a wool Manager for us – had been suggesting that we do these things. So he supplied me with a big old Austin Princess – great big black hearse of a car, and I had that for about a month and it blew up. So he then somehow managed through the Hawke’s Bay Farmers, to get me one of the new … what they call the FJ Holdens … one of the first Holdens, with a great big little red light which we used to call the ‘bearing retainer’. It stuck out from the boot. So I started off in that FJ Holden servicing our clients all round in the Hastings, Puketitiri, Patoka, Tutira, Crownthorpe, Sherenden, Argyll, Otane, Maraetotara – I was doing over 110,000 kilometres a year.
You were a professional driver as well.
Well that was all it was. You were doing more driving than you were visiting clients because they were few and far between.
So that continued and as it turned out we were picking up a few more clients because we were quite a private company, we weren’t a shareholding company and so forth – it was a private family company. And they decided that sitting in a car more than – that it was getting too big a business, so they transferred from Head Office in Dunedin another agent, Russell Austin, who came and joined us in Hastings. So we split the area – he did north, he did all the Puketitiri, Patoka area, and I did all the Crownthorpe, Sherenden, Ocean Beach, Maraetotara and so forth, which I did totally for about sixteen years. And as we slowly got a bit more experience and I suppose a bit more common sense, eventually our grain and seed Manager, who was a lovely guy called Bill Lawson – A W Lawson – whose son Ian Lawson ended up as General Manager of Farmers’ Transport. Bill took ill and was only coming in a few days a week. I gradually worked inside to do more of the bookwork and buying and selling grain, and by this time Russell Austin had been transferred to open up our Taupo branch. So eventually I took over as Grain and Seed Manager, and I’m just trying to think of the date, but I’ll have to come back on that.
And so I took over as Grain and Seed Manager. We had three outside agents, because slowly we replaced agents. Then we took on …
Can you remember who they were?
Oh, to start with, I think one was John Charteris, Gary McCurrough … because they chopped and changed … some were hopeless and some were reasonably good. And those days you were expected to be on the road all day and every day, and it wasn’t just going out for two or three hours and everything – you travelled, and you were expected to get business.
At some stage you met Diane. Were you married at that stage?
Well, we’ll go way back to that.
Yes, go back. Where you met, and where Diane came from.
I suppose I should have come into that first. Diane and I went to school at Hastings West. Diane was Diane Mudgway, and her two brothers, Garth and David, and David was her twin brother. And Diane and I were at school together in the same class, even though I was … weeny bit older. And Diane used to wear pigtails, and I tell no lie that I used to pull her pigtails because she’d sit in front of me in the little old desk, and we had those little inkwells in the desk, and I’d be always trying to put her pig tails into the inkwell. So that’s where Diane and I first met, at school.
And then Diane left school and went to work in the ANZ Bank. And when I was in Murray Roberts and went as the office boy, she used to bring the Company orders which … we used to supply our clients with cheque books … and Diane worked for the Union branch of the ANZ, and she used to bring – as all the Banks did – bring these orders in to be signed. And I would go to the counter, and if it was a good-looking female like my wife I would rush up to her first before somebody else did. And then we used to have to get them signed by the Manager and then they would come back at about mid-afternoon to pick them up.
And so eventually, you know, we used to get together – not together, but we’d see one another at different Bank functions and so forth. And then one day … and she’s listening … she was very keen on a guy that worked in the National Bank called John Hodgson. And anyway, she couldn’t get his attention that much, but one day there was a Bank social so she asked me could I take her to it. And so I took her to it only to find out that it was because she wanted to see this John Hodgson. But anyway eventually we got together a bit more, so we united, and got married in 1950 … oh God, we’ve been married fifty-eight years, so work it out from there.
But anyway … and we adopted our twin daughters – unfortunately Diane had peritonitis and the operation didn’t go well, and couldn’t produce children so we adopted our twin daughters, and surprisingly enough they were born in the Rathbone Maternity Home in Waipawa … very, very small world. And so from there on we had our twin girls, and I was fortunate – I think I was nineteen with the first Company car, the F J Holden I mentioned, so we progressed from there.
We progressed from me being grain and seed Manager then we merged with a company called National Mortgage. National Mortgage were an English company, the same way as our Murray Roberts started, in England. So we thought ‘well now, what’s going to happen here? Are we still going to have a job, or what’s the usual thing?’ But anyway, things just progressed … a few changes, but all of a sudden we were under a Head Office and different people running the business, whereas before we were a family business. And had our directors who were business people used to come and visit us every year, and you’d get to know them reasonably well, and they’d know you by your Christian name and so forth. But eventually we got into that situation where we had new people … new directors, but business went on and we progressed.
We then went into … put in a seed dressing plant for dressing clients’ grass seed, and we started marketing overseas and purchasing and trading and out supplying where we were growing wheat and barley, and more wheat and barley under contract supplying to poultry farmers, and supplying to other mills and so forth. And I’m sorry, I’m just hazy … we were competing against bigger firms, Williams & Kettle and Hawke’s Bay Farmers. By this time Dalgety’s and Loan Company had merged, so there was just Loan Company, Williams & Kettle, Hawke’s Bay Farmers, de Pelichet McLeod’s and ourselves. We were very fortunate that in the days with Murray Roberts was a private company, during the Depression – and people who remember the company and families – never, ever foreclosed on a client. They carried our Murray Roberts clients right the way through, and that gave the company more strength – it helped them to survive when things started to progress. We started to get more clients because of the loyalty to other people of families and so forth.
Looking back you chaps were like field officers to your farming clients. You had a real involvement in your clients farming practises, didn’t you?
We did. All the companies that employed grain and seed farm merchandise representatives were advising clients. We were supposed to have had the expertise and sometimes the farmers would put up with our so-called expertise but they always gave us a very good hearing and they listened to your advice. And as far as grass seed and growing grain it was our job, every stock firm’s job in competition, to advise them when to plant and to make sure that they were planting it right so that we were getting the right produce to market and it was our job to … well, we took it upon ourselves as our job.
Well you know, as I said, you were like field officers.
Well we were because it was mixed farming.
In fact you I think were one step ahead of the Ag Department who called themselves field officers but took very little active part in the farming practises of the day.
Well the difference was that we were a private company reaping the benefit whereas MAF were – well, it’s a Government company, even though I had some great friends in the MAF. And we used to use them quite a bit to get advice ourselves, because most of those guys had degrees and had been to Lincoln and been to Massey and so forth, and they were far more educated in the respect of theory. And what I would like to say that we as stock and station agent representatives were a weeny bit more practical in our practical experience rather than reading it in a book, even though we did and that’s no discredit.
Your practical experience put you well ahead of those that had theoretical …
Well, it did.
… because you had comparisons.
I think that still happens today, but they won’t admit it.
The other thing that was always rather interesting was the number of farmers who had firms’ cheque books. They had the special one …
Yes. That is where I was saying during the Depression, the company – I was not involved of course but history tells, and the books that we’ve had on Murray Roberts and so forth – whereas they started issuing. And in those days every year we used to have the Spring Show and the Autumn Show, and clients … and as a boy, the grocery boy, my job at every Show … I had to go to the Show and I was a water boy and the dogsbody. Whereas my job … we’d have a special tent and the Branch Managers would be in the tent with a bottle, and we had a liquor licence and they’d have Sanderman’s whisky and so forth. And I do not tell a lie when the clients would come in, wanted to see Mr Hearn, and they would make an appointment to see him at the Show. And they had a special tent with a table and chairs, and my job was to keep the water bottle full and to bring the biscuits or sandwiches in. And I won’t mention names because too many people would know, and there’s no disrespect but it’s safer not to – but some of our clients would come in – “I’ve got 30 bales of wool ready to be sold, I’ve got this I’ve got that – I’d like to buy a new car.” Mr Hearn – well, right in the early days it was Donald Waters – he would have a look at their account because he’d have all the account books there. “All right, we’ll advance you £100”, and so forth – give them a whisky if they drank, and nine times out of ten they did, and away they would go from the Show and buy their new car, or a tractor, or buy some farm equipment. But twenty-five or thirty percent of the time clients would come to the Show, or make an appointment to see them at the Show, and they’d come in and get an advance and it would all be written up in the ledger. And I don’t know how long … it didn’t … oh, it went on for a while, but then we slowly progressed and so forth.
But it was in those days that people were still paying off their debt from the Depression, from what I understand, and slowly … you know, they were still being financed by the Company, like going to the Bank. And the difference was that if you were financed by a stock firm you were 99.9% supposed to do all your business with that firm, which you did. If you went to a Bank you could go where you liked.
But that was what our business was, and loyalty showed through right up until as we get on, into the latter dates with further mergers. So I was backwards and forwards, and in the end organised the Show and went to them for thirty-five years in a row. When Di and I wanted to get married and Di was nursing in Gisborne and I was an agent on the road – and I’m going back again – in my FJ Holden, I used to go and knock on the door if it was Tony Roberts, and say “please Mr Roberts, could I borrow the car for the weekend? I want to go and see Diane”, and in the end Tony Roberts says “Christ Rose! It’d be a bloody sight cheaper for the Company to marry her – why don’t you?” [Chuckle] And so … anyway, we had a bit of a laugh about that.
And so when it came to Di and I getting married … engaged and so forth, we wanted to get married on the 22nd October, and that was Show Day. And I thought ‘ oh, this’ll be trouble’. So I went and asked Mr Roberts and he said “no – no, no – I can’t let you go, that’s Show Day.” I knew dash well it was Show Day, but anyway we made other arrangements – it was expected but the Company was so great with using the car just like your own car, and you respected, and you gave them your loyalty because they were loyal to you.
Frank, I’m getting all over the place … but we used to you know, arrange at the Show, these tents of morning and afternoon tea for all the clients and so forth, until in latter years it got so great that you wouldn’t know who was a client and who wasn’t a client, and every Tom, Dick and Harry. But that progressed from our merger with National Mortgage and then in the end it became Wright Stephenson’s … came into the scheme, and that’s when we became Wrightson NMA. The Murray Roberts name slowly disappeared, and with no real disrespect, that was the beginning of the end of the loyalty of our clients – the Murray Roberts …
And I get back to the point – I was still an agent on the road at that time and within a week in the area I served, we lost fifteen clients because they transferred to Williams & Kettle shareholding company, Hawke’s Bay Farmers and Williams & Kettle, because in the merger some of our head staff and loyal staff missed out on jobs, and more of the Wright Stephenson – right or wrong – got the top jobs. And so some of our head stock agents that went from the company for a better salary – they were enticed from the opposition – and the stock agent was God in those days and they took the majority of the clients with them. And so the stock and the wool – we still maintained a weeny bit of our farm merchandise, but that slowly went, and we lost – I can’t recall, but I think we lost overall about twenty-eight or twenty-nine clients who said straight out “Keith, I’d like to do business with you. Your company was loyal to us. We stayed with you as a company, as Murray Roberts and NMA, but now you have gone a step ahead we don’t feel that we owe you any loyalty.” You couldn’t argue against it – you tried – you had to accept it. It was heartbreaking because … and I get a bit sentimental here … because you used to go to those clients’ kids’ birthday parties, their 21sts, weddings. You’d have a meal with them and Christmas time – they were … some of them were more friends than they were clients. And we’re – and I’m talking personally – we’re fortunate that some of our best friends are still children of clients that we met, and have today, you know, after fifty-five – sixty years, we’re still friends. But that was what the industry did for a lot of people. A lot of people who started off in the early days I’m sure would say the same thing.
The other thing that was interesting … all the agents, and I’m talking about the Merc reps, were all key people. Their contact with all the clients radiated back to the company, didn’t it?
You’re a hundred percent right. In our merger with Wright Stephenson’s when we became Wrightson NMA and Ron Trotter took over from Cliff Plimmer I think it was, Ron Trotter used to work for Hawke’s Bay Farmers in Hastings and I used to know him ’cause he used to go round clients – I used to see him quite a bit on the road, and then he went to Takapau. But besides all that, when the merger … and I’m going back to the fact that he married a local Hastings girl and her father was a furrier in Hastings in Heretaunga Street – Ranier I think it was, Margaret Ranier, that’s right – and Ron married her. But when that merger came he got all the senior staff up to Morrison Industries … which was Wright Stephenson’s where they used to make the … which was Wright Stephenson’s Raleigh bikes, and the Morrison motor mowers. He got us all together and gave us a little bit of a speech about the Company and how great we all are and so forth and the words that always stuck in my mind and still stick in my mind and I still pass it on. He said “our Company is only as good as the staff it employs”. I wish a lot of Companies would remember that today, and even the bigger and modern companies – and how right he was. The business was built round the staff, not the management. Some of the time the management didn’t even know half their clients as we got bigger, and especially Head Office because you were just a number. And I mean … getting older I suppose and getting more critical … but you can just see the progress or lack of progress as you get bigger and bigger. But those words always stick in my mind, and it’s the same as my old grandfather used to say to me – “Keith, if you don’t have a laugh a day and if you don’t learn something a day, you’ve had a so-and-so of a day”. And how right he was. It is.
The thing that was always evident to me. I can still remember all those company reps – why? Because they were so loyal to the company and to the people that I worked for – it was an amazing …
It was. And of course you poor spray contractors – you’d be working, that was your business. You’d work say for the four or five different companies and we’d all be trying to push our spray on to you as with other spraying contractors, and you’d have that little – “oh, but – look I’ve got enough of this from here, and oh, to hell with that, this is my client”. And you poor spray contractors would be ending up with half of this and half of that.
We never ever used other company’s spray on another company’s …
No, I know … [speaking together]
I know exactly what you’re saying.
But that was the competition and that was a jealousy. You were there to sell your product, and you hated to think that it was being used … you wouldn’t have a clue, but you always surmised just you know …
… for your own reason. But that’s by the way.
So we went on with Wrightson NMA, and continued on as grain and seed. And in that area of the Wrightson NMA managed to retain our job. Then we became Wrightson’s, and the Wright Stephenson staff and our staff all came in together. That’s when we thought ‘now what’s going to happen? Are we going to have a job? We’ve got such surplus of staff, and of senior staff – someone’s going to miss out.’ I was fortunate that I retained the job as Sales Manager. Two of the Wright Stephenson staff that were here – a bit older, bit more experience – they were unfortunate. They got the lesser job. I got the senior job – right or wrong, that’s the way it turned out.
So it worked for a while, and then it started to get fairly hefty when the Company then took over the Crown company, which was Hawke’s Bay Farmers, Dalgety’s, de Pelichet McLeod’s. And then all that merger came together, and that started more and so that’s when difficulties started to arise. I was given the opportunity of going and doing a lesser job or taking an early retirement or, whatever you like to call it, redundancy. And we looked at it – I’d done about forty-four years at that stage – forty-five I think it was – and so I took a look at it and my pension and so forth, and I decided that – ‘well, I don’t know that I want to stay round here. Do I get out – take the redundancy, or take a lesser job where it affects your pension and so forth and everything.’
So at that stage we had a top sales and agent called Alistair Donaldson. And Alistair came to me and said “have you decided what you’re going to do? Whether you’re going to stay, or ..?” And I said “no, I’m not going to stay. I hadn’t even told the management.” He said “well look Keith, you’ve been in this industry longer than what I can remember – why don’t you come and do some real estate?” And I looked, I said “real estate, insurance agents, car salesmen are down in the bottom of my drawer, and that’s where they … no way.” So I came home, and I don’t know, might have talked to one or two. A couple said “you’re crazy. You’ve spent all these years in a stock firm. You know just about every farm in the area. Why don’t you give it a go?” I said “I’m not going to go banging on doors.” I spoke to Alistair who said “you don’t need to Keith, because it’s rural”. I said “well – all right, I’ll give it a go.”
But Frank … and I’m sorry, I’m going to reminisce.
Going back to when my father … with Williams & Creagh doing the Crownthorpe, Sherenden, Argyll, Whanawhana, Kereru and I became an agent on the road. I will always … yeah … hold my father up there. Because all the people I used to call upon … “you’re Bert Rose’s son”. And the business I used to get. Sorry.
Because of that contact.
Gee this is silly. But it was fantastic. Always … “Bert Rose’s son.” And that just brought me through so much. But okay, so we get back.
And so I thought ‘oh well, I’ll give it a go’. So I went to Head Office and saw Alistair McLachlan – he was the General Manager, and he was being retired as well. And I was more concerned about my pension because I didn’t want to get a big lump pay out. So I said “look, if I stayed with the Company and did real estate, can I stay in the pension fund and continue?” So they went into it and said “yes.” So I stayed in the pension fund which I’m still in today and will be until my dying day.
So that helped to make me decide, and so I came back and started doing the rural real estate. I did that up until the new mergers and so forth and I’d done my fifty years. And they started to put extra agents on and they came and … I had an office and so forth, and I’d done my fifty years … and they said “look Keith, we’re going to put another man in the office on doing rural real estate” – and we had another two then, and that was hard enough – “and you might have to share your office.” I just said “no problem, bring him in.” So they said “oh, well – we’ll take a look where we’re going to put a desk”, and I said “don’t bother.” I said “you’ll have this desk in an hour.” I said “I’m off.” “Oh”. But anyway, we won’t go into that. I said “look – I’ve been here long enough, I’ve had enough, I’ve done my fifty years”. And that was only personal … didn’t mean a thing to anyone else because nobody knew. And I was happy, and I go back to the fact that after working for the company for forty-five-odd years, and the five-odd years that I did real estate, I made more money than what I made when I actually stopped working in the industry as management – in those five years – treated me far better because … fortunately … because of people knowing me … not all the time they wanted to do business with me, but I say that I had a very, very … very fortunate to have a very good run.
Now during your life did you ever play golf?
I started to. I wanted to start earlier but with family and so forth, it was … we had twin girls, we had a block of asparagus and so forth … we just didn’t have time. By the time I started to play golf, as I still play a lot of golf today, but I’m just about as useless today as I was when I first started.
You still go though?
Oh yes, I still play twice a week. I went to Bridge Pa but I didn’t enjoy it because I wasn’t good enough in the respect of the back problems. But that doesn’t matter. But it was a bit cliquey … it was a bit offish, so I thought ‘oh, to hell with this’. But then when I started doing real estate and was virtually my own boss … because you’re on commission, when I’d been on a salary all my life … but I started to play it again a bit, but not a lot – but then I got the same feeling and so I gave it away.
And then I retired, and a great friend of mine who now lives up in hill country by Black Barn – and there’s a 9-hole course up there – and Tony lives up there, and Andy Lowe, and I’ve known Andy for a long time and I was invited to play up there. It’s a private golf course. Tony asked me up there … said “look, come and get into the golf again”. So I play up there every Monday. And then Andy said to me “Keith,” he said “I’ve got Brian Doyle running the golf course up there, and it’s a ‘nine play eighteen’”, because it’s got different tees. And he said “come and have a game.” So about nine years ago I suppose, I started to play up there. So we play daylight golf every Thursday from March to the beginning of April, and we play friends of Andy’s. And Brian Doyle who looks after the golf course on behalf of Andy, and advises, he runs it. So I play every Monday when the weather’s right, eighteen holes, then on a Thursday afternoon from half past four we play nine holes – have a competition, have a couple of beers, tell a few lies and come home about seven o’clock, and it’s fantastic. I’ve improved.
And also since you retired from real estate, you have become a farmer too?
Well my son-in-law … and that was part of the reason I thought ‘well, I’ve had enough of real estate.’ My son-in-law just bought a property on the Napier/Taihape Road called Hafton – seventeen hundred and forty-six acres – and he’d just bought it and there was a terrific amount of work to be done on it, because it was a lovely property but it … a lot of the old fashioned … a big seventeen hundred acre property with about eleven or twelve paddocks. And when all this came up I thought ‘well hell … had plenty to do’, so then I started going up there every day. I would start to leave at abut six o’clock … half past six in the morning, get up there and my job was to do the tidying up and everything, and believe you me – there was a hell of a lot of tidying up. But Philip – and I say this with no argument whatsoever – he’s got a very, very good head … hell of a nice young fellow. And he married one of the twins, Joanne. And he hadn’t had a lot of experience in farming, but he’d done a degree and worked at Kereru Station and a few places, but had his head screwed on the right way. And to move stock from the back to the front to bring in for shearing would take about three quarters of a day, because you had to clear all the paddocks to bring the stock through. And the very first thing he did was put a laneway through. And he was very fortunate that a couple of guys that had worked on the place and had fenced, he managed to get, and put them up in the manager’s cottage which he wasn’t using. And so anyway the first thing he put in was this lane. When that was done he could trust me to go out to the back and I’d have them in within about, you know … from the back paddock … about a couple of hours … hour and a half.
You were saying that after races were put in and everything, and you could go up and shift the stock on your own.
That was the biggest improvement of anything because as I said, they used to just clear paddocks.
And of course quite often the paddocks were cleared adjacent to water – once you’ve subdivided you’ve got to put troughs.
Well, that’s where they told him there’s a spring there and it used to pump up to a tank and of course that’s why they said they were limited in the number of paddocks because there’s not enough water, and they couldn’t find water. But Phil spent quite a bit of money and got balers, and in the end they found water right by the woolshed and they drilled down … can’t remember off-hand … a hell of a long way and they struck water, but it just came up with so much blue clay and so forth. We just let it run for about four or five days and then all of a sudden it started to clear, and it came up and so we put a submersible pump in and the water flow measured and everything like that, was sufficient for Phil to go ahead and subdivide. And that’s where we put all … got Bishop … Awakeri? Now they came in and did all the drains and you know, then got the main ones in and as he subdivided … come back and tap into the line and carry on, and got two further troughs out the back so the whole place … And now that’s why he’s been able to subdivide further.
What’s Philip’s surname?
Cregoe. His grandfather was a chief surgeon – well the highest you can go is Major … Ken Button? Well Ken Button was Philip’s grandfather, because Philip’s grandfather married a Button, and Philip’s mother was Ken Button’s sister … Reverend Ken. His grandfather was a surgeon in the Army and he’s been well recognised with the Star of … Buckingham Star … doesn’t matter. All his medals and all his records are in the Army Museum.
I’ve seen the name associated with the Army.
Button – his grandfather was Ken Button’s brother.
Well Di – well he married us, and Di was involved quite a bit in the Church. And she – you know, as girls used to in those days get presented at the Ball, and that. But no – she knew Ken Button … and what’s the wife’s name? Quite well. But it didn’t pass on to me Frank.
Now part of your life you were involved with the Havelock North Rotary Club as well.
Yep. With you, yes. Well you see – how long were you there?
Yeah, well I think I was about nineteen – not long.
They were … had some great years.
I mainly got out of it because I was sick of paying out and not getting the fellowship. And it was becoming a bit of a bore because you know, it was too much … and we weren’t doing what we used to do and that’s what I enjoyed – like with old … used to have the grocer’s shop …
Old Harold, and all that sort of stuff, and the firewooding and everything, and we used to get together with the Lions and have those functions, and with – what-you-call-it – Kerry at the pub. They were good days.
But you used to enjoy this team spirit, because when you moved you were part of the development …
Oh yeah, with Karituwhenua. Well I’ve been doing that for eleven years.
And that’s another story isn’t it?
Well I’m still running … you know, as I said … not involved as much … I involved every Friday before. I used to work down there every day, I mean sometimes half an hour, sometimes three hours – Phil Price and I. And we really – the bottom half where we lived – we really developed that. But I’d say that we did eighty percent of it, and that’s not blowing your own trumpet. And now I just go every Friday with the working bee, whereas before we didn’t, because we’d done enough. And they would leave us alone. Any major job, well we’d get Dougal to come down and bring a gang. But now I work with the rest of them on a Friday. We’ve got a system now that every Wednesday you’re rostered – two people get together, walk the whole reserve. And we’ve got a map of it and I’ve just been writing it up, and so Wednesday two of us get together, we write down well, we want to do this – weed eat here – chainsaw here – fix that – and so you write it down and then on Friday when you know how many are coming … people ring and say I’ll be there or I won’t be there … and on Friday – well, I’m just allocating it now – for the work to be done and then next week the guy that walked round with me, he takes over my job and I slip back down, and just get told.
I bet you never imagined it would be as successful as it is though.
It is and it’s getting more popular but we don’t want it to get too popular – and in saying that, too much damage can be done, but that’s not up to us. But if you left it to the Council it would just revert.
So anyway that’s pretty well covered most of the things you’ve done. Here you are in your retirement – Keith is there anything else you can think of that we may have skipped. Now your other twin daughter – she’s married?
No, no, Fiona is not married. She’s living in Auckland and she does house care serving the elderly and so forth. So no, she’s not married.
Joanne who’s married and got two girls to Philip and yeah – pretty proud of them. Anna, who’s the eldest – she’s twenty-two on the 14th of this month – and she’s gone through Telford and Lincoln, and she was wanting to go farming but it’s got a bit heady. Lovely kid so now she’s at EIT studying for veterinary, because she loves animals, so she’s going to do veterinary.
Young Kate who’s just returned from three months in Europe at seventeen years of age travelled round for three months. Kate is very artistic – she’s top in her grade in art. She’s won a scholarship through Hyundai to do art work, and she has been put through Spirit of Adventure through Hyundai, and what’s the river crossing? You know … Creek and that – what’s the name of the place? Kids go rafting … and she’s done all that. She’s also won a scholarship which got her into this Hyundai … through … It’s run by Graham Henry – what’s the name of the course? Not progress … but anyway there were seven hundred applicants, seven got selected and she was one of the seven. She has got – there’s an artist that … are in this programme, and that’s her mentor. And so when she went to Europe she went on a tour of art. She was the youngest on the tour with older people who took her under their wing, ’cause she didn’t know whether she wanted to go overseas to study her art. She booked herself into Oxford while she was over there and did a course at Oxford for two weeks – and I am skiting – and she got a glowing report, and the art teacher keeps in contact with her. And she is now at Massey in Wellington. Massey’s got their art studio in Wellington and so she’s up there studying … doing her art. And – no, she’s excellent – because Jo was very good in art, and Philip’s mother is also an excellent artist and has been, so it’s in the blood … and in Jo’s blood as it’s come from her birth mother. And then Philip has got it in his side …
So the right mix is there.
Yeah. And Anna’s a very good horse woman because they’ve got bloody horses all over the place, and they are just buying another one. And Kate is excellent, and Kate has performed twice and she would have been at the Horse of the Year this year except for the Varsity. So she’s been in and won competitions. But I’ve spouted enough. There’s lots of little things but reminiscences come back.
But if there is, and there’s something you want to attach to it just tell me and I can just pop back.
Well if you find a gap there that you want me to fill in just … And I’m just sorry but that one of my father – I didn’t think I’d get sentimental about it. It was something that I kept saying “I’ve got to bring that up.”
But there is one thing if you [can] fit in. When my father worked for Redgraves and drove the truck – and I like to think that’s where I’ve got it a bit – of liking to get out to do things and help people. Dad would drive his truck with shrubs and plants and so forth and deliver to the elderly. then at night or on the weekend he would go and plant it for them. Not always. “Where’re you going Dad?” “Old Mrs Smith bought some roses, I’ll go and help her” … but on the weekend, but that is what he was like.
But he obviously got a lot of pleasure …
Well he did. Did it all for nothing.
A giver, not a taker.
Yeah. Well all the way through in his Williams & Creagh …
All right – well thank you Keith.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper