Shirley Winifred McKay Interview

Today is the 18th April 2017, and I’m interviewing Shirley McKay, a retired administrator and Inland Revenue person about the life and times of her family. Shirley would you like to carry on?

Yes, thank you, Frank. I think I would like to actually point out that I’ve been quite fortunate doing genealogy and finding that all my ancestors that came to New Zealand all came into Napier. They all sailed into Napier, so I’ve been fortunate there that I haven’t had to go all over the country to find them. And we also were fortunate in that the shipping records were saved from the earthquake and are now still in Napier.

My father’s family was the Painters and they came from the UK. Henry Painter came from UK in 1876 and they sailed on the ‘Inverness’. He actually had been married before. His wife had died over in … I think it was the Forest of Dean they actually lived … where he at the time was a coal miner in the mines over there. And when she died he was left with a son and a daughter, and I think at some stage … just reading different histories that I’ve been able to find … that the lady that – he did eventually marry again – her name was Mary Ann Kear, and I think she might have gone to housekeep for him and his children. And they also, at the time they were in the mines, they had extended family living with them as well, so they must have had quite a house full.

Now in 1876 when they came over on the ship, Mary Ann was with them, but they had also obviously lived together as husband and wife because they had two little daughters as well, with them. Her father was William Kear I think, and her mother was Eliza James. Now she actually was, from what I can gather, a very hard working, affable little lady, and they didn’t marry until they were living in Meeanee. And at that time his eldest son, Harry Painter, was going to marry an Irish girl, Liza Brennan, and they did get married in the Meeanee Church … Catholic Church. And I suspect that at the time … because on the wedding certificate one of the witnesses was Sister Mary Aubert and she was a Catholic nun. The family were not Catholics, but I think she must have twigged somehow that the mother and father of Harry were not married. Oh, dear, dear! Anyhow, they did get married at their residence, but it was by I think an Anglican Minister. But the fact that Sister Mary Aubert was there … And she was actually a friend of a Mrs Young, who was a midwife who used to travel around the country with her, and the Youngs were neighbours of the Painters in the Forest of Dean. So there’s all sorts of connections that happened in those days, and the Painters actually sort of encouraged the Youngs to come out here.

Anyhow, I think it was Henry, yes … Henry had quite a few children all together, and he used to work as sort of, I think, an odd-job man, and labourer, and that sort of thing. And they lived at Meeanee for some time and then they later moved, ‘cause Meeanee at that time suffered a lot of floods, and they eventually moved. My grandfather, William Painter, who was Henry’s second son, but the only son from the second marriage – he did go to Meeanee School, but they eventually moved to Wharerangi not too far from where the Taradale Club is now. They lived there for a number of years, but he apparently suffered badly with arthritis in his hands and he couldn’t work his labour work, and that’s when she took over midwifery, and I think she might have learned that from her friend, Mrs Young. And that’s how she made a living.

But they ended up by having a large family of children as well as grandchildren, and all that sort of thing, around them. They married on the 25th July 1881 at Meeanee, and he died on the 31st July 1917 and both of them are buried at the Taradale Cemetery, up on the hill there.

So his son, my grandfather Willie Painter, after leaving school – and I think, as was the case in those days they left school fairly young – he went to work for the Williams family up on the East Coast. And he used to come home occasionally on the boat, but most of the time he lived up there and he ended up by working for A B Williams, who was pretty well known up on the Coast. He was a great philanthropist really, A B Williams. And my grandfather used to ship the bales of wool … take the bales of wool down to the ships on the Coast ‘cause there were no roads in those days as such. And he was persuaded by A B to buy his own horses and cart etcetera, and contract out – as well as A Bs farm, he contracted out. So he was up there at Waipiro Bay, and I always thought of him as a big frog in a little pond. He used to be a great organiser. He organised dances and all sorts of events and that sort of thing.

I suppose I should go back, ‘cause he did marry a Napier girl, Clara Taylor, and he used to come home … and I’ve often sort of smiled to myself about his description, that he saw this beautiful girl riding a white horse and he always thought how much he’d like to marry her. Anyhow, he must have pursued her because they did get married – I think he was about a year to her junior, but he put his age up. Anyhow, they did marry in the Registry Office in Napier in I think it was in ‘bout 1897, and he took her back up to Waipiro Bay and they lived in a little cottage that still stands actually, at Waipiro. But it was a very tiny place and they had to move eventually as their family grew. They had ten children … two children died very young, one as a baby and one as a little boy who I think, got measles … died from measles. The eight that survived – there was [were] four girls and four boys, and my father was one of them.

Just before we go any further, where is Waipiro Bay relative to Hicks Bay or Ruatoria?

I did once write a story about the family in Waipiro Bay, which I’d have to go and get, but yes, it’s not as far as Ruatoria – it’s below Ruatoria. There’s Tolaga Bay and then Waipiro, or vice versa. There used to be a freezing works at Tolaga Bay.

So you’re on the Gisborne side of Hicks Bay.

Yes, yes. It’s very picturesque coming down – you drive down now from the main road, and you drive down the side of the hills etcetera and come down into Waipiro Bay, and it’s quite picturesque coming down in there.

I interviewed another family whose grandparents used to cart wool and all sorts of stuff down the rivers. I had no idea that’s how they brought the stuff down, ‘cause there were no roads – the riverbeds were the roadways.

Yes. No, it was a very different way of life. But we can understand now. And when I went up to Gisborne and was delving into a little bit of the history up there and getting into the library and that – the museum up there has got a very interesting … or they did have … of the baskets that people used to … how they used to get on to the ships. A person would sit in this basket and then be hoisted up into the ship, and that’s how my grandmother would have been hoisted up into the ship to go from Napier to Waipiro. And somewhere I’ve got a sort of facsimile of what she would have looked like, because I had taken a photo of that basket – a big square basket. I mean I would’ve been terrified of it, but that’s how they did it in those days. Just looking at that basket at the Gisborne museum, I could only see one person sitting in it, so they must have had to up-and-down it an awful lot. Perhaps a mother and several children might have been able to fit in it.

Well, they would’ve only had block and tackles to lift with …

That’s how they would’ve done it.

… that’s right, and so that would have dictated how many.

Yes. So their cottage actually backed on to the Waipiro Bay Cemetery. And I still remember Dad’s eldest sister … when I was much younger and not quite into genealogy at the time … my eyes used to go up to the ceiling when she’d start rambling on about the family. But now I wished I’d listened more to her, but I can still remember her telling different things. And the little boy that died of measles – she said “we took his coffin round the road – we gave him a proper funeral”. In other words, they didn’t put it over the fence into the cemetery. They “did it proper”, she said, and they took his casket round the road and in the gate.

I think that small cottage they were in – I can understand why they had to move to the larger house, which they did, further up the hill, and they lived there for … they lived there in Waipiro in 1914. She would often tell the story about … ‘cause they had a horse that was called Lord Nelson, ‘cause he had one eye … and the kids used to ride this horse. And they lived just below a hill that the kids used to play on, and this hill was called ‘The Fort’, and I could sort of envisage – in the beginning that would have been a Maori fortification. Anyhow, they used to take this horse up … ride it up the hill, but the kids sitting on the back of the horse would always fall off. [Chuckles] So anyhow, as I say, they lived there and had a remarkable childhood, from what I can just glean from the little bits and pieces that she said. Dad never talked about it a great deal but he had a great affinity for it because he kept going back.

So he wasn’t working for the Williams family at that stage?

Well, I gather not as such, but he I think, still had a lot to do with … he would still have taken their wool down to the beach etcetera. But one of Dad’s other sisters once told me – ‘cause I also did a tape with her before she died – and she told me about the time A B Williams – he brought the first car that they ever saw down into the Bay, and from what I can gather it was a steam car. And he wanted to take all the kids for a drive, and they wouldn’t – no, they were scared stiff of it, she said. [Chuckle] No way! [Chuckle] They weren’t going to get in that. He was a very … very kind man, A B, from what I can gather, and the family were always very fond of him.

Apart from that sort of idyllic childhood that they seemed to have, they had plenty of mates and all that sort of thing, you know. His father, Willie, played a button accordion, and every Sunday they had to sing “Jesus Bids us Shine”, with him playing the [chuckle] button accordion. But his wife, Clara, was the one that had the music ability, and she played piano as well as violin, and she taught some of her children to do this. Dad never got much of the … he used to play piano but it was just a few tunes he could belt out. But one of his brothers, Mick – he was the one that had the most musical ability, and had a dance band and all. And he also played base fiddle in the Hastings orchestra at one stage, so he had quite an ability for music.

Another brother did play the violin but not very much apparently. So she taught them as much as she could. The eldest daughter played piano as well, and coming down the line I inherited some of that ability ‘cause I played in a dance band too. So you know, it just seems to be the luck of the draw whether you get some of these things handed down.

So did you play the piano in the dance band?

Yes, yes.

This was in the Gisborne area?

No, no. I played here in the Bay as well as down south, when I lived down south. So it was quite a musical family overall, because we would often have someone standing round the piano singing with somebody playing, you know.

People either played cards, or they stood round the piano singing, or someone sang to them, ‘cause there was no radio.

No. No television, that’s for sure. This piano I’ve got here came from my mother’s family, not my father’s, and she often used to say that somebody would come in and play the piano and they would be all singing. It happened in a lot of houses, and that was their entertainment.

But anyhow as far as my father’s family is concerned, the father was very much a man unto himself as well. Apparently one day he went into the farrier’s shop because … hammering away at horseshoes … and he wanted to have a go himself – wanted to try and find out how to make a horseshoe, and the farrier said to him “put this leather apron on”. “No, no, I don’t need that”. Yes he did, but he rued the day I would imagine, that he didn’t put it on because a piece of steel flew off the end of the thing and penetrated his lower stomach. So he actually pulled it out himself, but it left an awful wound. And I gather that he got repercussions from that because he ended up in Auckland having an operation. So I don’t exactly know what the timing was, but I think … reading between the lines … that might have been the end of his days at Waipiro. He probably could no longer handle the heavy work.

So anyhow, they came down … the whole family left Waipiro. There was a little bit in the paper about Bill Painter leaving the Bay, so as I say, he was well-known there. My father would have been roughly … he was born in 1906, so he would’ve been about eight when they came. And he intended to go up to Auckland … Bombay way … because he thought there was a farm to buy up Bombay, but anyhow when they got there they found it was already sold, so he decided that they would come back down to Hawke’s Bay.

So he bought an orchard in Louie Street, and they were there for a few years and the kids, the ones that were still school age, went to Hastings Central. He lived at Havelock also for a while, but eventually came back and lived in the Tomoana area and used to lease land and grow crops.

When my father was growing up I think he went that way too … was helping … I suppose you could almost say he was a labourer that would help wherever was needed. But one of his sisters married a farmer, Ernie Anderson, who farmed at Whakatu, and that’s where my father spent a lot of his time helping out at that farm. So they – I think it was at the time of the earthquake – they erected a big marquee or something on one of the paddocks and a lot of people went there. But anyhow, that’s getting ahead a bit.

My father went out to help at Mason Chambers – I think he was employed to cut down a bit of bush or something – and that’s where my mother was working. My mother was one of the chamber maids or whatever they were, so that’s how they met, at the Mason Chambers’ property.

Isn’t it incredible how small the pond is?

Isn’t it? Yes. Well I took my mother back to Tauroa to have a look at it one day, and she said “oh!” She said “I used to think it was a castle”. But it wasn’t.

It was a castle then.

Well, in those days. And anyhow, she was born in Napier to Thomas Durney, and he was an Irishman – came over from Ireland – and they came on the ‘Bevington’ in 1874. He was married twice as well, so he came over with his first wife with several children, and then she died ‘bout 1897 or something like that. And again, I think our grandmother was housekeeping for him, ‘cause he had quite a biggish family.

Yes, well they either had to get a housekeeper or they had to marry a new wife.

So we came from the second Durney marriage. She had five children to him, but he died of cancer in … think it was 1911 he died, so she was left with a young family and my mother’s sister was only about nine or ten months old. But my mother was born in 1907, so she would have been about four.

The name Durney is that associated with the building company that was in Hawke’s Bay later on?

The construction company, yes. Yes, Ray Durney was my cousin on that side.

I knew Ray very well. I always got on well with him – he always treated me nicely.

He had a certain arrogance about him. The funny thing about Ray which often … well I suppose being his cousin and knowing him fairly well, I could sympathise with him to a certain extent. But he was always very worried of what Phil, his father, would think of him. When he was going through all the trouble with the construction he would sit there almost in tears, and say, “oh God, what would Phil say?” I said “well, Phil can’t help you, so why worry?”

Yes, that’s at the time that crane fell over in Auckland, and …


… that sort of upset the apple cart.

So no, he did go through a bad time.

That orchard he developed in Te Aute Road in Havelock North and the beautiful home he built – I hope he is remembered in history.

Yes, but unfortunately I think a lot of it won’t be a good remembering, because he owed so many people so much money. I mean, that was awful really, but there was [were] lots of little things that tickled me about Ray. As I say, there was a certain arrogance about him etcetera, and I had done some research into the Durney family which he was interested in, and I had found a Durney crest. Oh – that meant a lot to Ray. [Chuckles] And he said he wanted to have that Durney crest up on his stables. And I said “Ray, you’re not supposed to use that crest. Okay, it was one of your ancestors, but you’re not supposed to use it”. I said “you can have your own crest made, and actually you could … in one corner of it you could have an apple tree”. [Chuckle]

My mother was very fond of her brother, Phil. I found him a difficult man to know, but then again I was a kid really. But my mother said the only thing she had against Phil was that she had to go and do his paper run when he was sick. [Chuckles] But anyhow, he was very kind to us as a family too, because … like Show Day for instance, we would all get bundled on to his truck and taken to the Show. I mean they were a big part of our growing up life – the Anderson family and the Durney family – because of both sides of my parents.

So I don’t know that I actually mentioned that my mother’s mother was Winifred Shanly. And the Shanlys also came into Napier as well, and he came from Exeter way and he was a jeweller. And I think the thing that I can point to him as being of some interest in the Hastings area, is that he made the plaque … the bronze plaque … that is underneath the oak tree at the park in the middle of town.

Queen’s Square?

Queen’s Square. The plaque that is under that … under that old oak tree … my great-grandfather made. But it’s a plaque to the Queen, I think.

So are you related to Colin Shanley then?

I’m not quite sure. I don’t think so, I’m not sure. I’ve never sort of delved into that side a great deal, only to the UK side of it really. And I think maybe the Shanlys might have originally came [come] from Ireland as well. This lot – my grandmother – she was a baby when she came out on the ship with her parents. Again, I think she ended up by being a housekeeper to Thomas Durney and then marrying him. So the Shanlys were Catholic, and when my mother was engaged to my father it was apparently decided that they would marry in the Catholic church. At that time I suppose it was … I don’t know if it was some sort of dispensation for him or not, but he never turned Catholic.

A lot of people were christened Catholics, and you were either Catholic or Anglican – there was nothing else. Feelings ran fairly high between the various churches.

Yes, exactly. That was one of the questions that I asked my mother – “how did your mother feel about you marrying a non-Catholic?” And she said “oh … I don’t think she liked him to, but” she said “I don’t think it was because he was a non-Catholic”. She wasn’t too sure just how her mother felt about her father, but she said apparently [she] spelt it out when she did say to him just prior to their marriage, “if you ever knock my daughter about I’ll haunt you”. And of course my mother always said she had a very happy marriage, and she said he was a very good husband and a very good father. Although we would often dispute the father bit, ‘cause he was a rather gruff man. But anyhow – I mean, sure – he gave us a very stable childhood. So [chuckle] that apparently was how her mother saw him, that he just might be a little bit rough. [Chuckle] But anyhow, he wasn’t. He turned out to be quite … she would’ve been quite happy about it I think, in the end.

But anyhow, she gave them a lovely wedding. She lived in a house in Hastings Street … well it would’ve been Thomas’ house as well. It was a two-storey place … been knocked down since, but it was just along the road from … well there’s still a dairy on the corner, I think … or there was a dairy. But anyhow, I do remember it, and I do remember going there. But anyhow, she put on a reception for them in that house, and my mother had a lovely wedding and she looked a lovely bride, and her sister was her bridesmaid.

But before that, because of the earthquake, and my mother also had had a change of jobs. She had gone from the Chambers household because she was asked to go home and look after the brothers and the boarders – they had boarders – while the mother and her sister went over to Australia to see their brother, who had gone over to Australia. That was about 1929 apparently, and when they came back and she was able to go back to work again [chuckle] which apparently, while she was doing this particular job she often felt like Cinderella. [Chuckle] She was told that she was the one that drew the short straw. [Chuckle]

But anyhow, when she went to go back to the Chambers’ property, Mrs Chambers apologised that she was quite happy with the new housemaid that she did have and that she didn’t have a position for my mother any more, but she did have a suggestion that she could go to another farming property around on the Te Mata Road, the Sunderland property, Undercliff. So Mum ended up at Undercliff, and that’s where she was during the earthquake.

There is a part where she talks about the earthquake, but it’s not what I should have let her say – I chopped her off a wee bit there. But what she told me was that she and the cook, whose name was Edith somebody – can’t remember the other name – used to do the ironing on Tuesdays … washing on Mondays and ironing on Tuesdays. And they were in the process of ironing the big table cloth for the dining room table and they would iron from each end towards the middle. And I said “oh, did you have electric irons then?” She said “yes. We had electric irons”. How they entertained each other doing this chore was they would say what pictures they’d been to the previous week. And they would often talk about different pictures, so it was entertaining.

Anyhow, they were in the middle of this when the earthquake happened, and she said they could see out the kitchen door and the hills and the paddocks were rolling like the sea. And the trees were rolling like that as well, and the top of the trees would often touch the ground. She said all they could think of was they remembered somebody saying “well, stand in a doorway – that’s the safest place”. So the two of them were crammed in the doorway [chuckle] watching all this happening outside. And anyway after that all sort of was over, and Mr Sunderland must have come home – he probably was out on the farm at the time – Mum was very worried about what had happened in Napier. Because apparently he said that he … from the hills he could see what looked like smoke, but was probably dust from Napier. Of course she was very worried about her family in Napier. And so anyhow, he had a car and he said he could take her as far as possible in the car. She was engaged to Dad at the time, so what they did was they went into Whakatu, picked Dad up from the Whakatu farm and then drove, and they managed to get as far as the Waitangi bridge, and that was damaged but the railway bridge wasn’t. So he left them there and said he had to get back to his own, and they walked across the railway bridge into Napier. So they went to the Hastings Street house immediately, so I said “what was that like?” And she said “it was a shambles”. It was still standing but it was a shambles inside. But no sign of her mother. So anyhow, they eventually found out by talking to different people that she had gone to … I think the Byfords, which was down more towards the outskirts of Napier.

Her sister at the time had been working in an office – can’t remember the name of the place now, but it was down Hastings Street, probably round about opposite where the Council Chambers are now. I can’t remember if it was a garage or a foundry … something like that … she was working in the office there, and the office wall which was on the street side, fell outwards. She was very lucky. So she ‘course, immediately went home and found her mother, and that’s when they went down to the Byfords. And of course they were later on to be relatives anyhow, because their brother married one of the Byford girls.

So anyhow, she eventually, after that … and she saw that her mother was still alive, and that she found all her brothers had survived. They were working in town – they were all to do with building – plasterers and all that sort of thing. They were working on buildings in town and they survived as well, so she was quite happy about … the family were still there, so she went with Dad back out to the Anderson property and that’s where they were in a big marquee. Don’t know where on earth that came from, but anyhow, they got it, and that’s when they heard and saw … there was an aftershock after nine o’clock, and that’s when the Grand hotel came down in Hastings, and they heard it. That was her description of the earthquake.

After that, because her mother was so nervous at staying in the house on her own, the family persuaded Mum not to go back to her job but to stay home with the mother because they were getting married later on in the year. So she stayed home with her mother and wasn’t earning any money at all, and she got married in October 1931 to Dad.

They were waiting on this train station to get the train down … they were going down south for their honeymoon and she had a brand new purse, and I mean – she had all the trimmings that a bride needed etcetera. And he said to her “how much is in that purse?” ‘Cause he could see it was a new one. She says “fourpence”. [Chuckle] She hadn’t earned any money for months, and so she had fourpence. And so he handed her a pound note, and said “here – stick that in with it”. [Chuckle]

Anyhow, when they got back from their honeymoon they actually lived with the Andersons for a while, until next-door neighbours called the Holmes’ … next door there was the Gledhills and the Holmes and then the Andersons, on each side of the railway line. The Holmes had had this little cottage … I think their house was damaged in the earthquake, that’s right, and they had to live in the cottage until their house was repaired. But after it was repaired they offered Mum and Dad their cottage and Mum and Dad lived there for quite a number of years in this little cottage and that’s when he got work at the Whakatu Works.

So then you would have been quite close to Roy and ..?

Yes. Valerie, the youngest one, was my age. Valerie often used to … well, she often does say … there was [were] big gaps between us kids. Myrtle was the eldest, and then five years later Roy came, and then five years later I came. [Chuckle] So yes, Valerie and I went to school together. I think I was a few months older than her.

So you went to school where?

At Mangateretere. I was born at the time when Mum and Dad lived at that cottage in 1934, and I was born in Hastings and I think it was the Maternity Annexe that was in St Aubyn Street.

Run by Sister Cooper.

Yes. Wasn’t there a Sister Owen as well?

Yes, but Sister Cooper was the boss.

Sister Cooper was the boss, and there was a Sister Owen as well, yes.

Well that’s where I was born, and I think possibly my sister – she came along about three years later – and she would have been born there at that time as well.

But I think the cottage was starting to get a bit small, and one of the things that sticks in my mind that Mother said was – I got whooping cough as a baby, and this cottage had of course a coal range stove and she kept me in the kitchen with this coal range going all the time with the warmth, and that obviously helped my whooping cough. So anyhow, we eventually had to move out to somewhere bigger, and I don’t know how on earth they heard about [it] but this property over in Karamu which is now Paraire Road. It used to be Rennerton Road but now it’s Paraire Road. So Mum and Dad went over there and rented that house which was near the corner of Paraire and Karamu, and it was in 1938 on Anzac Day that the place was flooded. There was a huge flood. I would have been about four years old, and Mum said she watched the water from the Karamu Stream coming up the road. Anyhow fortunately, being Anzac Day Dad would have been home which was fortunate, and they were frightened of the water coming in the house of course. So they started blocking all the furniture up on the blocks of wood etcetera, and the carpet – they just had carpet squares in those days – and they blocked everything that they could up on the blocks. Just along the road lived the Lee family, and they had an orchard and that was more towards Karamu bridge. And somebody had a rowboat and they came and got us in the rowboat, and I still can remember being rowed down Karamu Road. I mean it’s an amazing memory to think of … that’s a main highway … being rowed in a row boat down it.

My father always talked about the 1938 flood – the water from the Ngaruroro came right to the Showgrounds … to the railway line, and so it was almost like a sea.

Yes. Apparently it was like a sea, and because the Lee house was virtually a house that was … you could almost say it was two-storey, it was high. But underneath was just storage so the house itself was high, and that’s where [chuckle] all the community congregated – in the highest house. So we stayed there overnight, and then the water started receding the next day so we were rowed back again. And fortunately water hadn’t actually got into the house we lived in. It got to the top of the steps but hadn’t actually got in, so Mum and Dad were relieved of course. And I can still remember seeing all the worms squirming around when the water started receding. It amazed me there were thousands of worms.

And another thing that was conscious in my memory is seeing my first aeroplane. There obviously must have been … an aeroplane must have gone up to have a look at the damage, so I mean it sort of seemed to circle around, and I had never seen an aeroplane. Anyhow, that was a great experience that, and it’s still etched in my memory.

Also, I mean four years old … when it was coming time for me to go to school my next door neighbour just further along the road, was the Wales family. And Betty Wales was a wee bit older than me and she used to double me to school. Anyhow, Mum and Dad – they must’ve decided that I should have my own bike, and Dad got hold of a bike. It was a half-size bike, not the full size, a half-size bike that he rode back from Hastings. [Laugh]

Wonder his knees didn’t get tangled in the handle bars.

[Laughter] He taught me how to ride this bike – up and down the road, up and down the road – so that’s what I had to get to school, this half-size bike. That was in the family for quite some time. I think it went right through the kids just about.

There was [were] five of us … Mum and Dad had five of us kids. By the time my older brother … I was the eldest, then there was my sister Noeline, then there was Bill, or William, and then Philip. Mum was expecting I think Philip at that time.

And quite an amazing thing that I’ve often wondered about, ‘cause that was in the 1940s … ‘bout 1942 I think he was born … Mum was very worried that Dad was going to be called up. And as it turned out he wasn’t called up because he was retained for essential services because he was at the Works. She was apparently carrying very large, and somebody said “oh, you’re going to have twins”. In those days they didn’t have scans, and she [chuckle] … I think she was probably worried that she was going to have twins as well. Anyhow, there was a lady who lived down the end of the road, a Mrs Walsh, and she had some sons – I don’t think she had any daughters but she had sons, and they were all older than me. Anyhow, she was talking to Mum … she must have been walking along the road … and Mum was just talking over the gate, actually. And Mum was telling her all her worries, because the owners of the house had asked Mum and Dad to find somewhere else to live because they wanted the property for one of their own. So that was fair enough – they understood that. They were given time to find somewhere else to live, but of course the big worry was – where? She had several worries on her mind – Dad being called up, and was she having twins? And where were they going to go and live, you see. [Chuckle] So anyhow, Mrs Walsh says to her “come along and have a cup of tea with me tomorrow, and” she said, “I’ll read your tea leaves”. [Chuckle] And anyhow, Mum went along, and … yeah, how old would I have been then, because I was old enough to remember going, and I went with her – and of course my sister and brother – the whole tribe of us went along obviously, to have a cup of tea – because I can still remember in that lady’s house, a crystal ball. Anyhow, she told Mum, “don’t worry, your husband’s not going to be called up; you’re not having twins, but you will have another child”. She did. And she said “and you’re going to move to a house … it’s near water, but it’s behind a building that has got a very high hip roof”. It was the Mangateretere School, and it was a house that was owned by the Bartie Smith family. And there was an old house, not too far from the river … not too far from the Karamu Stream, and Dad had met Mrs Bartie Smith at a card evening and he was telling her about their problems. And she said “oh, you can have our house”. And they must have had a newer house nearer the road. So we moved into that old house.

Now I have ever since thought ‘how could she tell all of that from tea leaves?’ But she was a psychic – that’s what she was, she was a psychic, which of course we wouldn’t have recognised in those days. I have often thought since then, and suddenly the penny dropped, some time ago of course – Mrs Walsh was a psychic. She couldn’t have possibly seen all of that from tea leaves. And everything she said was true, because the child that Mum had – had again – was our youngest sister, Lois.

So anyhow, we lived in that old Bartie Smith house – Mum hated it, and I didn’t blame her. This [is] when she actually went into town and bought an electric stove. The bathroom was outside, and so was the toilet etcetera. But I can still remember him … did he have a peg leg or something?

Yes, he had a peg leg – a proper peg leg – you could see it.

Yeah. He seemed to be quite a character.

Yes. They had some boys.

She used to wear a lot of jewellery – but obviously, a very kind person.

So you were right by school then, weren’t you? Didn’t need a bike.

Yes, yes we were, we didn’t have too far to go to school. We wouldn’t have been there very long, and probably just as well for Mum’s temperament [chuckle] because it was hard work for her, that place. But we were lucky to have a roof over our head.

So my brother was born from there, Philip, and so it was between then and probably round about the next year, ‘bout 1943, that Dad was offered accommodation behind the Whakatu Hall if he would be caretaker of the Hall, and of course it belonged to the Works. The accommodation was refurbished – people had lived in it before. It was all redone and repapered and everything – it was quite comfortable and it had three bedrooms so we moved into that, and Mum said she took her electric stove with her. [Chuckle]

As far as growing up there – it was a marvellous time, because Dad had to keep the dance floor all clean and polished and that, and of course us kids had a wonderful time, skating around on sacks, polishing the floor. My article that I did for the newspaper some time ago, I called the Whakatu Works ‘a benevolent giant’. And I’m sure it was, because living in that community, run by the Works virtually, was wonderful. Yes, so that time living in Whakatu and growing up there – I’ve often thought back how lucky we were. We never starved and we never had hard times at all – it was really a very fortunate bringing up, I think.

And of course the Works supplied a lot of things, like … even the tennis courts and the bowling green … all of that sort of thing. And of course most of my time was taken up with Dad in the Fire Brigade. He belonged to the Works’ Fire Brigade. One of the stories … I do remember it, but it was sort of vague in my memory, but Mum sort of put me in the picture more. One of the first times the fire siren went up Dad couldn’t find his boots, [chuckle] and he was tearing round “where’s my boots? Where’s my boots?” Mum found them and got him to sit down … put them on his feet and started to do up the laces. He said “what are you doing, woman?” She said “I’m doing up the laces”. He said “this is a fire, not a party!” [Laughter] So anyway he tears off to the Works … they kept their station at the back of the Works, and ‘course he had to get on his bike and tear down through the back, into the back of the Works, and it was a false alarm. [Chuckle]

Those sorts of times … and of course being in the Hall etcetera, the Fire Brigade, mostly I suppose through Dad … and like his own father organised dances. And his brother, Mick, had a dance band, and he would often come out and play for the dances. And of course there was all sorts of different … there was Les Henry – he used to play – Snow Chaplow …

Gordon Redwood?

Yes. There was all sorts of … chap Walden, Phil Walden, he used to have a band. There was [were] different bands that used to come and play.

And who ran the Whakatu store when you were there?

The Dillons. And then after the Dillons was … can’t remember their name.

The Bradshaws built it, and then they sold it to the Dillons.

What was the name of the people that ran it? Jean was the lady’s name … oh, God! We got quite friendly with them. Yes, the Dillons were there when we first went there, and then there was this other family. The name’ll come to me when I’m least expecting it.

When Dad was in the Fire Brigade they used to organise … again, it would have been him … concerts held in the hall for the local Whakatu-ites. Anyhow, he had this brainwave one day that the men could actually perform a doll dance. But he wasn’t quite sure just how to go about it, so he actually approached Ivena Pothan – a very well-known dance teacher – would she teach the men some dance steps to this tune of ‘Oh! You Beautiful Doll’. Yes, she said she would but on one proviso – that you perform on the Municipal stage because the Fun Sessions were still going. Oh! That was a different story. So of course he had to ask the men, and Mum says on the tape that these five men just about had heart attacks. “Oooh … they didn’t think they … perform on the stage? Ooohh.” Different performing in the Whakatu Hall, but … [Chuckle] But anyhow, they agreed in the end.

So their wives all got together and made their costumes – all out of stock from the Whakatu Works, like stocking net, and calico, and leather or wool. Their wigs were made from wool, their tutus were made from stocking net and calico, and their slippers were made from leather pelts with coloured bows of calico on them. They were all in different colours – there was green and yellow and blue and pink, and that. So there was [were] five of them altogether doing this doll dance, and I can still remember … Dad used to use me as the rehearsal pianist, because I mean I was, at that stage … well, I was learning piano virtually, but I was able to play the tune ‘Oh! You Beautiful Doll’, so he used me as the rehearsal pianist.

Anyhow, when it came to performing on the Municipal stage the men fortified themselves with home made parsnip wine. [Laughter] Somebody made the parsnip wine, [chuckle] and they got on the stage. And Ivena Pothan was supposed to do the singing from the wings, and Dad was miming it as one of the dolls actually supposed to be singing, but it was her voice that was supposed to be coming over. Well when the actual time came she was on the wrong side of the wings, so she had to tear around the back of the curtains and get on to the right side of the wings. And Dad was just about to open his mouth and start singing because there was nothing coming from the wings. And anyhow, she got there in time, when the … they must have had an orchestra, because the orchestra had started to play. Anyhow, she got there in time to do the singing so that was fine, but it was touch and go.

So that was a great time – we never ever got a photo of it, which is so sad. We did get photos later on when some of the family virtually did a spoof on it, dressed up like dolls etcetera, but that was just a fun thing for the family. All those times were absolutely great as far as my memory’s concerned. All my Mangateretere mates – we used to often have our weekends and we’d play together, we’d go down to each other’s homes etcetera. We’d go down to the Anderson farm, or the Dyetts … Jean Dyett … her family had an orchard and we’d go there too, so – it was sort of a time when you never worried about roaming around or getting around at all.

So did you got to high school from there?

I went to Napier Girls’ because at the time I had the choice. I think later on the zoning took over and you didn’t have the choice to go. I used to get the bus. There was [were] Hastings girls actually went by bus right through to Napier, but I think there came a time when you didn’t have the choice to do that, and I think probably Whakatu people had to go to Hastings ‘cause my siblings all went to Hastings.

I often think that was a very good way to get to high school, because half the time I did my homework going on the bus. [Chuckle] ‘Course that was the year of the polio epidemic when I started high school, and we had to do a certain amount of correspondence. And going to Mangateretere, I never had the knowledge of an intermediate school, so going to high school was a bit of a culture shock for me because of having to go to different rooms, different teachers – all that sort of thing whereas at Mangateretere we had the same teacher. It’s quite a shock, isn’t it? And [it] took a while to get used to. But you see with me, I was able to integrate myself into the community by … on rainy days I’d play the piano down in the hall and the girls’d dance. So you know, it was something that has always got me into a wider circle.

And did you play any sports when you were at high school?

I played basketball, or netball they call it now, at Mangateretere, played a little bit of it at high school but I was never – not a shining star at any of that at all. I wouldn’t say that I played it a lot but it was enough to get me by I suppose. No, I wouldn’t say I played a lot of sport. I never liked cricket – I could have played cricket but I never liked it, so it was really just the basketball that I had any interest in at all. But tennis … I liked tennis.

But you were still playing the piano and getting better at that obviously …

Yes, yes.

… because you know, later on you played for dances and that sort of thing.

Yeah. Well you see I played by ear but Mum did send me to a tutor. She was a very spinsterish old lady who was very classical minded, and she said to my mother eventually, “I don’t think I can do any more with your daughter – she is jazzing ‘Remembrance’”. And I mean I didn’t think I was, but obviously she could detect a rhythm. [Chuckle] So there wasn’t much point in my carrying on, although I did carry on with another tutor for a wee while but he was a male, and I didn’t actually like him very much, so I stopped going with him too. So I stopped learning but I had learnt enough to get me through the basics of reading music if I needed to, but I spent most of my time playing by ear, so it was quite good.

But when … I think I turned fifteen … I really was fed up with school. I didn’t want to keep going to school, I wanted to go and earn some money, and I started pestering my parents to leave school. “No, no, no – you’ve got to keep going … your education’s got to keep going”. But anyhow, in the end I won because I was offered a job on [in] Whakatu Works’ office in town. I think probably if the truth’s known, Dad would have whispered in somebody’s ear that “our eldest daughter is driving us mad wanting to go to work, and we don’t know what to do about it”. “Well, she can have a job in the office here”. That’s how I sort of think, otherwise the fact that I could get work made it possible. But I could leave school on the proviso that I kept going to night school to learn shorthand/typing. So okay, I agreed that I would go to night school to learn shorthand/typing, so I would go into Napier week after week to go to night school. But as it turned out the job I was given, not initially but eventually, was the Burroughs bookkeeping machine in the Works’ office that worked out all the men’s wages. I didn’t need shorthand/typing. [Chuckle] And I loved that machine. I mean – again, I think I worked out a rhythm on that machine.

So that’s where you picked up your accounting skills to go and work at Inland Revenue?

Anyhow, I used to bike into town with the next-door neighbour – her name was Bev Hay and she worked at de Pelichet McLeod – and she went there and I went to the office in Karamu Road then. Well anyhow, the wage I was getting was I think £2 something … ‘bout £2/50 [£2/5 shillings] or something a week, and I bought myself a bike … a nice sporty bike etcetera. And then Bev Hay had said to me one day “you could get a job at de Pelichet’s, and they pay more”. Oh that was interesting – pay more. So anyhow, as it turned out I did go to de Pelichet’s, and I can’t remember how much more they paid … probably it wasn’t a great deal, and I liked working there too. I liked working in both places, and the staff around me were you know, all friendly people.

It was quite interesting later on when the Whakatu Works closed, and I had actually worked in the office with Ian Cameron that was the manager at the time it closed because he was much younger then. And I remember talking to him about the closure and he said he was very, very bitter about it. He begged the powers-that-be to keep at least two chains going but they wouldn’t. They said the infrastructure was too old, that it wasn’t viable etcetera. He felt it was just excuses, but of course it was devastating to the work force. And he vowed that he would never … never go through that place again – never go through Whakatu again, and he didn’t.

Well, I mean – see Dad had to give up work … he eventually ended up by being the supervisor of the outside staff, and he would have worked on maintenance and all that sort of thing around the place. And he held a great affinity for the Works and he had to give it up when he … he actually had a stroke, but he kept going back and having a cuppa with the men and all that sort of thing, and he missed it a great deal. They had a sort of camaraderie really, didn’t they? Most of them got on very well together, and I think one of the Maori men has written a book about the slaughter board … the men on the slaughter board … chap Tomoana.


Yes. The closure of Whakatu was devastating, but even more so when Tomoana closed. So it meant a great deal to Hawke’s Bay.

I have often wondered if … I mean I know there had been a fair bit of dissension at times with the Union and the men who were sort of behind the Union. I can still remember Dad complaining that when he went to speak at a Union meeting he was told he was out of order. He wasn’t allowed to speak. So I think they became a little bit too powerful, and I had often wondered if there was something behind that as well, you know, with the closure – that they didn’t only want the expense of replenishing the infrastructure, but they didn’t want anything to do with the Union either. So you know, you can sort of read between the lines and wonder just how much was behind it.

De Pelichet McLeod’s – those’d be the days when Charlie Webb was running the garage and Matt Tweedie was an apprentice at the garage.

Matt Tweedie, yes, who married Carol Lambert. Well you see I used to work to school with the Lambert girls.

So where did the Lamberts live then?

They lived in Watson Road, they lived there. We were in the next road. And they had an orchard. I remember Carol Lambert telling me, some time later of course – we were talking about the Farmers’ building in Hastings here, and she said that her father I think had told her that it was built on rollers.

It’s why it survived.

Well so did the Inland Revenue building in Napier – that was on rollers.

And one of the banks in Hastings was too.

Being on the fifth floor at Inland Revenue was like being in a palm tree. [Chuckle]

My sister Lois and Robin Nairn, well they’re great friends with Jim Tweedie – they were – ‘cause I think Robin worked with Jim. And I still see Mavis off and on.

I used to go to the dances that were held in the … oh, can’t remember … in Hastings.


No, not the Premier …


Where the doughnut shop used to be – that hall had a name. There was [were] always dances there, and we used to get the bus in [chuckle] from Whakatu – the Rapsey girls and myself, and sometimes Valerie Anderson – and we used to go to these dances, but the last bus went at I think it was ‘bout eleven o’clock at night, so we always had to leave the dance early to catch the bus.

But anyhow, that’s where I met my first husband, at one of those dances. His name was Owen Start. He had just come back to Hastings apparently from the South Island – he had been working in the South Island deer culling, and he’d just not long been back in Hastings. And his parents lived down in Gascoigne Street. I mean I was only a teenager. I was … think around about sixteen I started going to those dances, but I was going to work into Hastings as well. But he was much older than me. Anyhow, he started cornering me at the dances. He couldn’t dance for peanuts, but still he still liked to dance. My friend June … June Rapsey, who’s now gone down south – she married John Crooks, but he’s died now and she’s gone down south to live with their daughter. But anyhow, she used to have all of these blokes just about lining up to dance with her, but she was a natural … she was good looking, but she was a natural … almost flirt – she didn’t think she was flirting. And I used to … ‘how on earth does she do that?’. [Chuckle] Some people – it comes to them naturally.

Anyhow, Owen started sort of actually pegging me down, and he asked me one time, would I go to the pictures with him. “Oh”, I said “no, I wasn’t sure, I’d have to ask my parents”, and he got a shock when I told him I was sixteen. [Chuckle] He was twenty-five. [Chuckle] But anyhow, that was all right, they said I could go to the pictures with this guy [chuckle] … long as I got the bus home, which I did do. And of course I’d never been on a date. I had never been on a date. [Chuckle] You know, it was all very new to me, and the box of chocolates he bought me at half time went home to Mum. [Chuckle]

But anyhow, we started going out together and Dad – particularly Dad – disapproved. He did not like him. In the first place he was too old for me; in the second place he didn’t have a regular job and he didn’t appear to have any prospects. Mum had known his father from Napier days – they used to call him Seaman Start. He was a merchant seaman. [Chuckle] So Dad put two and two together – “oh, yeah, right – yeah. They both float from one thing to another”. [Chuckle] But anyhow, I liked him, even though he couldn’t dance – I liked him. And so in the end Dad put his foot down. He says “no”, he didn’t think that a kid of my age should be going out with a grown man. So of course then they insisted that I stop seeing him. I kicked up a fuss of course – I was a teenager, wasn’t I? So they promised me that if I didn’t see him for a year they would rethink the situation. So I didn’t have much choice but to agree, because I knew they could actually stop me going into town and all that sort of thing. I then became a teenage martyr. Okay, I went out with girlfriends and all that sort of thing, but we eventually got together again, and we eventually got married. In those days of course … you don’t have to I think now, once you turn eighteen you’re an adult … I’m not sure if it was the case then, in the 1950s. Anyhow they agreed that okay, if that’s what I still wanted to do, then that was my choice.

But anyway, we were quite happy for a number of years. And he became interested in rock hunting and lapidary work, and I became interested in it too. He actually was quite good at it, you know – he knew how to use the machinery, and he made rock pendants and all that sort of thing. And it was the thing to do in those days, so we actually had quite a good time doing that. But he was another person that also … the grass was always greener on the other side, so we were constantly changing jobs and constantly moving. And I started to actually see what Dad had seen – took me a while. So I mean it’s a case of ‘you can’t put an old head on young shoulders’. And even by the time I was twenty-one I still wasn’t convinced I’d made a wrong choice. It took me a long time to realise. He was a good man in a lot of ways, but he was also a bad manager of things – he was not good with money. He always thought that you know, as I say, the grass was greener … and always thought that the fortune was going to be made on the next property sort of thing, but it never was.

Did you have any children?

Yeah, we had three kids. I had two boys and a girl – Gary, and then Beverley and then Kevin. And they’ve all been good kids. Gary joined the Air Force and so did Kevin, but he didn’t stay in as long as Gary did. Kevin even went down to Antarctica with the Air Force at one stage. Beverley – she was a nurse, and still is nursing. So they’ve been three good kids. I don’t how they managed to actually grow up by moving from one place to another which they did – had to do quite often. But they survived it.

And were you working while you were moving?

Yes. Well some of the time I was. At one part of it he decided he’d like to go sharemilking. God, I hated that job. Oh! God! I can still remember being a midwife to a cow. Oh! I thought it was terrible! Oh! But anyhow, we got through that. But again, it was not a good management thing because we were share milking seventy-thirty. We were the thirty. We were doing all the hard work – for thirty per cent. So that was not good management … ‘cause it was his decision.

Was this locally?

No, this was up in Waikato. [Chuckle] So I don’t know … well, initially we worked for the McHardy family down at Aramoana, and they were great people to work for. I honestly don’t think … he was one of these people that could turn his hand to anything but he was never master of anything. He would do some jobs very well, and then he would do something else terrible that would end up by the boss saying “God! Get rid of you”, sort of thing. What he did at Aramoana was … they used to have the tidal creek going through the property, and they loaned him the farm ute to go in and out of town or whatever, which was good. But he tried to ford the tidal creek in the ute, and it was high tide. He wrote it off. So you know, things like that he would do. And I liked it out there, it was lovely. And we didn’t have electricity, but we had a kerosene fridge. The stove was one of the modern coal ranges that had the thermostat on the oven and all that sort of thing. I mean it was a nice house we were given to live in, so no, it was … I really enjoyed out there.

So at some stage it all fell apart, obviously?

I don’t know whether it was the ute thing that caused it, or what it was, but anyhow in the end we were leaving, and I never quite cottoned on to why we were leaving. [Chuckle] Probably he got the sack if the truth’s known – I don’t know.

But anyhow, we went up to the Waikato and he worked in a milk factory there for a while, and then we got this share milking job. Oh, God! Oh, I’ll never forget that. Again, things seemed to go wrong with them, and I don’t – I honestly do not think he was the sort of man that should have been on the land. All the calves that were born got some sort of sickness, so whether it was his fault I honestly do not know. It might have just been bad luck but the owner wasn’t very happy.

So we moved again to Mount Maunganui, and then he took up working as a painter and paperhanger. Now I’ve got no idea how he learnt to be a painter and paperhanger, but he did it. That’s what I mean – he could turn his hand to anything, but I don’t know that he could do it all as a master. He was a good mechanic – he could fix an old car. But we were always poor because we had old cars and things like that.

So in the end I think the marriage was starting to get a bit weak, but anyhow we carried on. He did certain things that I can’t even talk about – like he swanned off to Australia at one stage without me even knowing, you know. And then he comes back as if nothing had happened. And I’m thinking ‘what sort of guy are you? I thought I had trust in you, but no, I haven’t’. Once trust goes out the door, you’ve had it. So in the end we separated, but again … [chuckle] again, it was my fault, because – I mean I still carried on playing piano. If I could be in a dance band I was, and he used to complain that he had to make an appointment to see his wife. [Chuckle] Yeah, right. [Chuckle] So I mean, least I’m earning some money.

So at some stage then you went back to work?

Oh, yes. I did work – wherever I could get work, I did. When we were down south I worked in an accountant’s office. We went down to Greymouth because he had been offered a job in a greenstone factory and of course he had been doing lapidary work that suited him nicely, and he was far better off the land anyhow. He worked in this greenstone factory while I went to work for an accountant in Greymouth. And we started off in Hokitika, then moved up to Greymouth later, and we bought an older house. It was on leasehold land but we bought this older house at Runanga, just out of Greymouth.

And again I went to the local pub and played the piano, and enjoyed that. It was fun in Greymouth – because of my playing everybody knew who I was and everyone would speak to me, even if it was just hello. And I played with men who were in the Greymouth Brass Band – they could lower themselves to the dance band. So we played at all sorts of venues, and played for football dances, rugby clubs, and all that sort of thing. And I always remember … I talk about the West Coasters being very parochial, and they are – very much so. I remember saying to one guy … he asked me one night at one of the functions we were at … “where do you come from?” he said. I said “I come from Hawke’s Bay”. “Oh, yeah”. I said “have you ever been up there – up north?” He says “nah”. And I said “do you ever want to go up north?” “Nah!” [Chuckle] He wasn’t interested.

Yes, he’d have an opinion, though.

No – they were quite happy in their own little space. Yes – the time I was playing in the … can’t remember the name of the hotel – I can still see it, but I can’t remember. Think it was ten o’clock closing time at the time, and I was playing the piano and the local cop walked in [chuckle] and I froze. ‘Oh God, [chuckle] I’m going to end up in gaol’. [Chuckle] But nobody took any notice. He just walked in, had a look around and walked out again. And I sort of said, “how? Aren’t we breaking the law?” “No – we’ve all signed the book”. [Chuckle] I thought ‘well I haven’t signed a book’.

It really amazed me, the way of life down there. It’s just a law unto itself virtually. I don’t know whether it’s still the same, but I made some good friends there, and I still keep contact with some of them. [Chuckle] But they are so … they’re very parochial. If you haven’t been there for fifty years, then you’re still a stranger.

So then when you eventually came back to Hawke’s Bay your husband had gone?

Yes, he stayed down there. In the end we agreed to disagree. I was worried about our youngest son – he was still at high school when we were down there. The other two were off doing their own thing, but he was still at high school and I was worried about what was going to happen to him as far as any career was concerned. There wasn’t much going in Greymouth at all, so I said to him, “I want to go back up north. I think Kevin needs to have a decent job etcetera”. And he said “Oh, well I don’t want to go back up there. I want to stay down here”. He did have a couple of friends over in Christchurch that he’d had for a long time. I said “well, I think it’s time that we made a decision then”. We knew we weren’t getting on that well- we were virtually like brother and sister then. Our marriage had disintegrated, and so I decided that yes, I would come back, so I rang my mother and asked her if it was all right if I came back to her house initially because Dad had died, and yes, she was quite happy about that if that’s what I wanted to do. So anyhow, it was up to Kevin to decide what he wanted to do … did he want to stay down in Greymouth or come back with me? “No, I’ll come back with you”. So that’s what he did.

When we got back up north he got a job in the parts department – funnily enough he has always been into doing that sort of thing right from the beginning – it was in a garage in the parts department. I can’t remember the name that he went to in Hastings. But then he decided that he too would like to go into the Air Force, so he applied and … can’t remember how many years he did do, but again it was doing that sort of job in the parts and that sort of thing. And so … don’t know how he managed it, but he got the opportunity to go down on a trip down to Antarctica with one of the planes, so that was a big experience for him.

And both boys had always played brass instruments, and he had played in the Greymouth band. Gary had played in the Hastings band and he actually went into some competition at one stage. He played the flugelhorn, and he got a recommendation for his piece that he played, so that was good, he did well with that. But ever since he hasn’t played that sort of instrument, but he does play guitar, and he had a very good singing voice. He actually did a stint with the Frivs at one stage.

So anyhow, when we came back here I tried to get back into de Pelichet’s actually, ‘cause I think they were still operating then. But as it turned out … it’s funny how things work out for you, sometimes fate almost steps in … de Pelichet’s rang me back and said no, I didn’t get the position that I’d applied for, so I decided that I’d go to the Labour Department. I went to the Labour Department and they said that there was a position at Inland Revenue as a filing clerk. I thought ‘filing clerk!’ And the guy said to me, “get your foot in the door”. So anyhow I decided I’d go, and I got the job and of course I ended up by … ‘cause I didn’t like filing – by any means I didn’t like filing. So in the end – I did do a stint behind counter and didn’t know much about tax, but I soon learnt. And then I got the job in the administration part and I stayed there for twenty-odd years. So the fact that I’d tried to go to de Pelichet’s but fate stepped in … yes.

Anyhow, I stayed with my mother for some time. But I used to also … before I’d left the Hastings-Napier area I had been playing piano for the Taradale RSA Concert Party, and that’s how I first knew my second husband. He played violin with the Concert Party. But then of course I went down south and was down there a couple of years, and when I came back I slotted in again, into the Concert Party. They’d had a pianist but [I] think she must’ve had to leave, or something happened anyhow, so I got back into the Concert Party again and sort of things just seemed to take over, and I was also playing piano out at the Union pub at Ahuriri, and so was he. He was playing violin out there.

So you were together.

We virtually were. So in the end we decided to get together.

And so was he a local person?

Ken, yes. His father, although he was born down in Balclutha, [cough] he also somehow got up here and was in Otane, and Ken was born in Otane. But his father, Gilbert McKay, married I think three times. His first wife – he was married to Rosina Collins, and the Collins family had a big farm out at Otane – but she died young. She’d had some children but I don’t know what went wrong with her. Quite funny ‘cause one of the photos I’ve got of Rosina and Gilbert came from the Balclutha reunion. [Chuckle]

Anyhow, after that he married another lady … can’t remember her name now, at the moment, but she did have a little daughter – Phyllis her name was. But again, that lady died I think in child birth … she died in childbirth. But Phyllis, her daughter, was brought up as a McKay, and she was always known as a McKay. But there is another family lineage for her – I think Phyllis herself did have a daughter as well.

But anyhow, Ken’s mother was the third wife, and she had Nolan, Ken and a daughter who played piano … she also played out at the Union pub … and Don. Don McKay was the youngest one. He played piano a lot around too – he was well-known in Hastings for playing. In fact the McKay band apparently was well-known for many years.

Well Noel McKay …


… was he a violinist or a pianist?

No, Nolan played violin.

Did he have the band?

It might have been under his name. I think Ken played saxophone at that time in the band, and Don or the sister would’ve played piano – would’ve been either-or, probably.

And the father, Gilbert, he played … you could say it was Scottish fiddle … played that style, and they often used to play at the Scottish … whatever they call them. So he was local. But Gilbert and his wife, Myrtle, eventually moved into Hastings. But he was, at Otane, a big wig for quite some time. He was in Parliament … he was a Member of Parliament for a stage, and also on the Harbour Board and Hospital Board and all that sort of thing.

And so Ken was brought up in Hastings, and his high school first day was the earthquake, and he said he was undergoing the initiation apparently, at that time. The initiation was running the gauntlet and the blue bag … and apparently you get dabbed with the blue bag. So when the earthquake happened – they used to live in Ellison Road – he ran home after they were able to escape and he still had the blue face, and his mother nearly had a heart attack [chuckle] when she saw him. [Chuckle] It was quite a day for his high school initiation. He stayed there for … I don’t know whether he got right through high school or not, I can’t remember now. But anyhow, his father got him a job at the hospital in the hospital office and he didn’t like it, so then he tried a job in a grocery shop and he wasn’t very keen on that. In the end he got into an engineers’ workshop, the Farmery’s workshop, and that’s where he learnt his engineering, and that was the thing that he did in the Air Force. When he joined the Air Force he was an engineer fixing planes, and went over to the Islands during the war.

So that would have been Albert Farmery’s workshop – Doug was the son.

Yeah … Albert Farmery. That’s where he did his apprenticeship for engineering. One of his memories was driving the steam engine – Albert Farmery must’ve had one of them. And Ken was driving this machine along the road and ended up in the ditch, so that wasn’t a very good memory apparently. [Chuckle] He had the musical ability as well as the engineering mechanical ability as well. He ended up in Baillie Motors.  But he was down in the Air Force thing at Feilding …


… yep. Went overseas. He had a bad accident before he went – he was in the undercarriage inspecting some work that some of the workmen had done on this plane, and Ken was underneath inspecting it. And the pilot, because he thought that everything was fixed, very excitedly got into the cockpit and started the engine up and the plane fell off its chocks, and Ken copped it. He apparently got broken ribs. I can’t remember now how long he had to actually recover, but he wanted to go overseas – do an overseas stint – and he was frightened that this occasion was going to put the kibosh on it. But anyhow he recovered in time. But what they did over there, because it was … the heat of the sun and all that sort of thing … he used to get one of his mates to rub his back with engine oil and he would go round shirtless. And the engine oil would sort of seep into his skin and it was almost as if it was like a heated blanket round him and that helped him mend. Strange, isn’t it? So he did his stint – got mentioned in dispatches etcetera, for what he’d done … different things.

But he said he never could get over the fact that one of the guys that was in his unit was breaking his neck to get home to his family – he had a young family – and the war was coming to a close and he eventually was allowed to go home, but the plane went down. Ken said he’s never been able to get over that, ‘cause he could see this man was so desperate to get back to his family. I think he might have actually questioned the work of God.

So at some stage you married Ken and you had Phyllis?

No. No, Phyllis was his half-sister. She virtually turned out to be like a surrogate mother to him. So no, Ken and I never had any children.

You carried on, both playing?

Yes. Ken had a house in Trevelyan Street, ‘cause his first wife, they divorced, and his first wife moved out of the house. He was on his own for possibly ten years – quite some time before we married. It was just one of those things that we just sort of had a good companionship, and we went all over the place together, and we’d go to shows and all that sort of thing.

And he always played golf … he was a very good golf player, and the day he died he’d played golf. He came home from a golf game and … can’t remember exactly just how … oh, must’ve been during the night, that’s right, I woke up and he was in pain. He’d been backwards and forwards apparently, down to the bathroom and he had this terrible pain in his back. And I really didn’t know what to do with him. I said “did you have something to eat out at the golf course that you shouldn’t have?” He said “no, I didn’t have anything that anyone else didn’t have”. He said “I don’t think it’s something I ate”. So in the end I said “well, maybe we should call the emergency service”. “No, no – it’ll go, it’ll go”. Oh, God! So in the end, the pain seemed to be getting worse … in the end he agreed that I should call the emergency doctor, and as it turned out … I can’t remember which doctor it was now, but he was very good. He came to the house, and I think he virtually pinpointed straight away – Ken had an aneurism … an aortic aneurism … and it didn’t mean anything to me, you know, I didn’t know what it was all about, but the doctor knew. Apparently they’re very hard to diagnose, but he did. Got the ambulance and got Ken to hospital and they got him on the operating table, but it was too late. They tried – they pumped blood into him, but they couldn’t – it was too late. I often think now, I should’ve got the emergency doctor sooner but it was him saying “no, no – it’ll go”. He was seventy-nine. It was a big shock to me because he was so fit.

So how long ago was that?

That was ‘96.

And so you worked for how long?

Strangely enough … they did a big restructure at Inland Revenue and I was one that was made redundant, mostly because I was nearer retiring age. Okay, I still had a couple of years to go to get the super but I was able to get the super with Ken, and I did get a redundancy pay but I think it was a case of all Government departments doing that sort of thing at the time – getting rid of staff and making the ones that stayed work harder, type of thing. So that was in the June, and of course Ken and I had great plans of going travelling again and doing something else in the car, but he died in November.

And you’ve had some interest in genealogy and so forth – you’ve had a long interest in that.

Oh yes. I mean genealogy has been one of the mainstays of, and getting to know extended family that I didn’t know a clue about that sort of thing. But I have you know, kept active, and still retain some contact with the Taradale RSA. I still go out there to the Women’s section. And we had a lot of fun in that Concert Party, it was a wonderful time. I now and again get back to see them and I’m still happy that they’re able to keep going. So no, I still keep active as much as I can. And I’ve often done quite a bit of writing, family stuff mostly, but I did do a stint of fictional writing, going to a group that … we virtually monitored ourselves. But no, I’ve kept in social contact with people. I moved back over to Hastings, mostly because I knew that the Napier house needed a lot of TLC.

And this is the home you moved to?

Yes. It was a case of … I knew that if Ken had lived he wouldn’t have wanted to move – he would have liked to stay where he was, but the fact was I was left on my own, and having to service an older house … that was really the … and coming back to Hastings where I was born.

You’ve been everywhere though, haven’t you?

Well yes, I’ve been all over, I mean I’ve done a couple of world trips. My daughter got married … she married a Dutchman. That was in ‘77, and I decided I would take some leave from IRD and go to her wedding. Ken and I weren’t married then, so another friend came with me as a companion. She’d done a lot of travel, so the two of us swanned off to Holland. ‘Cause my daughter decided that … I mean she’d been in the UK – she’d been in London for some time doing nannying, but she decided when she met this Dutchman that … ‘cause his family wanted him to marry there. She said okay, that was fine with her as long as they came back to New Zealand to live, and he was fine with that. So that’s what happened.

I went over to Holland for their wedding, which was a big experience for me. It was very different but it was a lot of fun. I stayed in his parents’ house. My daughter lived around the corner at one of his sister’s houses. They couldn’t speak English. Johannes, her fiance, could but I wouldn’t say he was a great communicator by any means. So his mother and I had to talk to each other [with] sign language, and I still remember her saying to us one time when we went down for breakfast – they had a two-storey house – and went down to breakfast. And she was trying to ask me, and she was pointing to the washing machine – they had one of those front loader ones, and it was in the kitchen. And she was pointing to this washing machine and pointing to the tea towel. And Ev and I were sitting at the breakfast table saying “what did she say?” And talking you know, together … “I don’t know – is she saying have we got any washing, or what’s she pointing at the tea towel for?” “Don’t know”. Anyhow, in the end we got frustrated, and I said “don’t know”, and we shook our heads, you see. And she says, “wait Bevvy”. In other words, wait for Beverley to come round. They knew she would be coming round ‘cause she had learned some Dutch. So [chuckle] she came round and we tried to explain to her what the mother-in-law was trying to tell us. She said “what do you think she was asking you?” We said “do we wash our tea towels in the washing machine?” “No, Mum. What she’s saying is, will you bring your towels down to be washed?” “Oh. But we’ve hardly used our towels”. “That doesn’t make any difference to her – she’s always washing anyhow”. It was typical Dutch I suppose, washing everything. [Chuckle] And we had a laugh about this.

And she said to Beverley “your mother should learn to speak Dutch”, and Beverley said “why do you think my mother should learn to speak Dutch?” “Well, she’s clever, she works for Tax Department”. “Oh yeah, right – clever working for the Tax Department. Why can’t you learn to speak English?” “Oh no, I’m not clever”. [Chuckle]

So grandchildren?

Beverley and Johannes had a daughter and twin sons. Those are three very good kids … very clever kids. The boys are, you could say, computer nerds. It was discovered when they were born that they had an issue with protein. It’s called PKU or something like that. It’s apparently a recessive gene that’s passed on from the parents. It has to be passed on from both parents funnily enough, and yet it hasn’t occurred in any of our other children, so it’s been quite a mystery. And the only thing we can think of is that it comes from the Irish side, because Johannes has got Irish blood in him too. So those kids – you could more or less say that they have to be vegetarians. They can’t take too much protein. They have to have measured protein ‘cause you have to have that to grow apparently. They’ve never really eaten meat. And Angela now … ‘cause she’s well in her thirties now … when her mates say to her when she’s out with them, “why don’t you have this piece of pork or fish or something like that?” She said her answer now is “no, I don’t like it”. It’s no good her trying to explain why she can’t have it.

These are things people can live with today as long as they know.

Oh yes. Yes, and the fact that she’s a nurse and understands it perfectly and is able to get through to them to understand it … it’s something that if it hadn’t been for science, those poor kids would have been backward now and that’s why I have got so much respect for science.

Now – can you think of anything else? I think we’ve pretty well covered everything, haven’t we?

Yes, I think so. Well the fact that Angela’s got two boys. The twins have never married – one of the twins has got a girlfriend but they’ve not married. Angela is the one who’s married and got these two boys. But one of the things that is, I think, something that she needs to be recommended for is that she’s had some health problems herself. She had a stroke as a young woman, which she’s recovered pretty well from, and she’s also had some cancer detected which she seems to have got rid of that at this stage – hopefully she has. But what she has done is taken on board a little girl who actually is related to her husband. In other words, he’s probably her half-sister. The father had this child to another woman, and the father is not a good father. He’s been an alcoholic and all that sort of thing. Anyhow, this child was being virtually dragged up by him, and she became … in the care of CYFS. And CYFS tracked down her lineage and found Angela and Anton – and they had a stable family – and asked if they would take this child on to give her some … stable home. Anyhow, in the end, and I think it was with my daughter’s help too, they decided that yes, they would, and I think now they’ve adopted her. So the fact that with all her health problems she’s had, she’s taken this little girl on board … and she’s now about eight or nine now.

And Angela has always been very horsified – she loves horses. And she’s ridden quite a bit herself in gymkhanas and that sort of thing, and so she’s imparted this on to the child and this little girl is horsified. So she’s riding and doing quite well handling horses and that sort of thing. So from being virtually a child who was destined for nothing much at all, she’s now got a future ahead of her.

Well that’s a nice way to end the story of Shirley and her family. So thank you, Shirley, for that – that’s wonderful – tell me the rest of the story.

Well, yes. Well I just was wanting to mention that both my sons, Gary and Kevin … they have both had families, and Gary had two sons but he’s also married twice and so he has got two daughters as well from that marriage … well step-daughters, they are. He’s also got grandchildren from them, so they’re living over in Perth now so I don’t hear a great deal from him. It’s nice when he does ring, but we’ve sort of lost a lot of contact with his children and his family. So there’s nothing much we can do about it if the kids … got their own lives, so there’s nothing much we can do. But I do have contact with my younger son’s children. They both live here in Hawke’s Bay. My younger son lives in Rotorua now … Kevin … but they come down occasionally to visit their family. But my grandson, Keith, he has become a chef and he’s not married. But he likes cooking so it’s nice to have a cook in the family. And his sister, Nicole, she has two little girls and she’s in a new relationship which seems to be going well. So that’s sort of a run up on the grandchildren.

Okay, no that’s great.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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