Stovell, John Vincent Interview
It’s 2nd August . I’m with John Vincent Stovell. I just want to find out about his life. John, good afternoon.
Good afternoon, James. My father was Hugh Vincent Stovell, and he came to New Zealand in 1922 at the age of twenty-two. His father, living in retirement in Jersey after a lifetime at sea [and] finishing up as a Singapore pilot, pulled out the atlas and said, “choose where you want to go in the world, and I’ll pay your fare and give you £100 in cash.”
He thought Canada looked too cold but the smart Mountie uniform looked pretty good. South Africa – hot, people problems, but the Queen’s African Rifles had a very smart uniform. Australia – too far, and the convict aspect – and not too far away. New Zealand sounded okay and it was the furtherest away he could get for the money. He didn’t really want to go away at all as he was having too much fun. This was also the reason his father was getting him off to the colonies. Eventually he was off to New Zealand with £100 in his pocket, but diminishing rapidly. He arrived in Wellington and then went by train to Gisborne – I think most probably that it was by boat from Napier to Gisborne – with £5 left in his pocket.
About what date was this?
‘22 … 1922. No doubt the train only went to Napier, and … coastal boat from there on in those days. He had a reference letter to the Cotterill family in Ruatoria, which is a large sheep station. He was the object of fun when he turned out in his working gear as put up by Moss Bros [Brothers] as ‘suitable heavy gear for the colonies’. The heavy boots lasted two days; the head shepherd took him down to the station store for something a little more robust.
He enjoyed the life on the coast, with a number of different types of jobs like milking cows, fencing and a lot of droving. His intention was to stay in New Zealand for five years, and then head home again. His social life was enjoyed to the full with tennis parties etcetera with, as it turned out, a number of the young ladies who had been on the ship out from England.
My mother, Cath, came into the picture in Gisborne when [where] her father was a dentist – Parke Pittar.
I was born in 1928 in Gisborne, and we then moved to Wairoa where HV was droving … droving for his brother-in-law, Arthur Pittar. After two years we moved back to Gisborne where HV went to work in the Kaiti Freezing Works in the freezing chambers. Everything had to be unloaded by hand and the slump was starting to bite by now. He bought a small farmlet, twenty-five acres, at Ormond and there was a contract to go with it to provide shingle to the rail which was at the back of the farm, and was being used to make the ballast for the new line to the new freezing works. He shovelled twenty-five yards a day from the river, onto a horse and dray and then onto the rail wagons. Unfortunately, nobody told him the contract only had six months to go. This was when we moved to Gisborne no doubt.
After a couple of years he applied for a job as a junior stock agent with Dalgety’s in Gisborne, and after a couple of years with Dalgety’s a position came up for a manager with Loan & Mercantile in Waipukurau. He asked Sonny Parker, the manager of Dalgety’s, if he thought he had the experience. Sonny said “go for it, Hughie”.
So in 1934 we moved to Waipukurau … the worst part of the slump, and not a pleasant job, with so many having to be foreclosed on. In 1937 Williams & Kettle offered him a position as a stock agent owing to Loan & Merc not being prepared to meet their offer.
1939 saw him volunteering to join the Army which turned him down as he was considered an essential industry and by now had three children, my two sisters, Robyn and Susan, having arrived. A year or so later he was called up, and owing to his knowledge of mines and booby traps in the Home Guard, was sent to an Officer training course in Dannevirke. On an early morning training run he broke his ankle which put him out. The other twenty-nine on the course were commissioned but dehydrated[?] to Sergeant, to give them experience before having troops under them. The whole lot were killed, in different sectors.
He spent six months in Egypt at Maadi teaching mines and booby traps. He wanted to get to Italy, and landed there just after Cassino on his forty-fifth birthday, at which age you were not allowed to go overseas. After being in thirteen major attacks he was taken out of the line as having done his share, and now joined Freyberg’s headquarters as a cipher clerk. [Recording interrupted]
It’s the morning of 25th July  and I’m interviewing John Stovell for the second time. Good morning, John – I’ll leave it over to you now.
Thank you, James.
As the war came to an end, the New Zealand Division with their headquarters ended up in Trieste – a very tense time as Tito and his troops arrived at the same time, and their tanks had their guns trained on the hotel that the New Zealand Division was using as their headquarters.
HV contracted a very virulent form of dysentery which he didn’t admit to as he wanted to get to England to his sister, Merle Shakespeare, before coming home to New Zealand. The time lag between Trieste and London was only a couple of weeks, which was nearly enough to kill him. And he was six months [before] being well enough to be sent home to New Zealand on the troop ship, the Motor Vessel ‘Mooltan’. Mum … Cath … and I went to Wellington to meet him. He was so thin that he could have come from a concentration camp. Though he improved with good food etcetera, he had relapses of not feeling very well for the rest of his life, and is what took him off in the finish at age eighty-three.
When he was ready for light duties, he started back at Williams & Kettle Limited in Waipukurau. W & K Limited had held all the positions open for their staff, and had paid fifty per cent of their salaries for all the time they were away.
Jumping back a little – when he was well enough to come out by the day from the hospital in London, he would at Aunt Merle’s insistence, wear his lemon squeezer hat which was part of the Kiwi uniform on more formal occasions. It worked wonders when in a queue – you had to queue for everything at that time. Kiwis were well thought of at that time.
HV, now back in Waipukurau, wanted to buy a farm, and eventually found a suitable four hundred and twenty-two acre[s] on Porangahau Road where it meets Racecourse Road, just two and a half miles outside the borough boundary. The price, as I remember, was £28 per acre. Mr J D Todd was the vendor – he also owned Mount Herbert Station, further out on the Porangahau Road at Wanstead.
The farm was flat and had a pan on the bottom six inches of every posthole. The overflow from Lake Hatuma ran through the middle of the property, and so it had two or three floods every year. Eventually the Catchment Board got round to improving it, but not in our time.
Carrying capacity was approximately fifteen hundred ewes, and our worst flood drowned seven hundred and fifty in-lamb ewes – half our total flock gone. This was 1951-’52, the high wool price years when some reached £1 for a pound of wool. To prevent any false inflation the Government brought in the Wool Retention Scheme whereby fifty per cent of your wool cheque was frozen, and could be drawn down in smaller amounts over succeeding years. HV made an application to immediately draw down his retention money and replace the drowned ewes.
The reason there were so many ewes lost was the fact that we had done a lot of fencing, and the stock just couldn’t get away, and the flood was higher than usual. The same flood also caught us with grass seed cut and lying on the ground. The water picked it up and it blocked the fences and flattened them. There were carcasses as far as three miles downstream.
We found that we had a lot of wonderful friends. Mr Hugh Haycock, a fat stock buyer, got down to his Works to see if the men on the chain would skin the ewe carcasses at a price, and they said ‘yes’. Half a dozen casual labourers doing fencing, shearing etcetera, arrived with a couple of rowing boats and picked up all the carcasses, taking some five days in all, and would not take a penny for their help. This got away from having to bury lots of rotting carcasses.
Three years after the big flood, and just after buying ‘The Fens’, as he named it, HV decided to go in for growing seed peas to improve the ground, followed by grass seed. Mr Johnny Turtle, Produce Manager at Williams & Kettle, suggested peas for seed could be an option, so Frank Garlic of Cooper’s Seeds in Wellington was contacted, and on his next visit had a look to see if the ground was suitable, etcetera. It did, [was] so Frank said he would offer us up to ten acres of seed. HV said “I want to do a hundred”. Frank said “no way!” And he was not prepared to go over ten acres as it was too risky to have any more than that in one place, as the nitrogen nodules were very susceptible to too much moisture. For some reason he changed his mind, and we planted one hundred acres. They were a thumping success, and we harvested thirteen hundred two and a half bushel sacks, yielding us 32.5 bushels per acre. The next year we did forty acres, and the yield was twenty bushels per acre. The third year, from thirty acres, not one pea was harvested as it had been a wet summer. We now understood what Frank was trying to tell us, but the new pasture was much enhanced. The seed from permanent pasture, rye, was much sought after, as at this time as much land was being developed for the first time, and a lot more being improved, much of this because of the ability now to aerial topdress.
In 1934 we had moved to Waipukurau to live, and in 1938 Hugh and Cath took a ship to England and were away for six months. I was nine and a half, and sent off to Hereworth Boarding School in Havelock North, with arrangements made for me to go to relatives for the holidays – one being to Gisborne by air as there had been disastrous floods and many slips making the road impassable for many months – known as the Eskdale floods.
The aeroplane was the de Havilland Rapide, flown by Captain Tiny White. He carried the mail every day to Gisborne, and on leaving the ground he opened his paper, and had finished it by the time he was ready to land. There was no toilet on board – what a long wait for a nine-year-old-boy.
Cath and Hugh arrived back in late 1938, and the war started soon after – not a good time to be away on the high seas. My two sisters had also been sent to relatives for the six months – Robyn, four years old, and Susan was six months old when her parents left, and one year when they returned having been left with Cath’s sister, Nell Fraser, in Hamilton. By the [that] time she called Nell ‘Mum’, and was distraught at leaving to call this other woman ‘Mum’. And so was Nell at losing her little only daughter as she had none herself. Lo and behold, six months later David Fraser was on his way.
When Hugh was turned down as essential industry he took a lease on a small property on Farm Road, Waipukurau – I think approximately a hundred and eighty acres – belonging to Jack Butler, a bachelor, who was off to Egypt right at the beginning of the war. Hugh farmed it until he went away, leaving Cath and I to carry on. She surprised herself at what she was able to do, and fortunately lambing and docking came in the school holidays. I was thirteen, and the Council, who issued licences in those days … driving licences … granted me a special dispensation to drive to the farm each day at docking time.
I thought that I would be catching the lambs to be docked – someone experienced would do the docking. This turned out to be Mr Alec McCormick, a very well-known Hawke’s Bay farmer, MC [Military Cross] from the First World War. His way of teaching was to give me the gear to operate while he did the holding. It all worked out well. Alec assisted many people with their docking over the war years, as well as supervising a number of properties including his own. There were numerous men at this time doing the work and supervising properties, which kept the stock cared for but the maintenance had to be neglected.
Back to purchasing ‘The Fens’ property as Hugh named it from Mr J D Todd. He was lucky to be able to employ Cecil Fleming, a returned man, who lived just across the road. Cecil was working as a casual farm labourer and hoping to draw a ballot farm, which he did eventually.
Hugh was a very popular stock agent with all his clients, and when he moved from Loan & Mercantile to Williams & Kettle, many went with him. With the slump at its worst, one of the dairy farmers at Takapau was unable to square up his account for £6, and Williams & Kettle’s manager told him to collect it as it had been outstanding for some years. The poor devil was in tears and so was his wife and two or three children. Hugh had been on his way to Dannevirke, and said to the dairy farmer, “if I bought you some weaner pigs, would you feed them?” You can imagine the reaction. The weaners came home in the boot of the car, and the overdraft was now £15. Weaners fatten relatively quickly, so after a couple of months the exercise was completed. My figures may be a little incorrect with age, but the story is correct and the same family were there many years after the war.
Hugh was on the Waipukurau County Council for a number of years, and chairman for the last few when they were amalgamated. He was on the Waipukurau RSA Committee from the end of the war and then on the National Executive, eventually being awarded the Gold Star.
Back to where Cecil was working as a casual farm labourer and hoping to draw a ballot farm, which he did eventually with a little help from his uncle, Bill Fleming, who had no family of his own. Getting a deposit for a ballot farm was always a strain, especially if you had a family with children. Cecil taught me the business of farming as he was there more often than HV was, owing to illness.
When Hugh went off to war, he made arrangements with Mr Pat Borthwick of Thomas Borthwick & Sons, with their head office in Masterton, for me to have a job with them when I left school with a view to my becoming a fat stock buyer with them. I left school at sixteen and became an office boy at Borthwick’s. The war was still going in Europe, and continued for eighteen months. The war in Japan continued another six months. To me, this meant that all the young men who were coming home were claiming their jobs back that they had left on going to war. Borthwick’s, like Williams & Kettle, had held their jobs open and paid half their wages all the time.
All this meant that I would not be a stock buyer until around the time I would get the pension. With HV’s health, and having returned from the war, it was a good excuse for me to go farming back in Waipukurau. The type of farming was going to include a tractor. As luck would have it, I found a new Oliver 60 at an agent’s in Masterton. It took a lot of persuading for him to sell it out of his sales area. This was in 1945. With lots of shortages and restrictions, there were no new tractors anywhere.
After the hundred acres of peas, the area was sown in mother rye seed, and we found a harvesting contractor with an old Massey Harris header to come and do the threshing for us. Cecil and I learned how to handle the machine, and at the end of the harvesting we bought the harvester from the contractor as we had learned how vital it was to be able to harvest grass seed when it was just ready to do, and not have it getting wet while it was on the ground.
1948, Paul Hunter of Papakihau Station, Porangahau, and I went to England, working as stewards on the MV Mataroa – ten thousand tons, with three hundred and fifty passengers and the rest, and mostly dairying products and apples. Paul’s father, Percy Hunter, guaranteed that he would pay for our fares home if we claimed against Shaw Savill for our return. At this time a ship could not leave New Zealand without a full complement, so if you were prepared to wait until a ship was just about to leave, there were nearly always one or two vacancies at the last moment. Paul was a pantryman, and I was glory hole steward (the steward’s steward), which prompted Duncan MacIntyre, Paul’s brother-in-law, to remark: “Good God! Even fleas have smaller fleas!” Duncan later became Minister of Agriculture and Fish. [Fisheries]
The trip took six weeks, as we spent three weeks loading on the Australian coast and the other three sailing. We were empty from Wellington to Melbourne, and I had nine filthy four-berth cabins to clean. It was a very rough crossing, which caused me to have to go for a sail in each cabin, and then give it a quick lick and a promise before moving on to the next one. By the time I was halfway through I could only dry retch – not a happy experience for a couple of days. By then a slice of toast seemed to be pretty good.
When we reached England we went down to Kent, to a cousin of HVs, Jeff Philcox. Jeff farmed a thousand acre[s], five hundred of which had been a compulsory acquisition from an owner who only kept it for the pheasant shooting. This was a war-time measure to help feed everyone, and this became a permanent arrangement in many cases. Rationing was still on at this time. We had arrived over there in early summer with all the crops getting ready to be harvested – a very time-consuming task in most cases, with the same job needing to be done time after time, owing to the rain every day at two thirty pm. Machinery was used wherever possible, and we were surprised to find a brand new Massey Harris header-harvester to head the grain crops. This stood me in good stead when I bought one soon after arriving home. Paul wasn’t so keen on the intensive farming and wanted to see sheep, so a suitable farmer was found on the Scottish borders. He joined the local Young Farmers’ Club, which in turn led to Dorothy Davis coming to spend her life in New Zealand.
I had been a friend of Paul’s since Hereworth School, and started duck shooting on their property when I was sixteen and continued until I was eighty-four … some sixty-eight years. I was only absent the year that we spent in England. The rules of the shoot were, if you missed a year you were not invited back.
At the height of the shoot there were some twenty-eight guns shooting, including wives and older children. The dining room table at Papakihau was able to seat twenty-eight of us. The standard of story-telling was very high to say the least, and for some years the well-known cartoonist, Neville Lodge of the Sports Post, shot with us and each year presented Paul with his original of the cartoon that he had done for that Sports Post, and all the people and situations more recognisable as our lot. Unfortunately I understand that the cartoons were all destroyed in a fire when the large portion of Papakihau was burnt down. I was the last one standing of our original shoot.
Approximately 1956 Max Mouat of Mangaorapa Station approached HV to see if he would be interested in selling ‘The Fens’. He was, and a fair price was set. It took well over a year to complete, owing to needing time for various factors to dovetail in. Because of the precarious nature of the harvest contractor [contract?] that I was doing, it seemed a good time to get rid of the machinery [and] put the money towards more land – not easy to do at the time as so many smaller blocks were going to rehab soldiers.
The Wilson brothers, Graham and David, of Netherby Farm, Hatuma – Graham was later to become my best man when I married Jean – wanted to go to the cattle sale in Gisborne, and as I had my private pilot’s licence … a whole six hours of it … I volunteered to take them. At the appointed hour we met at the aerodrome with heavy fog setting in. I knew that one of our experienced pilots, Pat Boyle, had told me that he could see over the fog in most cases in the morning as his farm was on higher ground. As we had a deadline to get to the sale I phoned Pat, and he told me it was clear sunshine above the fog. Off we went in the Aero Club’s precious, only Austin aircraft. When we arrived back in mid-afternoon the Club Captain, Pat Murphy, and one or two others were there to greet us. I got the message that you didn’t go up through fog, as if the motor cut you wouldn’t see where to land again. I think the instructor may have mentioned it – after all, he’d spent the whole of his war in Canada teaching pilots to fly. He was Jim Franklin.
The upside of the trip was that the Wilsons told me of a seven hundred and twenty-eight acre property in the Hinerua valley behind Onga Onga, and it was for sale. It belonged to a Mr Hardy, and supervised by Mr Harold Worsnop, a well-known farmer and supervisor in Central Hawke’s Bay. Harold did the business with us at £600 for the seven hundred and twenty-eight acres.
There were no buildings on the property, so we had a prefab built, called a bullock house. There were quite a number of bullock houses around Hawke’s Bay at this time, being used as rabbiters’ cottages. The site was levelled and the piles put in; the three trucks arrived at eight am with all the house sections on and by five pm they were completed, except we had to wait for the electric power to be connected. Our first power plant was 24 volt out of a Fairmile naval boat. This was able to run a 24 volt washing machine and an iron. The refrigerator was run on kerosene. Lighting was by power plant, and cooking by wood stove. The bullock house was £1,800 complete.
HV and I formed a partnership of HV & JV Stovell for the next twenty-five years, which ended when we sold Willow Flat Station, 1978. HV remained in Waipukurau for a couple of years and then retired to Taupo. He and Mum had become keen fishermen over the last five years, and had upgraded their house three times until they had a lovely home and garden in Waipihihi Avenue. So they retired to Taupo but only stayed for two years as they found that all their Waipukurau friends came up to Taupo to party, and this happened most weekends. Though they enjoyed going up on the weekends themselves, they now found the pace a little bit steep, so they moved to Westshore … Ferguson Avenue … which meant they were closer to Willow Flat and would see more of us as we had to pass them on our trips to town.
HV found a light job core-boring wool bales to find their moisture content. Standard moisture is fifteen per cent. He worked out of the same offices as Monty Montgomery of the MAF, [Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries] a man well-known in the wool industry for his work in improving all flocks, especially Perendale which was the breed that we opted to change to after a couple of years at Willow Flat.
While at Westshore he had a very good garden, which unfortunately didn’t rub off on his son. He also had a flounder net as the fishing was very good just in front of the house, on the shore. There it was sandy, and had not been damaged by the dredging of the harbour. He would often phone when the fishing was good and see if we could get down to pull the net. His sense of timing was rotten, as it was usually in the middle of shearing or other busy times for us.
Having sold our two properties for a little over £50,000 … which was a very good price … we went looking for something larger that could be further developed. Only two were available – one, seven thousand acres just north of Gisborne that was reverting back to scrub rapidly. We only flew around it, and decided it was too big a job to take on.
The other was Willow Flat at Kotemaori, owned by Don Fraser Junior. The Fraser family had come to the area as sawmillers in 1932, as there were great stands of timber, mostly totara, rimu and matai. Don Fraser Senior bought some eight thousand acres, being Run 38 and Run 39, all on the western side of the Mohaka River. Unfortunately, the slump meant that they could only cut timber for orders, which made it a fairly on-off affair. There were five sons and one son-in-law and two daughters in Don Senior’s family, all very capable and hard-working. When there was no timber they were clearing the farm. They were clients of Williams & Kettle, and legend has it that in 1933 Mr Williams sent Mr Kettle to foreclose on the Frasers. Mr Kettle had to ride from Napier to Willow Flat. When he got there he found the mill going flat tack and the others up on the farm felling bush and scrub. Mr Kettle had a look round and commended them on their efforts, and rode back to Napier with the foreclosure note in his pocket. Again, legend would have it that there was a very robust discussion between Mr Williams and Mr Kettle, as Mr Williams was well-known as a very firm bookkeeper. Time has proved them right, as all have gone ahead and done well. Jim Fraser has written a history on Willow Flat called ‘Shandrydan’. Jim is a nephew of Don Fraser Junior.
Don Senior allocated Run 39 to Don Junior, the eldest son, and Run 38 to Harold and Colin. Other land was taken up elsewhere as well. Willow Flat was an area of some ten thousand acres on the eastern side of the Mohaka River, owned by David and Mrs Ross (née Bee). Davey died at a relatively early age, and Mrs Ross farmed it with her son, John, and three daughters until it became untenable, when she sold it to Don Fraser Junior. Of the ten thousand acres, Don bought three thousand seven hundred and the rest was sold to Lands & Survey. The remainder has since been planted in pines. Don Junior then amalgamated the Run 39 area of three thousand eight hundred on the western side of the Mohaka, with three thousand seven hundred acres of Willow Flat on the eastern, and named the seven thousand five hundred acres ‘Willow Flat Station’.
In 1958 HV & JV Stovell purchased Willow Flat for £50,000 lock, stock and barrel, walk in-walk out. There were seventeen hundred stockyards, and one thousand eight hundred acres of cleared and grazeable land. The rest was in cut over bush. There was a near new long wheel base Landrover, a near new International TD6 bulldozer, and an older four-wheel drive ex-Army truck; a near new Ferguson 35 wheel tractor with front end loader. There were numerous buildings – most were the old junk-type bits and pieces from keeping the sawmill going. Some of it was still there twenty years later. There was an old Ross homestead on the Willow Flat side, and a cottage on the Run 39 side with a wool shed made from rough sawn timber from the adjacent sawmill. One set of sheep yards was in need of repair and the cattle yards were even worse, and access both sides was via a swing bridge strong enough to take a loaded seven-ton logging truck. While we were there a new concrete suspension bridge was built for much heavier loads.
The seven-ton bridge had replaced a four foot wooden swing bridge. To get the timber out the Frasers used to have a tram track from the mill down across the bridge, and part way up the other side where the timber could be loaded out onto trucks for the trip to Napier either by road or rail from Kotemaori – a very large amount of handling.
Jean and I moved into the Willow Flat house which was reasonably basic and built of all good native timber, rough sawn. Our eldest three children, Phillip, Richard and Nicola came with us, and were followed by Michael and Susan in the fullness of time. Susan’s arrival was remarkable by the fact that she was born in the Landrover, a couple of miles from home on the Willow Flat Road. This was on a morning when we were going early mustering and the men were just arriving for breakfast, in amongst a panic to get off to Napier. Doctor Barnett had been alerted after we had gone, so we didn’t know that he was in the ambulance that rushed past us at Tutira. We just thought someone must have had an accident.
We arrived at the hospital, first having stopped at Westshore to show off Susan Vanessa to Cath and Hugh. Doctor Barnett did the whole trip into Willow Flat, a distance of fifty miles each way – you can imagine that happening nowadays.
While on doctors, our doctor in Taradale was Michael Davies, an old family friend. He’d had a partner, Doctor Jim Perry, on the occasion I speak of. I had been out mustering some distance from home in the late afternoon when I had a kidney stone attack. Elder son Phillip was with me, so I was able to get him to gallop off to get his mother to bring a vehicle as close as possible. This she did, and it was well after dark before we got back to the house, and the pain had not gone off at all. Any of you who have kidney stones will know how unfriendly they can be. Doctor Davies had given me pethidine tablets for such an eventuality. This is when I discovered that I was allergic to pethidine, and was violently ill when taken by mouth. We telephoned Doctor Davies to say we were coming in to find he was in Rotorua. This is when Doctor Jim Perry overheard our message and said he would be right out with a pethidine injection. He arrived around eleven pm, gave me the jab which worked instantly, had a cup of tea and was gone by midnight. What dedication!
Telephoning was not a matter of course with an earthworker system to start with which was maintained by the property owners, all on a party line of ten. Later it was upgraded to a two wire copper line maintained by the land owners. This was eventually taken over by the Post & Telegraph to maintain. The exchange was at the Kotemaori store, and hours of service were at the office hours – eight am to twelve, one pm ‘til five. An after hours fee of a shilling could be booked if the storekeeper was willing to put you through. You made sure you kept in with the storekeeper. At one stage Paddy Burton, a carrier from Putorino, ran his carrying business from the store while Mrs Burton ran the store. Paddy’s hours were long and erratic, and he often fell asleep sitting in the exchange seat at night; was only too pleased to put you through and on some occasions he even left the plug in through to the main exchange in Wairoa. This is how we came to speak to doctors in Napier later in the day.
In our third year we started to cross over to Perendale sheep, being the cross of Cheviot rams over Romney ewes. This was a most rugged cross and started to show results immediately, but not to the degree we would have liked. After seventeen years and many trials, we got back to dosing for liver flu with an immediate pickup in the performance. By the time we put the property on the market we were starting to get good results with the stock all round, physically, but prices remained poor especially for lambs at $14 a head. Two years later they rose to the low twenties, and today in 2018 can bring up to $150 per head.
When we made the decision to sell Willow Flat, a number of factors came into it, such as: we could split the partnership – HV could then deal with his share between my two sisters, Robyn Morgan and Susan Wertmuller. I was finding that being in the saddle all day was most painful; also that my wife, Jean, had had enough – not that she’d ever said so. Finally we had a good offer from Carter Holt to plant trees which all came to a little over $1million which Hugh Davidson, our lawyer … Davidson, Armstrong & Campbell … said was the largest amount he had ever put through for a single property. HV had always advised me to buy back in the same market, which I did with the help of the LDEL. [Land Development Encouragement Loan] Unfortunately the project didn’t work out, and in 1982 it turned out to be a very bad year for me.
While we were at Willow Flat we had a number of very good staff as head shepherds; also a number of indifferent ones too. We always asked the wives if they were going to be happy, as it was an hour’s trip to town and back. The good men with adaptable wives were around twenty-eight to thirty years old. They stayed with us until they could see secondary schooling was going to be a problem, in spite of having school on the property.
HV and my two sisters invested their money in commercial buildings in Auckland, and it turned out very well for them.
The staff that were of the calibre that we were able to make progress with were David Ovenden, who left us to take up a manager’s job and then became a stock agent with Hawke’s Bay Farmers in Wairoa – he was the most capable and hard-working man that I have ever met.
Next came Ron Robinson – good and dependable in all ways, and his son, Tom, who was very good at riding any of the horses and ponies that we broke in. Ron, at thirty-three years, took a foreman’s position in the sugar factory in Auckland. What a loss of a most capable stockman.
Next came Bill Hare, who David recommend[ed] as a single man. Bill was a capable eighteen-year-old-shepherd, and soon learned to drive our TD9 bulldozer. Bill Hare came back as head shepherd on two occasions.
Peter Hunter was next, always pleasant and capable, but took a position in a factory in Gisborne as he had four children.
Then came Morrie Springer, again, capable all round – had to find a position as a manager, and ended as a stock agent in Gisborne.
Chris Haldane was there as a junior manager until we finished up – very capable all-rounder, now farms his own property on the Taupo Road.
Another employee of note was Frank Stubbs who did many miles of fencing on the areas as we developed – mostly post and wire.
Hugh and Cath spent the last five years of their lives in Waikanae in the Woodlands Retirement Village. Hugh was still on the RSA, and when he died was placed in the RSA wall there in Waikanae, and was later joined by Cath.
Right – that’s where I’ve sort of finished, but I’ve got one or two little notes that can be fitted into the right place.
We had a bloke, all round fencer, do anything, had a dog – Sam Te Hei and Henei, his wife, and they were there for quite some years with us.
Aproa Ueroau – a Rarotongan all-rounder, very capable man and with a large team of … I think it was five children while they were with us, but I know there was about three more when they moved to town, and we occasionally see odd ones – they were always very good at popping up and introducing themselves.
Our shearing contractor was Fly Maire for all the twenty years we were at Willow Flat.
Right, John, so you’ve certainly had a great life and got around and put the spade into each place.
It was a wonderful life.
Now you … where are you now?
My time is used playing golf, and I’ve been playing golf for about fourteen years – took it up much too late, so there’s some very funny golf played but I’m still lucky at my age to be able to play some. I could even play more if I wanted to, but I’m getting so slow at everything that I can’t really put all my time to it. But you do walk quite a bit.
So you’re keeping good health?
Keeping good health – I saw the cardiac surgeon yesterday and he was most complimentary at the way my health has come along under his care.
Well, John, I want to thank you for that talk. That brought back some great memories. I want to thank you on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Jim Newbigin