Sullivan, Gwendolyn Gladys (Gwen) Interview

Today is the 15 August 2016. I’m from the Knowledge Bank and today I’m interviewing Gwendolyn …

Known as Gwen.

… Sullivan, on the life and times of her family in Hastings.  Gwen, would you like to tell us something about growing up in Hastings, and about your parents – what your father did, and we’ll go from there.

Now where do I start?

From your parents, what they did in Hastings, where you lived?

This is where we – naturally when they were married, not before they were married.


Well, they were married on the 4 August, 1919.  Dad’s parents had the Puketapu Hotel and they worked out there at the hotel for quite a long time when Mum was pregnant, and she had a little boy who was stillborn.   And then they carried on there I think or they would have shifted into Hastings and Mum had another little boy who died at six weeks having a seizure – which they can sort of cure, or do something with them nowadays.  She that was the first two babies that she lost. And then later on they had Rex, and then they had me.  So that was the end of their family.  And from there on Dad did an apprenticeship in plumbing then he would go – naturally he got through his apprenticeship.  And they lived on the corner of Tomoana Road and St Aubyn Street in a lovely big house that Dad had built or had built.   And life just sort of went on as normal really, I suppose.

So you went to Mahora School?

I went to Mahora School, yes – Rex was already there of course. And then later on in high school days I went to Napier Girls’ High School.

How did you go to – or did you board?

We had to catch a bus early in the morning.

Had to catch a bus, yes.

I biked down to the bus stop. We could all leave our bikes there and get on the bus and …   And then after that I applied for a job at the Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s and got that, and was there until I was married.

Yes.  Well just going back to your school days – what was it like growing up in Mahora those days?   Did you play sports?

Oh, it was good. Played – well, basketball they used to call it then of course.  But no, I played there, and that was lovely, I used to love that. Well, I still love watching the netball.

Was Cornwall Park there when you were born?

No, they used to play cricket there – Pat used to play cricket there every Saturday afternoon.  But they didn’t play – no, they weren’t playing netball on the park at all.  I don’t think they do even now though, do they?

Yes they play cricket there. There’s a pavilion there.

Yes, oh yes.   But they don’t play netball.

It’s all played over at the new place in …

Voice:  Sports Park – Ebbett Park we played, and Windsor Park.


Gwen:  We used to go round, I remember.  Very different today of course.

So you mentioned your father was a plumber.

Yes he was a plumber.  They used to always make their spout – do everything. You couldn’t go to a shop and just buy a length of whatever. They had to make it and he had a workshop to do all that in, you know what I mean?

Voice:  It was his own business.

Gwen:  Oh, yes, it was his own business

Did he run that from home?


So he would have had a big shed out the back with all the gear in it.

Yes.  Downstairs.  We had a big – there was a big shed.  It was all attached to the house, it was the base of the house, a two storey house.  And then Rex – oh, ‘course then during the war Rex went off down south to Taieri, and then when he came back he joined dad and he became a plumber as well.  So there was father and son in the plumbing business there. And – I don’t know – life seemed to carry on.

Voice:  What was the name of the business there?  Was it C F Bennett & Son?

Gwen:  Mmm – I don’t know, I didn’t do the accounts there so I don’t know what the invoices were headed, I’m sure that he was with Rex, yeah … Rex was with dad, that’s right.

Voice:  [Speaking together]  Yes, Charles Frank Bennett, yes – so …

Gwen:  To us – to me they got on pretty well, you know, father and son working okay, but times were different in those days too.

So then you went off to work.

Oh yes, I went off to work.

To Hawke’s Bay Farmer’s, into …

Hawke’s Bay Farmers, and stayed there until I was married. You used to stay in one job.

People did, didn’t they?  Yes.

I think so – I mean it was easy enough to get a job.

Well, a place like the HB Farmer’s – you could probably do twenty different jobs and never leave the building.  

Oh, you’re quite right.

I always remember we used to be shareholders because we were farmers, and you’d get your groceries and you’d buy salmon from Canada and cheese from Denmark, it was … you know, it was luxury, right in the middle of …

Your family would have known the Talbots.

Oh, we were dairy farmers at Havelock North.

They were at Ngatarawa.  Yeah, the Talbots … and Aunty Muriel – she married Jack Talbot.  But that was Mum’s sister, Muriel Talbot.  I don’t know.  Just life seemed to go on smoothly.

Socially, what was it like growing up as a young person?

Oh, we used to go to the pictures and on the way home we we’d go into the milk bar that had just opened. That was all very new and we’d have tomato soup and toast on the way home.  Yeah, and we just thought that … oh, that was just wonderful.   We could walk into – well it wasn’t a bar but they had soup and toast – that was about all you …

Whereabouts was the milk bar?

It was in Heretaunga Street. I remember sitting down and …

Isn’t it amazing over time how things change?  It went from that sort of thing to hamburgers.

Oh, yes, yes that would be the next no doubt.   We’d go to the pictures and then there were dances every Saturday night at the Assembly Hall.  Not that I was a good dancer but Pat was a good dancer. That was our fun I suppose. I would be on the bar of the bike and off we’d go to somewhere or other, you know.

Quite different, wasn’t it?  ‘Cause people weren’t as mobile. They didn’t just get in the car.  [Speaking together, three people]

No, life was … well, it’s pretty simple today.

Well, something I have noticed in going round the various people – because the community was a lot smaller – you know, Haumoana was fifty people, five hundred in Havelock, five thousand in Hastings. Everybody knew everybody.

Yes, you did too.

So working in an office those days would have been quite different to today, because you would have had a pen … an ink pen. You wouldn’t have had computers or …

Oh, no computers.

… or adding machines.

Yes – I used to be on an adding machine. They used to always put me on the adding machine because I was … I was pretty good at it, and a couple of guys used to stand opposite on a big desk they had, you know – there were four at this huge desk, and they used to just sit over there and watch me do it, you know.   Chatting to one another …


… ‘Oh what are they looking at me for?’ You know – because I could do it – you know I really could do it quite quickly.  [Chuckles]

Some people could operate an adding machine without looking at it.

Yeah, well I could too.

If I’m adding up I’ve got to keep watch and make sure I put the right …

[Chuckle]   I used to love getting on it actually.

Voice:  Could you use a typewriter?

Gwen:  In the machine room we did because we were doing accounts so it was all typewritten from the invoice to the machine, you know.   I used to like that too.  When you came to the end of the day you had to balance and if you didn’t balance you stayed there until you did balance, you know what I mean?

Yes. [Speaking together]

If the invoices [?] what you’d put on – find your mistake.  But no, that was good really.

So then you got married and that was the end of your working life was it? Except at home.

Well it was really, but you were expected to give up your work when you got married …

That’s right.

… well you automatically just seemed to leave work.  That was – no – yes, so then … I just stayed home and I suppose Mum and I became really good friends because we were together all the time.  But we had – when we were married of course, we had the flat – it was a flat next door to where they lived, you see, so it was very handy.

Your own children – how many did you have?

I had five. I had a long wait for Shona, it was nearly six years … five and a half years.  All I wanted to do was to get married and have children.  Everything happened but that didn’t for a long time.

And so – there was Shona?

Shona;  Pauline – Pauline was next, there was fifteen months between them, and then Christine who was a very sick little baby but she came right in the finish through perseverance and everything.  In fact they didn’t want me to bring her home … they wanted me to leave her there.  And the elderly lady who was lovely with Shona and Pauline at home – she said “you bring her home, we’ll get her right”.  So I thought ‘Oh, well’ – she stayed on a little while.   Any rate, she did finally come right after a while.  She just kept bringing everything back.

Voice:  What did she have?

Gwen:  They thought she had a bug at first. But everything … I’d feed her – breast feed her – and she’d bring everything back.  Then I’d bottle feed her, and I … that’s all I seemed to do.  And she just wasn’t sick … she’d – I’d have to be surrounded with towels because she would just really let go.  But I kept going with that.  She gradually came right, but it took quite a long time.

It’s interesting, mothers had to battle a lot those days.

But people are living – they’re living a lot longer, aren’t they, now?

So then ..?

And then I had two more.

Are they all still living Hawke’s Bay, or .?

Pamela is in Australia and Pauline is in Auckland.  And my other three lovely children are round me here.   Well, Shona’s down the road and Mark – oh, I had a boy in the finish – and Mark and Christine – they’re in Hastings.

What does Mark do?

He’s a plumber too.   And my brother was a plumber too.   He’s on his own.  Oh, he did work for … yes, the only reason he … he wanted to leave school.   He went to St John’s and he wanted to leave school, and Pat and I said “well, the only way you leave school my dear, is go and get an apprenticeship somewhere or other”.  And we went down to see Pamela – she was in Palmerston at that time at Training College.  So we went down there and a couple of days went by and Mark knocked on our motel door.   I said “what are you doing here?”  He said “I’ve got an apprenticeship”. So he was with J J O’Connor, and he’s been a plumber ever since. But he’s wearing out at the moment.  [Chuckle]  However – they do.  He’s been doing it – well he was 15 when he left …

It’s not easy work being a plumber.  It has its dirty days and its bright days.  So you come from a long line of plumbers then?

Yep.  Yep, and now my grandson, Mark’s son, he wants to be a plumber.

How many grandchildren have you got?

I’ve got thirteen grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.  They are – they’re having their babies later though, aren’t they?  I don’t know …

Have you travelled at all?  Did you travel around New Zealand?  Or have you …

Well we did just before Pat passed away – we … I won a trip – well, to go anywhere really, wasn’t it?  And we went down as far as Dunedin which was really good, because Pat really wasn’t well but he managed it. We went down to see Paul, a nephew of mine, who’s in Dunedin and a doctor and Vivienne who’s in Christchurch and we went there and saw them and that was all lovely.   But we did – no we went to America – no, we went to Australia first and then we went to America.

So you’ve had a good travel.

Well, we had a little travel compared to what they do today.  But we were happy – very happy – because we thought that was quite big time you know, at the time.  Which it really was – mmm.  It was good, it was lovely, we enjoyed it.

Voice:  And you moved from Hastings, too.

Gwen:  Oh, yes, we moved from when Pat retired we moved out to Westshore along the Esplanade there, and just loved it because you could see the planes coming and going, see the boats and ships and what-have-you.

There’s lots of activity.

Oh, it was just lovely.  But Pat, I think, started to not feel so good and he thought it was time that we just moved in closer to family.  So here we are.

Now what about all the interesting things you have forgotten to tell me?

[Chuckle]  Oh, I don’t know. We just accepted life as … life went on I suppose, really.

I guess one of the problems was that most of the fun that people made those days was – it was ‘do it yourself’. They didn’t have all the televisions and vehicles, and … it was a different world.

Oh, it was much more simple really, wasn’t it?

Ladies knitted and sewed.  [Speaking together]

Voice:  People still do, but we had a beach house – you tell him.  Our holidays were …

Gwen:  Oh, at Te Awanga.  Well, dad bought us – he bought a section out there at Te Awanga along the beach front there and oh, I used to go and recharge my batteries every … once a year, and it was just lovely.  Right on the beachfront there.

You don’t have to go far do you?


You don’t have to go to the Sunshine Coast …

No, we didn’t go far really.   No, but we were happy.

Voice:  Now – just buy caravans and motor homes and go and do the same thing almost, you know.  That was our time out as a family.

Gwen:  Oh yes, that was … that was – we used to go out there, not every Sunday. There was always garden to do – not that there was much garden, but there was always something to do. You could swim there …

You could shift the stones around.

[Chuckle]  That’s right.

Voice:  Oh, we swam.

Gwen:  Yes, you could swim there but – I don’t know if they swim there now?

Oh, yes they do. We used to go to Clifton for our summer holidays.  Because I was a dairy farmer I couldn’t leave but I’d go out at night, and it was marvellous, and the sea was always clean.

Voice:  Dad used to leave us for the month … five weeks or so – he’d bus into town. There was a good bus service. No, it was lovely really, it was very relaxing out there.  We’d come into town once a week or something like that.

And I went to Napier Boys’ High, you know.  And I used to have to bike to Mangateretere which was four miles from the farm, and get on the school bus and off we’d go and we just took it for granted.

Well that’s right.

That’s the way it happened.

Voice:  That’s what you did.

Gwen:  It was … easy and simple life, really, wasn’t it?

Voice:  Say about what dad did, he was a grocer, but then they …

Gwen:  Oh, moved him from there into the supermarkets.

Voice:  He worked for ..?

Gwen:  Kelly’s?  Brian Kelly. That supermarket was about the first one to open wasn’t it? [Speaking together, three voices]

Voice:  It was, in Hawke’s Bay.

Gwen:  He went from the shop there into the supermarket.

Was this when he finished plumbing?

[Speaking together] No, this is my father.  No, this is Mark.

Gwen:  But there was a big … we thought oh, is it going to work, or is it not?  You know what I mean?  But however, it did.

Voice:  Never looked back, have they?

Gwen:  Don’t think they ever – anyway there’s no supermarket there now anyway, is there?  [All three speaking, difficult to hear each person.  Speaking about location of supermarket, all closed now, other shops there, Big Barrel etc in Karamu.]

But it’s all changed.  In fact the last person I interviewed this morning, his name was Kelly, and his family had the first supermarket in Hastings and it used to be near the Blue Moon ice cream factory in Heretaunga Street. This is before your Brian. And of course the Kelly’s started on the corner of Warren Street and …

Voice:  And Heretaunga Street.

Gwen:  That’s right, that was where they started.

Because we used to have Bill Maher on one corner …

That’s right.

… and Kelly’s on the other.

That’s right, yes.  That’s when Pat shifted to – into the shop there.  And John Hayes, Pat’s brother-in-law, he had a shop in here in Napier at McGrath Street.  And so the two of them – he had up the shop, his shop, and went into Hastings and sort of … opened up Kelly’s shop again.   Well, it was – I don’t think it was ever closed, but … [speaking together] they just put automatic and everything.

I haven’t seen Brian – once he moved to Wellington we sort of …

Voice:  He still calls in.  [All speaking together]  He did call in here … did call in here.

… all grew up with …  [All speaking together] 

Gwen:  Cheryl was one of the Barry girls.  There were quite a number of them too.

There was one boy.

They lived at Mangateretere didn’t they?

No, they lived at Te Mata Road.  You’re talking about the Barrys.

Yeah, the boy.

He had some land at Mangateretere.

Mangateretere, I thought so because you knew the girl that he married I think.  Oh, what was his name?   I can’t think of his name.

Something is flitting around me that I was going to ask you about.

I don’t know, we took … we just took life as it came, you know, in those days.

Where were you during the earthquake?

[Chuckle] I was at home.  I was at home sitting on the back veranda and my Dad happened to be there with me.  And I think I can remember it so clearly because Dad used to say to me – you know, during my lifetime, oh – before I was married I guess – that he used to say “it’s a wonder you’ve got any fingers left”.  Because one of those big uprights – whatever you call them – was going in and out like this at the bottom of the veranda.  And he said what I was trying to do was to get down because I was quite fascinated with it – this going in and out, you know, with the quake.  [Chuckle]  And course he just jumped down and got me, you know, to pull me back from it.  But he used to always say that, and I think that’s why I can remember it so clearly, because …

You wouldn’t have been very old.

I was four – well I was four, yes – coming on to five.   When was it – February.  March, April, May – yes, you see I was coming up to five, or four and three quarters.   But I can remember that, and I can always close my eyes and think ‘I can see that going like that’.  [Chuckle] You see that’s what I was trying to do because I was really fascinated with this going …

Because after the earthquake, the plumbers had such a job.  All the tanks – water tanks fell off their stands. [Speaking together]

Oh, yes, I guess so.  I don’t remember any of that, whether dad was any busier or not.   But I do remember tents an earthquake because I’d be frightened of the ground opening up. That’s why I say – everybody says “oh, you get outside” and I say “no I won’t”.  [Chuckle]  I’m not  going outside, you know.  But that’s only the reason why I think.

Can you think of anything we haven’t covered?

Voice:  You actually haven’t said what your maiden name was so I was trying to get you to say Grandad’s, because you were a Bennett and then you married and you kept saying Pat but Dad was Pat Sullivan.

Gwen:  Well of course, yes, well I was a Bennett.

Voice:  So you lived in Tomoana Road for all of your life there didn’t you?

Gwen:  No.   We lived on the corner house ..[?]

Voice:  Oh, that’s right, big place …

Gwen:  … and then Dad sort of put this house on top over the – his existing workshop. He had his workshop downstairs sort of style.

Voice:   Dad’s parents were Irish born and came out and they lived in Victoria Street.

Gwen:  Oh, Pat’s parents.

Voice:  [Speaking together]  And where did you meet … and you met Dad ..?

Gwen:  Oh, in the grocer’s shop at the Farmer’s, I mean.   [Chuckle]   … busy life like today. You know what I mean?  Everybody’s busy.

Well it took you longer to do things, didn’t it?

We didn’t have all these mod cons for a start.

When you did the washing you had to go and stand in front of the tub and do it. Now you can put the washing in and go and read a book.

Oh, I don’t know about reading a book!   But I know what you mean. Yes, you can. I’ve often thought of that you know, and I’ve often thought ‘God, I just put the washing in and press a button and everything goes, you know, and then I can go back and hang it out, you know”.   I always remember Norma saying – my sister-in-law – the one that … she’s the one that married Rex, my brother.  She used to say “Oh, I wish there was some way of pegging it on the line”.  Someone would invent something to put it on the line, you know.   But no – apart from that, I don’t know … had these glass door stoves that come in and we used to just – oh, sit there and watch the things rise – you know, when they first came in?  I can remember that, and I’d think ‘Oh, isn’t this just lovely, you know – you can see the cooking”.  You know – now they’ve all got glass doors and …

That’s right, you don’t have to go out and get the kindling and the wood.

Voice:  And before supermarkets, what happened? You had all your big groceries and meat delivered.

Gwen:  Yes, well you see you used to ring up – I used to ring up the grocer’s shop, you know, and say “this is all I want” and next thing it was delivered, you know what I mean?  Oh, now you go to the supermarket and there’s a … [voice in background chuckles] … God!

Well, we used to have a Hawke’s Bay Farmers little Morris car that used to come out, and go round all the farms and get their orders for their groceries. I forget his name now but he did that for years and years and ‘course then the truck would come and deliver the …

That’s right.  And they used to have … the vegies were the same. The vegie man.  And also now was there a butchers’ shop that used to come along once and – I can’t remember but I’m sure you could go out and they’d toot their horn.

Well, I know ours used to just … I think Mum and Dad must have ordered the meat.  They used to just bring it and put it on the gate post. [Laughter]  It might have sat there for an hour in the sun but it never worried anyone because when it was cooked you’d put it in the safe that wasn’t always fly proof.

No, you’re right, the old safe.  [Laughter]  Yes, oh there’s a lot of things like that though that you can sort of – you know, as you say, you can sort of bring it back you know – one thing leads on to another.

Yes.  But we got by. I often say I wouldn’t swap all my yesterdays …

I wouldn’t either.

… because I think we had a really great time.

Yeah.  And yet there’s so much sickness around today. Who boils the copper now, you know?   Every Monday morning you’d boil the copper, put the sheets in … everything was boiled.

Voice:  Sterilised.

Gwen:  But you see – there’s nothing like that today is there?

No, nothing’s as white as it used to be.

No it’s not. You’re right. [Laughter]

Voice:  Then we got television, I can remember that.  My brother probably can’t remember life without television. He’s seven years younger than me, but at that time it was quite a big gap.  But I can remember getting television – coming home from … I was probably Standard 4 I think, and there was television.

Gwen:  We used to go up to Mum & Dad’s and watch it, you know, on special – on children’s programmes especially, you know what I mean?  And they just lived down the road and we’d go up there and the children would sit there, and they’d sit there all the time and more or less not move.  But you wouldn’t get children doing it today.

They used to be interested in the programme – whatever it was, we chose our time when we’d go. They used to sit and really watch it, you know what I mean?  There was no getting up and running around or “Nana can I have a biscuit?”   ‘Cause Nana would bring the biscuits any rate, so that was OK.

Of course there was the radio with Dad and Dave and …

It was very simple but it was lovely. It was, it was good – I don’t regret anything at all.

Well, there was no pressure of time. Today everyone seems to be in such a hurry, and yet it’s probably the least important thing in your life.

Okay, well I think we’ve probably captured a glimpse of your … and if you think of anything else I can always come back,  and we call it an addendum. We just tag it on the end.   I see you’ve got a tray over there with lots of goodies on it. That will probably fill in some of the paper that I need to complete the picture. So thank you very much Gwen.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper

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