Taylor, Sydney Charles (Syd) Interview

This is Syd Taylor who is going to talk about his life in Tomoana Freezing Works or Meat Works – I’m not sure if it’s both. Anyway Syd, over to you. How long have you lived in Hawke’s Bay?

I’ve lived in Hawke’s Bay for seventy-eight years. I’ll read this about me.

I was born in Remuera, Auckland on the 2nd November, 1936 to Adelaide and Charles Taylor. Alice Taylor, my sister, was born in Remuera on the 5th April, 1932. In 1937 Adelaide and Charles – that’s Mum and Dad – moved to Hastings and in 1938 bought the Jervois Street store and remained there until they sold it to Alice and Robert Weeds in 1949, and moved to their new home in 916 North Nelson Street, until their deaths with Dad on the 5th February 1979, and Mum on the 2nd June 1982.

Incidentally, Alice and Robert Weeds – Alice was my mother’s sister, Alice Jones.

I was brought up in Jervois Street. The store was on the Willowpark Road corner, and in the midst of the railway houses and the surrounding area. My sister, Alice, was being educated at Mahora School. I was also enrolled at Mahora to receive my primary education. My teacher in Primer 1 was Miss Satchel; the Standard 1, Mrs Wills. Mrs Wills also taught my first children in Standard 1 in Mayfair School many years later. Another teacher I remember from Standard 5 and 6 was Mr Harry Cornes. Our headmaster during those years was Mr Engebretsen.

In our last two years at primary, Standard 5 and 6, one afternoon each week was spent at technical training (Tech), in the Manual Training Centre at the Central School. This necessitated a push bike ride every Wednesday afternoon where the girls carried out cooking lessons and the boys took wood working courses. Other memories of my Mahora days were the half-pint bottles of milk in the mornings, and apples in the fruit season. There was also the gardening where we had garden plots at home growing vegetables, and these plots were judged. I received a Merit Certificate in 1946, the second in 1947 and a third in 1948.

Also during those years I learned to play the piano, taking lessons from the Sisters at the Hastings Convent, gaining passes in the Royal Schools of Music in pianoforté playing.

When I started my secondary education in Hastings High School in 1951 I enrolled in Commercial Practice subjects and passed these for my School Certificate in 1952. During my high school years I worked after school in the afternoons at the Post Office delivering telegrams on push bike. It was this fifth form year that I had to make the decision on my future employment. I felt I had to choose between the future in a Bank, a Government Department or office work at the Freezing Works. In the August school holidays I decided on the Freezing Works and applied for a job in the office at the Tomoana Freezing Works. The secretary, Mr Charlie Heald wanted me to start immediately, but I advised him I wanted to get my School Certificate first so I started as office junior at Tomoana on the 15th November 1952, at a pay rate of three pound eleven shillings and tuppence [£3/11/2d] per week, and paid Mum ten shillings [10/-] board.

As office junior I was required to start the day by push biking to the Post Office and clearing the mail, and return to the Tomoana office, sorting the mail and delivering it to the various departments. After that various jobs were carried out in the office, and at noon I would bike home for lunch and at one o’clock, bike to town with the day’s banking of cash and cheques in a satchel and deposit this at the Bank, carry out other messages in town, then bike back to the office. The rest of the afternoon would be filing, folding mail into envelopes and stamp, entering individual details in the postages book. After 5pm when the mail was ready for posting, another trip on the push bike to the Post Office to post the mail, leaving the bag there for the next morning’s mail, and back home for the day. This routine was carried out for four days, but on a Friday it would start at 8am with the bike ride to all the Hastings butcher’ shops to collect payments from the butchers for all their killing fees and meat purchases for the previous week. There were thirteen butchers and payments were mainly cheques, but a few would pay in cash.

It was twelve months after my first morning that I was greeted by my successor at the Post Office. After a week of teaching the new office junior I was promoted to the Records Department, this job recording particulars of classes, grades and rates and daily kills, shipments and stock left on hand. It was later that I got involved with the financial side of the stocks.

In September 1953 I joined the Tomoana Freezing Works Industrial Fire Brigade. This was a family tradition – my grandfather and my father joined the Ellerslie Brigades in September 1932, and when Dad shifted to Hastings Dad was involved with the formation of the Whakatu Freezing Works Industrial Brigade. When my eldest son, Martin, started work in Hastings he joined the Hastings Volunteer Brigade. His job took him to Taupo and he joined the Taupo Volunteer Fire Brigade. From there he went to Auckland and joined up with the Titirangi Brigade. My youngest son, Richard, joined the Heretaunga Rural Fire Brigade in Hastings and is still a current member there.

I was a member of the Tomoana Fire Brigade until I was made redundant at Tomoana in 1993. During my thirty-one years in the Tomoana Fire Brigade I went through the ranks to Chief Fire Officer. In those years I was elected to the Hawke’s Bay Fire Brigade Sub-association and the Wellington Provincial Fire Brigade Association, and achieved the office of President of both of these associations. In 1978 I was presented with my twenty-five-year gold star.

It was in 1955 that, because of my age, I was co-opted to the CMT – that’s Compulsory Military Training – and spent my initial training in the Linton Military Camp, doing my basic training there then my core training as a cook. What an experience! My first annual camp was in 1956. I was attached to the 4th Armoured Corps at the [?Bargoosh?] satellite camp out at Waiouru. My military rank and number was Trooper Taylor, 579416.

How long did the camp last?

It was a two-week camp.

And did you then join the Territorials at all?

No. The original camp was … two months I think it was, and then they had the annual camps. It was in the Corps training … that’s when I was trained as a cook and attached to the 4th Army Division.

Also at Tomoana I joined up with the Tomoana Players, which was a theatrical group performing to raise funds for school organisations. This group originated during the war years to raise funds for patriotic groups, and then on to school groups, performing in Hastings, Napier, Waipawa, Waipukurau and Dannevirke. The first play I was in was [as] a pirate in Ambrose Applejohn’s adventures. The following year I had a major role and loved the luxury. [Chuckle] The following years I was backstage, and ended up as stage manager. This experience led me to the Hastings Musical Comedy Company, making scenery for them and backstage, and eventually to stage manager there, also.

And did you have many others helping you make the stage decorations?

The scenery, yes, we had working bees … involved. The Hastings Musical Comedy hall was in Davis Street, and after I had retired from there some years later, I was involved with Theatre Hawke’s Bay assisting with the properties for the Society in the Theatre Hawke’s Bay theatre in the old Findlay’s bakery building in Hastings Street, and retired [from] there approximately 2014.

Back to the Tomoana years. In 1980 I was promoted to Office Manager and after the takeover of Whakatu Works my official title became Administration Manager.

In 1960 I married Judith Dixon and had three daughters and one son. We purchased a section in Tudor Avenue and built our home. Following a divorce I remarried in 1979 to Catherine Young and had one son. ‘79 was a year to remember – not only did I remarry, but there was a major fire at Tomoana. Of course I was involved with the fighting of the blaze, but when the ashes had settled I had a job of assisting with the major loss of profits insurance claim. This loss of profit covered for a twelve month period, and resulted in a major payout in December 1980. The insurance companies involved were also involved with the Mount Erebus disaster – not a good year for them.

In 1993 I was made redundant at Tomoana, and purchased with my wife Catherine, Premier Fire Security. This was a small business selling and servicing fire extinguishers situated in Karamu Road, and employing one salesman / serviceman we carried out servicing the fire extinguishers and hose reels for many Napier, Hastings and Central Hawke’s Bay businesses. Cath looked after the administration side of the venture, and we eventually sold the business to Fire Security Services in 2009.

And is it still going?

Yes, it’s still operating but it’s now in Maraekakaho Road, just past the fire station.

And is it still called the same?

No, I think it’s now … well, it went to Fire Security Services … I think it might still be called Fire Security Services.

In 1998 we purchased a section in Amanda Place and built our new family home there, and remained there until 2011 when we shifted into Summerset in the Orchard. Our town house in Summerset was a two-storeyed unit and when we shifted in there only a portion of the town houses on the northern side of the stream had been completed. It was very interesting watching the contractors work and experience the transformation of the village. We were able to follow the construction of the community centre and the bowling green, and the road, Blossom Avenue, on to the runway and finally the Pavilion. We were all very lucky residents to have such wonderful facilities.

To go back, when you were doing the mail first at Tomoana, did you have to stamp every letter or did you have a franking machine?

We had a franking machine.

And at that stage can you remember how much the postage was?

Thrupence? [Threepence or 3d] I think it was … every time the franking machine had used a certain amount of money – I can’t remember the exact total – I would have to put that franking machine in a bag and use my push bike to go up to the Post Office with a cheque to pay for the next lot.

And would that be, say, every two months?

No, I think it would be every month, ‘cause as you can appreciate, all the mail went out with the killing reports. Every client’s stock that was killed, and being an export works there’s a lot of stock.

And would you be sending stock overseas as well? The bills and everything?

No. Most of the … anything overseas was handled through our head office in Wellington.

And that’s where the Tomoana head office ..?

Yes. That’s when they were taken over, or bought out by Vesteys.

And what year was that about – would it be in the seventies?

No – I can remember Lord Vestey, or young Lord Vestey, Sam, … it was before he was a Lord. His father sent him out to learn the business from the UK. Lord Vestey at the time, said … oh, sort of “Son, you are going to learn, and the first place you are going to go to is Tomoana”. Couple of times I’d have to go through to the airport in Napier to pick him up in the car, so …

And did they have cars for that sort of thing? You’d be driving and taking the car?

Sometimes it was whoever was available to take it and pick him up.

So the basic head office at that stage was in Wellington …

It was in Wellington.

… and then when Vesteys took over would they do direct to the company here?

No – well, still through Wellington. The Fletcher … or the Vestey organisation … they had Tomoana Works, the Westfield Works in Auckland, the Patea Works at Patea, and I think they had a share … they were definitely involved with the Kaiti Works in Gisborne.

And did they have any butchers’ shops of their own?

Yes, well they had a butchers’ shop at the Works itself. At Westfield I remember they had one at their gateway. Initially the one was in the middle of the Works, then they built a new one at the front gate at Tomoana.

So local people could go and buy there as well as the staff?

Yes. They could go and buy … yes.

And can you remember at all how much a price, say, of a side of hogget or something like that ..?

Oh, I can really remember – I still quote it to lots of people – you could buy a side of lamb in the butchers’ shop for thirty shillings. And you’re lucky to buy [chuckle]

A sausage for that.

… that’s it, yes.

And did you get many accidents or anything in the Works?


Or strikes?

There was [were] a few strikes. I mean in those days they were … any strike would be a nation-wide strike really. And the managers … I remember when I started there, Alec Kirkpatrick was the manager and he had his finger on the pulse.

And then there were some other people that you know who still live round here – could you tell us some of those people?

Well, one of the ones that I was talking about – I’d had twelve months as office boy and then my successor came along. His name is Alan Edwards. He lives at Havelock North and he has got an interest in Tomoana still … when I say an interest, he’s been round to see me a couple of times and we’ve discussed different staff members. Another – I suppose you’d call it an interesting thing – we’ve got another couple of ex-Tomoana people with us in Summerset, and …

Was Max one of them?

Max? Yeah, Max was in the butchers’ shop.

He’s Max Harris.

And there’s Jean McKay.

Who’s at the Village as well?

Yes. I know when I started at Summerset in my early coffee session – or in the evening, it was – she said “I know you”. [Chuckle] And I had to … oops! I was very embarrassed because … and she said “we used to work together at Tomoana”, and that’s when I got it. Yeah, she was a typist. And also one we knew was Margaret Hooper, I think her name … she hasn’t long been there. She was in the office when I was there too.

So all up, how many people when you first started, were working at Tomoana, and how many when you finished?

Averaged out – I know at the time of the closure we used to employ eighteen hundred people in the season, but I’m just trying to think of the … be … I suppose it’d be ‘bout fifteen hundred when I first started there.

And if it’s right in the season when you’re doing the killing of the lambs and everything, it would be busier than normal?

Oh yes.

How many months would be busy, and how many months be slack?

I suppose you would have about two-three months, be on a six-chain kill, and in the real off-season there’s only one chain.

If you’re on a chain how many different workers would it be, perhaps?

On the chain – yeah, I think it was a thirty-two-man chain, and then of course you’ve got all the support work, and I’m afraid I can’t …

Did they all have to wear the same uniform?

In those days, compared with now, I mean – no. Nowadays you’ve got to be all in white. In those days – well, the men used to wear dungarees, you know, the jeans and a black butcher’s singlet and gumboots.

No aprons or anything?

No, no, no. And in the colder weather they’d have a … just an old sports coat or something, just to keep you …

To keep you warm?

Yes. And if I may at this stage … one of the chappies that worked on the chain there – he sent his jacket home for washing, and when he came back to work on the Monday and he had this nice clean jacket on, and it was a bit cold or something and put it on. And he went home and had a growling at his wife, because after she washed it she sewed the lining up inside.


And of course, went to … ‘oh, that’s a nice lambs fry – I’ll have that’. Opened his coat up, and [speaking together] …

Put it in his side …

… put it in the lining – it went straight down. [Chuckle]

But however, they had … you know, in the other areas where they were working, processing the offal, they’d have aprons on of course, and if they were handling the wool. I mean the wool used to be … once the skin was taken off it would go down to the level below, it was painted – the inside of the pelt was painted, and left for twenty-four hours – a day – and the next day the wool would be pulled right off it. And of course the wool was sorted and bagged and graded, and the pelts went down to be processed for pickling, and they were sent over… well, they called it pickling – preserved. And of course then the pelts were packed into barrels. They weren’t salted.

So pickled in a brine?

Well – yes. They were washed – yes, they’d be pickled in a brine. And the tallow … anything that was from the boning room …

And did you make candles or anything like that?


Or – the tallow, was it sent away?

The tallow was in barrels – in casks – and sent away. They made the casks at the Works … the barrels at the Works … the wooden barrels at that stage. They’d bend them all and everything. So most of the … oh, whatever was possible was made at the Works.

Right from start to finish?

Yes, yes.

And the small goods – they would all be made into offal that would be sold in the butchers’ shop?

Overseas export. I mean when you’re killing a couple of thousand lambs a day – I mean you’ve got a couple of thousand … I mean all the people in New Zealand – they wouldn’t have eaten it, so … oh no, they were all packed and frozen and exported overseas. And of course in those days the carcasses were all frozen, and when they were exported they were loaded into the railway wagons and went by train to Napier. Then they were unloaded out of the railway wagons into the slings that go up on to the boat, and into the holds. And of course nowadays, it’s all containers.

So you’ve seen a huge turn around in that, too?


Now if you went in to work, did you have to punch in or out?

No. No.

What about the men on the chains?

Men on the chains … I mean they recorded – yes. The foreman would be going round, he’d know who was there, because I mean everything had to be manned on the chain and if somebody was off sick somebody else was appointed.

Drafted … and did you have a smoko break?


How many hours a day would the chain work?

The chain would start at half past seven. At half past nine they’d have smoko ‘til quarter to ten. Lunch was twelve to one – an hour for lunch – and afternoon tea was three to three fifteen, and they finished at four thirty. When I say they finished at four thirty – they were going home at four thirty.

Did they have to have showers and that before they went? Because they did at Borthwick’s.

Yes. The showers were there – well, I think most of them had showers because they wouldn’t be allowed in the home. There were – I know some of the tradesmen for smoko at half past nine – they would be sitting at their smoko room. They ‘d be around the Works somewhere, and they’d make sure they were sitting down when the whistle went at half past nine, they were picking up their cup to have a coffee, and when it went at quarter to ten they’d be putting it … and then go back to work. And when it was go home time, they’d be queued up at the gate waiting for the whistle to … and we noticed that, especially ‘cause the office at Tomoana’s right … just inside the gate, and … hello – yeah, it must be getting pretty close – they’re queuing up. [Chuckle]

To go back to the office piece, would they have had a time of the year when you had a lot of new people starting?

Well from the office point of view it was just continuous. But with the chains and all round the works, I mean that was seasonal. They’d come in and …



The barrels that they made to send it away – where did they get the wood from?

It was for the tallow. It was white pine – the edibles was white pine, and the pelts, they’d import the … I don’t know where they got the timber for it – the stays – but for the white pine, they used to shape it at the cooperage department. There was about five or six people working in there.

And the steel would come from overseas?

The steel?

For the bands on it.

Yes. Yeah, there was big rolls of it, and then they’d would cut it to length … the right length … and bend it. And of course it’s shaped too – apart from the circle it had to be …

On an angle. And that would have to be weighed on scales, too?

No – oh, the full casks, yeah – everything, yes.

And as each stock unit came in did it have to be weighed as well?

No. Not when it was coming in – I mean the farmer would send in a hundred lambs or whatever …

But they didn’t weigh them in and out?

No, no.

‘Cause they do that now apparently.

Now Syd’s going to tell us a bit about his father and the Whakatu Freezing Works, and his involvement with the Fire Brigade and the corner store.

When Mum and Dad shifted to Hastings here and they bought the corner store, Mum managed the store which was like a corner grocery nowadays. And Dad worked at Whakatu … went to Whakatu Freezing Works as a … well, he was there as a night watchman. He used to have to bike to work every night, or day – whatever shift he was on – and he was involved with the formation of the Whakatu Freezing Works’ fire brigade, carrying on from his involvement in Ellerslie. Both Dad and Grandad were in the Volunteer Fire Brigade. There was a volunteer Fire Brigade in Ellerslie in those days.

How many men would you have on the Fire Brigade?

At Tomoana – I can only go by that – we had about fifteen men. They were all employed around the Works and of course when there was a fire … initially they had fire alarms around the Works, and bells would go, and that was just to advise the fire brigade … our own Brigade, and we’d go and respond to it. And then later on with Work Control … OSH … coming in, when the alarm went off it was complete evacuation of all of the people – they had their assembly points, and we would have to carry on to get to the fire.

When I first started at Tomoana in the Brigade, they had a Model T Ford. And one of the early fires when I was here – actually it was a night time fire – they couldn’t get the Model T started, so in 1953 I think it’d be … ‘53 or 1954 … they bought the fire engine from Napier Fire Brigade – had one up for sale and they bought it, and it was a 1935 V8 I think it was … Ford V8. And we were made – we were rapt! [Chuckle] They also had a trailer pump, and with the lake at Tomoana, it was ideal having a good water supply. There’s also a reticulated water supply. They had a big lake there – in fact that was where the first swimming sports in Hastings were held – in the lake at Tomoana. Don’t know what year that was, but different ones have always commented on that.

Did you have a Christmas party for all the staff?

No. The office staff had a Christmas party every year, and management used to take us up to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Tearooms, which was a lovely place for cakes and tea.

A children’s Christmas party?

No, no, not for the kids through the firm itself, but with the fire brigade we had a … Father Christmas used to come each year for the fire brigade. And another thing the fire brigade we had – we were very involved with the Fire Brigade competition work, and we had competitions at the Tomoana Works … had a track there. We used to go all round Hawke’s Bay and in fact we competed in the National Fire Brigade competitions a few years.

So it was a complete way of life, wasn’t it?

It was, really. Yes.

Did they have a library or anything like that?

No – no library.

Or a sick bay?

They had a First Aid room which was up on the top floor, where they’d treat the blokes that had a little knife cut, or a big knife cut or something like that. And we didn’t have any ambulance as such there, but in those days it was only a 111 call away. I don’t think ambulances were heavily involved as they are nowadays.

How did they get to work – mostly on their bikes?

Bikes mainly. Oh, actually we had a big car park there too, but bikes. In fact even before I went to Tomoana … worked at Tomoana … I vaguely remember I was at high school, and it was during the war years – at the back of the car park they had the air raid shelters there. And I can remember as a youngster running up and down those … the top of them, while Dad was judging or something in the fire brigade competitions [chuckles] for the Whakatu Brigade.

We haven’t treated the school much – was there anything else outstanding with your schooling at all?

No – I suppose you’d say I was just a … I think I was average … but I wasn’t involved in … heavily in any sport. I played rugby on the Saturday afternoon rugby, but I wasn’t up to the First or Second XV, sort of thing, like that. And cricket – no, I didn’t partake in any summer sport.


Scouts – yes, I joined the Frimley Scout group. Or actually, I was a Cub, and did the Cubs first, and went up to the Scouts. And I was involved, once again, just … yeah, I was a patrol leader at one stage but I didn’t go any further with that.

What about your Mum – did she belong to Women’s Institute or Women’s Division or anything like that?

No, no – Mum … no, no, Mum was a stay at home I think – well …

And in the corner store?

In the corner store. Mind you, the store wasn’t open on a Saturday or Sunday. It was just Monday to Friday.

Oh. And how long did they have that store for?

They sold that in 1982 [1949 – she died in 1982], she sold it. That’s how long she had the store for.

So we’ve covered the drama societies … if you went back and did it all again, would you still do everything?

I think I would.

So – it’s a good life.

That’s right. But I’m now at the stage, being an eighty-year-old [chuckle] I just want to …



Thank you very much, Syd, for a very interesting outline of what happened, and we’ll end it there.

Okay – thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

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