Terence (Terry) Edward Longley Interview
18 September 2014. I’m recording the life and times of Terry [Terence] Longley, Havelock North and we’ll start off with some statistics and things about where his family came from.
My father who died at the age of 93 was born in Invercargill and he was born out of wedlock. His mother was Italian, his father was an Englishman by the name of John Thomas Longley. My Dad was then put into an orphanage where he went from Invercargill up to Auckland and his father John Thomas Longley at that stage had married somebody and found out where he was and went to the orphanage and took him out of the orphanage to live with him and his then wife.
Dad never got on with his stepmother. They had children and he was one that was left out and he had a really tough time so he didn’t start school until he was about 6 or 7 and he was about 11 years of age when he’d had enough of the relationship with his stepmother and he decided to run away. So he ran away from Auckland and somehow got down to Marlborough, the Seddon district, and he would have been about 11 or 12 and he then got a job working on a farm as a farm hand. He always said that the people who took him in were very kind to him and he was fed inside the house. He worked on the farm and he had a little outhouse where he lived. He lived there for a number of years and gradually moved from there until he arrived at the West Coast and he went to work in the coal mines in Blackball on the West Coast. Blackball is a very well known place and there he met my mother’s uncle, George Brady and he was a coal miner and George had come out from Scotland many years prior to that and had gone to Australia and then come over to New Zealand and settled in Blackball.
Now my mother, at that stage, had been in contact with her brother and decided that she would come out from Scotland to New Zealand and she eventually came out and she landed in Lyttelton and she travelled from Lyttelton over the Otira Pass on a Cobb & Co. coach. I only wish now that I had sat down and talked more with Mum and Dad like we all do. Things you missed out on. Just that journey alone would have been, I can imagine it being two or three days and with the result that she had all that experience and she never talked about it. Anyway she went to Blackball and got a job up there. I think she was more of a housekeeper and that’s where she met my father and that’s where they got married.
Now a sideline to my father and my uncle, George Brady, was that in Blackball, that’s where the Labour Party started off, and my Uncle George was one of those that initially was in that group of men that started off the Labour Party and Dad was an ardent Labour supporter all his life.
Years later when I was a young boy of 17, living in Cobden, I used to go up to Blackball and I played football for Blackball. The hall where the Labour Party was founded, you can see it in a lot of brochures, it had a big sign on the top of it saying ‘United together or divided we fall’. Words written all over the front of it. So that was a fairly historic place and from there Dad eventually came down to Greymouth and lived in Greymouth and he was a coal miner all his life. Worked in the pits. Very good worker. My Dad was not a very tall man. He was about 5ft 5in – very short – and they lived in Greymouth and from Mum and Dad there were 6 children in the family. My oldest sister Monica; my older brother Noel who is deceased. Monica is still alive – she’s 88. My brother (deceased) who died in Brisbane. Myself; my younger brother Ronnie; my younger sister June and the youngest in the family was Brian so there were 6 all together.
I can recall during those years of living in Greymouth and we’re going back – I was born in 1931. I’m 83 now. 1931 that was just coming out of the depression years which were pretty tough time, and I can recall my father being man-powered and going up the West Coast to a place called the Lyall where they were putting roads in and was public works and he would go away from Greymouth one week and he wouldn’t come back for 6 weeks. He’d stay up there and camp up there at the site and work and came back and then all those years even as a young boy, I can just think back, it must have been tough for Mum and Dad because the money just wasn’t there and yet I can look back and see that I was never really hungry.
I went to the Convent School in Cobden and then from there I went over to the Marist Brothers in Greymouth eventually. I never did well. I don’t know what happened with me with school – it just didn’t go well with me – I struggled all the time. Even when I left – I always remember when I left school – in those days you got to Standard 6 and you got a School Certificate – and I always remember Brother Fabian from the Marist Brothers saying to me “Longley here’s your certificate. You never did well at school and I don’t think you will ever do well out in the world. And then when I think back 60 years later, when I established my business in Hastings and it was flourishing I had a service over in Napier and I went to the service and lo and behold here was Brother Fabian there. He was a very, very old man but I went across to him and I said “Hello Brother” and he looked at me puzzled. I said “Do you know who I am” and he said “No”. I said “I’m Terry Longley”. You could see the recollection coming back. I said to him “I want you to know that since I left school I’ve done very, very well. I have now got a business in Hastings with (I think at that stage), a staff of about 8”. And he just looked at me flabbergasted. I’m sure he recalled telling me I’d never do any good in life.
West Coast people of that era, you’d see tradesmen and people doing jobs and when they did something I used to have a go at it later on and I didn’t do as well as the tradesmen but I could do it. Anything. Those people were very, very adaptable, very practical people and I always feel at stages that I was just one generation away from pioneers. That’s what pioneers do. They made do with what was available around them to survive, build things and to utilise things. The convent in Cobden would take I would think anything like 100 pupils, it was a catholic school, and the nuns used to teach there. Looking back now I always felt sorry for them because those people went into a religious order and then they were seconded to teaching and some of them would never teachers, they never would be, but they tried their best. For me it just didn’t work at all for me.
You mentioned another school.
Marist Brothers. That was a convent. You did your primary education and then from there you went over to the Marist school. That was a boys school.
And that’s where you were given your certificate was it?
Yes, that’s where I got the certificate and told that I would never do any good.
I look back and at the age of 15 I decided that my father was a coal miner, my older brother was a coal miner and my father said to me “You’re not going into the mines, you’re not going into the pits, you go out and get a job”. They didn’t get it for you, you had to fend for yourself so I did a bit of thinking and one day I decided to borrow my sister’s Raleigh 20 push bike and I would bike 15 miles out from Greymouth out to a place called Dobson which was a coal mine and it was a coal mine where my father and brother worked and I parked my bike at the front of the coal mine and walked in and went up to the place where the call the lamp house where they have all the lamps that the men wear to go into the mine. I went up there and the man said “What do you want lad?” and I said “I’m looking for a job” and he said “Well wait here, the underviewer or the boss will be coming out of the mine soon and you can see him”. So I waited there and eventually this man came out of the mine, walked up to me and said “What can I do for you lad” and I said “I’m looking for a job”. He looked at me and said “Too young. Come back later in a few years”. And I was very tall, I was just over 6 ft and very slim. I looked a bit older than I was. I was only 15 and to go into the coal mines you had to be 18. Then he said to me “What’s your name?” and I said “Longley” and he said are you Ernie Longley’s son?”. I said “Yes”. He said “Noel Longley, is that your brother?”. I said “Yes”. He said “Start Monday”. See they had good names, they were good workers. So he knew that that was a family trait so I went into the coal mines then. Got home that night. Dad arrived home and I was a bit concerned and I thought what is he going to say. He came in and looked at me and said “You went up to the pit today didn’t you?” and I said “Yes”. He said “I told you not to go” and I said “Well I felt you were working there that I would work there” and that was the best thing I could have said to him. He said “Righto then”.
So I started working in the coal mines. A great education because the type of man you were working with was – there was such a cosmopolitan population down there. There were people from all over the world. There were two Chinamen and those two Chinamen taught me something that carried me right through my life. And there were Yugoslavs, Dalmations, Welshmen, English, Australian, every nationality. So when you went down the mine you worked with these men and they depended on you to do a good job and I had to learn that very quickly and for safety’s sake you had to make sure you looked after each other because it is a dangerous job. Anyhow the first week I was there the boss said to me “Longley you go with those two men. They’re working in the old workings. You go with them and they’ll show you what to do”. So we went down the mine which took about an hour to get down on trolleys, we were that far down. So I went down the mine and these two guys said “Come with me” and said “What we’re doing we’re sealing off the old working so that any gas in there won’t get into the main workings” and I said “Right” and they said “What we’ve got to carry in there is blocks, like these concrete blocks, and bags of cement”. Now bags of cement weigh 100 weight. I was a 15 year old. They were men in their 30s and 40s so they would pick up a bag and throw it over their shoulder and they were off. I was strong enough to pick one up and throw it over my shoulder but I didn’t go very far. I’d go down on my knees. They’d watch me and I’d pick it up and go a bit further until one of them came to me and said “Just a minute lad. I want to tell you something. You’re working down the mine, you’re doing a man’s job. On Friday you’re going to get a man’s pay. You are going to get the same as I get. No one is going to help you down here. You do it for yourself. If you can’t do it well you shouldn’t be here”.
So that was an education. So I thought I had better do this and I did everything, gritted my teeth and pulled the bag until I eventually was getting on top of it. But at night time I was this tall thin guy and I just loved football – rugby – and I did a lot of training for that and I was working hard and coming home at night time and I’d just get home about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I’d walk into the lounge, collapse on the couch and sleep for about 5 hours, exhausted. Mum would wake me up, give me some food, I’d go to bed and I was up at 5 in the morning back into the pits. Doing that every day for months. You wouldn’t believe what happened to me. This thin skinny guy became like Joe Palooka. It was like someone had blown the balloon up. My arms, shoulders and chest, legs and thighs just went out. I became so strong. The development with the type of work we were doing.
So from there I went to jobs like trucking the coal. Trucking the coal meant that you from where all the empty boxes were stored, you’d take one into your coal miners. You might work a couple of hundred yards in the coal face and you’d push an empty in and they would have a full one there to bring out so you’d take one in and you’d bring the full one out. Those men were on contract and they got so much for their tonnage. They worked very hard and underground you didn’t have to contend with the ultra violet rays of the sun so you could work twice as hard as you would on the surface and those men worked to the stage they perspired so much that their clothes were just wet with sweat. Anyway one particular day, they were good miners, and they were filling a lot of boxes, 30 or 35 boxes a day that was big money, and it was really, really interesting. And I thought well right my men are going to get as many empty boxes as I could and I’d rush in with the boxes and next to me was a chap by the name of Willy Long, a Chinaman and he was next to me and he had his miners on the other side and I would run in and he would walk in and I’d go past him, go into the face, rush out with my boxes and when I got out there I would stop and talk to the other truckers and then I’d get another box and rush in and all the time I was rushing and going in and stopping, Willy Long would just go at a turtle’s pace so at the end of the day I spoke to Willy. My miners said thank you very much Terry, we’ve got our allocation of boxes and I said to Willy “My miners have got so many boxes today, how many have yours got?” and he was always about 5 to 6 boxes a day more than me. And he never rushed and he taught me that just to slow down, be methodical, do your job but keep at it. Don’t be a harem scarem and rush here and then have 5 minutes talking to somebody, just continually keep on working.
The comradeship and how people depended on each other and you found that was something very steeped in coal mining history and procedures because we did have some terrible accidents. We had falls of coal and men that we knew well and travelled in the buses to work and sat down and had lunch with them were killed with falls of coal. We had those very sad moments. It was a dangerous occupation.
Then I had a great love of rugby league football and when I wasn’t at work or at home I’d be out on the football field with a ball just running. Then I met a chap, I knew the family, and we met down the football field one day and his name was Ken Monford and that was the Monfords were one of the top rugby league players in New Zealand and possibly the world. Cecil Monford who came from Blackball was eventually taken over to Wigan in 1947 which was early. He got a contract and played there for about 15 years and his name is very revered in Wigan. Anyway I met Ken who was a New Zealand Kiwi No. 8, a wonderful footballer, and we just used to have to play football. We’d go down, might have two a side or three a side, over a full football field and we would run and I developed speed. Loved it! My whole life was football.
So he said to me “Terry I want you to come up to Blackball and meet some of the boys up there” so I went up with them and I was only 16 then going on 17 and I trained with them and they asked me to play in their premier rugby league team in Blackball and I can show you a photograph of my second and third year playing with them and some of them were the players I played with were some of the greatest rugby league internationals of that era and we won the West Coast championship which was extremely strong in those days and then we went to Canterbury and we beat the Canterbury champion team by about 55 to nil. Then we went to Auckland and beat Mt Albert up there 35-15. And we became the champion club side of New Zealand in 1950. I’ll show you that photograph.
Now with the rugby league on the West Coast, during the war – the miners used to work from Monday to Friday, and during the war because of the war effort and they wanted to get the coal to send over to the United Kingdom to the ships and that, they asked the coal miners on the West Coast if they would work on a Saturday so with the result of that where they played their rugby league on Saturday they were allowed to play their rugby league on Sunday. That started from that and is still doing it. Other codes play on the Saturday, rugby league on a Sunday because of that war effort. As a result of that the coal miners during a Saturday they found it difficult because they were working so many shifts during the week getting all this coal out, on the weekend they couldn’t go to the pub and have a beer. I don’t know whether it was ever recorded but I know it came from Wellington but Peter Fraser and the Police were to just tai ho on the West Coast and let the coal miners, after they knocked off work at 8 or 9 o’clock at night let them go in there and have a few drinks and that’s how it started on the West Coast that the pubs stayed open. Occasionally the Police would have a raid just to say they were there but it was an unwritten law that the coal miners would not allowed to be hassled if they wanted to go into the pub. And the West Coasters were not heavy beer drinkers. They would go in there. It was more of a companionship and friendship sort of a thing and they would drink long glasses but they wouldn’t drink them fast. And if you ever took them away from the West Coast and say went to Christchurch where they had six o’clock closing they couldn’t do it. The Christchurch people would out drink them every time. Very slow drinkers but did it over a long period. I loved the football scene and felt very privileged to play with all those great footballers and be coached by some of the great rugby league coaches.
I then went to Christchurch. I’d been to Christchurch to see my aunty and liked the place and I got this feeling that I didn’t want to stay in the coal mines all my life and I’d like to go into something else so I joined the Police Force which I signed up for and eventually they called me up and I did a couple of months work just as a roustabout in the Greymouth Police Station and from there I went over to training in Lyttelton in the Police Academy over there and I spent 6 months there training and then I was allocated a job at the Christchurch Central Police Station. In certain aspects of Police work I was particularly good, more so in the welfare side of it. I really wanted to get into a certain department but I just didn’t have the nous to get in which was a shame but anyway I stayed in there for six years. During that time I played top football for Marist, the top rugby team in Christchurch but prior to that I played for Canterbury teams and rep for Canterbury Rugby League and then I also started off with my friends. We started off a big charity match in Christchurch and it was the Police playing the Jockeys and the Jockeys were allowed to invite All Blacks or noted footballers and then we used to … of course in those days the public had a great respect for the Police more so than today I believe and we used to have this charity match on a Sunday and Worth’s Circus used to come out with their lions and do a wee bit and marching girls would do something and it was a big day. At one stage we got 25,000 people coming and raised all this money which we gave to charity and that was good.
From there New Zealand Police selected their first NZ Police team which I captained and we played in the Services tournament with the Air Force, Army and Navy up in Auckland. So I captained that team.
From there I left. I didn’t get the job I wanted in the Police Force. I was no good on the apprehension side of things. I was really into welfare work and working with children that I enjoyed. I did quite a bit of that so I decided to leave and I left and came up to Palmerston North and that’s when I met my wife Rua. We got married in Palmerston and then Shanny was born in Palmerston, no Shanny was born up here in Hastings. We came up to Hastings and I’ve been here ever since.
From there I started off the… being in the Police Force I was also in the department that dealt with sudden deaths and accidents and I got to know a lot of funeral directors and got to like what they were doing as far as the care of families, so you can see that interest in the Police Force with caring and then the funeral directing side – it just gelled with me and I decided I wanted to be a funeral director.
While I was also in the Police Force in Christchurch we had many cases – we had one case where, today it’s a common occurrence of Police being attacked, but on this occasion we were in Christchurch and a Policeman down in Southland had been going out to interview someone regarding a case and on the way out this person took a shot at his motor car and put a bullet in the front of his radiator and that was unheard of in those days. This guy escaped and got out into the bush so they called in policemen from all over the country and I was able to go down and we went down there. We were down there about two weeks before we got him. He was alive, he wasn’t killed. But that was an experience.
And then while I was a policeman in Christchurch I took the first call of the Hume/Parker murder and that was… an ambulance had been despatched to the Cashmere hills because the two girls alleged that their mother had fallen over the cliff and was injured. The ambulance was called and when the ambulance got there and they saw the extent of the injuries they could see there was something suspicious so they phoned the Police and I took the first call and they said they needed to have some detectives out there immediately because they felt the whole thing was suspicious. Eventually during the day the police went out, the two girls were arrested. I was there. We placed them in the cells and as a young man and I was only 20, one of the girls was quite a stunning looking girl and you wondered why they ever did it. But they were an unusual group. We put them in two separate cells and during the night we had to go out and check on them every hour and they sang to each other all night. They just sang songs to each other. Their lesbian relationship developed and was quite strong.
So then you came up to Hawke’s Bay and Shanny was born.
I came to Palmerston North and I managed a brick company there for a couple of years and I played football in Manawatu and I captained the Manawatu team when I was there but then with work and family and things like that I slackened off a wee bit. We decided to move the company that I was working for up to Pakipaki which we did. Rua came up. At that stage Rua was pregnant with Shanny and we got a house in Hastings and I worked out at Pakipaki but the company didn’t work out and it eventually folded up. Remember the old freezing works shed there and when we went out to that “Hawthorn House” for a meal we had a walk round the grounds, remember that. Well I showed some of them some of the bricks that I’d made. They were in that building.
It was a brick kiln.
The name of the brick was called Californian brick and it was made from limestone from the quarry. We put a German dye with it called Febtone dye and they got the most magnificent colours. Because of the whiteness of the lime you could get wonderful colours coming out and when you broke the stone – the slab was so wide and it had a line through the centre and you cracked it and all the white limestone features were on the face of the… it was quite a unique stone.
Anyway that went broke and I eventually went out to work, like everyone else, out to the freezing works at Tomoana. I worked there for about three years in the wool department. At the same time I found it very difficult to meet Hawke’s Bay people. If you hadn’t been born here before the earthquake and just after they didn’t want to know who you are. It was a very closed off. I found it very difficult and very lonely. It was very difficult so I thought the only way I can get to meet people was to start playing football again so I came out to live in Havelock and I joined the Havelock football club and that opened a lot of doors as far as friendship went and meeting people. But I found it very closed off.
So from my police training and I still had that desire to be a funeral director and I eventually met Fred Geor, who had three sons, and with one of them I decided we would start off a partnership and we opened up Geor & Longley. Once we opened that up and I never realised these sort of barriers – I could feel in the community everyone was looking at me sideways because I was a johnny-come-lately. Sam Tong and Des Peryer were the boys in town and the whole community supported them and they didn’t want this young whipper-snapper and on top of that the worst thing that could possibly happen was that I was a catholic! I had everything going against me.
So anyway I had one of these things I learnt from my Chinese friend Willy Long just keep plodding, just keep on going, don’t give in and I had so many friends say to me “Terry” the longer I stayed in funeral directing and just didn’t seem to make any headway they said “Terry for goodness sake give it up, get out of it you’re not going to make a success” and of course we were struggling financially and if it hadn’t been for Rua who was such a wonderful artist and commercial artist, bringing in some money we would never have survived. So we started off and I also noticed that as I kept on working people would look at me and say this guy is not going to go away. He’s going to stay, he’s rooted to the place so I stayed on and gradually with funeral directing you don’t see a quick result, you see just a gradual doing better, takes years and years. I’m talking about 10 to 15 years before things started to come right.
But what I noticed in the town was that very thing I noticed when I first came here, not being able to meet people that didn’t want to be met I also found that in the business I was coming up against barriers, like invisible barriers. I couldn’t understand what was wrong and people in all different secret societies in town and people of note say, Gordon Roach was one. There was a whole group of people that ran the community. They did everything – they ran the church, they ran this, they ran that, and of course a whipper-snapper like me coming in and starting off was just a no-no. But anyway I persevered and realised that the only way I could get better was to look at the strengths of my competitors and try and be better than them. If they were good at a certain thing I needed to be better than that. I didn’t want to look at what they were doing wrong because that was negative. I wanted to see what they were doing right and so I developed a system and it started, I could feel it working but it wasn’t fast. Anyone else would not even notice the progress but I could feel it happening until I eventually I got the acceptance within the community and things started to gel and go on well.
Okay when you started funeral directing obviously there have been changes over time. What changes have there been?
Well in the very early days as a funeral director if anyone died they would die at the hospital. Some would die at home and we didn’t have many rest homes in those days and some would die at rest homes but the majority of people would die in the hospital and for a funeral director what you would do when the family required your help to arrange things you had premises, they weren’t elaborate premises but they were adequate. You had a hearse, a removal vehicle and obviously stock and plant to do caskets and to do what you had to do. And then you arranged that. You went out and arranged the funeral service at the church. You’d ring up the Minister and say “So and so has died”. “Oh yes I know them”. “Could we have a service at the church”. “Oh yes we’ll do that” and that’s all you did as a funeral director.
And then as the years went by the churches were finding it hard financially to do a lot of things but one was in order to buy those prayer books and hymn books – they were made overseas and they were beautifully bound and they were costing them so much each. If you had a congregation of three or four hundred people you were up for tens of thousands of dollars so we were asked could we print the hymns on to a foolscap paper. We said yes we’ll do that.
So we got the typewriter out and type it up and take to the service and that’s good they’d have their bit of paper and sing their hymns. And then you would get a family come in and say “We’d like you to arrange mother’s service but we don’t want a foolscap page. Can you do something better than that?”. We thought we’ll get a better typewriter and we’ll get a better copier so we did that and we started with the foolscap we used to do it into a sort of a 2 page book and it had the hymns and “Would you mind putting on there that Jim Brown is going to say a few words and someone is going to sing a solo” so you were developing into doing out a service sheet.
Then the next thing that happened was someone would come in and say “Terry you do out those service sheets on a typewriter but you can do a better job. We want something better for Mum. There are machines around today to do those things”. The difference in those between the equipment you had for producing those to the ones that they wanted was many thousand dollars more so you said “Righto” so you did and you have them in black and white and they looked good and take them out and they’d say “We’re thrilled with that”. But after a while the person would come back and say “Is it possible to put Mum’s photograph on the front?”. How do we do this. So then we learned how to do it and we then put a black and white photograph on the front so people would come in with photographs and they’d say “We like this one”. They could be really dull and hard to reproduce but we did our best.
And then we had occasion where people would come in and say “Look he’s holding a glass in his hand. We love the photograph but can you take the glass of beer out?”. So we used to get masking tapes in black and take it out and do a reasonably good job.
Then the next thing happened. “Terry, could you do one in colour?”. The difference between a copier in black and white to a machine was, I think the jump was to about $50-60,000 dollars and we felt “Righto we’ll try it”. So we got the machines in and they did a wonderful job with colour photographs but they invariably used to break down and you’d have a service at 10 o’clock in the morning and you’d start printing at 8 and suddenly the machine breaks down and you haven’t got your copy so we learned that we must do them the day before.
But if you wanted something printed that was presentable you’d go to a printer and say “Here’s the format. Print that out” and you’ll do that and say “I’ll set it up and in a couple of days I’ll come back to you and you can okay it” – this is for a wedding – “okay it and then we can print it” so over a period of a week or two they’d do this. We only had two days. So we had to get the information, we had to get the photograph, got to get all these things and it was an absolute nightmare.
Then had one case of a very well known man died here in Hastings and on the back the wife wanted to put a photograph of her and her husband with the words underneath ‘together’ or something like that and we thought ‘Righto we’ll do that’ and we printed it and took the copy down to her and she looked at it and she said “I just hate my” – everyone hates their photograph don’t they? ”Oh I don’t like that photograph, that’s awful, can you change that?”. We said we can’t change it, that’s the photograph. She said “But if I give you another photograph can you take the head of that one and put it on this one?”. (Gasps of amazement). I said to the office lady, Sue Pinfold, “What on earth are we going to do?”. She said “I don’t know”. Anyway I got a pair of scissors and I cut the head off and put it on top of the other one and it came out very good.
So here we are, those are the sort of things. Now go down there now and you’ll see my grandson sitting up there with three computers, he’s got a $120,000 printer that printers have in town. He’s got another one over there for stapling and he’s got another one to cut the edges off so they look neat and tidy. The expectation today is so great but they don’t realise that we’re funeral directors, we’re not printers but we’ve been forced to be printers and with the result that doing that sort of thing it’s incurring a lot of expense and you can hear many people saying “Oh dear how awful it is the cost of a funeral service today”. Our costs are really reasonable but what people get us to put on to that account is unbelievable even to the extent that they want to have screening of photographs at the service on a video. Grandson has a special computer there and people will come in and give him 100 photographs to do up to make this photo show.
So what’s happened from the question you asked me “What are the changes in funeral directing” they’re dramatic to the stage where we just handle the deceased, talk to the family, have the funeral service, have the burial or cremation, today we are doing all those things, plus we’re printers, plus we are doing all sideshows, plus the funeral service itself on a number of occasions is becoming an event not a funeral service. It’s an event and changing times and people are going away from the church. Invariably you will go out to the family and talk to them and say where would you like to have the service. “Not having it in a church, never been to church, not going to church”. And we’ll say “Do you realise if we did contact the Minister you are able to use the facilities?”. “No we don’t want that. Have you got a chapel?”. “Yes we’ve got a chapel”. You’ll find a lot of funeral directors have chapels that are too small. We are very fortunate in that. I’ve always said if we got a chapel it would be big and we are one of the last of the funeral directors in this area to get a chapel and we got one that seats 200 and will stand another 2 or 300. So it works out quite well but that’s the dramatic change in what we do in a funeral service to what we do now. All sorts of things, catering. They said “Oh can you do the catering for us?”.
Wasn’t it wonderful in the early days when you had a death in your family all your neighbours and friends would knock on your door and within no time you had scones, buns, cakes and everything coming through. People were doing that and they were feeling good about doing that because that was something practical. They couldn’t help in any other way but giving but today that’s gone. Still some people would take a certain amount of food round to a home if they’re close friends but today they’ll say “Food, catering, how many do you think will come to the service?” and they’ll say “Oh Dad wasn’t very well known, so 40” and you’d say “Well I just want you to realise you live in a community where everyone knows each other and you may have more than you think”. They will say “Bring it to 60 or 70”. Some will say it’s going to be a big service of 400 so we want catering for 400. Don’t do that just cater for people who just come and have a cup of tea and might have a sandwich, that’s enough. Just cater for 200 because that’s big money. You’re running into thousands of dollars so therefore with the funeral director doing the funeral service and the funeral director doing the printing and the funeral director doing the photo show and the funeral director doing the food. It’s all lumped into one and they say “It’s dear”. If they went back to the basics of what we were doing they would be very happy with the costs.
And they would be sharing it with the community.
Yes, all those things with the result that… to say that I had people saying to me when we didn’t have a chapel “Haven’t you got a chapel? All funeral directors have chapels”. Do you know how much a chapel costs – a million dollars. So if you’re successful what you’re doing is your business is getting bigger and bigger but it’s getting more things around it. It’s getting more amenities.
So when you started off as a funeral director the actual process of embalming and all those, has that changed greatly?
In the very early days when I first started large amounts of embalming was not done but over the years it has because people, we’ll take the Maori population, if they have someone who dies they want to go on to a marae and they might stay on the marae for 3 to 5 days – well it’s necessary to do embalming. You might have someone who dies here that has got to go to Auckland or Wellington it’s necessary to do embalming because of the health hazard, and it protects the funeral director, the family and it protects any embarrassment that may occur with keeping a deceased person for too long. But it’s not always necessary. I’m sure now Shanny has a lot of people who would say to him no embalming and they won’t do that but there are limitations when they do that. They have to have them serviced very quickly and he might not be able to have any viewings.
The first place was down in Cooper Street wasn’t it?
The first place I had in town was old McLeod’s timber place. That’s where I first started. And then with Fred Geor we built a place in Warren Street and then Des Peryer came to see me and said well we work hard how about us all going together in the one building and we’ll have the two companies in the one building which we did for a number of years. But then I decided there was an opportunity in Havelock and that’s where I came out to Cooper Street and stayed there until we got the new place. Karanema Drive the first place and then to Cooper Street.
It’s interesting that over time those that may have frowned for coming to Hawke’s Bay especially as funeral directors – now you own all those businesses.
Well it was one of those things. People start off… there’s a lot of people at the moment are just fronts. They’re just all little businesses and they haven’t got the personnel, the equipment and facilities to run a business successfully so they’re what you might call in a way ‘cowboys’, but there are a certain part of the population that will deal with them because they’re like that and fair enough. We were quite happy about that side of it. But they are lacking in facilities completely.
So then Shanny went to school locally. How did you stop him from going down the coal mine?
Well, I was quite amazed that Shanny came into the business because as a young boy growing up I encouraged him into sport, he did a lot of rowing, and actually he was in the eight to go to Moscow rowing when they had such a controversy over that with the Russians that so many countries pulled out of the Games and New Zealand then decided only to send a four rather than send an eight.
Anyway and then Shanny as a young boy – I’d come home because I was working on my own and I’d come home and he’d say “I’m doing this on the weekend can you come with me” and I’d say “Sure I’ll be there”. We weren’t doing much business in those days but then on the day that we were going to go out a call would come in and I’d have to say to him “Sorry I can’t go”. So I never expected him to follow me but initially went to work at Wattie’s in the canning plant like everyone in Hawke’s Bay and then he went to work for Bones and Tony Bone was into the rowing and Shanny was into rowing, they got a friendship and he became manager of F L Bones for a number of years and he worked there until he was about 26 when he came to me and said “I feel I’d like to come into the business”. That surprised me but as a father I was quite chuffed that was there to follow on. And now it’s quite strange. When I go down there just to nose around and have a talk to the guys – he’s there, my grandson’s there and I’m there so there are three generations.
Now Rua had two children, they were your step children. They came and lived with you or had they grown up at that stage?
No, they were teenagers and they were at school in Timaru. When they left school they went to University. They then came up and lived with us and they are still living here.
As time moved on of course you lost Rua which was a very sad occasion. And then a new adventure has been started.
With Marilyn. Well as you know Rua was an artist and I always feel … an artist and a poet, she wrote poetry and she wrote a couple of small books. She was in hindsight looking back I was so involved in what I was doing because I was a one man band and I was working 24/7 and when you do that you’re inclined to forget what’s around you. All you focus on is what you’re doing. It’s a very selfish thing and Rua was here and as I mentioned before I’d never have succeeded in business if I hadn’t been supported financially by Rua in coming the home going. She was a commercial artist to start with. She’s always been doing art, painting but here she did commercial art and she used to do for the Hawke’s Bay Today, for Roach’s and some of the big companies. She did all those wonderful illustrations of ladies wearing bikinis and hats and new shoes and all those sort of things and in her spare time she painted at home here. As you can see round the gallery some of her paintings. She did get the recognition because she sold so many of her paintings all round the world but I’ve retained over 100 paintings still here and I bought back some of her paintings from families that have left the district and I’ve returned those to here.
During that period, I didn’t know about it, but she was very friendly with a man named Jeremy Dwyer. Jeremy used to ring her up a lot because of her art and they used to go to schools where they were doing art and have competitions and she spoke very highly of Jeremy and, as you know, he died about 8 years ago – left his wife Marilyn and son Samuel so it just so happened I had never met Marilyn before. I possibly did at the funeral service but I couldn’t recall and then we met and strange things happened and we got together and now we’re married and very happy. She’s sharing our home here with a lot of the things of what Jeremy did and I’ve got what Rua did so it’s a nice happy little hollow.
I know you headed a club called the Saveloy club. Does that have national recognition?
We tried to get national recognition but I think sometimes we had too many chardonnays but we used to meet in this big lounge here every Friday and Saturday night and watch the Super Rugby 10 or 12 football and we used to watch our All Black tests and the ritual was that we were the Saveloy Club and at half time we had our saveloys here that were cooked out in the kitchen and the hosts would bring them in at half time, a tray of saveloys with Wattie’s tomato sauce. It had to be Wattie’s tomato sauce and white bread buttered. That’s what we had at half time. That went for 10 years. We even had friends that came over from Australia to see us and join the club and that was exciting. We used to buy saveloys from all over the country and get them flown here and we’d pick them up from the airport and bring them over and have them that night and the best saveloys I ever tasted would be saveloys from Dunsandel in Christchurch. They were wonderful. When you eat a lot of saveloys you start to get a good knowledge of how they should be, the texture of those saveloys … my mouth is watering just thinking about them.
You still belong to a breakfast group too don’t you?
Yes, I think that has been going, Rua and I went to it, at least 20-25 years ago. It’s still going every Sunday.
Once a month.
Yes. We’ve lost one or two of our members who have passed away but we still keep going and it’s wonderful.
Can you think of any other highlights or things that we may have missed?
It’s just highlights… When I first came to Hawke’s Bay and I was a Catholic and I got involved with St Vincent de Paul Society and I loved the work that they do because you hear so much today of children that are hungry. In the society we had a committee and we used to look after a number of families who were finding it very hard financially. Some had big families and some had problems with a husband that was drinking or gambling and we used to move in there and talk to them and try and help them. I worked out a system which I used and it was very successful and I was part of the establishment of the Hastings Budget, that’s where it sprung from, my original work with St Vincent de Paul. One I used to do was sit down with the family and talk about their finances and how they’re getting on and how they’re paying the bills and invariably the husband there he would say … I would say to them “We’ve got to cut down the costs and expenses” and the first thing he would say was “We’ve got to cut down on food. That’s the dearest thing”. I’d say “But that’s the last thing you should cut down on. There are other things you’ve got to cut down.”
So I used to get an ordinary exercise book and on the second page I would get them to write in one column all the people they owed money to. So they filled up a page. And I’d line it out and put months up the top and I used to go to all those people and say that I was looking after this family and that they would get their money but it would take a while and everyone was happy about that. So I’d go to the family and say “Righto what are we going to pay today?” and you must let them make those decisions. You don’t want to go and say we’ll pay this today because it’s taking that away from them. “What do you think we should pay today?” and they’d say “What about this one here?” and I’d say “Well look that one there is $50. See that one there that’s $5, why not pay that one off and this one down here is $7. What we’ll do now I’ve got the money I’ll pay those and we’ll put a big red line through the ones we’ve paid.” Psychologically ,whenever I went to see them I’d get the book out and they’d say “How many red lines have we got?”. They were so obsessed with paying off this bill. They wanted to get as many red lines as possible and it proved very successful.
Just coming back to the company. It’s been going now for how many years?
Well I’ve been going as a funeral director for – when I retired I’d been going 52 years.
52 years. And it’s still operating in the village.
It’s done its 54 years.
That’s quite a good apprenticeship for Hawke’s Bay.
When I worked in the coal mines the unions were very, very strong in those days and the Watersiders’ Union were very strong and they at times held the country to ransom. In our unions now that I look back on them and regret being part of it. The men in the unions were very militant poms and I can recall when the watersiders went out on strike we had a number of meetings and these militants got up and said the men must unite. We must fight these people, these Torys and we must support our fellow workers the seamen. Now I was an 18 year old boy and I thought this is good, if we can get a couple of weeks off work I’ll be in for this. I don’t mind this at all.
So we went out on strike, but it wasn’t a couple of weeks off it was six months and I’ve got a photograph up there of us marching through Greymouth protesting about the time on strike. I’ll let you see that. Now that went for six months. My father was in the mine, he was on strike, my brother was in the mine and he was on strike, I was in the mine and on strike, my younger brother was in the mine and he was on strike. That was 4 in one family. No money for six months but the Communist Party from Greymouth and Canterbury each week used to send over a big 10 ton truck full of vegetables and meat and we used to get an allocation to keep us going.
Many years ago I met one of those militant poms. He’s dead now. Met him and we were talking and he said to me Terry we made a very bad mistake when we went on strike. We were wrong, we should never have done that. We should never have held this country up to ransom like we did. They crippled the country. All the ports couldn’t unload ships. Holland had to bring in the army to unload. They weren’t paid any wages but their money went into – know where their money went when it was accumulated? It went into buying little places around New Zealand for the railway, little huts where they used to go on holiday. That’s where the money went to. In hindsight I look back and say I was so grateful that Syd Holland had the guts, and I know he was put under pressure to give in, to fight it for six months and win otherwise it was a disaster. That was a time of militant unionists. That was ‘United we stand, divided we fall’. That was the motto.
They had the hand and the muscle the wrong way round.
Did they have a hammer in it. I’m not sure if they did.
Yes, there was a hammer.
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Interviewer : Frank Cooper
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