Tibbles, Malcolm Melville Interview
Erica Tenquist: I’m interviewing Malcolm Melville Tibbles from Pakipaki, Hastings. He’s going to tell you a bit about his life including Haumoana and the building trade and farming. Does that sum it up Malcolm?
Over to you.
I’m Malcolm Tibbles. My occupation is building contractor. We also own a block of land, twenty-one acres, which is planted in twelve thousand nectarine trees which we currently lease; and yeah, they’re picked and looked after by the lessee.
I’ll start a bit of history by saying we moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1957 from the Waikato, and yeah, I went to Haumoana School.
And when I went to Hastings Boys’ High I got a job as a paper boy for the local store which was run by people by the name of Budd … Buzz Budd was the guy’s name who did that. So being a paper boy there I knew most of the people at Haumoana because [I] delivered papers to them; fired a few on rooves. Some of them had ladders there ready for me when I fired their papers on the rooves, and things like that, and yeah, one guy said if I did it again he’d give me a good swift kick where the sun didn’t shine. But yeah, overall I thought I did a good job as a paper boy and that showed at Christmas when I got heaps of Christmas tips and that sort of thing. And one guy used to get flooded out extremely badly, and [siren outside] I used to have to row his paper in in a row boat; and he was the most miserable individual, he never gave me a Christmas tip, and he was the only one. But yeah, anyway, that’s history.
Then after I completed two years at high school, my father told me I was just going there to eat my lunch. And I considered I was too, because if you got behind in those days, that was it – you were sat in a corner and they didn’t pay much attention to you. So I rang around and I had three places I could get an apprenticeship in the building trade.
What year was that?
That was 1962, I think. Yep. So yeah, I started with a company called Cross Brothers which was two brothers; in Clive they were based; and yeah, worked with them. They had a staff of four I think it was. There was a guy, Bert Williams; there was a guy, Ray Dockary – Ray’s parents ran a wood and coal merchants and a trucking company at Clive. And then there was a guy, Colin Harrison; and the two brothers; and a guy, Topper Jensen – that’s right. And then there was myself as the apprentice. And we did a lot of work around the place; used to go up to Tutira and work on a farm up there for a guy, and did a lot of houses.
My memory … the first day I started my apprenticeship there’d been a big flood in Hawke’s Bay, and the company was building houses at Pirimai. We had to take a boat over to Pirimai and row this boat into the house they were building to get all the saw benches and the builders’ tools and everything out of the house so they could carry on somewhere else. There were no roads formed at that time, it was just bulldozed sort of roadways; and yeah, so that was my recollection of my first day as an apprentice boy.
How long did the water stay, do you remember?
I don’t think we went back there for at least two weeks ‘til it dried out somewhat. The water didn’t go in the houses, but you couldn’t get in and out of the place with vehicles, that sort of thing. They had an old 1952 Bedford truck and a 1952 Commer truck; just small trucks we used to go to work in. So I went on, and I completed my apprenticeship in … oh, about four years three months, which was a ten thousand hour apprenticeship; so then I was a certified tradesman after that.
Did you regret going on to school for longer?
Never regretted it. Yeah, I just feel I’ve had a good life doing what I’ve done, and I’m still doing it. I think I’ve been in the building trade fifty-eight years now, and yeah, fifty of those years working for myself.
So after that I rang a guy – I saw an advert [advertisement] in the paper … local paper, Herald-Tribune … wanting carpenters, and it was a good hourly rate. I was getting 6/8d [six shillings and eightpence] an hour when I finished my time, and they were offering 10/- [ten shillings] an hour which was really good money; plenty of overtime and that sort of thing, so I thought, ‘Yep, well that’s me’, because previous to me finishing my time I had put a deposit on a section in Havelock to build a house for myself. I think I did that when I was eighteen or nineteen years old. And I used to pay that off each week, and I thought, ‘Gee’, you know, ‘and a better job and that sort of thing’, because I did want to build a house. So I paid this section off, and then I went and saw a government organisation called State Advances [Corporation] where you could borrow money to build. So I went there and had an interview with these people, and then I had to have interviews with other people because I wanted to build this house myself. So yeah, they were quite confident I could do the job. So was I; so I did, I set about building this house, and built it [in] spare time and holidays and weekends and …
Four-bedroom house …
Four bedrooms …
… it was a big fifteen hundred square foot house, and I built that in four and a half months, just on my own. I had a bit of help doing the roof, and putting frames up and that sort of thing. So at twenty-one I had a house of my own. And a mortgage, and I wondered how the hell I was ever going to pay this mortgage. And when it became dollars and cents, I think 1963 …
… yeah. Well, whenever that came in anyway, my mortgage was $9 a week and I thought, ‘How am I going to pay this?’ [Chuckle] And then after I finished my time I got this job with this company; it was a company called Elsmore, Clark & McDonald. They had three partners; really, you know, good blokes, the whole three of them. And with any partnership, you know, you have differences, and so yeah, after probably a couple of years they said well we’re parting ways and so I thought, ‘Oh well …’ They were roofing contractors as well, these people. So I stayed on with the guy that was still doing the roofing as a foreman, and worked for him. And then the boss went away, and he said, “Oh, can you pay the wages while I’m away?” And so I paid the wages, and I found that another guy that was working there who was just a worker, was getting paid the same as me; and I thought, ‘Well I’m the foreman – this isn’t right.’ So when the boss came back I approached him, and he said, “Oh yes, but he’s had hard times.” And I said, “Well that’s really not my problem. I’m taking on a responsibility here. So I said, “Well you know, unless you want to up my wages, I’ll give notice.” So he said, “No, l can’t up your wages.” So I gave notice and I applied for a foreman’s job with a company called Wilson Construction; they were quite a big company and I was to go there as a foreman. So I went out on a job; they were building a big house at Waimarama and I went out, you know, just to get familiar with the guys and the way they worked, or the way they didn’t work. So after a week I thought there’s no way in the world I can work with these lazy individuals; they were totally lazy, and they’d stop at a bakery in the morning in Havelock and an hour later you’d leave the bakery because everyone had got their lunches and all the rest of it. They’d knock off early, and used to come …
They weren’t giving value for money?
No … came back and they’d park behind the Happy Tav [Tavern] and all go in and have a couple of jugs. And I thought, ‘I can’t afford this; I’m not doing this’, so gave the boss a week’s notice, and I told him why. And so I thought, ‘Well, I’ve worked weekends for years for myself’; and I had heaps of work and I thought, ‘No, I’ll start on my own.’ So I did, I started up on my own accord. I had a Volkswagen car and a trailer and a skill saw and a drill and all my hand tools and that sort of thing.
And what did you call yourself?
Just Malcolm Tibbles Builder. And I never advertised, but I just kept getting work and getting work. And then one of the partners that was in this three way partnership, who I got on really well with – the best of all of them – was a guy, Bill McDonald. Bill came and saw me; it was December, and he said, “Oh look”, he said, “Odlin’s have asked if I could you know, do a couple of rooves for them before Christmas; their roofer’s got a crook back.” He said, “Are you interested?” And yeah, I quite enjoyed roofing when I was working for them, so I said, “Yeah. Yeah”, I said, “that’s fine.” So we did these two rooves and then we did another couple; and then after Christmas we said, “Well, when’s the guy coming back?” And he said, “Oh”, he said, “he’s still got a crook back.” So seven years later we were still roofing for Odlin’s. [Chuckles] And in those days if you were organised and were good, you could make a lot of money at that job, and we did make a lot of money roofing. And in the end we just had so much building work, we said, “We’ve got to give up.”
So had you gone into the farm by then or not?
No, no. So I was living in Havelock then … yeah. After being married for six years I got divorced, and then I bought a little property in Te Aute Road in Havelock. And I built two flats on that, and lived in one; rented the other one out.
So yeah, the guy that I had been helping doing the roofing for seven years, Bill McDonald – we set up a partnership and called it McDonald & Tibbles. Yeah, we worked together for fourteen years. We’d be on a job and he’d be doing one thing; I knew what came next and I’d do that, and you hardly spoke unless it was smoko times and that sort of thing. But yeah, Bill was a man of few words but what he said he meant, and he didn’t suffer fools. And he was a good tradesman. Yeah, I learnt a lot off [from] him.
But in the finish he said to me … we were doing a big three storey house in Havelock and we were about half way through it … and he said, “Look, before the end of the financial year”, he said, “I think I should tell you that I’m getting out of the partnership.” He said, “You’ll do really well on your own because you know the job and you work hard.” But I was totally devastated for months, you know? Oh, you would be …
After going to work with a guy for fourteen years …
And then suddenly it’s all finished … yes.
That’s right. And so then he became the caretaker at Lindisfarne College. Yeah, odd-job man and that sort of thing, and he enjoyed it. But we did a lot of asbestos roofing in our time, and poor old Bill … he died of asbestosis. He got throat cancer and that sort of thing. Yeah, so you know, that was a real shame; but he was a really good knowledgeable bloke. So after that I had to employ someone because it’s too hard a job to do on your own and. Oh – well it wasn’t trusses in those days; you had to pitch your own roofs up and that sort of thing, make your own frames.
When you were doing asbestos, do you mean the asbestos was there?
No, we were putting new asbestos roofing on. The big UEB Woollen Mills at Awatoto which in total is four and a half acres – well we did all that; we did all that roofing, and the sheets – I was a young, fit guy then and used to play rugby and that sort of thing, and these sheets were a hundred and ten pound in weight each.
Yes it was, but it was durable and it stood up to the sea, and all that sort of thing. But when we were doing that roofing you had two guys carrying these sheets, and then you had to cut mitres on them and you had a couple of guys doing that; and then two guys screwing down, and then you’d swap jobs, you know, at lunchtime and that sort of thing. But it was hard work – you’d go home and you were ruined, you know, absolutely shot to bits. You didn’t have to go to rugby training ‘cause you were that fit, running across these rooves.
So that was interesting stuff; but nobody worried about asbestos back in those days, at all. So yeah, I went on and I worked for myself and did a lot of farm building round farms, and that sort of thing.
Did you put in any of those first circular milking sheds?
No, never did milking sheds on farms; never did anything like that, it was mainly sheep and beef farms, built woolsheds, covered yards … lots and lots of covered yards … all round the Bay, right down Pourerere, right out to the ranges, Wakarara.
Did you mostly stay out on the site?
We did initially, in the first years; yes, we did stay out on the sites. But then we found, you know, the accommodation and the meals weren’t up to scratch, so we said, “Well, we’ll just travel.”
And by this time you’d have more than a car and a trailer?
I did, I had a little Nissan ute which was an ex-forestry vehicle, and it was as solid as a rock; it was an amazing vehicle. And yeah, I had that.
Did you have any accidents falling off the roof or anything, or off any buildings?
Yes I did. I did …
You’d have to pay insurance when you’re working for yourself?
No, you didn’t initially, because there was Social Security and that sort of thing. But yeah, the worst fall I had was … we were doing a church manse in Waipuk [Waipukurau] which was a two storey building, and we had been telling this company, Odlin’s, about the battens they were giving us to use on the roof, that they weren’t up to standard, you know, their grading wasn’t good; they were full of knots and they would break and that sort of thing. And I was walking along this roof with a handful of tiles and this batten broke, and I went right through the rafters; through all the the ceiling joists on the top storey floor; through the floor joists on the second floor ‘cause there was no floor in it; right down to the bottom floor and landed with one leg either side of a floor joist down below. And that was pain, and … well, it damn near ruined me. But I still did manage to have children.
One of whom’s a builder as well …
Yes. Yeah, that was my worst fall. But my mate, Bill, when we were roofing, he had a couple of bad falls. He fell off a roof; we were doing a job up Eland Station up Taupo Road. He picked a batten up and it broke, and he went over backwards and took a big chip of his elbow, and to the day he died he still had that chip floating around in his arm. And then we were doing a job at Tropicana Motels in Napier, doing a roof, and he was walking along the battens; a batten broke, because in those days you didn’t have to put netting on – it was just self-supporting paper, which is absolutely useless in my view, but …
Do you think it acts as a fire retardant though?
No, it’s no fire retardant at all, no. No, no. You can get flame stop paper which is pink, and the green. Now we use a flame stop sort of paper which is fire retardant and that sort of thing. But yeah, old Bill – he fell through the roof onto a concrete floor down below, and I looked through the hole in the roof and he was laying on the floor, not moving, and blood spurting out of his head; and I raced down. Yeah. He was all right though, he got up and [a]way he went again. Yeah, so … [a] few sort of experiences with that. But then in later years things started to get a little tough in the building trade …
What date are we up to now?
Well, through the seventies there was a real building boom when the Labour government was in. You couldn’t buy building materials, and I was building these two flats for myself down Te Aute Road. You couldn’t buy steel, so without the steel I couldn’t start the foundations; so my mate Bill and I, we hopped in the car with a big trailer and headed off; we were going to Palmerston … we heard there was steel reinforcing rod in Palmerston. So we got to Dannevirke and there was a company called Tumu Timbers operating out of Dannevirke at that time.
I think it still is.
Yeah, they are; they’re back again there. Saw they had steel there, so we went in and said to the guy, “Look”, you know, “have you got any of that steel for sale?” And he said, “Yes, how much do you want?” And we said, “Forty lengths.” So we put this forty lengths on the trailer, and the trailer was all sagged down; [chuckle] and the steel – some of it was dragging along the road causing sparks. Paid the man a cheque and away we went. So then I got all the concrete floor down and went to get framing timber, and you couldn’t buy timber for love nor money. I had to go to a sawmill in Woodville in the end – out the back of Woodville; run by a guy by the name of Gerard Murray, a really nice bloke, but all they cut was macrocarpa. And macrocarpa has a classification of being like native timber – you can’t treat it because you’ve got about twenty mls [millimetres] of outer bark and the rest is heart. So anyway, I put the order in for all this timber and he said, “Yes”, he said, “I’ll get that organised for you.” Then the next problem was to get it carted from Woodville to Havelock, [speaking together] because in those days the trucking licences didn’t go from province to province, so I had to get the timber carted from Woodville to Dannevirke and then picked up in Dannevirke by a different contractor, and then carted to Havelock. So, yep – I managed to get that all done and you know, built the place.
How long did that take you to do those two flats, compared to when you built your house?
Oh, it probably took … yeah, ‘bout five, six months to build those, because of the delay in materials. When I went to get my gib board [plasterboard] I went into Robert Holt & Sons and said, “Oh look – I want gib board”, and they said, “Well, you go to where you got your timber and your steel and get your gib board.” So I thought, ‘Oh gee!’ So there was a company operating in Hawke’s Bay then, Winstone Cranby; I knew the guy who was the sales rep [representative] and I rang him up and said, “Look John, you know, I want some gib.” “How much do you want?” he said; because Winstone Cranby were the originals who are now Winstone Wallboards, who do gib board anyway. So he said, “Give us your order.” I gave him the order; that was it, no trouble at all. So yeah, over the years you sort of sort out the companies that look after you and that sort of thing.
Had you married again?
Yes, I did marry again … I did marry again. My first marriage I had two daughters, Belinda, the eldest; she’s a nanny in America … she’s been there for years. And Melissa who’s the younger daughter, she’s a landscape gardener for a big farm and that sort of thing down in Onga [Ongaonga] at the moment. But she is also a qualified chef; she did a chef’s course. My eldest daughter’s got a degree in psychology that she did at Massey years and years ago, and I guess that helped her with her nanny[ing]. Yeah, so I got married again and had one son.
Yep, yep – who now works with me in the business. But after the seventies when that big building boom was on, work started to get a little short in the you know, housing trade, and I thought, ‘Gee, you know – you’ve got to be doing what everyone else isn’t doing.’ So I started building pole sheds for farmers; yeah, so that was a really good business. We were building three sheds a week, three of us.
How big were they?
They were twelve metres by six metres; open in the front, just three sides and a roof.
So you could use it for hay bales or for storage?
Well, implements – that’s right. So we were doing … yeah, as I say, three of those a week; we were doing them through Tumu Timbers and Carters, or it was Robert Holt & Sons then. We were just doing it on labour. I got a couple of Hydralada cherry pickers and used them, and it was so quick; we still use them.
For the roof?
Put the whole thing up. You lift all the rafters, the purloins, put the bolts [in] … absolutely amazing. And for bigger sheds we hired them from Hydralada – they go up to seven metres high. Yeah, so things were pretty good there, and people used to say. “Oh – building sheds?” And I didn’t used to say anything; I thought, ‘Well I’m doing something different that everyone else isn’t doing; I’m making money; I’m not having to try and compete with the idiots in the housing market’; because everyone was cutting one another’s throats to try and get work, and I thought, ‘No, I don’t need that.’
And it was while we were doing one of these sheds out at Haumoana – the old Post Office out there which had been turned into a community centre was next door. So my son was interested; I think he was about twenty-two at that time … twenty-three … and he was interested in buying a property. He said, “Oh”, you know, “how much do you think they want?” And I said, “I have no idea. It’s been on the market for quite some time – probably twelve months.” And so he did a bit of inquiry, [inquiring] and yeah, people said, “Oh no – don’t touch that, it’s under a Māori land claim”, and all the rest of it. Well, I was brought up with Māori people out at Haumoana, and my old whangai poppa – I went and saw him, a guy called Darky [?Unehe?]. I said, “What’s the story about the land claim?” And he said, “There is no land claim on it”, he said. “When it changed from being a Post Office the Hastings Council bought it as a community centre. Someone tried to put a claim in then but” …
It didn’t happen?
No, because the claim has got to go right back to the early days and so that was thrown out but everyone was under the illusion that …
So my son put an offer in, and these people … yeah, sort of dilly-dallied around a bit; so then he rang them up and he said, “Well this is my last and final offer – you’ve got half an hour to accept that or I’m walking away.” So they accepted it. He then set about getting plans; he’s put a top storey on it and added on to it; put a big garage with a bar and everything as well. An amazing property it is now. He has all the original plans of when it was built by the government as a Post Office, and photos of when he did it, and the work and that sort of thing. So yeah, that’s quite a part of the history of Haumoana.
I’m digressing a bit here but I can also remember the days when there was … like a wharf at the river at Haumoana.
Well somebody else told me about that. Was it for small boats to come in or a loading ramp really?
No, no. I didn’t think there was a lot of that; it was more fishing boats. And the last guy to have a double-ended fishing boat … klinker fishing boat … that tied up there – and that boat sat there for years – was Roy Birch, and he used to be the local bus driver out there. He used to drive for New Zealand Railways. But Roy has since … oh, he died years ago, but his son, Trevor, still lives out there on Haumoana Road. Trevor Birch; yeah, there was Trevor, there was Donald, and oh, I think there was about three or four girls as well in that family.
Haumoana School, when you went there, you would be regarded as country children?
We were. We were, and yeah, you went right up to Standard 6 then.
How many children roughly would there’ve been there?
I would say there was probably a hundred and fifty children. Yeah, it was, because you had Te Awanga, you had Tukituki, Clifton … yeah, so it was; it was quite a big area. Well, when I went to school there there was a horse paddock and some of the kids used to ride horses to school and put their horses in the horse paddock out the back. But the headmaster [in] those days was a guy by the name of Frank Bacon, he was the headmaster at Haumoana School.
We haven’t got on to where you actually got the Pakipaki Road ..?
Well that’s quite a story too, because I lived in the flats in Te Aute Road; and then there was a big old house up Te Mata Road and I’d always …
… yeah, liked this house. And it belonged to the parents of a friend of my daughter, and they said they were moving to Wellington and going to sell the house. And I thought, ‘Gee whizz’, you know – asked what the price was and they told me, and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s reasonable.’ So – put my flats on the market and I bought this house; and I moved into this house up on Te Mata Road, this old house, and yeah, I did quite a bit of work there on it.
What year are we talking about here?
Gee whizz! This’d be 1980s. But I had always wanted a little piece of land; always. I guess having lived at Haumoana – that was sort of like living in the country. Yeah – just digressing a little too; we lived right on the beachfront at Haumoana. We used to go fishing when the sea was right; take a net out and always had sacks of flounder, gurnard, sole …
Doesn’t happen now. [Chuckle]
No. And one night we couldn’t get the net in and we thought, ‘Gee, we must have sharks or something in it.’ And it was full of snapper … big snapper. Had to get in the water with sacks and catch some of these snapper … ended up there was seventy-six big snapper in that bag. Yeah … but I’m digressing.
So anyway, yes, Te Mata Road; I heard there was a little block of land. It was five acres of orchard down Brookvale Road coming on the market, so I went and saw the guy, who I knew, and he told me what he wanted and I thought, ’Ooh!’ It was an old house, needed doing up and that sort of thing. So I sold Te Mata Road and I bought this place down there.
And then there was a place next door called Plant Propagation, and they used to propagate plants and that sort of thing – do a lot of scientific stuff on them …
Yep, and that sort of thing. So they had two and a half acres just on the other side of the creek to where I was and – no, it wasn’t, it was just through the fence; I’m telling lies here. It wasn’t on the other side of the creek – they were on the other side of the creek. And they said, “This land is useless to us, do you want to buy it?” So I bought this two and a half acres and so I ended up … I had seven and a half acres. So yeah, we ran the orchard. I used to run that weekends and after work and that sort of thing.
You were so busy!
Yep. And the income from that paid for my son to go through Hereworth School; paid for my eldest daughter to go through Massey; paid for my son to go through Lindisfarne; and my youngest daughter, she went through Chef’s School in Rotorua. The income from that paid for all that, with extra. Yeah, so what I got from the building company, you know, I invested a lot in shares and property and that sort of thing.
So then … oh, 1990s … there was a plan came out from the Council; they were putting a road through from Te Mata Road down to Brookvale Road, and so there was a meeting. So my then wife, she went to this meeting, and she came home with this sheet with a map and all the rest of it on, and this road going through. So I thought, ‘That’s funny – where’s this road go from there?’ And I worked it out, this road was going through our property. So the next morning I got on the phone, and I rang [a] council guy, and I said, “I think you need to come and see me.” So this council guy came out and I said, “This is all very well – where’s this road go from there?” And he said, “Oh, it just winds down round through here.” I said, “Well that’s our property; don’t you think it would’ve been nice if you had’ve discussed this with me first?” So in the end I said, “Look”, I said, “I can see the merit in what you’re doing; it follows the creek down; you’ve got a drainage reserve and all the rest of it. You treat me fairly and, you know, I’ll be more than cooperative.” So in the end, there was no fairly about it whatsoever.
There never is with Councils.
No. They made me an offer, and I said, “That’s not acceptable.” So in the end they said, “You either take what we offer or we take it under the Public Works Act.” So after … oh, ‘bout two years … you know, we were between a rock and a hard place. So anyway, they gave us $280,000 for the place.
So then I had to find another place; so we found the place where we are.
Yeah, so that had a valuation of $500,000, we bought it for $260,000. The guy had gone broke, and people said, “You could get it cheaper”; and I said, “No, I don’t want it cheaper.” I said, “This poor guy has got three children”, and I said, “he’s gone broke; why should I add to his misery?” So I said, “No”, I said, “we’re paying his price.” So that was it.
So then they put the road through, and when we sold to the council I had a clause put in the agreement that if there was any land left over from the road it had to be offered back to me and I had to buy it back. So I rang the Council lawyer and I said, “I understand you’re selling this two and a half acres” …
Was that Havelock North or Hastings?
No. No, Hastings, yep. So I said, “Well you know, you’ve got to offer it back to me first”, so they did; they said, “Right – yep. We want $280,000 for it. [Chuckle] I had it valued and the valuer said, “Look, it’s over-valued but … it’s going to be a valuable piece of land”, so I rang and said we would negotiate. But the woman who we were to negotiate with was away so I said, “Well, if the message could be passed on to her please, that we are willing to negotiate.” So then about two weeks later we get a ring from the council’s lawyer to say that we were out of the negotiating period, so that’s it; see you later. So I went back to my lawyer and I said, “Well”, you know, “this isn’t right.” So he said, “You can take them to court – you’ll probably have to go to the Supreme Court which could cost you about $20,000.” I’d already spent $14,000 fighting the whole thing, and I said, “I’ve had enough of it – that’s it.” So we just let it go.
So anyway, the Council painted the house, and they moved it to the back of the land and put it up for auction, and sold it for $537,000. So I thought, ‘We’ll I’ve been snaked by the Council once more.’ So they did that.
So just moving on quite a bit – I was talking to the guy who bought that land for $537,000, the neighbour – I was talking to him probably a month ago and he said, “Oh”, he said, “I’m laughing”; he said, “I have just put $5.2 million in the bank that I got for my five acres and your two and a half acres.”
You’d feel bad about that but you can’t re-write history …
That’s right. So that was the story of how we came to …
Go to Pakipaki …
Yeah. And we’ve been there … I think it’s about twenty-six years I’ve been there now. That property was all in apples and pears; good producing orchard, but we leased to a company called Bearsley Farms for six years, and then they had other interests – they were more into agriculture – so they said they would give the lease up. So we leased it to another guy for three years, and he just wasn’t an orchardist. So then we thought, ‘Well, we’ll try and lease it again’; and back then it was hard to try and lease apple and pear orchards so the only option was to lease it to someone to pull the trees out. And they planted squash, and tomatoes in it. What a mess! We had dust, and just mud when they irrigated; it was a terrible mess. And that was a three year lease, and I thought, ‘After this three years that’s it – there’s never going to be cropping here again.’
And just before that lease was up a guy who was a cousin of my ex-wife came and saw me, and asked if I wanted to lease the land out. And I said, “Oh yeah – what for?” And he said, “Oh, for orcharding.” And I thought, ‘Oh … yeah, that’s a bit of a dead loss as well.’ And so he said, “Stone fruit.” And I said, “Well, what sort of money’re you paying and all the rest of it?” So he started throwing a few figures around, and so in the finish I said, “You put those figures on paper and come back to me”, which they did. So we then took out a lease with a company called Sunfruit. Yeah, that was a three by three by three by three, and lasted for twelve years. So in the last two years Sunfruit has been run by an administrator; all their under companies had gone bust except for Sunfruit Orchards.
You’d be keeping your eye on what was happening? [Chuckle]
Yeah, but because it was under an administrator, he had to guarantee to pay the lease. So our lease was up; it ran out 1st August last year. So we have a guy that’s leasing it now, and he wanted to lease it because he’s right into nectarines. So I made it quite clear to Sunfruit that we didn’t wish to re-lease with them.
And this year you’ve got a bumper crop … or the lessee has?
Yeah. Sunfruit just wanted to lease it right or wrong, because you know, it was the jewel in their crown, and they were making good money out of it. It was so bad they sent this administrator to see us, and he actually threatened us with cutting all the trees out and taking the windmills away; yeah, my partner was terribly upset – couldn’t sleep and that sort of thing, and I said, “No, look they’re not doing that; they’re not leasing it either.” So in the finish it got down to within three days of the lease being finished, and they were still sending contracts for us to sign and wanting to re-lease, and still making threats of cutting the trees out. So l just said to my lawyer, “Well, send them a letter and say that yep, they can come and they can cut the trees out, take the windmills away, but I want the whole property reinstated” …
As it was before?
Yep – “in grass and levelled; trees all gone; everything, by the time the lease is up”, which gave them three days. And you can’t burn stuff at the moment anyway, so there’s no way they were going to be able to do it; they couldn’t even pull a quarter of it out in that time. So that was on the Wednesday; the lease was up on the Friday, so on the Thursday morning a guy rang me from the New Zealand Fruit Marketing Company, and he said, “We actually own the registered rights for all those nectarine trees on your place because,” he said, “they were never signed over to Sunfruit.” So he said, “They didn’t own the trees anyway, so” he said, “we have told them that if they touch those trees we’ll take them to court.” So he said, “They have rolled over; they will accept your offer to buy the windmills.” So this guy who’d rung me from the Fruit Marketing Company said, “I’ll come round; we will sign all those trees over to you and your partner.” So he came round and signed all these trees over, and the new lessee – we’ve got to sign over to him. Yep – so that was the end of it. But it was a trying time, but I’ve never been one to back off. When they were making all these threats and everything I just told them that they could go take a jump. Yeah. I wasn’t into that sort of thing.
And this is why you might be considering retiring, so that you can have a bit more time?
Well, at seventy-three, I think I’ve done my bit. And we have a holiday home which I built in Taupo – I bought an old place up there twenty-seven years ago … probably just about the worst house in a nice street, but my children were teenagers at that time and I thought, ‘They can go up there, they can kick the hell out of this house and have a good time.’ Had a big backyard. So we used to go up there; and my son used to go up with his mates, and they’d put tents up in the backyard. And we had a toilet underneath the deck and that sort of thing. Yeah, so we’d just say to his mates, “We’ll have all your keys”, which we hung up inside; “when you’ve finished having a good time and drinking and all the rest of it and you want to go home, you can have the keys back.” Kept everyone safe.
But I was just looking through some papers the other day and I saw this contract that I had signed with my son when he turned fifteen, to say that he would never drink drive. Yeah, and other bits and pieces in it; that I would undertake to pick him up wherever and whenever if he needed … you know, didn’t matter what time of the night and that sort of thing. And I was telling him, and he said, “Yep”, he said, “I was talking to someone else about that the other day, and they said, ‘well, what a great idea.’” And he has never … well, I wouldn’t say he hasn’t; never been caught at it [chuckle] so … yeah.
So will you stay there or would you move again?
I’m a country boy. Jay and I were just talking the other day, and saying that you know, it’d be quite good to renovate the house where we are, build a top storey on it, put a lift in and that sort of thing …
Those lifts, the ones that run on water …
You wouldn’t put one of those?
We’ve put some lifts in on the Marine Parade in these units we’re doing, and they run on an little electric motor, they take up about a metre square, and …
And you can put them outside the building as well as on the inside?
Yep. These come from a company in Waikanae, just out of Wellington; and very good they are, and they’d be the cheapest on the market. But no lifts are cheap – these are about $40,000; the others are $80-90,000. And they are, they’re very good … two person capacity. Yeah, they’re good.
But I have spent the last eighteen months just sort of setting things up; getting a new lease on the property where we are, getting my son set up. He’s been in the partnership with me five years, but … just sort of teaching him the ropes. Yeah, the house in Taupo – we rent that out through Bachcare, so it’s stand alone; it pays for itself, otherwise we would have sold it because rates and things are pretty expensive, [speaking together] and insurance and that sort of thing.
Yeah, so we’ve just been doing that and setting things up; and then have the guy renting the flat at home and he also rents a shed off me as well, so yeah, we have that income and then the pension. But we still have two children at varsity which [who] we help out as well, Jay and I.
But the building trade … yeah, I’ve met a lot of lovely people through the trade. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, I’ve had eight apprentices, and you know, fifty years. I didn’t have any apprentices for quite some time, but then the first apprentice I had did his time and stayed on for fifteen years so I didn’t need another apprentice. He was a little Māori boy, and he was a very good young fellow, but he cut one of his fingers off on a saw. And as he said, it was totally his fault; he’d come back to work – there’d been a bereavement in his family, and I’d said to him, “Take as long as you like.” But he’d come back to work; wasn’t thinking, had his hand on a piece of timber. It flicked up, flicked into the saw, and this was out at Waimarama and so I rang for the rescue helicopter. And they said no, that’s down south of Pourerere somewhere … Blackhead or something … so can’t get that there. So I just had to turn the lights on in the truck …
Yeah … and the young fellow, he said, “The drive in was worse than the pain in my finger.” And when I got to the hospital – because they rang me and they said, “How far away are you?” I said, “Oh, ten minutes.” There was [were] two nurses just came running out and grabbed him and took him in; they said, “We’ll get all his details off you.” ‘Cause I’d wrapped a towel round it. But that’s probably the most serious accident that I’ve ever had, but it really upset me – it really did. I just … I wanted to give up, ‘cause you know, seeing someone do that on my watch … yeah. Because as you can see, I’ve had cuts and gashes and stuff. So yeah, it upset me so much that I went up the Taihape Road, took this little saw bench and threw it over the side of a bridge. [Speaking together] I didn’t want to see it again; it was nothing to do with the bench, it had all the guards on and that sort of thing, but I thought, ‘No, I don’t want to see this again.’ Yeah, that was it.
I’ve built houses for some interesting people. I built a house for a building inspector. He was the County building inspector years ago and I always got on well with him but he was a very sort of astute chap; everything had to be spot on and that sort of thing, which I didn’t mind anyway. At the time I was doing a job out Valley Road out at Raukawa; yeah, I was closing in this … it’d been an old barn or implement shed and I was closing it in for this guy for his stables … and it was sort of fifty-fifty whether you had to get a consent or not; we didn’t get a consent, we just carried on … we were doing it. So anyway, I got home from work and my then wife said, “The building inspector’s been here to see you.” And I thought, ‘Oh gee’, you know, ‘I’m in trouble about this job I’m doing.’ But I thought you know, normally he doesn’t come and see you. She said, “Oh, he had a big bundle of papers under his arm”, and I thought, ‘Oh, gee whizz.’ So I went in and had a bottle of beer and a bit of cheese and stuff, and she said, “Oh, he’s coming back.” So I sat and waited for him to come back; he came in and shook hands and he sat down, and he said, “You’re probably wondering why I’m here?” And I said, “Yes I am.” So I’ve always let other people run out first before I say anything, [chuckle] so he said, “Well I just want to know if you’d like to give me a price to build my house?” [Chuckle] He said, “Don’t say yes or no now, because I realise that building a house for me because I’m an inspector, you know, could have implications with your building mates”, and all the rest of it. Yeah – I thought about it overnight, and I thought, ‘No, he’s the same as anyone else and I’ll treat him the same as anyone else.’ So I rang him up and I said, “Laurie”, I said, “yep, I’d love to give you a price and to build your house, but”, I said, “I’ll tell you right now, don’t expect any favours, and I don’t expect any favours. That’s it, this is a business deal.” And he said, “That’s totally the way I want it.” And so I did – I built this house for him, and he was absolutely rapt. He was a builder himself, and so he did bits and pieces as well. Doing that was one of the best advertising things ever because he …
He would tell people that you’d built the house?
Exactly, exactly. Yeah, and other interesting lot of jobs I did – out at Kairakau Beach there was a lot of houses along the beachfront; and the council said they were all squatters so they said these houses had to go, which was the worst thing they ever did because those people were stopping the sea eroding the place and all the rest of it.
So there was a couple of relations had places there, and they said, “Look, you know, we’ve got to move them.” There’s a company … McVicars had a moving company … Garth McVicar, which [who] you would’ve heard of, [speaking together] Sensible Sentencing; well Garth and his brother and their wives ran this moving company. Well they came out and they picked these houses up and moved them, but then they had to be done up once they’d been moved. And so I went out to do two of these houses, and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll be there about three months.’ Well almost two years later I came home. [Chuckle] What did I build? I built two new houses out there, brand new …
This is which ..?
Kairakau, which is out from Elsthorpe, Patangata. Yeah, I did that job and out of that I got more work from other people as well. And one of the families, I ended up building and doing up about five houses over the years for them. Yeah, so the old thing of having a clientele is very good.
I’ve got another farmer client who we’re still working for now, we’ve been working for for twenty-seven years and he has thirteen farms around the place. We started by building a hay shed for him; his hay shed had blown down on his farm out at Pourerere. And the guy that was doing the building for the insurance company was just fleecing everyone, and one of the assessors was all in with him as well. As this farmer said to me … what did he say? “They’ve both got their snouts in the same trough.” [Chuckles] That was this guy’s saying. So we did that job, and then we’ve … oh, we’ve probably built seven covered yards for him, untold implement sheds and that sort of thing. We did a house for him that he moved on to a farm for his daughter; did all that up, added massive bits on it; and did his own house up as well that he bought at Homewood Road, which belonged to a guy, Warren Pickett. He bought that down Homewood Road and we did those two places. Well that was over half a million he spent with us in one year, this one guy. Yeah, top guy; and my grandson just did big covered yards and did a woolshed up for him.
So you’re on to the third generation of builders now – your grandson, too?
Yep. Yep, so when my grandson’s working on the site with us there’s three generations. So yeah, it’s interesting. Well my grandson, he was a very good apprentice and he actually was the Hawke’s Bay Master Builders Apprentice of the Year.
So what is his name?
Jake Pardoe. Yeah, his dad’s family are Pardoes from Manutuke, up Gisborne. Yeah, Jake’s mum, my daughter, lives down at Wakarara. When he got the Apprentice of the Year he had to go to Auckland to compete in the national competition; he didn’t have a show of winning that. The guy that won it, he was the site foreman from a Palmerston North construction company, and my son and I said to Jake, [speaking together] …
You’ve lost before you …
… “We have done the very best to get you there; there’s nothing else we could’ve done to make you more competitive.” The judges who judged the local one here said they couldn’t believe that he wasn’t placed in the first three.
Yeah, so then he decided he was going to go off and do his OE. [Overseas experience] He went to Sri Lanka, England, then came back to Australia; he was working on the Gold Coast, and came back home just before the lockdown. They self-isolated – him and his cousin and two other guys they’d come back with – up at Tolaga Bay on his aunty’s little farm; there was a house there all set up with the food and all for them to come home too.
And he’s back building?
Yes, he’s still building, he’s back working for us.
We also have another guy who did his time with us – a guy, Jeff Kareka – Turbo was his nickname. He was a really good rugby player; he captained Hawke’s Bay sixty-eight times, and yeah, played a lot of rugby. Really top guy, nice guy. Well he did his time and worked for us for fifteen years, and then said you know, he’d like to go somewhere else; get a bit more experience which is the best thing you can do. And then not last year, year before – he’d been working in Masterton; go down for the week and then come home, and yeah, he was getting a little sick of it and he said, “Look, you know, if I come back is there a job?” So we said, “Yeah, for sure”, because he was a top tradesman and top worker, you know, conscientious bloke. So he’s now back working for us and we also have an apprentice that’s [who’s] done two years.
How much does an apprentice get nowadays?
Around $20 an hour; I think you’re supposed to pay minimum wage. Yeah, I understand that it’s supposed to be minimum wage. But apprenticeships are just a different … Well, you get that ticket at the end of it, no one can take it off you.
I joined an organisation called Certified Builders when they first started up in New Zealand; I was one of the first in Hawke’s Bay to join them, and the reason I joined was because you had to be trade qualified to be a certified builder. In those days Master Builders – they just took a percentage of your income and you were in. But over the last probably five years Certified Builders have become very top heavy; their subs [subscriptions] that you pay have just gone up horrendously – probably ten times what they were originally. And we just found we weren’t getting any work through being in there, so we had a chat to Master Builders; so we’ve relinquished our membership with Certified. We’ve been members of Master Builders for almost two years and find they’re a great organisation to belong to, and we’re getting recommendations for work, oh, at least once a month through them.
So you’re better off?
Yeah, exactly; exactly. But as far as supplies and that sort of thing go we mainly deal through Tumu Timbers. When I first dealt with Tumu Timbers – this is many years ago when I was doing a few sheds for them – they were operating down Maraekakaho Road out of a little Portacom; [chuckle] and that was their office and their hardware store with boxes of nails …
Now they’ve got this great big place …
Exactly. The owner back then was a guy, Hugh O’Sullivan, and old Hugh started up in Dannevirke and he was milling timber out in the ranges somewhere and selling it in Dannevirke from this mill he had out in the ranges, so that’s how they started. And then his, John, he took over the business and he’s the one that has really built it. There’s another son, Barry, who is in the business as well. But yeah, huge business; and we find they’re really competitive. And once you get to know people in a business like that, you get treated …
Yeah. Yeah, and that sort of thing. But the guy who owns Tumu Timber, you know, as people have said, he’s got a good team around him, but he’s the king pin. Yeah, he always has been. They have been our main supplier; I used to deal a lot with Robert Holt & Sons years ago because they were there.
You’ve always gone with if they treat you right, you treat them right, and use them.
That’s right, yeah, same with sub-contractors … tried to keep the same sub-contractors over the years, but they’ve got to be good; they’ve got to do their job because you’re only as good as your worst contractor. We’ve found most of them are pretty good; there’s a few that have tried to be a bit sharp – well they don’t last long, anyway. But what I’ve found over the years is that if you pay people on time, 20th of the month, every month, you ring up and you want something done in a hurry, they’re there. And we still do that. Jay and I will sit down on the 18th, 19th of the month, do all the accounts, get them paid and that’s it. And people do notice; they certainly do. Well we expect to be paid by the 20th too.
Works both ways …
Yeah it does, most people are very good. I’ve only really had two bad debts … big bad debts over the years.
Well, I think that about wraps it up.
I think my son has photos of the original Post Office. Yeah; old Norm Donkin had photos of the old freezing works at Pakipaki during the earthquake, but he also had photos of a train that derailed at Te Aute. This would probably be the 1940s or something like that. But he was an old fireman, this guy, he was a gold star guy; well dead. Oh yes, he’s well gone. He died many years ago.
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Interviewer: Erica Tenquist