Tremain, Graeme Ernest Interview
Today is 17th March 2018. I’m interviewing Graeme and Jennifer Tremain of Te Atatu on the life and times of their family. Graeme, would you like to tell me something about your family?
Yes, Frank – well I‘m not sure how far you want to go back?
I guess my earliest memories are growing up in the house … the family home at Northcote, and one that they were renting at the time but eventually came to own outright. And it was a happy time, and I remember I had a friend over the road, Dickie Joll I think his name was, and lots of photographs of he and I playing together as pre-schoolers, it would have been.
And yeah, had a fair bit to do with my cousin Bruce Hay, who lived up the road – quite a bit up the road at Northcote, about a mile away. And he was two years older than me but he was a little wee fellow, and so we sort of equated as far as size is concerned. And his mother particularly, my Aunty May, used to take us to a lot of outings, particularly to see relatives. We’d go to see Aunty Lil in Howick, because my father came from a large family – I think there were thirteen children, twelve of which survived – I think I’ve got that right … might have been twelve and eleven. So all these aunties are all part of Dad’s family. And so he kept in touch with the family a bit that way, through Aunty May particularly.
And my mother had developed some friends through Dad’s brothers, and we used to go and see them too, so there was a lot of visiting in those days, more so than I think you get today. So we’d go over for lunch and spend the best part of the day there at … I remember Uncle Sam’s place … remember going to Uncle Sam’s and … Aunty Mildred? And I was left out there – he was a painter – and I was left out to run free in the back yard, but that’s where he had all his paints, and I ended up mixing them all up. [Chuckle] That was not a very successful outing, and … [chuckle] It was rather a traumatic episode that seems to have stuck in my mind.
How old would you’ve been?
Oh, I don’t … pre-school, probably three or four. [Chuckle] So yes, little incidents like that, visiting a lot as I say. And yes, we used to go to the zoo a lot, and Kelvin used to come to the zoo – he was born later of course. Yes, I think sort of a holiday visit, school holidays even, we used to meet another friend of Mum’s, not a relative, and we would have a day at the zoo, and that was sort of another family outing, shall we say.
I might come back to it later, but you probably know the story of Kelvin getting doused by this female lion? It’s one that he told at his wedding, and I told it again the other day when they had the twenty-fifth celebration of Kelvin’s life. So would you like me to tell you that … just quickly. It was one of these outings to the zoo, and Kelvin would have been … I would have been a bit older, Kelvin would have been pre-school, that age, and we were looking at the lions. And in those days at the Auckland Zoo the lions and most of the beasts were in big iron cages. Looking at it today, very cruel, and pitiful really, and they would just walk up and down in front of the crowd. Anyhow, this lion, she was a female … that’s very important to the story, because she must have had an overwhelming desire to urinate, so she turned her back on the bars, and let rip. And Kelvin caught the lot. [Chuckle] And yes, so that … we always said, the family’s always said, that that’s the reason that Kelvin began his All Black career against the Lions. Yes, well we thought it was atonement – it was his day of atonement. [Chuckle] Just a silly story really, but it became a family joke.
But I suppose what you’re saying is you did things as a family?
In a place like Auckland it wouldn’t have been that easy, and money wasn’t plentiful.
No, it wasn’t, no. And we would use public transport, get in the ferry and go across to Auckland usually, then get in the tram and trundle off out to wherever we were going. The tram service was pretty good in those days. So that was it, always public transport, in fact the family never … never owned a car, and that was difficult really. And later on when Ian was born and he spent most of his early years at the Wilson Home, and we would go out and visit him there, weekends. And we were reliant to a large extent on friends providing the transport. It would have been so much more convenient had Dad or Mum learnt to drive, but they never did.
Now we’ve mentioned Ian, would you like to … for the sake of the history … say a few words about Ian and how he came to end up ..?
Yeah, well, for continuity, there was say, my early days and then Kelvin came along, and I can go back to that I suppose, and then four years later when Ian came, and unfortunately he had spina bifida. And he was born with spina bifida … those days I don’t think they had the … they didn’t have the knowledge of spina bifida and how to prevent it or what to do with it. And this had left him with dislocated hips I think, and he was incontinent, too. And so he was put in a … I don’t think they do it today … he was put in a plaster that went from his waist right down to his ankle virtually, with a hole cut in it so he could defecate or urinate. And so he had his legs sort of spaced out, encased firmly in this plaster, the theory being that his hips would then go and fall into place, and be cured which to a degree happened, because he was able to walk with crutches later on. And that was largely a result of what he would have learned at the Wilson Home. So he would have spent – and I’m not sure how many years he would have spent full time at the Wilson Home, but it would have been … certainly his early life, so five, six, seven perhaps, before he came back home. And so we would go and visit him and take him for a walk down to the beach and – we had a pushchair that we would put him into, and Kelvin and I … Kelvin was with us at that stage of course, he was there … and we would run him along the beach and you know, try to dodge the waves, and he thought this was great – he would just about fall out of his chair laughing – had a great sense of humour.
Yes, so then he came home and he went to school on a daily basis and completed his school … he went right through ‘til he was about fifteen or so, sixteen, and then went to the – now there was an organisation, I’ve forgotten what their name is now – who employed crippled people. You know, it was over on the Shore. And he worked for them for oh – most of his life, I think, and so did his wife, Diane. Although I think he met Diane really through the Crippled Children’s Association who used to run social functions and that for them. And so they … but she was another spina bifida too. But they married and had a very happy life together, albeit rather short.
Yes. Well coming back to you – what did your father do those days?
Oh, Dad was a welder. He started off as an apprentice for Alex Harvey Limited, I think it was called. They used to do milk cans amongst other things. So he started off as an apprentice welder and worked for them for the rest of his days. Who took them over? It was … can’t remember now. Yes, so he kept working for them until he was well in his seventies. And they very very generously shouted him a trip to the UK when Kelvin did his tour of the UK there in ‘bout ‘60 – ’61 or something like that. So that was quite a bonus, and yeah, I think it was helped a little bit by his cousin it would have been, Stan Tremain, who was well up with Fisher and Paykel and had a lot to do with Alex Harveys, and suggested that it might be a nice gesture for Alex Harvey to pay for him – they took the bait, and they did. So that was a nice trip for Dad, ‘cause Dad has always been a keen sportsman.
He was an apprentice welder, became a welder, stayed with the firm all his life until he was retired in his seventies. But he was only retired for a year or so – painted the house, and [chuckle] decided this wasn’t any good for him and he went and joined the Herald. And he had the job there of going across to the Star particularly, which was still in vogue those days. And he would get each edition of the Star, he would collect a number of copies and take them back and distribute those to the various editors at the Herald. And he used to call himself the star boy in the Herald.
Oh well, he just kept on working for them, and working for them, and he was into his eighties – I think he was about eighty… oh, well into his eighties, and he died at eighty-eight, so I think he was a bit over eighty-five, maybe more, when he finally retired. He was conscious of people looking at him and saying … ‘cause he was very fit … and the people saying “how old is he? How old do you think he is?” [Chuckle]
Graeme, what about your mother? Besides bringing up all your children, did she do anything besides being a family ..?
Well she was a shorthand typist when she was married – Dad married a local girl. And they built a house in Mount Roskill. Anyhow, Pencarrow Avenue I remember – I’ve seen the house and it was a nice house. But it was right on [in] the midst of the Depression, and they couldn’t keep the mortgage payments going, they had to … and they lost it. And that’s when they went over to renting the house, what I call the family home, in Princes Street Northcote, and which they finally bought as I alluded to before. And it was a good home. But they were always disappointed with that. And the Labour Party came along, and according to my father’s understanding the Labour Party pulled New Zealand out of the Depression, for which he was eternally grateful. And he was never going to vote for anybody else but Labour for the rest of his days. [Chuckle] As he saw it they were the salvation of New Zealanders, certainly as far as he was concerned, personally.
So mother – yes, she was a shorthand typist, and carried on working I think – yes, for Texas Oil I think … the name that comes to mind in those days. And she just carried on, but had quite a few friends that she continued to associate with for pretty well the rest of her life, that she made there. But she retired when the boys were born, and that’s how we were able to get all these trips all over the place. And it wasn’t until Ian came along I think, and he was in the Home and Kel and I would have been … well, we were older anyhow … that she went back to work for the Cancer Society who she certainly ended up – I think she was with them right from the word ‘go’. Yes, so she worked for them for many, many years. I think it was necessary for her to do that, to get out of the house, because I think the problems of Ian weighed pretty heavily on her, and I think she needed that outlet that the work provided to take her mind off the family at the time … family situation as it was, and – helped to keep her on an even keel.
So that was mother. She was a very dominant woman, and she was a matriarch. But yeah, she and Kelvin got on very well together – I … there was always a bit of friction between mother and myself – personality thing. Kelvin’s the sort of personality would just sort of tap her on the shoulders and say “never mind, Mum”, for you know … [chuckle] Yes. Knowing Kelvin you’d understand that.
[Speaking together] It’s followed through to Simon too.
Yes, it does. That’s right. Whereas Chris and I have a lot more in common than I would have with Simon … lot in common with Chris, yeah, in our characters in many ways.
So yes, so she was a very dominant woman, and eventually dad died, and the family …
Before we get to that point, you went to school – which school did you go to?
Oh well, the local primary school, Northcote Primary, and then to Northcote High School I think it was in those days, it was an intermediate and a secondary school combined.
That was high school too?
Yes. Well I didn’t go. Mother had ambitions for her sons to be educated as well as possible, and so she managed to get me enrolled at Auckland Grammar.
That’s nothing to apologise about.
No, no – looking back on it it’s been great, and I really appreciate it. At the time it wasn’t so easy for me because I had all my friends in Northcote, and I continued to associate with those friends rather than friends at Grammar. It was easy just to go up the road on the weekend and run … you know, say hello to them than it was at Grammar – you only saw them at school time. So I had … although there were some Northcote – Birkenhead people going to the school, so it wasn’t that bad. It was a good experience, and I played rugby for them, and eventually made the First XV which was the making of me as far as Auckland Grammar was concerned, and gave me a certain amount of prestige for that final year. And so I went out on a high.
But Kelvin took to it like a duck to water – different personality. He made a lot of good friends there which lasted him throughout his life, whereas I can’t say that – my best friends are still my Northcote friends.
You’re more reserved, Chris is reserved, Simon’s out there like his father – out in front.
That’s right. That’s the way it’s got to be.
And so you carried on until you left, and then did you go immediately to Dental College?
I went to … in those days you had to pass what they called the Intermediate Examination which was an examination common to doctors, vets and other sciences, yes – [?] went to vet school required that you had to pass the Intermediate Examination. I failed horribly in my first year because I had no idea what was expected. And I used to go home and spend an hour or so perhaps at night doing homework, thinking that was fine. You know, it was all I needed to get through with Auckland Grammar, that was no trouble at all. But I found out that it needed a lot more than that, so the second year I started working ‘til midnight or later, and I kept on, and that’s what was required to get through the University exams. So it was a lesson that I had to learn. And so I passed easily on my second attempt … second year … and went down to Dunedin after that, into the Dental School, and fortunately managed to get through each year, and to graduate with BES.
And so what age would you’ve been when you graduated then?
That’s a good question isn’t it? Have to work it out. Twenty-four … ‘57 – how old would I have been in ‘57 … yeah.
And so Kel at that stage would still be at school?
He would have left school by then, oh yes – when I graduated he was well … and he went – as you well know, I think – he wanted to be a farmer. We used to go down to … yeah, I think that’s where he got his love of farming … he may have got it from other directions, it just happened. But we used to go down, Kelvin and I, to my other aunty – another aunt – she and he husband had a farm in Te Puke, dairy farm, and ran a few sheep on the hills at the back. And we would spend oh, ‘bout a fortnight – week or a fortnight there. And we had a marvellous time – talking to a fellow about it yesterday – had a marvellous time, city boys out on the farm, helping, or we thought we were helping, drafting the sheep and the fat lambs. And we were allowed to go and pick up the empty milk cans, take them back to the shed. And oh, they had this horse, Molly, and a sledge, and so it was all good fun. And that’s I think where Kelvin … it was his first experience really of farming, and I think that’s as I say, that’s where he developed his first love of farming. And he was always going to be a farmer, so he went into the Rural Field Cadetship I think, and well, he never looked back really.
So obviously you all got on very well as a family?
Oh yes, we did – yes we did.
And I suppose – well you were sporting …
Well Dad was the sporting one – he loved his sport – I don’t think I’ve said that, or it needs to be emphasised anyhow. He was a very good sportsman – he played cricket, hockey and soccer. He was an Auckland soccer rep for many years, yes. He was selected to play for New Zealand on one occasion, but he ended up with the flu or some … for some reason he couldn’t play, and he was never selected again. So he lost his one chance, but as an Auckland rep he was well-valued for many years there, and centre forward.
But his love of sport was widespread, and he always saw Kelvin as the All Black. And I can see him now on the front verandah of this house – it was one of the old villa-type houses with a big verandah on the front of it – I can see him now. And Kelvin … I don’t know, probably hardly been at school, four or five, six, I don’t know, sort of young Kelvin … saying to him “that’s not the way you’ve got to tackle – this is what you’ve got to do – put your arms round, your head out the other side …” [chuckle] and yes, that’s where Kelvin’s education began I think. But he was always a good footballer, and played from early age. And Dad actually coached the Northcote Primary Colts team I think it was, for one year at least, and Kelvin was playing in that team. He always played a couple of years below the age group of the team – the Colts might have been seven, he would have been five, and playing for them. Maybe he was a bit older, but that was always that couple of years age difference between them, and he more than held his own. Well he was a big lad, he was a big boy, even as a young fellow he was a big boy.
And so yes, he more than held his own, and so much so that when he was at Northcote Intermediate, there was a chap there named Mr Underwood – very good teacher, very respected by his pupils – still talk about Mr Underwood as they reminisce. But he was a good rugby coach, and he coached the … [?] Shield team was it? Whatever it was, anyhow. And he would go and look at the primary schools and see if they – when they were playing the odd game – and see if there was any talent coming through there, and he had Kelvin playing in the Intermediate team a couple of years before his time – yeah. So he was always playing a couple of years below the normal age group.
Obviously had a natural ability …
Whatever it was, he …
He wanted to be at the front, he wanted to be putting the ball over the line.
Yeah, yeah – always scoring tries – he had the ability and the desire.
And from impossible positions.
Yes. I said to him once at a Barbarians’ game, I said “what are you doing out on the wing there?” “Oh,” he said “I thought they might just kick the ball out that way, so I thought I’d mosey on out”. And sure enough … picked it up and scored a try. [Chuckle]
Now coming back – once you’d graduated where did you go to start as a dentist then? At this stage you weren’t married, were you?
No. I had met Jennifer when I was at Dental School in Dunedin, and she was doing Home Science. And we got to be quite friendly in that time, but we broke it off there for a while, and we came back together later on. But not for long … we broke it off for a while, ‘bout twelve months or maybe a bit more … but no, so when I graduated – I had gone through Dental School on a Government bursary. My parents didn’t have the money to put me through, and although you worked – and you could work in those days, in the holidays – very easy for students to get work in the holidays. I know some students that I knew personally went to the freezing works – this particular one was down New Plymouth way. And he would earn enough money to finance himself through the University. I never could you know – well I used to be at wool stores – it was good … good experience. Down to the wool stores, and down on the wharves, and you know, out on the roads, and … yeah, I had a lot of … and it was good experience ‘cause as you say there’s a lot of other students there with you. But I went through on a Government bursary because they were short of dentists at that stage and they were only to keen to help you get through. So I can’t remember the exact terms of the bursary, but it gave you a generous boarding allowance – virtually covered my board – and gave you additional allowance to cover your fees. Well in fact in those days you were … your fees were covered by the fact that you had University Entrance. And I just wonder in this day and age the kids have to pay everything, and that’s well gone. In those days it wasn’t hard, your fees were covered, so all you had to do was cover your books and expenses like that … living expenses, which weren’t a lot. Think we even had enough for a couple of bottles of beer at the end of the week.
So yes, I went through and got through and graduated in ‘57, and because I was on this bursary there was an obligation, which I think they should have today for these kids who are getting money. And even though they’re having to pay it back, there should be an obligation for them, one – to not be able to go overseas until they have paid it back, particularly. We had to pay it back by working for the Government for three years.
And so I was fortunate really to get into the Navy, and because I was interested in sailing, and it had always been my sport, apart from rugby – a summer sport. Because in those days you could have a sport in the summer and you could have a sport in the winter, and you used to have Junior All Blacks. Yeah, and … what’s his name ..?
The underarm bowler man?
Yeah, the one who suffered the underarm – what’s his name again?
He was … I think he was fullback for the All Blacks … Mick ..? It’ll come to me. But yes, he was probably one of the last ones.
And we both know who we’re talking about.
Yeah, [chuckle] that’s right. Yes, so my summer sport was sailing and winter sport was rugby. And I enjoyed my rugby, yes, I had a lot of rugby, particularly Varsity 3rd Grade. We played with some chaps like John Graham, and had a good team.
How did I get onto that? I’ve forgotten now – I talked about being down in Dunedin and going into the Navy, that’s right. And that was pretty … pretty straightforward when you went through. I went in as a dentist, that was – it was a good place to start, your practice, because to his everlasting credit, the Commander of the Dental Unit … Commander Horne … never got on my back and said “Tremain, you should be turning out more than what you’re doing”.
I could spend all day putting in a simple amalgam or something like that, so perfecting my technique, and so I appreciated that. It was good training as far as dentistry was concerned. Other than that, I never did get to learn to work fast [chuckle] so that was always a bit of a handicap in private practice.
But sometimes they say, “do it once and do it properly”.
Oh, yes, it’s always been my [chuckle] … I tried to make that my … yeah.
So then once you’d finished your training you came back on shore again?
Yes, that’s right. I did three years, and I wasn’t … I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the way of life in the Navy. A lot of it was due to my upbringing I think, and they were all pretty upper class – they used to think they were upper class anyhow – I never did. And there was that … unspoken, but friction there, in my mind, and yeah, I never really felt comfortable shall we say, in the … may have been better in the Army and the Air Force – they were a lot more relaxed, but the Navy – I don’t know whether it still has, but it used to have that sort of class system amongst the officers, which was reflected right down to the lower deck of course.
So I … no intention of going and doing any more than the three years, and I looked around for a – I did a locum, that’s right, at Devonport for about nine months for a chap that was going away. That was good experience too, to see how – have a little bit of experience of private practice. And then I bought a practice out at Henderson. And I spent the rest of my working days at Henderson in that practice, for many years until ‘bout sixty … can’t give you a date. I had several locums until finally one of them wanted to buy the practice – no – he was very good and I brought him in as an associate, and then he bought me out, and I ended up working for him, and we all went the full circle.
And I was conscious at that stage that Kelvin had died, and not been long dead, and I thought ‘I don’t want to have Jennifer having to dispose of practices and things like that’, so it came at a good time, and … Well I was able to get my money out but still have work.
As a young man you met Jennifer at Dunedin?
That’s right, yes. At Dunedin they had a hall, called the Allen Hall I think, and every weekend … every Saturday night … there was some sort of a hop, they used to call them. And it would be run by various organisations, and so I had nothing to do this Saturday and so I took myself off down to the Hall, and here was this very nice-looking lady over the other side of the room. ‘Course in those days – they’ve lost a bit these days, the younger generation – we used to have to go and say “May I have the pleasure of this dance?” Remember that, Frank?
And we could dance – we learnt to dance.
Well, at Auckland Grammar we used to go to a place called Jock Hutchinson’s School of Dancing. That was where everybody went. Kelvin – I never know how much he owes to me I used to … being the eldest one … had to suss all this out. And then when Kelvin came along – “well yes, Graeme went to that – he’ll go to Jock Hutchinson’s School of Dancing too”. So [chuckle] it became an automatic procedure, where I’d done all the hard spadework getting it set up in the first place. [Chuckle] It was exactly like that, so …
So yes – so you know, “Can I have the pleasure of this dance?” And she was a good dancer, so it just progressed from there. Yes, she was a very good dancer, and we kept on going out together for pretty well all – yeah, it would have been – all the time we were down in Dunedin … couple of years, I think. Jennifer’ll tell you.
Just before that, had your father passed away?
Oh, no, no. No, he was still with us. His health was pretty good up until the last twelve months or so perhaps, when he started to get the odd stroke. Looking back on it you realise it was stroke.
Then of course your mother – she still had a lot of years to go, didn’t she?
Yes she did, that’s right. So Dad … yeah, Dad was certainly very much alive when I married … when we were married … as he was when Kelvin got married too, I’m sure. Of course he was, yes.
I remember Kelvin at the funeral … well, I remember writing out a resume of his life, or you know, what could possibly be called a eulogy, and giving it to Kelvin to say, you know – “is this okay? Is this accurate?” And he was very much alive then, Kelvin, yes. No, you can work it out – Dad was eighty-eight, he was born in 1899 so that would have been in ‘87, so Kelvin was still … oh he wasn’t in the All Blacks, but he might have still been playing rugby in ‘87.
Well we can get Jennifer to pop in …
Jennifer’s going to tell us where she met Graeme. The ball’s in your court now.
Jennifer: [Chuckle] Well it was one of the regular University hops as they were called at Otago. And it was always a Saturday night occasion, and because of my fondness of ballroom dancing I took advantage of almost any function in the Allen Hall. And on this particular occasion there seemed to be – to me – there seemed to be a lot of wallflowers – the girls [chuckle] sitting around the wall, and I remember I didn’t want to be crowded in by the other wallflowers, so I separated myself and went and stood in another part of the hall. And I thought the chances of my getting a dance may be more [chuckles] …
Graeme: Well I’ve never heard this before. [ Chuckle]
Jennifer: I might have more chance of getting a dancing partner. And it was very quickly that I got a dancing partner who happened to be Graeme. And he literally just came out of the crowd – I wasn’t aware of the other fellows in the hall particularly. And it was just a total … we were meant to dance together. It was a very good quickstep that we got into, and I was aware that he was quite a calm, capable and good dancer, and did the manly thing and lead his partner very well around the floor. And that’s how it started.
So what were you doing in Dunedin?
Yes, my ambition had been to become a dietician, and thanks to being accepted for a Health Department bursary, and with a little bit of financial help from my father, I was able to go to Dunedin. But for me, it was a three year course followed by another fifteen months to complete the dietetics’ qualification. But for me – I was living in Wellington as a teenager, and when I went back to Dunedin – and I say ‘go back’ to Dunedin because I was actually born in Dunedin. And my families were both early settlers in Dunedin, and so there were very strong family roots there. One side of the family – the maternal side – were Scottish and had come out as very poor immigrants. And then on my father’s side, the Gale side, they were English, and they were from Ravensbourne. So whilst on my father’s side – he being the youngest of five children – his parents were very elderly when I was born, and in actual fact I was only introduced to my grandfather Gale just before he passed away, so I never knew him.
And then on my mother’s side there was a very strong maternal attachment, and we spent a lot of time with them. So for going back to Dunedin, having left Dunedin at my age of ten because my father was promoted in the Customs from the local office to Head Office in Wellington, when I got of an age to leave school it was like going back home, so it wasn’t a big thing for me. Although I was in a hostel and a flat, it was still a very comfortable place for me.
And as far as my training was concerned, there’s nothing else that I could have done that would have given me more pleasure. I was absolutely in the right place at the right time. So the fact that I found a wonderful husband, future husband …
Graeme: I’m not sure – was it the training, or was it the boyfriend? [Chuckles]
Jennifer: They went together. [Chuckle]
And did you play any sports Jennifer?
At school – well most of my sporting had been tennis and basketball, and I had an opportunity to play in one of the senior basketball teams while I was at Wellington Girls’ College, but I decline that opportunity in preference to continuing my music – piano studies.
And do you still play the piano?
No, I’ve had a lot of pleasure from it but I was never … once our daughters were learning music I got all the pleasure from seeing them learning, and doing very well.
The tennis was a big thing – I loved tennis very … really enjoyed tennis, and for a while when we were married I did play Ladies Day tennis. But I’ve dabbled in a few sports and never been terribly good at any of them.
Well it’s taking part that’s important. Children … how many children do you have?
We’ve got two daughters, and the oldest one was baptised Deborah Leigh Tremain, but she’s called Leigh. We were very pleased to have some biblical name – Graeme was very strong on that and I was always pleased at the choice of names for her – have some regrets that we never included any family names, because there were lovely names on both sides of the family.
Graeme: Ruth … Ruth? Ruth is a family name.
Jennifer: Yes, but that’s our granddaughter, not our daughter. Although the second daughter, Rosslyn, she’s got my name as her middle name. And there’s just on four years age difference in them.
Graeme: I think I could … you mentioned the Christian naming that … we’ve both been brought up as Christians … Sunday School, and we used to go to … Mum was an Anglican and she practised her faith – well almost to the end when she was unable to get out. So really – in spite of being baptised or christened in the Anglican Church, we went to my father’s church which was the Presbyterian one, mainly because another aunt, Aunty Dot, [chuckle] ran the Sunday School. And yes, there a big family connection here. So we were brought up there, and bible class. And Jennifer’s had a similar training shall we say, or education, and Christian ways, and we still are practising Christians.
When I was about seven I was told to go to Sunday School at the Anglican Church in Havelock. Well on the way I met a couple of mates who were going to the Presbyterian Church. I went to the Presbyterian Church for two years before my parents knew that I hadn’t … [laughter] Anglicised. [Laughter] In fact when I came to be married I couldn’t be married in the Anglican Church because I hadn’t been baptised in the Church.
Jennifer: Yes, four.
I know one’s called Ruth?
Yes, that’s the oldest one and the only granddaughter that we have, and she’s now twenty-seven, based in London at the moment. And the next one is Keith and he’s twenty-four at the moment and living with his girlfriend in Vancouver. Then we go down to Graeme Junior, who’s nineteen … or I think he was twenty last birthday – no, no, he’s nineteen, that’s right, and he’s studying at Victoria University. And then Cameron – he’s the youngest, he’s just turned sixteen a couple of weeks ago, yeah, and he’s still at home in Tauranga.
Do you play mahjong, or ..?
I’m not very interested in board games or cards. I’ve never had much of an affinity with cards or numbers, and I’m more inclined to do the gardening, go for a walk, and write emails. More domesticated. [Chuckle]
Now that you’ve settled here you’ve stayed here, haven’t you?
Yes, that’s been an interesting part of our walk, because it’s come up from time to time, you know – should we shift? And while Graeme was working it came up too, and the house always had more things to do to it and I could not see any point in selling an incomplete house [chuckle] – a house that I hadn’t finished with, and the upheaval, mainly influenced by having had quite a few shifts in the early part of our marriage which I didn’t enjoy, and didn’t …
Graeme: Didn’t cope with it that well.
Jennifer: … didn’t find that much reason for constantly shifting. I couldn’t see much benefit in constantly shifting unless there was a good reason. And I have mentioned to Graeme several times, there was only two real incentives for me to shift and one was if he wanted to do post-graduate study, or else buy a property at Takapuna Beach. And he didn’t go along with either of those, [chuckles] so we’ve stayed.
And I guess over the years you build up friends and association with the community, and …
Graeme: Yes, we’ve got some very good friends, and it’s been reinforced many times since I was diagnosed with this tumour, and I have been just overwhelmed really, by the number of people who have shown genuine concern, and you know, it’s very humbling – very humbling to realise that people can think of you enough to enquire after you and support you.
It’s fascinating listening to you, and just hearing you talk, it’s the Tremain that I hear talking.
Jennifer: Is that right?
Well, we can carry on back with you …
Graeme: Where did we get to – we got to getting married – oh no, we haven’t got married yet …
But you had your children? [Laughter] I’m sorry, I’ve got them in the wrong order. [Chuckle]
Graeme: Oh well, as I said to you before briefly – we had a little time of separation – twelve months or so?
Jennifer: Yes, ‘bout twelve months.
Graeme: And then we came back together again. You know, she … Jennifer hove to on the horizon one day and I looked, and I thought ‘what a fool I am, [chuckle] what am I doing mucking around here?’ So anyhow, we – for that time we had a very nice association, or a very nice period of romance, and ended up getting married when I was in the second year? Second of my three years in the Navy, I think. Again … oh, I don’t know, oh, I might throw it in and you can do what you like with it …
Jennifer: You were in your third year.
Graeme: We didn’t have that long, but they used to have wardroom … Jennifer never, never, never related – you know, I said that I was never completely comfortable in the wardroom, and Jennifer never related to it as a Naval wife. And I think what put her off was that very shortly, probably because we were just married, that we were invited to the Naval Office at Auckland – Knocker, they called him – to a cocktail party. Cocktail parties are – probably still are – very much the thing and again, part of their way of life. And one of these … I think it was probably the hostess, Knocker’s wife, that … “oh, my dear, how are you going to enjoy being a Naval Officer’s wife?” Well that just didn’t go over … put her off [chuckle] completely, wasn’t it?
Jennifer: It was a very artificial environment, and I didn’t think that was the … it didn’t fit with my attitude towards life.
‘Cause you would have had some rank?
Graeme: Yes, I was a Lieutenant … a Lieutenant, two rings.
So you weren’t just an Able Seaman?
No, oh no, no, no – I was a of rank all right, and yeah, it went with the job. And probably it came before I was … how shall I put it? I don’t think that I was a very good officer, put it that way, and how I come up through the ranks, so I would have had a more … better appreciation …
Well that’s right, ‘cause you came in, the others had done their basic training, their discipline and all the framework of …
That goes with it. So it wasn’t easy.
Jennifer, because we haven’t got Kel around to tell us about the Auckland connection, this I hope will give us a foundation to build the next part of this interview, and that’s with Pam, and then with the boys, and we should end up with a nice picture.
You haven’t mentioned any grandparents of the Tremains. Did they come out here..?
No, so my grandfather … paternal grandfather – Dad’s father was born here – but he came out as a baby. Don’t know where he got his wife from, but that was my father. And on my mother’s side – yes, she came out as a teenager I think it was.
Would you’ve met any of your grandparents?
Yes, mother’s mother – yes. Yes, used to call her Nanny. Again, it’s in there. But she had … it’s quite an interesting history actually, which is worth reading. And she had married a couple of times, and I never met her husbands as such, and there was a friend – I think he was only a friend – she used to see occasionally, but I never met any of her husbands. But she was very much a constant feature in our lives growing up – she just lived down the road, and ‘course we rented down the road and we saw a lot of Nanny, yeah. She was very good to us, and yes, Kelvin and myself and Ian. So she was … I guess she was something that my mother could lean on.
And then after your father passed away, your mother moved to Napier, which must have been a big surprise?
It was to me, yeah. Yes, so after Dad passed away, Kelvin found this nice place for her, or suggested that she might be interested. And of course it was brand new, and so she came home announcing that she was going to go down there. And I remember saying to her “Mother, what on earth do you want to go all that way for – you’ve got all your friends up here, and all your connections and …” And she said “it’s got all the things I never had in my home”. And that was the big thing, she wanted the brand new home with all the mod cons. Yeah, the old home that we had was an old home – still there – but it would have been oh, I don’t know – early 1900s I think. So that was her reason. I think she probably, you know … quite happy to go and spend some time with Kelvin too, and his family. So she went down, and it worked out very well for her. Being the type of personality she was, she didn’t take long to find friends down there. So she had a happy time down there, she was very content down there. In fact if anything she was more the queen lady – what’s the word I’m looking for? Down there – queen bee, yes ..
Jennifer: That’s the word.
Graeme: Yes, she was more the queen bee down there than she was up in Auckland here – she likes that sort of thing. [Chuckle] And Kelvin’s boys grew up having her there – she would’ve had ten years or so. She was eighty-five or something … she would have been more than that, she was about eighty-five when she went down. She was a hundred and one when she died, so yes, so she had quite a long time with the boys, and they all came to love her dearly.
Now is there anything that you’ve forgotten to tell me about that was important when you were growing up?
Well I was thinking you would ask me more on Kelvin and his association – I have to say, Frank, that my memory of him and family life is a bit dim. He was always there. But what I thought I might say to you is that he was always the entrepreneur. And he would have a Herald round – for quite a long time he had a Herald round in the hills, and I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing. I wasn’t … you know, it wasn’t my thing, but also I was going to Auckland Grammar and having to get up early and catch the boat across, so … And he was still at Intermediate School at that stage.
He was never much of a mechanic and his bike was always breaking down and he was always using my bike – I resented that a bit. [Chuckle] But I was the type of guy who would keep his bike in good order. [Chuckle] Well, two different personalities – probably Simon and Chris. [Chuckle]
But he would allow me to … ask me to help him in the school holidays, which I would do. There was also this family joke that we had – I was delivering Heralds with him, and I was going down a very steep hill which leads to where the … oh, it’s not there now, is it – where the … onto Shoal Bay anyhow, on a steep hill going down from Northcote. And I was delivering these Heralds, and next thing I heard this rattle, and stones going right, left and centre, and Kelvin saying “hey! Graeme, my chain’s come off!” And … what I thought was pretty good presence of mind for a young fellow, I said “well, don’t try and get off! Stay on it!” ‘Cause I was thinking, ‘if he tried to get off and he’s going that fast on this metal road he’s going to end up a bit of a mess’. So he did – he stayed on, and unfortunately for him the tide was in and he was … bounce, bounce over the edge and [chuckle] right over the side [chuckle] … Heralds and all. [Chuckle] That’s one little incidence I remember – I told that at his wedding too.
Yeah, so – but he was always into sport as I say, we’ve mentioned his rugby, and he sailed in the summer time too, he did quite a bit of sailing. And whatever he did he was pretty good at – tennis or whatever. But as far as other incidents go, I can’t think of anything in particular. He had his friends and I had mine. He ended up going to Grammar too, and as I said, he took to it like a duck to water. His best friends still are probably Grammar friends.
Yes, he was very good – what I should say, is he was very good with Ian. Again, it might be a personality thing, Frank – in fact you’ve brought that out rather, you’ve seen that in this discussion. But when Ian had his plaster removed and he was you know, on crutches, and Ian was … he was pretty good on his crutches … a good bowler in his own right – he won some championships with teams. But I was always a bit embarrassed with Ian, to my … you know, to my shame really, looking back now. But I never quite handled … whereas Kelvin was just so good to him, and he’d put him on his boat, or whose boat it was and take him out for a spin, and yeah, he included Ian in so many activities. They were a closer age, so that would be easier I suppose if you’re looking for excuses, but all credit to Kelvin – he was a very good brother to Ian.
He was a very generous person, and that’s followed through …
All the way through.
… the family – just amazing. I just can’t believe at times, the generosity and the kindness.
So yes, I can’t think of much else about Kelvin – can you, Jennifer? Time he rolled up when I was at University …
Jennifer: Oh, and he came to the flat. He was down in Invercargill then, wasn’t he? Down Southland?
Graeme: On a farm – part of the Rural Field Cadetship, they had to spend so much time on a [an] actual farm, and so much time back at the University. So he bowled in large as life and set up camp in my [chuckle] … my room, and we went to a dance didn’t we? That night, I took him to a dance, yes – that’s when he met Fleur.
Jennifer: Oh that’s right, he couldn’t get his tongue round Fleur, so he called her Flirt. [Chuckle]
Graeme: Yes, that was Kelvin – he bowled in, bowled out. And he was also very good to me, Kelvin, he used to look after me a bit as far as rugby was concerned, inviting me to after-match functions and – right from the word go. Because he had his first direct match for Southland – that was his first province that he represented. And I was down at Dunedin at the time, so he … in his very first game, organised … got it okayed with the coach for me to come in and join him in the after-match function. And I went to many after-match functions on his invite. But that’s Kelvin.
Okay, well I think that’s probably a nice note to finish on, and thank you Graeme and Jennifer. It’s nice to have met you both, and it just completes the picture, because you know, Kel used to talk about his Auckland family, and Ian. He used to talk about the group that Ian was part of, and he thought out loud.
So thank you very much, and we’ll go from there.
Good, well I hope it’s been some help to you, Frank.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper