Trevor Morton Page Interview
Today is the 9th of February 2017. I’m interviewing Trevor Page of Tamatea. Trevor is a retired electroplater and at the time of interview his age is 97. Trevor would you like to tell me something about the life and times of your family, from the time, if you can remember, where your parents came from.
My father was about six weeks old when he left England, ‘course consequently he was an Englishman, and his father brought the family out on a sailing ship. And my father, when he went back to England with mum on holiday, they came to a little place called Bilston. My father said when he saw the house where they lived in a little stone cottage, he could understand why his father left England.
Dad eventually became Mayor of Nelson about 1936; I think he was Mayor for a couple of terms. I was born there and went to Nelson College, which is a darn good college. I never made any great intellectual progress there I don’t think, just normal common schoolboy. Then I joined the Post Office in those days. My father insisted that we had a Government job – of course you got paid and you didn’t get sacked. This was virtually at the end of the Depression, and they were in business for many years when his father first came here to New Zealand. And he started the family business. There were about five sons and two daughters, and of course, all the money had to be spread between them and Grandma as well, and as Dad said, he was the Managing Director and ‘my children are not going to have anything to do with the family business’. It’s a problem, you know, arguments and things. So then I applied to join the Royal Air Force, short term commission 1938. There were four of us at the same time in Nelson, and three of them got killed, I was the fourth – I didn’t. I went to get a medical and I needed glasses. The chap said “sorry son, you’re not going”. So I didn’t, and I was the only survivor.
Were they pilots?
So you couldn’t fly because you had spectacles?
Wouldn’t take me. So the War came on and I applied to join the Air Force as a wireless mechanic, and I spent the next three or four years in the Air Force, on quite a few different stations. Well we went through the course then we went overseas – Guadalcanal, then Munda, and then Bougainville. By this time I’d been a year away overseas. So the fifteen of us who went originally, we flew home. I got malaria and came out of the Air Force and when the war finished I went, actually before that, I went to have my teeth looked at while I was in Blenheim and one of the nurses there looked in my mouth and said “yeah … his teeth look all right I s’pose – probably marry him”. That’s my story anyway. No, she was a dental nurse. So I met her there and then I was transferred back to Nelson for a while and then we got engaged and married.
Where did she come from?
You got married?
Yes, I went to work for a firm in Wellington called Neeco. I came out of the Air Force and went straight to work for them. Knew practically nothing about electroplating, only what I’d picked up in a correspondence course. Went to work for them and I was the only man out there in this department of thirteen women. And have you ever dealt with women in a bunch? They’ll get a snitch on one and they’ll all pile in, and it’d end up being snarly stuff [???] impossible, so she had work in all directions and a person would see it and come to me and say “what are you going to do about it?” Never ever will I ever employ a woman.
So you were working at Neeco. Neeco – did they make electrical …
Electric stoves … every State house had a Neeco stove. I had been there about three months and a chap who was an electroplater, George Leslie, he left and went to work for Electrolux, which left me in charge of a department of which I knew practically nothing, and God! I had to learn quick.
So electroplating in an electric stove factory – where did they do the electroplating?
Oh, they also turned out some electric irons and toasters. They were all chromium plated you see.
‘Course they are. So chromium plated was electroplated.
Yes. I was there for about three months, and on my own after that and I was there for about two years, and being young – twenty-five, I wanted to … thought I’d start an electroplating business of my own because after being in one of the armed forces for a while, you do get tired of people telling you what to do. [I can] tell myself.
I was there for a couple of years and Gisborne was the only place that didn’t have an electroplating firm so that’s where I was going to go. After a couple of years – you know what you’re like when you’re young, nothing’s going to go wrong is it? You can’t fail. Can’t possibly fail.
So I started in Gisborne and built the whole plant myself and all the tanks and everything else and started there. I was there for seven years and it got to the stage where electroplating was mostly car stuff – bumpers and things like that. And I came down here to Napier and Hastings, because a lot of work here was going to Wanganui, and I thought there’s no reason why it shouldn’t come to me in Gisborne. So I made arrangements with the National Airways, NAC it was called in those days, and they flew stuff up in the old Dakotas for that chap Ernie Skews of Hastings, and minor parcels. He picked stuff up and put it on the plane and we shot it back on the plane. We got to the stage where about two thirds of the business was coming from here. So ‘oh well, if I don’t go there someone else will’.
So I came down here, had a look around for premises and there weren’t any. There weren’t any to be had. Somebody said to me “why don’t you build a place for yourself?” “Where?” “Well out … place, they’re going to be calling it Onekawa. There’s a lot of land out there.” “How do I find out about it?” Said “go to Fred Watters”, who was the Town Clerk. He pulled out a great big blind and said “here you are, it’s yours. How much do you want it?” So at that time there was Boldswoods and the Hawke’s Bay Power Board taking two sections and I took the third.
What year would that be approximately, ’53?
’53, yeah. So I took the smallest section I could. Then I went back to Gisborne and prefabricated a lean-to building up and – you know, to sell the business there, which I sold to a chap and came down here and put the [?], got somebody to put a concrete slab floor down from the builders and built the rest of it myself.
So you sold the Gisborne … to an electroplater …
… as well – that was probably a risk wasn’t it? You probably wondered at the time?
But I tell you – That’s what I’m saying to you – we were young.
I know – bullet proof.
Absolutely. We were in Gisborne seven years – built a house there in a place called Wainui Beach. Now of course, they can’t afford to buy the section let alone a house. But I built that. Time to run the business, come home at night and hammer away till the early hours of the morning. And what did I know about carpentry? Not a thing. But along the road was a chap who was doing one of these pressure cooker courses as a carpenter, and I could ask him questions but the rest of the time was on your own. Built it – now I look back of course, I’d never ever think of starting something like that.
So Mum and I built that, and we came down here about seven years later and started the business going here. We already had customers, you see, by that time, and just built up and … then we had a fire and burnt half the building down, so we built over the top of the whole lot, built a new building over the top. By that time of course it was beginning to … there were sections again – buildings were going up in the industrial area. When I came down here, ‘course I was the third one, but a year later by the time I got everything cleared up two others had started up. Allan Lawson and chap Harry Skews doing concrete work, and Allan was making floor polishers and things.
You built the business – how many people did you have working with you?
We shifted to another building after and there were thirteen of us working there. Had four panelbeaters working for me. That’s when they started giving exchange service – bumpers, you see. You get your bent one, see – give it to us, we’d straighten it, give you an exchange one. So by that time, we got … oh, then we got a bit bigger and a bit bigger, and we shifted that from there to another place which belonged to Odlins. And they’d amalgamated with somebody that had all these spare buildings round the countryside. So then we set up depots in Palmerston, Levin, Paraparaumu, Masterton, Blenheim and then we put a branch in Wellington. My son ran that, and then he decided he wanted to travel the world so he left and went to Australia. And they got a trimaran over there which came apart at the seams. It had been used for sailing round the coast of Australia. The first time it had been in the open sea it all parted company … rescued by a ship coming along … took them back to the mainland. Talk about – young.
I had to sort of leave here at three o’clock in the morning, go down there, open up the place and come back. But I got a chap to manage the place who I discovered running a wood business using the van down there, for delivering his wood. [Chuckle] And so then we shifted it. And I went down and ran it for a while and eventually sold that. And by this time the plastic bumpers were starting to come in and it sort of gradually faded right away. But in the meantime we used to sell container loads of chrome tube to Australia. Tube would be cut up into towel rails – used to send container loads from here over there.
So you used to buy blank ..?
Yeah. Southwoods in Wellington made the tube and we plated it. But we had quite a good business over there … had about a third of the market. And then one day I went over there and a chap said to me “can you do it for this price?” “God”, I said “I can’t buy the steel for that price”. He said “the opposition are bringing it in for that price”. Coming from China. Every hardware shop bought their own – wouldn’t buy it from us. A firm called Arlec. So that sort of – the New Zealand market – we did still continue to sell quite well here, but the Australian market stopped overnight.
And then Ajax hinges from Wellington, they closed the place in Wellington – closed the whole show. And they continued to make hinges here, shifted the plant up here. It was called Turners, and every hinge in New Zealand was an Ajax hinge. Look at the older houses you’ll see Ajax, every hinge. We used to do about two thirds of a ton a day of hinges – we’d plate them. And in fact we had a big … a big plating plant we had here, because of the building we went into. And all the tanks were great big long ones because the tube came in long lengths, you see. And we put this plant in which I bought off him, cost about $20,000 or something, and we’d do all the hinges. And then the same thing happened – we gradually got less and less and less. The writing was on the wall and they started bringing them in from China. And they eventually they closed that part of it, which left us with a semi-automatic plant for doing engines and valves going round and round, and no business.
And there was a firm in Wellington we were doing a lot of work for – Robertson’s – and they started making things out of plastic instead of making them out of metal, you see – well, you don’t require a finish on plastics. And so we’d gone into it – we’d bought a big oven, the biggest in the country – powder coating oven. It belonged to General Motors in Wellington and we bought that, and we were doing powder coating – big balustrading and great big stuff – fencing and all that. And then they started bringing in fencing by the mile from China – you know, you buy … “how many metres do you want?” It’s in packets. And in the finish they sold out to a firm up in Auckland who make roller doors.
Well that was the plating side of it going down, then the powder coating, and I was getting older, you know? Eventually it got to the stage where I’d go into the office and I’d sit down to write something, and I’d fall asleep. Ninety fifth birthday – finish. So …
At ninety five?
Yeah, I stopped work, definitely stopped. And I tried to sell the business but nobody wanted a business that was going downhill, and it’s chemicals, you see – a lot of poisonous chemicals.
They only had to look at you and say well – they must be pretty safe. It hasn’t hurt you.
Well to warn off people coming in I had to make a big sign “Cyanide – no one past here” – that sort of thing. As soon as they saw that people say “oh …” So we just closed up and sold all the bits and pieces of plant for mostly just scrap, because other electroplaters in the country didn’t want any more plant, they had trouble using their own. So the metal finishing industry unless you are producing metal and getting it finished … well for instance, there’s a crowd in Hastings called Hustlers – they make a lot of farm machinery, feeding out hay and that sort of thing. Some of the things that feed out the hay – suddenly there wasn’t any. “Oh”, I said you know, “you’re not making any”. They said “no, we’re getting it from China”. The first lot came out with the tines on them – they were about half the thickness they were supposed to be. We recut those, but it was the last job we ever did.
There was a window of opportunity that you took, and that point wasn’t there was it?
It didn’t matter how bullet proof you were there was nothing you could do about it.
Well, the best part about it was that in the days when I needed money, with a family growing up and I’d started flying – I had money then – good money. We were making good money in the days of bumper exchanges and things like that. So when I got to ninety five, that’s it – chop.
So, now coming back to your family. You were married. You mentioned one son, you had …
And are they all local?
Janice lives in Otane. Michelle, she lives in Queenstown, that’s my next daughter. And my son comes in between there, and Rosemary – they farm in Taumarunui.
And your son, is he still local too?
No, he’s what you call a corporate pilot. Well, he used to run a flying school in America, so he’s done quite a lot of ferry work in South America a couple of times there, in a single engined aircraft, flying over the Amazon jungle. He said “nup, Dad – twice, that’s enough for me. Two engines if you’re going in the jungle – but once there” he said “you’re finished”.
Now you mentioned flying – you did quite a lot of flying yourself didn’t you?
Where from, Napier?
Napier Aero Club?
Yes. I finished and sold my last aeroplane when I was ninety. That was it. The last one, it was a little microlite, I never flew it. I bought it, I got in it and I nearly had to call the Fire Brigade to get me out of it. ‘Cause you just slip in you see, with your arms are up here – you try to lift yourself up with your arms up there. You can’t. I was stuck. I thought I’d have to call them up and ask them to help me out, but I managed to get out. I thought ‘all right – this is stupid.’
So you would have started flying in a Tiger Moth?
No I didn’t, no no I didn’t. Those days were gone. I used to fly something a bit more modern. Napier Aero Club was quite a good club in those days. Had a couple of instructors. And they just let it run to the ground. I actually have owned eight different aircraft. It’d just get so if I didn’t like one I’d try another one.
So what were they mainly?
Krysley Ace – that was in a hangar down Tikokino way. Originally a chap – Terry … oh, he was a chemist in Waipukurau – he bought it and he did speed boat racing and he got tipped out, and another boat came along and [ran] straight over him – killed him. Any rate, it had to be put in a shed and they hadn’t flown it, and all the dirt had been all over it and everything else. So I bought that and I recovered it in the factory building I had here – room at the back – recovered the wings and that sort of thing. And the engineer from Rotorua, Arch Finch, came and said “every now and again have a look and see … all right, you can go and do a bit more”. However if it was no good, had to take it off, start again.
Livingstones were the people I bought it off – they were farmers at Tikokino.
So I flew that one and then I sort of got a bit ambitious and I bought a twin – twin, from Apache, twin muffler and that. It was good fun but very damned expensive. You’d be surprised, but two engines cost you more than one engine. I hadn’t thought of that. [Chuckle]
And I bought a Musketeer, and then I bought a Raleigh. I bought a Piper … I’ll remember shortly. I bought an Acro Sports which I bent – oh yeah, I forgot about that, yeah. It bent me a wee bit too, just a broken collar bone and that. The engine failed a couple of times. I landed first in a paddock over there; second time I did land in a paddock but there was a bit of a ditch. And – if I had only had another eighteen inches. Everybody says that – “only another foot”. It flipped over on its back and I could hear a sound … dripping, dripping, dripping, dripping. And I knew quite well being an air cooled engine, it wasn’t petrol and it wasn’t water. [Chuckle] You’d be surprised what the air can get out from underneath. [Squeaky background noise]
Oh well, you would have had a lot of pleasure out of being a pilot then?
Absolutely. But to be truthful it was pure pleasure as far as I was concerned. I had the idea of using it for business. But then again, see if I went to – tried it once – Masterton – had a couple of customers there. And you ring up for a taxi to come and get you [squeaky background noise]. You go into town, you see the people, you keep the taxi waiting or whatever it is, and another taxi back again. By the time you’ve done all this you could have driven by car.
But anyway, you know, you had to try these things.
Oh well … take the family round.
‘Cause the twin engine it would have taken six people?
Supposed to take six, but It would be loaded at four. You’ve only got – after all if one engine fails, you’ve only got a one engine aeroplane.
But it’s better than a single engine plane with an engine failure though.
Well, you’ve got to have a lot of flat land to be able to climb out.
Yes – I know. So coming back then – your son is still a corporate …
He flies for a chap over there who is a property developer. He’s one of these people who develops commercial properties and he must be very good, because he’s got that; he’s got a twin he flies, and a single one which he flies just for fun. Well you see as they said, by the time you go to the airport – an hour and a half beforehand is it? Then you wait for the plane at the other end and the next one won’t connect. So wait there, and at the other end. This way he can say to Dean “we’re off to’ … whatsitsname … “Seattle tomorrow”. Go down there and about three and a half hours later he’s there – does his business and come home. He’s got a home in Palm Springs, he’s got a condominium in Seattle, a lodge in Alaska.
Well it sounds as if life is good.
No – this is the owner. Got a great big launch in Seattle. I said to Dean “has he got money?” He said “yes, he’s got money”. He’s apparently a heck of a nice chap.
During your time in Taradale, Trevor, you’ve also been very involved with the local Taradale Rotary Club.
I was for a while. Actually I started off like all younger people did in those days, you started off in the Jaycees. The idea was the Jaycees taught you procedures and that sort of thing – how to run meetings, and then you graduated to become a respectable Rotarian. And then my wife … I used to ride motor bikes in those days. She said “don’t you think it’s about time you grew up and became respectable and become a Rotarian?” Which I did and I was the first joining member of the Taradale Rotary Club, and one of the initial …
Yes, Charter members. [Speaking together]
… member to join. I was there for about four years and then they started the thing called Napier West. They took about three of us from Taradale and a couple from Napier, and the rest were people round about. So in those days you had districts. So if you wanted to belong and your business was in that area, that was where you belonged to. Changed that now.
So yeah, I was president there for a while, or a year at Napier West. And eventually Napier West died, principally because they cut out the districts and a lot of people who belonged to it lived in Taradale. They used to have to go in there and do their thing and of course they didn’t want to go there, and the Napier ones didn’t want to come to us, so eventually it got smaller.
Well I remember the Napier West club. We used to visit you as well, and it was a strong little club.
Very strong – had eighty members.
And so when Napier West folded did you ..?
I’d left before that. I’d left a couple of years before that and I went back to Taradale.
And so you’ve been there ever since. You mentioned being a motorbike man. Look at the rain – it’s pouring! [Noise in background is rain]
Well those days you would have been riding – what – Triumph or Norton?
Ariels. Oh, just by the way, nothing to do with this but I’ve been to see my doctor this morning – he bought himself a Honda 170 horsepower. Then he went back to Ducatis – he’s a Ducati man, but now he is down to about 130 horsepower.
How do they hold them on the … you know, in high gear you have trouble keeping the front wheel down.
Well the old Ford V8 – big powerful engine, turned out eighty bloody horsepower.
I know. Did you play golf?
No. I didn’t play any sport after I got married. Couldn’t play rugby of course after I was married because there might have been an accident and you had a family and a mortgage, so you couldn’t.
Okay, well that leads me to the next question. You obviously played rugby in your younger life.
For local teams here?
No, mostly in Nelson before the war. Never played here. I played in the Air Force and I never played again after that. As far as any sports and that I wasn’t involved with anything else. I was always busy building something. Built the business. Built a house and that took the first seven years of my life … married life and after that building business and machinery and plant and that. We had three quarters of an acre down in … it was at the end of Avondale Road over here. By the time I had finished that there was a hundred and something roses, and at the end of the weekend I was done for.
So obviously at some stage you lost your wife?
No, no – she’s in Summerset. She lost the use of her legs and that – if you can’t walk or stand up you’re sunk, so you have to sit in a chair all day. So I go to see her every day.
So she has to have full support.
Yes, yes. Well she swears blind she can stand up, but … I say “righto, show me”, and she goes off to another subject then.
To lose your mobility, and you know, for you walking is part of your routine isn’t it?
Yeah. Once you stop it’s hard to start again.
Grandchildren – I’ve got about six grandchildren.
[Voice of daughter]: Nine.
Trevor: That’s right. And I’ve got only two great grandchildren?
[Voice of daughter]: No, four. Jack, Sophia, Isaac and Leon.
So when you sold Avondale Road did you come here?
No, we went – you got fed up with these big places. Never going to have a big place again. We went to a place in Ngarimu Crescent with an eighth of an acre. The back fence was just there. So we were there for about … oh, must have been about a year. That was enough. So then we bought another place with half an acre and after that common sense played its part. So we were there for about … oh, about three or four years and we sold that and then we came here.
It’s a wonderful outlook.
That’s why my wife finds it so hard sitting in her room or the sort of lounge and she misses being able to sit here.
Is she able to move in an electric wheelchair or anything like that?
No, the nurses put you in and push you around.
So what other major things have happened that you’ve seen … you’ve seen a lot of growth in Taradale over the years, and Greenmeadows and Tamatea. They were just open places when you came.
Yeah. One thing I have seen is parking metres in Taradale. There’s never going to be parking metres – never. But somehow or other they snuck in.
I was very surprised when Taradale – Napier City Council – let that slip through.
I’ve looked and people don’t sort of stay there very long really. They’re just doing their shopping and going. They said the people in the shops will park their cars there. They do for a while until they realise that it’s stopping their customers from getting there, so they park their cars all round the area. People don’t spend an hour shopping.
Taradale moved from a little village into a fully-fledged city, isn’t it?
Well you see I walk up the Sugar Loaf, and I’ve been doing that for about forty something years, and there’s houses there that I’d never ever think they would put houses on sides of hills. And it’s sort of spread. Back of our house we used to … in Avondale Road – that’s three quarters of an acre … behind that was paddocks. They were growing maize there. Now of course it is completely covered in houses.
So is there anything else that you may not have covered or thought about? You’ve obviously travelled during your married life?
I’ve been to Seattle, Singapore and Vanuatu, the back country there, with a daughter and Australia … I don’t know, about thirteen or fourteen times I think. I haven’t travelled much overseas after that. I came back to New Zealand saying “God, if you’ll get me back to New Zealand I’ll never leave the place again”. [Chuckle] I’d go to Church every Sunday, but things sort of lapsed a bit once I got back here.
Well that’s wonderful actually Trevor. Thank you for giving us a picture of your life, and of all the happy things, the sad things, all the things that happen that make up ninety-seven years. How do you explain ninety-seven years – it’s what’s happened isn’t it, that’s the important thing, and obviously you have filled your life to the full. When you weren’t working you were building things.
This has got nothing to do with it, but I did a lot of pig hunting, and I started at forty – finished when I was about fifty-two. My knee had gone on me by that time but I used to hunt away over the back of the hills over here and that was all land brought in after the First World War. Every now and again you’d find a bit of wire stuck in the ground – people didn’t remember, but we hunted there for about ten years. And the dogs got old, and I got old. But some years later I went right through there with my son. You could go then from this side right through on to the Taupo Road, and where we used to push our way through scrub and hunt it’s covered in blasted fir trees now. Bloomin’ pine trees everywhere.
I tried to find where I was but that’s how things change.
On that note we could probably finish, and once again thank you very much and if you think of something that is really important we have forgotten I can always come back and do an addendum and tack it on because history never finishes, it just keeps going every year.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper
NB: There is some background noise on this recording.