Tui Powell Interview
Today is 24th April 2017, and today I’m interviewing Tui Powell, née Whyte. Tui, would you like to tell us something about the history of your family?
My family came from Scotland originally – my great-grandfather. He was David Whyte, and he came to New Zealand and came to Port Chalmers. He had one son with him when he came, and they went north and looked at land in Hawke’s Bay and then he went back and got the rest of his family and brought them out here. They bought a farm called Abbotsford at Tiniroto, and that was where they farmed from.
My great-grandfather, David Whyte, was an engineer, and he’d been in India building bridges and things. And he was passionate about getting a railway from Napier to Gisborne … particularly from Wairoa to Gisborne … and I have many letters and newspaper clippings and things about how he appealed to the government and everything to get this railway going. He didn’t want it to go around the beach loop at Whakaki … round that way … he said it would slip, which history has proved it did. He wanted it to go through Tiniroto; they reckoned it was … too many tunnels that way, but they also felt that he wanted it that way because that was where his farm was, [chuckles] and they did, you know, say that to him. But anyway, part of the the railway line was attributed to his engineering.
Walter, my father’s father … my grandfather … stayed on the farm. He was a great farmer and a very kindly Scotsman, but he was no businessman. They said if somebody wanted a box of nails he’d give them his nails, and then he’d have to go to town and buy some for himself. And so Dad mostly grew up at Tiniroto. I have his diaries and my aunt’s diaries … his sister’s diaries … and my grandmother’s diaries … Walter’s wife; Dad’s mother … and they seemed to have a very social time. Somebody seemed to drop in every day and stay the night and have dinner and lunch and all that.
Whereabouts at Tiniroto was Abbotsford?
By the lake; there’s a lake.
Well there’s the Tiniroto pub; [speaking together] there was the hall …
Yes, well you went to the … yes. Well when the telephone first went to Tiniroto it was at Grandma and Grandpa Whyte’s, and then it shifted to the school – I’m not sure about that – but I think it went to the school and then it went to the pub, and it was there; because that’s where it was when the Napier earthquake happened. And Grandpa was really busy when the Napier earthquake happened ‘cause he used to fix chimneys; and in Grandma’s diaries, she’s very angry. ‘Brute of a man is down at the pub!’ And I thought, ‘[I didn’t] know he drank’, you know – they were great Presbyterian people. But he was down there fixing the tank and the chimney and all the rest of it and getting it operational, because that was where the exchange was. And people then – he seemed to do a lot of restoration, and Grandma, weeks after it: ‘More shakes today, and my tank is still down at the side of the lake’. So … and they seemed to pay him in half a hogget or … you know, that’s how it seemed to be.
And Dad, by this time he was farming; he was farming at Putere Station away in the back. They used to go in there, him and his friend Vernon Shaplin, and they’d be there for about six months at a time; they’d go way out the back.
This is before Putere was cut up?
Mmm. He worked for – was he Maxwell or something, that owned it? Can’t remember the name. Anyway, but I mean they had to ride out on horses and everything. A funny story that Aunty Nan told me – that’s Uncle Vernon Shaplin’s wife – said she was to meet them in Gisborne at the Masonic, and they rode in in their working gear with their good clothes in a sugar bag tied [chuckle] on the back of their horses; [chuckle] and they stayed at the Masonic Hotel – probably the best hotel.
Anyway, Dad had worked on different farms but he was also a gentlemen jockey, and he went to Hunts and things. He told me once of a story that he came down from Wairoa to Napier on a coastal boat to get a horse that he’d bought down here. And while he was down here he got some jodhpurs made, and apparently they were pretty classy – a tailor had made them.
I can imagine.
[Chuckle] Yes, so … and he rode at the Shows and at the Hunts and things like that. He had a nice horse called ‘Lady Venita’ but he called her ‘Squibs’. I think actually that I was named after one of his horses, because in one of Grandma’s diaries she talks about this hunter called ‘Tui’. Anyway, so be it.
Dad was working in Gisborne at Pukemata Station, and Mum was the station cook. She cooked for the family … Graham family …
Just where was Pukemata?
Was at Ormond, north of Gisborne, to the right somewhere, yeah. And Dad came to work there and they fell in love and got married. And they were at Pukemata for a while; there was a new house built and they were in the new house, and then they shifted to … the name’s gone out of my head, because Mr Barton from the Waimata went to war, and Dad was assigned ‘cause he was older. And when Barton applied to have dad look after the farm, and Dad was in the Mounted Rifles of the … and they used to gallop up and down Wainui Beach, and go to camp at the weekends and things. Heather was born when they were there, and so was I.
When Mr Barton came home, Dad went to Muriwai, to Pakowhai Station; it was a stud station and it was owned by the Blacks – Mr E R Black, and Bob Black was his nephew and they owned half this farm each. So we went to Muriwai, and my younger sister Susan was born while we were there; and mum was really ill in hospital and so … well Susan stayed in hospital for four months, and Heather went to Granny’s, and I was sent to Wairoa to Grandma Whytes. And they always used the expression, “Tui was sent to Wairoa”, and that’s how I felt. I felt like I’d been sent away; away from everything, because Grandma lived in Wairoa with her daughter Aunty Audrey, who’d been in the Army. She was fine, really – I mean nobody was unpleasant to me or anything, but … and Grandma’s younger sister, Aunt Ruth – and she was a bit of a character. But there were lots of rules at Grandma Whyte’s place that you didn’t have at Granny’s. I mean Granny was fun, and – that was Mum’s mother – and Grandad was a drover. And he’d come home and … oh, they’d … be lots of cuddles and hugs, and they’d dance round the … it was a happy place, you know? It was …
Yes. Whereas Grandma’s was a bit stricter, about all sorts of things. Anyway – so I went to school there for a while and Heather went to Ormond School. And then the family all got back home together, and Mr Black hired a girl to help Mum in the house; and also they bought a washing machine for her so that you know, that Dad didn’t have all that to do.
And we went to Muriwai School. There was a pa at Muriwai so the school consisted of a hundred and eighty kids, and there was ten pakeha. And it was a great school, except for one boy who terrorised us all. We went in the bus, and he used to stand on the post of the school gates wearing an army jacket, and you had to ‘o ‘Heil Hitler’ to him as you went through the gate, otherwise he made you walk through a puddle; so you ‘Heil Hitlered’. [Chuckles]
Anyway, then came the polio epidemic; and so all the schools were closed and we had to have Correspondence. And you had to listen to the radio in the morning at nine o’clock, and you used to get stuff sent out that you did – you know, packets of stuff, and you had to fill it all out it went back … And then of course the day was your own – you’d take off, and you’d be gone … gone to the hills.
Then we left when Susan was three and I must have been seven. We shifted to Hawke’s Bay, and it was a huge break in a way because we had always been in Gisborne where there was lots and lots of family, and Granny’s place, and cousins and things; there was always cousins at Granny’s. And so it was a bit of a thing but they said to us, “We’re going to live in a big two-storied house”. And I said “Right, I’m going to climb up high and see God”, [chuckle] so … but I never got up high … never saw God, but anyway … we shifted down, and Dad had a little Hillman car and I imagine us three kids squashed in the back; and it was a whole day’s trip down from Gisborne to Kereru – we went to Poporangi Station. Dad was the development manager for the station that had been owned by the Andersons for years. And financially and whatever – and the rabbits – had reduced this farm, especially over the river, to just a dust bowl; so much so that we had three full time rabbiters working there and they trapped and shot and poisoned. And they lived in the shearers’ quarters, and they used to put the skins on number 8 fencing wire bent into a thin string …
Yes, frames …
… it was just a bit of wire like that, and they strung it across. And they gave us a horse when they left. It was an ex-racehorse and his name was ‘Bill’, [cough] and we used to go out on the farm with Dad on ‘Bill’. And on the home stretch, coming home, he just took his head and he took off, and you just hung on until he got [chuckle] up to the stables.
It was a very, very happy time there. The school was a very small school and everybody got on – well if you didn’t get on you weren’t part of a team, because there was only enough kids to have two teams, and so the little ones were included in the big ones, and it was say, seventeen kids max. But anybody that came seasonally into the district, the kids came to school too. But it was a social district for the parents as well; they had dances every six weeks and a band came out from town, and it was all home made supper. And us kids would go and we were allowed to help put the French chalk on the floor so it made it slippery, and have a couple of dances, and that’s probably where we learned to dance – Dad and different ones would give us a dance, and then we’d have supper and then get put to sleep in the car. We didn’t have a little Hillman then, we had a Pontiac, and we got put to sleep in the car outside.
Was that in a woolshed?
No, it was in the hall attached to the school at Kereru, and it all seemed to be like, a big hall, but it wasn’t; when I went back for a reunion – that was after they’d built the new school on the other side – it was this little wee hall, [chuckles] and we thought it was big!
You were little wee kids looking at it a bigger building …
Yes. But they used to have dances, you know, there … huge dances.
The groups were smaller [cough] – there might’ve only been thirty or forty people at the dance.
Oh, okay … yes. And they also used to have sports nights; and they had bowls … they had bowling mats …
[Speaking together] Table tennis …
Yes. And 500. [Card game] And any occasion seemed to be the chance to have a celebration, like Guy Fawkes, and New Year, and all that sort of thing. And every year there was the Kereru Sports; and every year there was the Kereru Woolshed Dance, and that was quite an event too – Kereru Station Woolshed Dance.
Back to Poporangi Station – Poporangi Station was chopped up into five farms and balloted for returned soldiers. And then we left there and went to Wairoa to Cricklewood Station.
Well your father originally was working for Lands and Survey – Poporangi – just for the record. So when that was cut up he moved to Cricklewood …
As the manager, to Cricklewood Station.
Was that Humphrey Bailey?
Humphrey Bailey’s station; he had five stations … it’s five, I’m sure. There was Pihanui which was at the end of Cricklewood Road … that was the absolute end of Cricklewood Road. There was Ko-something or other, at Nuhaka; there was two farms at Nuhaka.
I had a very close relative, Sam Cooper or Selwyn Cooper; I don’t know whether you …
I know the name … heard the name lots. He lived at Nuhaka somewhere, didn’t he?
And when we lived at Cricklewood there was no school there, and so mum taught Susan with Correspondence. And Heather and I boarded in town with a family … boarded with one family first, Mrs MacIntyre, and we had her son’s room. He was away at the Korean War – he did something with … I don’t know, there was a photo of him with earphones on, so I think it was something to do with radio or communications or something. And she had two girls, and we boarded there from Sunday night, or Monday morning; mostly Sunday night we came in, and then went home on Friday night.
And then after that the son came home from the war and we moved on to Patrick and Vicky Miller. And she was [a] Polish lady, she’d been a refugee kid – her family had been in a prisoner of war camp. And they had two little children, Richard and Judith, and Pat, who worked at Dalgety’s as a storeman or something there, and his wife – we stayed with them, and that was fun. They were lots of fun. Whatever they were doing we were included in the family; it was a much more … you know, we were much more part of the family than we were with the other family.
Dad had a bad back at that time and … I suppose from years of being thrown off a horse, and breaking in horses and things. And they used to take him over to the woolshed and hang him up from the rafters and hold onto his legs and …
Stretch him …
Yeah, and so … but anyway, whoever the doctor was decided to put him in a plaster cast, so he was in a plaster cast for months and months and months. Mum didn’t drive and was nervous as anything of the road, ‘cause it was a dreadful road going in there – you only came out with the truck in the winter. You always had a spade on board. Somebody described the road as ‘a snake in agony’, [chuckles] and it was a bit like that.
And so after that we came to town, really – well, more or less to town. There was a job on the Napier Boys’ High School farm; they had a dairy farm and they also had sheep and they wanted someone to take over teaching the boys the sheep part of it, and they’d built a new house on the farm. And so we came down ‘cause actually, riding all the time …
About when would that’ve been?
That would have been … ohhh … I was eleven, so … I was born in ’42; ‘53 would that’ve been? We’d been staying at Granny’s for a while, and went to Ormond School which I hated. And mum had gone to that school, ‘cause they’d been in Ormond that long. I didn’t like that school at all; they were very … I suppose the girls at eleven were a bit cliquey. And then I got rheumatic fever so I was in hospital, and I was in hospital at the time when the Queen … her coronation, and I remembered somebody had sent me this jigsaw puzzle of the coronation, with the Queen holding all her bits and pieces.
Yes – so then we came to the Napier Boys’ High School farm, and we came to a school quite different from anything – I went to Napier Intermediate. It was a bit of a culture shock; didn’t know anybody; it was a huge, huge school. Knew one girl who happened to be the daughter of friends of Dad’s. She told me one day just because our parents were friends it didn’t mean to say she had to be my friend … don’t think she liked this bit of a country bumpkin of a kid. In my second year there I was made a prefect, and that did all sorts of good things for my confidence ‘cause I really … in the first year I didn’t like it at all.
So then Napier Girls’ High School … I went to Napier Girls’ High School after that, and I guess I liked it, it was quite fun. We had a good class and we all seemed to get on together; there didn’t seem to be any ones that didn’t fit in.
Oh – Dad left the Napier Boys’ High School farm when a friend of Dad, Jim Cooper, died. And he was a development field officer for Lands and Survey, and he had said to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, you know, to think about Dad as a development field officer. He said “He’s a good stockman,” and blah, blah, blah. So they offered dad the job; so we had to move out of the house on the Napier Boys’ High School farm, and we moved out onto the Lagoon farm, into a house at the back of the airport; waaayyyy … it seemed [chuckle] – I mean I’d lived in the country but this seemed to be very isolated. And we walked from there down to Westshore where the pub was, and we caught the bus there to high school. Susan went to Westshore …
The Harbour Board …
… owned Lagoon farm. Was Jim Arnold the manager of the Lagoon Farm?
Yeah. I used to drive the tractor and the boys used to be real snakey, ‘cause I …
The Ferguson tractor?
Yes – I’d run, and it’d be all piled up the back with swedes or mangles or something or other – and I’d run and jump and get on the tractor. And they’d say “This isn’t a girl’s school! You get off and let us drive,” and I’d say “My father’s the boss, and I’m allowed to drive the tractor”. [Chuckle]
Anyway, I remember once, I think it was Mark Reid … well, him and his mates were … my sister had red hair; Heather had red hair and they used to yell out “Hey Rusty! You been standing out in the rain?” And she used to be mortified. [Chuckle] And now of course, Mark’s son and Jason, who’s Caitlin’s dad – they have been friends since they were three years old.
I knew Philip, his older brother, well too. We were dairy farmers.
When they were at Patoka …
No, no – when they were at Clive.
He’s still a character … real sense of humour; tiny little person he is now. Anyway, so he [Tui’s father] had Ferndale; he was responsible for Ferndale, which was a dairy farm at Tutira, and that was … I think it was about the only dairy farm that they had at that stage.
I want to backtrack to Kereru – one thing that happened while we were there was – they were aerial top dressing. And it was very new, this aerial top dressing, and we had two guys came out to the station – Glen Earl and Keith Ellingham and they were you know – ex-Air Force pilots.
Air Force, yes, in their Tiger Moths …
Yes. And I remember them well, the day they came, because Glen Earl had a little kid with him ’cause his wife was in the Home having another baby – a little girl. And when they wanted more superphosphate they’d come over and they’d buzz the house, and then Mum’d run out in the back yard and they’d switch the engine off, and they’d go down and they would yell out, “Order more – so much more superphosphate”. [Chuckle] Well mum nearly freaked out with them doing that, so they got a sack with a stone in it, and they’d buzz the house and drop the sack with the stone in it with the note. We were at afternoon play at school and the planes were going over, and of course we used to see them. And we knew that that was the last day of the aerial top dressing, and one plane went down the gorge and we didn’t see it come up. That was Glen Earl, and he’d crashed in the gorge. And they came running up to the house and got mum to ring the ambulance, and they took him … and they met him at … Otui Station really. But he had died and it was so, so sad … it was just …
That would have been very sad. Did he have his little girl with him?
No. No, no, no – he was working … they were working. And they used to take turns at what they called ‘swinging on the wing’; and they’d land and somebody would have to grab hold of the wing of the plane to help it turn because the runway wasn’t long enough, I guess. Bill Thomas was … we had a photo somewhere of him putting the stuff in the hopper you know, because the passenger seat was actually the hopper, where the superphosphate went in.
So where did I get up to? Oh, Dad was on the Lagoon Farm. Well, then we bought a house at Greenmeadows with some land. That was while we were still at high school, and we went into high school on the school bus. It left Greenmeadows – we used to bike up to Greenmeadows, and all leave our bikes all in a pile – nobody ever pinched them! And we went to high school and went up Coote Road, and it dropped us off at the Coote Road entrance. Mind you, people who … the ones who lived in town and they biked up there – they used to leave their bikes at those Coote Road bike things across from the prison, and nobody ever pinched a thing that was there …
It was a different world. We had to ride bikes at night – sometimes your light wouldn’t go …
Yes, and you had a torch in the front when the car was coming towards you, and at the back … [Chuckle] Yes, it was a different world then.
So while we were there … oh, we used to go to ballroom dancing classes on a Saturday. The Napier Boys’ High School boys would come up, and Mrs Fisk was the physical education teacher and she taught us. And she was a tiny little thing who wore a gym slip, and she had little feet and she used to wear little black sandshoes. She was a real tartar and I can still remember her going … the Destiny Waltz: One, two, touch and dip! [Chuckles] Anyway, it was good … yeah, we enjoyed that.
And then I went to work at McGruer’s. I went down at lunchtime on a Thursday, and went to McGruer’s and said that I’d like a job. So they said, “Would you like to go in the office?” “Yes, I’d like to go in the office”. So, “When can you start?” I said, “Tomorrow”. Okay – so that was starting on the Friday, so – I was in my school uniform and everything. You were supposed to get a note if you went downtown in your school uniform, but I was a bit of a rebel. So I went home and I said to Mum, “I’ve left school.” Oooh – I’d sat School Cert, but you know, it wasn’t quite the end of the year – I had a couple of weeks to go, but I figured … couple of weeks’ time everybody’d be looking for a job, [cough] [and I wouldn’t] get one. So she said, “Your father’ll go mad!” But anyway, he said, “Well, if she’s going to play around at school she may as well be out working.” So I got the job in the office, and I was there for about eighteen months and then I went nursing at the Napier Hospital.
We had a good group. There was twenty-seven of us went in in that February, and we lived in the old home … in the Nurses’ Home and so we all became very close. You lived, slept … everything together really; studied together and everything. And that was a good time, but the hours were long and you never got time off because they were short-staffed, so I got fed up; I wasn’t well, and so I put in my notice and I left. And I went picking grapes for Tom McDonald. And it was really – when I think about it now – he had a little truck and it had like, board seats on the back. And we all sat on the back of that and went out to Haumoana and picked grapes out there and all sat on the back and came home again. They wouldn’t be allowed to do that now – sitting on the back of a truck.
I used to grow grapes for Tom McDonald.
Oh did you? Whereabouts?
In Havelock. He was a gentleman. It wasn’t a very big truck.
No, it was a little truck! Remember the man that lived down Meanee Road there – I forget his name. He worked there for years and years and years, and he used to take us out.
Tom McDonald’s daughter, Janet, she was our pay lady when I started down at EIT [Eastern Institute of Technology] – well it was Community College then – Janet was there; we called her Aunty Janet ’cause she paid us. So I worked there, and then I got a job as the cashier at Hallenstein’s. I didn’t mind that … I wasn’t always terribly happy about looking after somebody else’s money, but anyway, I must’ve done all right. And then I went and worked at Dalgety’s, and that was a great firm to work for.
Was that in Hastings?
Napier. And I was there when they amalgamated with Wright Stephenson’s – that was great. Quite different really, and I worked for them right up until two weeks before I had David – oh, my husband, John Mear, worked as a stock clerk in the office.
M-e-a-r. They had two stock clerks in those days, and I worked on a bookkeeping machine. It was a 6 Total National, and you had to balance every month and it was divided up like, some people had the different names of the farms, or the people from A to … say P, and somebody else had the rest. I had the Waipukurau accounts and I also had the merchants. And I remember, somebody had typed ‘Yip Yop’, and I thought, ‘what’s Yip Yop? It must be a … something or other, but as it turned out they’d typed it wrong, and it was ‘Tip Top’, so for years we always talked about this ‘Yip Yop’. And at wool sale time [of] course it was frantic; and in those days people used to send their wool sometimes to England and sell it over there so they could get a new car, ’cause you couldn’t get a new car unless you had overseas funds. And straight out our window, across Dalton Street, was the Farmer’s garage and if you looked out there you could see who got a new car round about wool time – most interesting. But it was a great place to work, there was a lot of fellowship there, and as a group of girls, there is still some of us meet every couple of months and go out and have morning tea or something. One of the girls lives in Tauranga, and she comes down every now and then and she gives us a ring and we all go out and have morning tea. We were a great crowd … oh, we had some fun; oh! We had some fun. Anyway, [chuckle] one of the girls was a Catholic, and we had this party on New Year’s Eve and they had a keg. And she said, “Oh, I’ve got to go to midnight Mass.” So I put the keg in a trolley and we all went to midnight Mass …
With the keg in a trolley! [Chuckle]
… with the keg in a trolley – [laughter] oh dear! [Chuckles]
Yes – and then I worked there right up until I had David. And at that time they were changing from the bookkeeping machines to these computers, and so all the accounts had to be transferred over. And I worked with Jack Marshall who was the accountant, and he was a great little guy, really. I worked at EIT with a Jack Marshall and that was a different Jack Marshall. He had been the Burroughs man; but anyway this Jack Marshall – he was a great little guy. And he chain-smoked, and he’d be sitting beside me and we were putting all these figures in to transfer them onto the computer, and he’d be smoking. I’d say, “This baby’s going to be born belching out smoke as it comes out, because …” He’d say, “Oh – sorry, sorry, sorry!” So he’d put it out, and next thing he’d have [speaking together] lit another one.
He’d light another one, yes.
Didn’t know he’d lit it, you know – it was really funny.
So I had David and he got eczema at five months old, and it was terrible eczema. He was smothered all over his face and elbows and that, and I used to have to tie him down in the cot so he didn’t scratch and get infected; it was awful. Then when he was eighteen months old he lost the eczema and got asthma, and he was a little scrawny little thing. And Jason was born when David was two.
And then the marriage was sort of falling to bits a bit, and I thought another baby might make it all better and make my husband – I felt he was a bit irresponsible. There was always money to spend at the TAB and the club … Cozzy [Cosmopolitan] Club that was. And it was falling to bits anyway, and I couldn’t stand it any more. We’d built a house at Taradale in King Street and so … it was really just lack of money and the way he spent it really. His mother had always propped him up, and I can’t blame her though, but you know – if he didn’t have any money he‘d say, “Oh, the rates are coming up; I haven’t got any money”. And she was just a working woman, and she’d say, “Well I’ll get you some money”. But of course I wouldn’t let her do that.
But anyway, the marriage disintegrated; the kids were about seven and eight or something. And then I was twelve years on my own with them, and that was good.
Then I worked at Atawhai at night, and the kids stayed with my next-door neighbour. And I worked at night, and that was quite good – I wasn’t mad about the job but anyway, I did it. And then I got a job working for Ray Durney, ’cause a friend of mine said, “They want somebody for six months, to work in the office; and how about coming and working with me?” You know, I’d worked with her at Dalgety’s, so “Okay.”
So I left Atawhai and went and worked for Ray Durney, and I used to work in the office for him, and I quite liked that job. He had some funny old things, but we got on well – it was all okay. And the girl that I was working for – she had gone overseas; her husband was a [an] English guy and he wanted to live back in England. And so they went over to see if they could make it work. But the accountant – he didn’t like me. He was a mean sort of a man, who always used to say things like, “Ray Durney wouldn’t have the money he’s got if he’d had to go to war”, and … you know, mean things like that – I thought that was mean. So we didn’t get on, ‘cause I told him I thought he was mean, you see. Anyway, the girl came back from overseas and the accountant delighted one day in coming and telling me, “You finish at the end of the week, ‘cause she’s come back from overseas.” And then Ray said to me, “Oh, look I wish there was a job I could make for you, but you know, the accountant said that we don’t need anybody else”, and blah, blah, blah. I said, “Oh well, you’re the boss”, you know.
So I thought, ‘what am I going to do now? I haven’t got a job, and I’ve got two kids that I’m responsible for.’ My husband at that stage had been put into … the unit in Hastings because he wasn’t well. So I went to – not WINZ, Social Welfare or whatever it was – and said you know, I needed a job. So there was a guy there; he said, “Oh they need somebody at Community College.” So okay, so I went out there, and the accountant out there happened to be a guy that went St Columba’s Church when we went to St Columba’s Church. And so he said, “You’d be half time in the office, and half time in the graphic”, which was the print room. Oh yeah – I didn’t mind what I did, I just needed a job. So he said, “You’ll have to have an orange card” – because at that stage it was partly funded by the government to get people back to work. So I went in, and anyway, this lady who looked down her nose at me in her twinset and pearls, and said, “How long have you been unemployed for?” And I said, “A week”, and she said, “Well you have be unemployed for a fortnight” … or three weeks or something … “before you can be part of this scheme”. And I saw a guy over the back that I’d seen somewhere before, and I beckoned him over and he went: “Yeah – come over here.” I said “I need an orange card ’cause I’ve got a job at Community College, and that lady there won’t give me an orange card ’cause I haven’t been unemployed for long enough.” He said, “Give her a card – get her out of here!” [Chuckle] So … got the card and went to [chuckles] Hawke’s Bay Community College, and I was there for thirty years. So … and I really enjoyed it. And the girl that trained me up decided to go on a world … her OE thing, overseas and everything; and I applied for the job as the Manager and that was that – I ran that place until I retired.
So I had offsets [offset printers] when I went there; one photocopier, and I had two offsets that I used to print everything on. And Friday afternoon you cleaned all the ink things down and all that. But it gradually changed until everything was done on photocopiers.
Now at some stage during this period you must’ve met Mr Powell?
No, I … well yes – yes I did, when I was working at EIT I met Michael. Friends and I went … well, it was her birthday, and we went to a place that was like a nightclub underneath Dickens Street and downstairs, underneath … on the other side of the road, down underneath there, there was a place there. So that’s where I met him; I always said I picked him up off the street – and that’s where I met Michael. And he was an Australian and was a butcher, and worked for Charlie’s in Hastings – Charlie’s Butchery. And so we went out, and we got together, and then … he had a house in McGrath Street. Oh, his marriage had fallen to bits. He had a little girl; he’d married a girl who was a Napier girl, and he took Louise home to see his family in Australia. And when he got back his wife met him at the airport and said, “Don’t come home.” That was all right; so she’d met somebody else, and so he didn’t go home. Oh, well he did go home, and she had moved out, so he had the house in McGrath Street. So he asked my mother … in a funny old-fashioned way … asked my mother if he could move into my house [chuckle] with me – and asked the kids. So that was all right. And then we went looking for properties, because then he left Charlie’s and he bought his own butcher’s shop in Riverslea Road, and he wanted to buy some land and you know …
The butchery in Riverslea Road – was that part of Eskdale Meats?
No. It was where – there’s a chemist and a dairy and a …
There was a little butchery …
Yeah, that was it – yeah, that was his butchery. The fellow that owned it – he was a old man, and he bought it off him.
Ah yes – he bought it; Eskdale Meats must have bought it when Michael finished there?
Yeah – well Michael sold it to a guy who’s now the Bald Butcher … sort of subsided him into that.
I know Darren McCarthy that owns that – the Bald Butcher.
Yeah, yeah – well Michael had funded him into that.
Well I must have dealt with your husband, ’cause I bought all our meat from that little butchery …
Oooh … oh, well you would’ve known him.
… when they were Eskdale …
They were never Eskdale.
But he used to buy their meat from …
From Eskdale – yes they did. Michael used to go to Stortford Lodge with Charlie; him and Charlie’d go on Mondays and they ‘d buy their stock there, and they’d send what they wanted to the works [freezing works] and the rest of it would come either to home, or Charlie would send his to his place.
So we bought ‘Tanglewood’ then, in Swamp Road. Yeah – ‘Tanglewood’ – it was [a] big hill and …
On the right hand side opposite the flats where the orchards are?
Yeah, where Bill Downey’s had land across the road, and he had a bridge going in. Well now it’s a timber mill or something. So we bought ‘Tanglewood’. [Background whistle] And we got married at ‘Tanglewood’, and it was a really nice house and really nice situation, ’cause the garden was … step down into the garden.
Yes – terraced, yes.
It was lovely … it was lovely there. Then somebody came along and offered us money – and a lot more than what we’d paid for it – and it was ideal, and they were living in shearer’s quarters somewhere and desperately wanted it. So – reluctantly – I said, “Oh … all right then.” So we sold, and we went into town and lived in a flat for ‘bout six months; Dr … at the back of the racecourse … Oh, the name – it’s gone away but it’ll come back. Anyway, gone away, so …
So we were in the flat for six months, and then we bought the place next door to ‘Tanglewood’, and called it ‘Bendigo’. And it was more land; wasn’t as nice a house, but anyway, got that. And it had grapes in the front … had cab sav [cabernet sauvignon] grapes … and we had two years there feeding the birds the grapes. [Train whistle in background]
We were both working full time, so it was you know, pretty tough. You’d spend the weekend on a tractor – each – chopping up the weeds and all the rest of it. And anyway, we pulled out the grapes, and Trevor Good leased it a couple of seasons and grew squash; potatoes; and then we mostly had stock on it ourselves.
And then Michael’s mum died; his father died in Australia, and then his mum died. And he got very depressed – very, very depressed. And he wouldn’t seek help; he wouldn’t do anything about it. And one Sunday he said, “I’m going to Australia on Wednesday.” And – I mean we never had quakes or arguments or anything like that – not at all; he just withdrew and withdrew. And the shop hadn’t been doing very well as a little shop, and he’d lost interest in it because he was so down; and so he said, “I’m going to Australia on Wednesday”. So he went to Australia, and left me up on the hill in this house – I was working at EIT, you know – it was my saviour really.
So the guy down the road that sometimes used to lease the land – he came down and I leased the grazing to him and I went over, you know, to Australia a few times … I suppose quite a few times … and it was good because it was like having a holiday. And he wanted me to go over there but I was a bit worried; and he was drinking a lot and I was worried that if I gave up my job and went over there … You know, I wasn’t going to save the marriage – that wasn’t going to save the marriage; he still needed some sort of help, he really did. And I mean, we got on really well, it was like having a lovely holiday; and he bought an apartment and I knew then that he wasn’t coming back, so I put the place on the market and sold it. So he came home and sold everything, and I bought this place and he went back to Australia.
You never know the way life’s going to turn out, do you?
And I mean I still used to go over for holidays and things like that. Sad really, ‘cause …
And so you’ve been here …
Eight or nine years. And then suddenly I thought I needed to retire, because technology was galloping and I felt I was getting left behind. And they had more computer courses to do than anybody else in the whole world, I felt like; and I don’t like computers anyway. So all the stuff was [chuckle] being done [chuckle] … you know, they’d sit in their office and send you their stuff, and you’d just take it off the computer and send it the photocopier and it would be run off.
And the girl that I had who … she’d worked for me when she was sixteen – didn’t have a job, and she worked for me through one of the schemes they had. And I rang her up one day … oh, I had to have my back operated on so I needed someone, so I rang her up; I said, “How about coming [and having] tea with me?” So she came and had a cup of tea, and she had three children by this stage, and I said, “How ‘bout coming and working for me?” And so she did while I had my back operated on. And then I needed staff; I rang her and said, “How ‘bout applying for the job?” And she was a really good … well, she’s managing the department now – it’s great. Yes.
Now at some stage or other you wrote ‘Under Watermelon Sky’, so what time of your life did you do that?
I’d always written poetry … I’d always written, but I used to just write it on bits of paper and stick it in a … somewhere or other; I never did anything really with it. But I saw this advertisement in the paper for live poets in Hastings that was starting at the Cat & Fiddle. And I said to my friend, “I want to go to the Cat & Fiddle”. She said, “Oh, I’ll come with you”. I said, “there’s a Bay Beer Ballad contest”, and she had never really seen anything. I used to write funny little things for the publications – about different staff members and things – when I was at EIT, and Community College more so. And so I said, “I’m going to right something for that”, and she said, “Oh, I’ll come with you.” Anyway, I did and I got second prize, [chuckle] but you had to recite what you read, [wrote] and I just used to get up in front of the microphone and my voice used to go away, down the back of my throat. So I went to speech classes and learnt how to speak properly. [Chuckle]
How to project your voice?
Yes – and how to you know, forget about people all looking at me. So that was that; and so that’s when I started writing and performing and one of the poems that I wrote was ‘The Thighs of Mal Meninga’, and it sort of became a bit of a poem that people used to ask for; somebody heard it on the radio one night on a talk-back from Auckland, so – I don’t know how they’d got hold of it, but anyway … But I enjoyed it, and that’s how I … And then somebody said, “Why don’t you put … you know, a collection together?” So I did; and that’s what I called it: ‘Under Watermelon Skies’.
You’ve done so many different things, and you’re obviously good at a lot of them …
When I’d retired, I though, ‘oh my Lord – what have I done!’ Like everybody else does I suppose. So I joined U3A, and I went and I volunteered for them. So I was in town … I had a grandson who had spinal muscular atrophy and he died at five and a half, and the Hospice came and looked after him at home. And I thought, ‘when I retire I’m going to volunteer for them’ … so I was in town and I saw the sign on the window, and it said ‘Volunteers Wanted’. So I went in and said I’d come to volunteer. “Oh, well – could you do Fridays?” “Yes, I’ll do Fridays”, so I went in there; I had to get a reference and a police check to see that I wasn’t a thief, and so I got that and my boss gave me a glowing reference. Well, they were looking for a team leader, which is – you have the manager and the assistant manager and they’re both paid; and then you have a team leader who’s not paid, but who sort of organises the staff and who stands in if the assistant manager’s not there. So Katrina, who was the manager then, said, “How about being a team leader?” And I said, “No, I’ve done all that.” “Well just … just do it for three months – I’m desperate.” So here I am seven years later [chuckle] still doing it. But I love it … love it.
So can you think of any ..?
Well I learnt to play Mah Jong you see, too, that was the other thing. I joined U3A and I learnt to play …
That’s in Taradale?
Yes, when I retired. So I learnt to play Mah Jong and I also joined the group which is the Antiques and Collectibles group, and we meet once a month at the Taradale Club and we have a subject each time, and a speaker. And that was just about ready to fold and they asked me if I’d be one of the convenors, so I share that job – there’s three of us that do that. But the U3A Mah Jong group meet on Tuesday mornings at the Taradale RSA and so now I’m the convenor of that. [Chuckle]
Right – so do you knock on the table?
No, no, no, no … [chuckles] I just, it’s just really just to make sure that the table …
It’s an obsession!
Oh, yeah. I go into withdrawal if I [chuckles] … if I don’t go.
They didn’t make friends at Bridge, because they couldn’t even be friends with their partner …
Well that’s the thing with Mah Jong – you’re responsible for your own. If you muck it up … muck up a hand, or muck it up … you’ve only mucked it up for yourself – it doesn’t matter. And I always say to them, “You’re only playing for plastic sticks”, you know, we’re not playing for money. And some of them are quite intense and get quite … you know …
Anyway, it’s been a very interesting story of your life.
The other little bit I’ve been doing is trying to find … trying to get together the family history too, of my family, and getting it some sort of order because I inherited all the stuff from my aunt, Dad’s sister; stuff that … some of the boxes hadn’t been opened since they moved to town from Tiniroto, in … you know, ’32 or whatever.
It’s just such a wonderful family, and of course we always remember Sandy Whyte …
And I met Alistair, you know … Heather met him, because she was nursing in Hastings and her [she] and Sandy had a car accident … that’s her husband … when they were going together; he’d got drunk at a wedding they were at in Waipukurau and so he got her to drive, and they had a Chev Coupe. And she was driving through Pakipaki and it was all foggy, and she thought, ‘ooh – I don’t want to go through the lights, so I’d better go this way’; and she went that way and that was into the ditch. And so Alistair found out that she was in the hospital and he came and he said, “How are you?” And she said, “Oh, I’ve got a sore chest.” He said, “Has it been x-rayed?” And she said, “No”. He ordered it straight away and found that she had broken ribs that had punctured her lung. So yeah – he always sort of kept in touch with her.
So that pretty well covers it, doesn’t it ?
So thank-you, Tui, it’s been most interesting hearing that.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper