Webb, Kerry Mervyn & Anne Kathleen Interview
Today is 30th of November 2016 and I’m interviewing Kerry and Anne Webb of Havelock North. Kerry, would you like to tell me about your family?
The Webb family arrived in Napier in 1873 on the ‘Winchester’, which berthed at Napier, and they lived at Havelock North on the corner of Crosses Road and Napier Road. That’s Abraham Webb and Sarah, my great-grandparents.
And my grandfather, Walter Webb – he was the second son – he came on the ship aged seven, and so he ‘course settled in Havelock North, and his first holiday job was working on Sam Alderman’s market garden. I noticed on the passenger list of the ship that Sam Alderman was on it, and he was aged about twenty-four when my grandfather was seven, and when he started work it was at Goddard’s Nurseries in Goddard Lane, and he served his apprenticeship there. And he became the manager there after Horton … Thomas Horton, who went on to form his own nursery … and that was in the mid to late 1890s. And then in 1902 Grandfather Webb … Walter … he started Webb’s Cornwall Park Nurseries in Nelson Street in Hastings. In those days it was a general nursery – they grew everything including florist work, and I think at its peak they had about forty-five staff.
Just whereabouts in Nelson Street was it, relative to say, Wattie Canneries?
Well Wattie Canneries had the whole piece. It was sort of from Cornwall Road corner, down to Frederick Street and right back to the railway line, and there were just a couple of houses right on Frederick Street – three houses.
Well, no wonder we can’t see where the nursery was – it’s under concrete.
[Chuckle] Yes, and big cool stores. So that’s where I was brought up on I think it was about six acres right in Hastings. And the story goes that when he first bought the property Nelson Street didn’t exist, and he walked down to the property on the railway line, so it’s come a long way.
So he died early, at a fairly young age – 1927 – and I think Fred might have been involved for a while, and then my father, Doug, took over as manager in 1936 which was when he got married.
What I didn’t say was, my grandfather, Walter, living in Havelock, he married into a Havelock family. He married a Taylor … Alice Taylor … and they lived in Napier Road. The only one who’s about these days that I really know is Keith – Keith Taylor.
So is he related?
Well, he is, yes. And so yeah, they were married about 1991  I think.
So anyway, getting back to Doug, my father, he ran the nursery and by that stage they started to specialise. And in – I think it was 1936 – there was a disastrous frost, and the peaches were all damaged. And Jim Wattie came and organised for tomatoes to be grown for the first time, and that was the start of Wattie’s canning tomatoes.
Oh, that’s interesting.
I don’t know exactly what they did through the war, but I know my dad didn’t go to war – he and his brother Arthur grew potatoes for the troops. I think … I think they used to grow about two hundred acres … it would’ve been a lot in those days. And Arthur died in a tractor accident in 1949.
And then the nursery, in my time, on the sign at the gate they specialise in standard roses and tomato plants. So we grew a lot of standard roses and sent them all through the country, right down to Invercargill.
And the third thing they had was cropping, and they always grew I think a couple of hundred acres every year, peas and sweetcorn. And they had – we had – their own corn harvester and pea harvester – they started off with a stationary viner in Wall Road. And the Hazelwoods and the Ryans also had their own stationary viners, and then they all went into mobile viners. And when it sort of changed a bit, and – I think you had to grow a bigger acreage to make it pay, perhaps – and so those three all used their viners and contracted out to Wattie’s in the harvesting season for a few years.
And the sweetcorn was grown for Birds Eye, and it was just the Webbs and the Hope brothers who supplied. And so, you know, in those days I – I’ve got memories of that of course, ‘cause I was born in 1945, and I can well remember – you know, the tomatoes that we grew in those days in the wooden trays, all carried in the wheelbarrow and stacked in the glasshouse, and carried out again … wheelbarrowed …
It was very much a manual job, wasn’t it?
Very, very much a manual job.
And so during my school holidays my father organised a job for me, working at Wattie’s in the garage, because I was quite keen on mechanical things. And so I worked a couple of years there in my school holidays, and then I left school – I think I was eighteen – and I worked in the garage there for about six months, and I decided it wasn’t for me, and so my father gave me a job and I worked at Webb’s for about a year, until my grandmother died in 1964 and the estate was wound up. And that’s when my father bought this property in Middle Road, in November ‘64, and we shifted out here and transferred several glasshouses out here, and over the next year sort of got established, and back into the tomato plants. And so I was in partnership with my father for twenty-four years, growing tomato plants, and potted cyclamen and polyanthus over the winter.
The polyanthus …
Well they were an American breed – V & R, [?Virtle & Renouf?] … some word like that. And we still have some of that original seed – we kept it just in case you know, it went backwards – we still have some in the deep freeze today. We germinated some a couple of years ago, and it still was perfectly all right.
And so yes, I worked with my dad until 1986, was the last year we grew for Wattie’s. And by that stage my dear wife, Anne – she was starting to grow a few flower seedlings, and was selling a few here. When people came in for cyclamen and other things, she started selling flower seedlings … annuals. And so we got together and we started growing annuals, and we got to growing them in quite a big way.
As a young man, you met Anne – where did you meet her? Once you’ve told me that, Anne can tell us where her parents came from.
Anne: Did you say about your mum’s side?
Kerry: No. And I didn’t say where my greats came from either.
No, you didn’t.
My mother, she was a Florance. The Florance family really came from Christchurch. They were settled quite early there, and the original one that came out here was a doctor there. And the well-known one was a Professor David Florance, who helped Rutherford split the atom – he went over to England and … so they’re well-known there.
But my grandfather, Robert Florance, he came to Hawke’s Bay – he was a teacher, and he was headmaster down here at Pukahu School, just at the end of the road from where I live now, and that’s where my mother was born. And they shifted out to Haumoana and he was the headmaster there, and also out at Eskdale. And my mother was at Eskdale when she married, but I think they might have met at Haumoana – I really don’t know – but she’s Alma … Alma Florance she was, and they were married in 1936.
Now where did I meet Anne? Well, now that [chuckle] … I think I was going out with Sue Webster, and she was from the Lime Works people down here and they lived at Braemore. And it was in the middle of the fruit season, and I had a couple of friends who … well I had this particular friend and he had an Englishman working with him at Palmer’s Orchard down here at Havelock. And he said to me “do you think you could organise with Sue”… because she’s a nurse … “to jack up a couple of extra girls, and we’ll go out”. And so we did that, and so it was really a blind date. And so I met Anne at Braemore, and although I was with Sue – I didn’t really take much notice on the introduction, but I was driving, and as I drove into Hastings I just looked back – it was dark, but I looked back, [chuckle] and I saw this one sitting in the back seat, and I thought ‘my word! She’s quite nice’.
Anne: Oh dear! [Chuckle]
Kerry: So yes – we went over to Napier and … oh, I don’t know, we didn’t do very much, but we had a few drinks on the beach there, I know that. And we sort of changed partners, I suppose you’d say. And so then from there on I asked Anne to the … did I ask you to the pictures straight away? No …
Anne: No, no. No. You got drunk.
Kerry: Oh, yes, I had a bit much to drink.
Anne: And I hadn’t really been brought up with alcohol at all, and I thought ‘oh, it’s not too good’.
Kerry: But I still drove my car home. [Chuckle]
Well we did, those days.
Anne: And I thought he was quite nice the first time I met him, and I remember the lovely sports coat – and would you believe we’ve still got it up in the cupboard upstairs, and it does still fit him too, I can tell you that.
But anyway … yes. And then he would ring the Nurses’ Home.
Kerry: No – well I was friendly with another girl there.
Anne: I know, but you did ask me, and you came up and …
Kerry: Oh yes, I asked and you … I got turned down.
Anne: No, I got busy.
Kerry: I got turned down a couple of times, so that was it. I got knocked back. And then probably six months later I was …
Anne: He phoned and asked – and this other girl … no, I answered the phone. And he said “oh,” he said, “I was just going to chat to Sue Small”. I said “oh! Oh no, she’s not around”. Because I had heard since then that really he was very nice. Mmm.
So anyway, he then told me how busy they were out here growing tomato plants, and they were a bit short-staffed. I said “oh, well I’ve got a day off tomorrow”. I said “would you like me to come and give you a bit of a hand?” “oh,” he said “would you?” I said “oh, yes”. So that was the very beginning of a lovely relationship.
Kerry: And you came out and worked a day.
Anne: And really, I wouldn’t have really done a lot of work because you just don’t do much the first day – you’re trying to put these plants in the right holes, and do them straight.
Now could you tell us where your parents came from?
Well – really Wairoa is where I came from, but my father was Waverley. And and he got asthma quite badly, and so when he was about eleven he came over to Whakaki – and his parents. And his parents ran the dairy company there, the cream … there was a cream factory at … [Speaking together]
Yes, there was a cream …
… Whakaki, so he was brought up there. Then I guess my …
Anne: James Middleton Taylor his father was called, and he would have met my nana, Winifred Ellen McGavin. And her brother … I think this is quite interesting … was a surgeon in World War I, and he was knighted for his surgery during the War, on the soldiers. But he had a practice down in Wellington right up until I think, the early 1960s, and then that became the Red Cross building I believe.
But anyway, then my nana and my grandpa married, and I remember them having the general store at Whakaki. That’s my, you know, very early memory. And my father was in the Home Guard during the War, and his father also thought he should be in the Home Guard. And my father said “righto now, boys, I want you all to run from here right down to that tree. But Dad, you better not run, it’s a bit far for you”. But anyway, I think he did run. [Chuckle]
Whakaki – that’s between Nuhaka and Waikokopu?
Yes – it was before Nuhaka, before Mahia.
Kerry: Whakaki Lagoon.
Anne: It was about twenty minutes from Wairoa.
So there was a little settlement?
My grandmother … my father spoke fluent Maori. My grandmother came from a school – her parents were both teachers up – was it Tokomaru? And they came out early and were both teaching up there. So she also could speak Maori of course, and apparently she used to do quite a bit of interpreting in the early days. And I remember Mum saying that she would go out with doctors to help.
This must have been before they forbade Maoris to speak Maori?
Mmm. And they’d go to the shop … the general store … and my grandfather would take the teeth out for the Maori people, with …
So he was a general practitioner of everything.
I believe he had his father’s equipment. Yes – so anyway, that was that.
And my father got a ballot farm on the Hereheretau Road, and there were the Harrisons and the McIntyres also on that road. And they decided in the early days to get a Tiger Moth plane. So they bought a Tiger Moth plane and they did topdressing around the area. So that was the first … yeah. It was called Air Super. And Hank de Hus – they brought him out from … well, he came out from Holland. And I remember … funny things you remember as a kid, ‘cause I wasn’t very old … and he gave us these lollies – well! They were in a tin, and the lolly was just like a penny, it was shaped like that, wrapped up in gold paper. You remember funny things, don’t you? And Nescafé coffee – you know, we’d never had coffee. And the coffee …
And then there were days where, “oh no, I think perhaps [?] whether he wanted to fly or not, but “no, the weather’s no good today for flying. No.” But I think others thought it was all right. Yes. And I went up in the plane once with my dad, and I’m yelling at him at the top of my voice – he can’t hear me. He says “no”. So I get down on the ground and he says “what did you say, baby?” I said – and I yelled at the top of my voice still – “aren’t those houses tiny?” [Chuckle] So that was another wee story.
But my father’s people came out on the ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ in … I did write the date down … 1874. And my grandfather wasn’t very old, he was quite little, and he used to go round asking everyone for the top of their egg “with a little bit of yellow”. And they did work it out that he ended up eating more eggs than anyone else.
So you spent a lot of your life in North Wairoa?
No, I didn’t, no. My twin sisters and my brother did until they were school age really, I and then my father bought a small farm in Kiwi Road, eighty acres, and he farmed that. That was quite near the saleyards – very close, same road. And he used to walk down the sale yards, buy the sick sheep, walk them back home, drench them and take them back.
But on the farm we had – this is as I remember – had a little cottage at the entrance, and then you’d go in down the wee drive, and our house. And then over the creek and across another paddock was another cottage. Well my mother’s parents lived in one, and my father’s parents lived in the other, so we were all there. But I do only just really, remember that – I remember the lolly jar and things like that.
Well my father died when I was twelve. And he’d been on the County Council, and he was a public-spirited person. Yes, so he was very friendly with Jack and Isobel Livingstone. And I actually did go with my mother to Jan and Norman’s wedding.
Kerry: What about Muriel?
Anne: My mum … my mum. Well, she always wanted to go nursing, but she never did, until after my father died. And then she did her community nursing – I was at boarding school and she was doing community nursing. And she ended up being the Matron of [?Enwright?] House, which is still there today, for the elderly people.
So what age would she have done her training then?
Well, I guess she would have been in her late forties, would it be?
Well she must’ve been very capable to have …
… done it all, and then to have achieved that level of management.
Yes. But in the earthquake she was just going back to Napier Girls’ High, and my nana was still in town and the earthquake struck. And they couldn’t get word back to family at Nuhaka because the roads were closed, the ships weren’t going, so they stayed in Nelson Park. Yes, so …
Yes, when my father died, my brother Jim – he took over running the farms.
So you were only twelve when your father died, so you were at primary school in Wairoa?
Yeah, North Clyde.
From there you went to ..?
Solway – oh! Lots of these Wairoa girls went to Solway.
They did – they did.
I was talking to the Sherwood girls …
… ‘cause the twins were split – one was sent to Solway and the other one went to Iona.
Yes. Yes. They were there with my sisters.
And of course Bev Marflitt …
… they farmed somewhere not far from where you were.
Well that was … my mother remarried after seventeen years being a widow, and she married John Jardine. And he was a darling man – he was a great friend of my father’s. Well my father was a founding member of Mokau, along with John, and they were great friends. They went fishing together.
It’s amazing how small the pond is when you throw a stone in and all the ripples touch us all, don’t they?
Yes. So you know, it’s … it’s all rather lovely really, when you think about it.
He built a boat – he built a launch, my father. That was called ‘Susannah’. And he built a couple of boats, and he built a caravan. Oh well, they did in those days, and we used to go and stay at Mahanga. Well, when we stayed at Mahanga Beach there were no … nothing there really, only one cottage – Miss Bowen – the one cottage there. And the crayfish – wow! I’ve got photos – I have got photos. And I would come in sunburnt and … you know, whatever time it was, when I was hungry, and I’d say “what’s for lunch?” “Oh, there’s some crayfish in the fridge” … “oh, no – not again!” [Chuckles] Well also, talking about crayfish, then on the farm where I lived – Pinedale it was called – there was a little creek running through, and we just caught whitebait, in the creek.
Kerry: What about our own holidays?
Anne: Well the first time – the very first time – I went away with Melanie, our daughter, because she had a penfriend from America. And Kerry’s dad, who I just did love, said to me “well, she can’t go to America without her mother”. And I thought ‘what a good idea! ‘Cause I’d never been outside New Zealand – I was going to go early on but I met …’
The lord, yes.
Yes, and anyway, off we went. We met thepen friend and family, and stayed with them – we had a wonderful holiday. And then we got back to Hawaii, and we were meant to be leaving midnight. Well – midnight’s really the next day, I thought, so the next day I amble up, you know – great traveller, know everything – and they said “you were meant to be here last night.” I said “oh no”, I said “my husband … he’ll …oh!” So they said “look, you use the phone”. So I couldn’t think of anyone’s number but Buffy and Peter, so I phoned them up – Peter answers …
Kerry: Well I was engaged.
Anne: Yeah. Yes, he was engaged, looking for me – talking to my mum. Anyway, Peter answered the phone. “Oh, yes … no … I’ll tell Kerry. No, that’ll be fine”. Well it was night time over here, and Peter waited ‘til the next day to tell Kerry. [Chuckle] Anyway we eventually got home – it was so lovely to see everybody, and I didn’t realise how precious I was. “You’re never going away again without me”. So our first holiday overseas was to Rarotonga, and it was just [a] lovely holiday, wasn’t it?
Kerry: Yes, it was.
Anne: We drank a bit of rum, and it was very good – not too much, just a little bit.
It has a rhythm about it, it’s casual but it’s great. You’re on Rarotongan time.
We arrived, and the smell! The perfumes that greeted us … and you can’t see anything ‘cause it’s night time, so you’re dying to open your eyes in the morning to see where you are.
But before we left, Kerry’s dad came out and gave us – gave Kerry – a plaque which said ‘Webb’s Nurseries have grown tomato plants fifty years for Wattie’s’. And he wasn’t so well at that stage, and I think he just wanted Kerry to have it. So that was special.
And then since then we’ve had lovely holidays.
Kerry: But when our children were small we bought a bach at Kairakau …
Anne: Oh yes.
Kerry: … in 1976. And we were able to go out there at Christmas time because my father held the fort at home. And I’d usually have about a fortnight and then Anne would stay out with the children ‘til the end of the holidays.
Anne: Oh, it was lovely.
Kerry: We had some great holidays out there, and the crayfishing and the paua in those days – they were much more plentiful. In fact when we first went there I didn’t have a wetsuit, and everyone just walked around the rocks at low tide, perhaps with a woollen shearer’s singlet on, and you’d just bend down with your … you know, up to your shoulder, and tickle around the rocks ‘til you’d find them and then prise them off. Yes.
Anne: We both went around the rocks because you had to have your quota – you weren’t allowed to take too many. But we were never checked – in all the time I knew we were never checked.
Kerry: We used to walk round there with the children.
Anne: And the children loved it … mmm, beautiful holidays. Well there’s no houses of course, along the front now.
I interviewed Graham Riach.
He’s just sold his house too.
Yes, I know, he said they were coming back.
Yes, back to Hastings, mmm. Well, we made life-long friends out there.
Kerry: And we still have the bach, too. Our children use it.
Was it moved back, or was it always behind ..?
No, our bach was on the way in, overlooking the river. So we’re the third house from Te Apiti Road corner on the main road. So we’ve got one of the few old time baches – there’s a new one gone up on either side.
So Anne – how many children?
Anne: Yes, we’ve got three delightful children. First of all we had Steven … Steven Taylor Webb … and then we had Melanie Anne – lovely to have a daughter. And then we had David Robert, who has helped us in the nursery. And yeah – everyone knows David. And Melanie married Davey August and they’ve got three children, Giselle, Jimmy and Pete. And she nurses – she’s in the dialysis unit at the hospital. But she did her midwifery over in Perth and she nursed in Kalgoorlie for a couple of years. And Giselle was born over there.
And then Steven’s got a delightful wife … Jackie, from Gisborne, and they’ve got three children. They’ve got Charlotte who’ll be thirteen on the twelfth of the twelfth, and then Ella … Ella-bella … and then they’ve got Edward. And they live in Tauranga, and Jackie is a maths teacher, she’s got a Masters in Maths. And our Steven teaches – he was arborist at the Council up there … oh, had a [an] ‘in’ with Parks & Reserves, and now he teaches at the Polytech.
Okay, well at this stage we’ve got you together, we’ve got your children, so would you develop your side of the story ..?
Kerry: Develop my side of the story? I don’t quite know where I’m heading here. I went to Mahora School where all the Webb family went before me – my father went to Mahora School. In those days I biked to school. First of all I started on a three-wheeler bike, and I must have only been about six when I biked to school on a two-wheeler bike, but it wasn’t very far, Mahora School, from where we lived, I suppose.
But in those days our parents never kept check on us, where we were or what we did all day, and this biking … my friend Chris Gregg from just along the road, he and I would bike – oh, we’d bike out to Haumoana in the morning and then – oh, we’d head somewhere else in the afternoon. We used to cover big mileages … out to the Bridge Pa aerodrome, that was a popular spot … but also rubbish dumps. We loved going to rubbish dumps and collecting bits and pieces. And I collected these bits and pieces of bikes, and I made a tandem. And so we rode around a lot on this tandem bike – all over the place.
And then when I was at high school – I don’t know whether it was the beginning of my third form year or my fourth form year – I built a plywood canoe … a twelve-foot plywood canoe. And we had a draw bar on the tandem and had this canoe [speaking together] on a little trailer …
On the back …
… and we would tow that out to Haumoana. [Chuckle] And then we’d sometimes leave it in my grandmother’s shed out there. And there was this time in February – it would have been my fourth form year, just going back to school I think, and I was out fishing with another fellow, and we were hauling … had a little hauling net and we were hauling in the lagoon there. And a woman came rushing along and said “oh – you’ll have to come and help – there’s people drowning in the river mouth. So I paddled along – the river mouth was a fair way towards Napier, East Clive, and the mouth was very wide and the waves were breaking up the river … rolling up the river. And when I went along there I could see four heads bobbing around with the surf washing over their heads. And I didn’t have a life jacket and my canoe didn’t have buoyancy, it was a plywood canoe. But one head came closer to me and I managed to go up to them, forward, keeping head on into the waves, and he held onto the front and I back paddled quickly. And I think he was a seven-year-old boy, and Leonard June was there just up the river a little, in a pram dinghy. So we transferred him into the pram dinghy, and I went up to have another look but oh, there was just no way I could go up there. And what happened – the boy had not held on to the end of his fishing line when he threw it out, and he tried to retrieve it. And his father went after him, and then his uncle went after him, and then a nineteen-year-old woman went out too. And the two men were drowned, and the nineteen-year-old – she caught onto the men’s surf caster from the East Clive side, and she managed to get in, so …
That would have been a very sad occasion.
But in those days there weren’t very many motor boats there – the two I remember were the Fulfords – they had quite a big launch. They often moored it there in the summer time. And also Ann Lay’s husband – anyway, he had a boat, a jet boat – he was an early jet boat man – he made his own jet boat.
So yes … cycling, that was very important in those days.
Anne: You used to go net fishing too, didn’t you?
Kerry: Yes, had this little hauler net, and we used to catch the bait … catch the herrings … and then we would go round onto the beach, along a bit, and bait up a set line and I’d tow that out and we’d pull it in in the evening. And we used to catch some snapper in those days, yes.
Anne: Your summer holidays were out there, weren’t they?
Kerry: Oh, all my school holidays from when I was a child – my parents had a house out there that they used to rent out the rest of the year and just have it empty for us in the Christmas school holidays, so every year I’d be out there with my family.
‘Cause it was only a small village really, Haumoana, those days wasn’t it?
Yes, it was, but the camping ground was there. And there used to be a shop they’d open at the camping ground, and there was the Post Office shop and the other one on the corner, and then there was another one they’d open up too, so there were four shops there. I think it became a freezing work[s] town. Oh, the camping ground was – it used to be packed out, and every Sunday somebody would come and put movies on in the camping ground.
Fishing – still fishing? Oh yes, well I went out to … that was later on … went out fishing at Cape Kidnappers with Nelson Borden and Wilfred Peppard, so I went out several times, but …
They were almost professional fishermen, weren’t they?
Oh, Nelson Borden was, yes. He was out every week, or more often every week. And when I was out with him, yes – two Seagull outboard motors and a big clinker boat. And yeah, we were fishing out there and the whales would surface just by us and were swimming around out there. But they sort of know what they’re doing, those whales.
They were wonderful times.
Anne: Remember when we smoked all that mackerel out at Kairakau? All this mackerel – smoked it all, and it was no good, it all got fly-blown. [Chuckle] Tossed it all out.
Kerry: There’s another thing – I had a small motorbike, a BSA Bantam – my father wasn’t very keen on me having a motorbike, but his friend the policeman, Jack Bryant – he said “oh, it’s only a small one, he’ll be pretty right on that”. But I got a lot of use out of that and didn’t have any accidents.
Anne: Your first car.
Kerry: My first car – well my first car … I was in business with my dad then and so my first car was actually a truck. Ha! A Thames freighter truck, just a Thames freighter, there’s a Consul motor in it. ‘Cause there were the vans, the same. And I remember the time I went out with a girlfriend out to a party at Ocean Beach. And after the party I started to drive up the hill, and it just skidded – it didn’t have any weight. So I had to go back down, and I borrowed a shovel and I shovelled a load of sand in the back. And I remember my father looking in the shed in the morning [chuckle] wondering what the sand was.
We haven’t said much about the nursery and what it did over the years, and you know, the amounts of plants you used to provide for all the growers. While you did it for … fifty years?
Collectively, that’s a huge amount of plants.
Yes, well I think at our peak we produced two million tomato plants – they were in seedling trays – seven by nine, sixty-three to a box, seventeen boxes to the thousand, so it was a lot of boxes of tomatoes, and most of them were sold here but we did send them up to Gisborne – Wattie’s in Gisborne. First of all they had to go up by train, but oh gosh – all that crating was hard work, so we did truck them up there.
Anne: At midnight.
Kerry: At midnight, yes. [Chuckle]
While it was cool [chuckle] so they don’t wilt.
Anne: No traffic officers.
Kerry: Forty miles against the railway. And – yes, we weren’t the only growers. Probably the other big one would have been Butchers Nurseries, but a lot of smaller growers grew for them – they had quite a collection. Even Harrap’s out at Bay View grew them sometimes. But of course it all changed when they shifted to the cell system, the direct seeding and …
Well with the tomatoes everything was hand-done, wasn’t it? The trays had to be filled with soil, tomatoes had to be pricked out.
Anne: We started to sow seed on 17th July, and then it was all put into a – this is as I remember – into a house with a heater in it, and it was all lined. And it took about a week for it to germinate. And then – oh, it was a big job – all the glasshouses were full.
Kerry: Yes – lot of handling.
Anne: And loading the trucks – that was a huge job.
Kerry: Yes, they were about five-tiered trucks. Handing them up to the man on the plank who’d stack them in place.
Anne: Frost fighting. Frost alarm beside the bed.
Kerry: Yes, the glasshouses – we used to usually do three rounds – we’d fill the glasshouses three times over the season. We’d be emptying them out as the ladies were pricking out the next round and bringing them out and hardening them off in the cold frames.
Anne: And filling all that soil – I don’t know how you did it – shovel after shovel after shovel – sterilising it all.
And you know, we never planted tomatoes until Labour weekend, and of course that dictated a lot of what you did too, ‘cause all of a sudden everyone wanted plants.
And then if it was a rainy time, then nobody wanted them, and we would be absolutely … yes, they’d get stretched.
Anne: One lady who worked here, and the seedlings would be a bit big when you took them in to her and she’d say “they’re palm trees! Palm trees!” [Chuckle] But no, we had happy days really – good smokos …
It was an ongoing industry, and it involved so many people.
We haven’t mentioned why Kerry was washing the Roller … or was it the Bentley?
Anne: The Bentley.
Kerry: Well, yes – that’s when I was working in the garage at Wattie’s. And my boss was Doug Taylor and he was good to me, and [chuckle] he’d give me a few different jobs. But yes, washing the … actually I don’t know … he had a Packard to start with, but yes, it was the Bentley I think. And they gave me the key to bring it around to where I was going to wash it, and I said “no. No, no, I don’t think so. I think you’d [chuckle] better shift it for me”.
But it was good experience for me there. It was really the only time in my life that I worked with other people – like, we were in a family business here. So it broadened my horizon – it was a good thing for me. I realised what was going on out there.
What was happening here was being duplicated many times around the Bay, and then many farms … this was a really … quite a big industry.
But you think of all the work they had with those Wattie’s dump cases – filling those up and then stacking them on a truck. But a lot of those ladies who picked the tomatoes – they would rather pick tomatoes than climb up a ladder. There were people who liked that … preferred it.
Yes, whole families.
The men didn’t.
No, it was women and children.
Anne: So the tomatoes were all picked into forty pound dump cases and then loaded on the truck and taken into Wattie’s.
We didn’t have forklifts those days, you had to manhandle them.
There was no other way. Well one of the things that Kerry’s dad was very proud of, but he didn’t really say it very often in front of Kerry – Kerry built a forklift for the tractor.
Kerry: Front end loader.
Anne: A front end loader, sorry. And that was a great help.
This is for shifting the …
Shifting the soil.
Kerry: But when we shifted out to Havelock, we mechanised as much as we could – we used forklifts and pallets – completely changed it from how it was in Hastings. And after the twenty-four years we had the opportunity of carrying on growing for Wattie’s within the cell system, but I was a bit concerned … Heinz had bought Wattie’s and you know, people didn’t know how long it was going to last. And I could see spending hundreds of thousands just on the plastic trays alone. But all of our glasshouses weren’t suitable – they had centre poles. The way they grow the plants now, they have a … well, they’re really big plastic tunnel houses I suppose, no centre support, and so you have a gantry that can run down the middle and do the spraying and the watering overhead. So it was really a matter of totally starting again.
And so with Anne joining forces with me, we decided to use what we had, and yeah, we mechanised a bit further. I had a big soil shredder – we used to make our own soil mix. We were different from other nurseries, they all changed over to just using plain wood bark for the growing medium. We bought wood bark, and we also bought in a lot of pumice from Draegers in Wairoa – they mined it up the Lake road and it was soft pumice, it was that fluffy stuff, that was light. And we still used a bit of soil … a bit of compost or whatever we had, and we would put it all under a cover and fumigate it with methyl bromide. And really, that was the deciding factor when we gave up – we weren’t able to use methyl bromide any more because it’s an ozone depletant. And I think MAF use it for bringing fruit and all that sort of thing into the country – it’s still used. But the beauty of it is it dissipates straight away when you take the cover off – it’s just gone into the atmosphere and you could just use the soil the next day.
Anne: The cyclamen were a big business, delivering them to the shops in Napier, Hastings, and I was quite lucky to be able to drive the truck. But I had one of the children with me at that stage delivering them, but mainly Kerry did the deliveries. But you’d ring once a week and get all the …
Kerry: And we used to grow I think about seventy-odd thousand polyanthus, and I used to do quite a few trips down to Palmerston and over to Wanganui with loads.
And so how long did you do that for after you finished the tomatoes?
Kerry: Yes, we finally closed in … Christmas 2002.
So then you retired, and then you just have to manage this big park-like …
… property you live on, so you haven’t really retired, have you?
Anne: No, not really. No, I remember you know, people would phone and they would say “what hours are you open?” And this day David answered the phone and he said “we open when the first people come, and we close when the last people go”. And it was a little bit like that. It was, with the nursery. And then another time the phone rang, and he yells out at the top of his voice “Mum – have we got enemies?” I said “yes, yes, we’ve got anemones”. [Chuckle] So little things …
Yes, you must have got a lot of satisfaction growing …
Oh, it was lovely.
It was very rewarding because we’d close in December every year and open again … middle of February … towards the end. And you start with nothing, and so then you sow the seed, and the seed’s all different and all goes in the same soil.
Kerry: Well I must say here that I was really the production man. When Anne first started growing my father gave her a bit of schooling up on sowing the seed, and so Anne grew all the seed – that was her job. She grew all the seed, and all the organising, which ones to grow. Really I think women were better … know what colours, ‘cause that was the thing – we grew a lot of plants in individual colours, and it was what was fashionable at the time, and I think that was a bit of a women’s thing.
Anne: Oh … but he heard me squeal one day, because I was checking the seed, and eating the salvias … the blue salvias … were mice. Oh! They were right in the box.
Kerry: They go a mile for salvia seed.
Anne: Yes, so after that when I was checking the seed Kerry would … I’d have to say, “come on, you’d better come and help me”. But it was delightful really to just check the seed and see it coming up.
Kerry: Most of the seed that we grew, we would sow a batch of it – all the different ones – stack it up and then cover it with sacks, and then check it every few days to see what was coming up and bring it out. And some of it we had to cover … birds … yes. But then other things, we did have to use heat.
Anne: And we saved a lot of our own seed, because seed is expensive.
Kerry: But we always tried to grow different things than everybody else and some of it we had to save – you couldn’t buy it.
Anne: And many of the customers that came, they would give me ideas … what they’d like, and …
Kerry: Or even bring seed.
Anne: Yes. No, it was a happy place. The only time … ah, I remember selling red onions and they turned out to be leeks. And that lady wasn’t very happy. And another lesson I was learnt quite early on – I thought blue was blue, but this lady asked me for light blue pansies, so I sold her blue pansies. Sadly they were dark blue, and not the colour she wanted. And she phoned, and she was quite disgusted. They were dark blue, and she precisely asked for light blue. So I suddenly learnt that colour was important. People see colour differently too. Kerry’s dad always used to say “big people like to buy red and all the dark colours, and little people often buy the soft pinks and the whites”, and it’s true.
I love yellow colours … happy flowers.
Yes, the sunshine colour.
So then you carried on with that part of your industry until 2002 when you stopped it totally.
Kerry: Totally stopped.
You just turned it off, and then you built this lovely home in this spot?
Yes. This house was built in 2008, and we sold … the house that was on the property that we lived in … it had been an old house that was renovated. The main part of it was probably round about 1920 – yes, and so it had belonged to the Cooper family, one of them, from Mount Erin Station. And Sir Ronald Trotter bought the place, and he was Manager of Hawke’s Bay Farmers at that stage, and he renovated it in 1958, and he built a big wing on the south end of it. And we decided – we’d done the kitchen and the bathroom once, and it sort of needed tidying up again, and oh, we decided we’d like a new house. So we put it up for tender, and we had three tenders and Ian McLean bought it, and it finished up at Kairakau as a beach house.
Which’d be lovely, out there, plenty of space.
Anne: It got pretty damaged in the storm that they had out there.
Kerry: They put it on low piles, and so after that … so they raised it again.
It is firstly a very windy place …
Kerry: Yes, certainly.
… if there’s a southerly blowing.
Anne: Cold. Yes, it can be quite … oh, sand storm last last year or the year before – it was quite bad.
Now I know you’ve got a motor home you obviously use; I know you’ve had a major trip this year, and obviously you’re going to carry on doing those exciting adventures?
Yes, life’s good. We’ve got a holiday home at Kinloch, and we would like to get a boat, I think, for up there.
Kerry: We did have a boat, and we’ve had a few years without one.
Do you fish Taupo, or the rivers?
Yeah, I’m not a particularly keen fisherman, but … harling, just out of the boat. But it’s lovely scenery … go over to the western bays, it’s beautiful.
Well can you think of any other highlight that you may have missed?
Anne: Well, our first holiday when we went to England, we still had the nursery here. And it was …
Anne: And that was a wonderful holiday. Miguel Springford held the fort for us.
Kerry: And David.
Anne: And David, yeah. And we went to the Chelsea Flower Show, and we just … you know – opened our eyes. It was a big thing to do, ‘cause we went in May of course. And I bought all these seeds, went to different nurseries and garden shops – Kerry’d always know where to find me, looking at the seeds – and brought back many packets. Got to Auckland, and they said “unless they have got the full botanical name on them you can’t take them in”.
Kerry: And the rules had only changed about a month beforehand.
Anne: And they’d only just changed. But no. And I said, probably with tears in my eyes, “can I just take the packets? Will you keep the seed and just give me the packets?” Which is what they did. ‘Cause I could buy all that seed here – you could get it. But to sell … I would just show the people the packets and say “now I saw this at the Chelsea Flower Show”. “Ooh,” they said “ooh, I’ll have three punnets of those all right”. So it generally … it did help with selling. Yeah, it did. And we’ve been back to England twice since. We like England, we love all the trees, and the parks.
Kerry: Love the trees over there.
Anne: The history.
We live in a lovely part of New Zealand, don’t we?
We do … count our blessings.
All right, well look on that note I think … Anne and Kerry, thank you very much for sharing your life story with us, and we look forward to the time that we put it on the website and you can share it with your family and friends. Thank you very much.
Kerry: Thank you, Frank.
Anne: Thank you.
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Interviewer: Frank Cooper