Whitworth, Dereck Ronald Interview

Today is the 9th November 2017. I’m interviewing Dereck Whitworth, now retired in Havelock North. Dereck, we look forward to hearing about your family.

Well, our family history is quite variable and when you ask the question about my father, all I can say is that he arrived in New Zealand I understand, having been we think, dispatched if you like from England by the family. And he was from what we gather, eighteen years of age. His first job he managed to get was up on Maraekakaho Station when old Sir D D McLean was the owner at the time. And he worked on that Station alongside a number of other young men that were obviously from similar backgrounds, and he used to describe the work they used to have to do. And when one thinks about aerial topdressing and everything today – their topdressing system was you tied half a sack of fertiliser round your neck and you walked mainly down hills, spreading, and once you got to the bottom then you had to walk all the way back up to the top to get refilled again. That was just one little thing that comes to mind.

But then to come more up to date, from my memory he actually … I’m not sure whether he actually purchased or whether it was something through Government … he was in the Territorial Army in the war days, but then he actually … I should say obtained a farm at Onga Onga, and that’s where I was born from. I think we were all born down here in Hastings, but we were living in Onga up on … oh, I can’t think of the name of the road. Anyway, had this farm and I can only remember vague parts of it, but ha! It’s funny, certain things just come to mind, don’t they, when you get the old memory box going. So I must have been five years old before we left, ‘cause I started school at the Onga Onga Primary School. And I can see it today – in this little classroom which wasn’t large – across the corner of the room was the piano, and it was used for specific purposes apart from singing and musical training. I obviously had done something a little bit out of order and my punishment was shut behind the piano [chuckle] for a given time. [Chuckle] I can remember that to this very day, and that’s all I can remember.

Well a five-year-old – it’d be like being put behind an elephant, wouldn’t it? It was so huge.

It was terrible and of course you had no option. Anyway, that’s about the only thing I can remember of that school. But then as time went on obviously things turned to custard as far as the farm was concerned, and my father … we ended up coming down to Hastings. He lost the farm – it was in the Depression … was during the Depression. And so we ended up coming down to Hastings, and he just got several different jobs that I can remember round here. They were quite varied.

Where did you live in Hastings?

Well as I can recall … I’m not sure just of the time frame, but we lived in a house in Townshend Street and then we went to Fitzroy Avenue, and that’s where I was … Mahora School was the local primary in Fitzroy Avenue. And then eventually … my mother’s mother had a property in Tomoana Road right next door to the park, and eventually when she passed away that was left to my mother, and so we moved down there and carried on. And I was at high school at that period of time because I remember we used to bike to the bus stop to get the day bus to Napier Boys’ High. So that’s the sort of way that things tracked, anyway.

Did your father meet your mother in Hawke’s Bay?

I assume so because the Jackson family – my mother’s name – part of that family were actually born and bred and what-have-you down in Hokitika, and this part of the family came up here. Her parents had a wee farm … they drew a wee farm, I think it might have been a Government thing … drew a wee farm up at Mangatahi, and that’s where she was more or less growing up from because I can remember her talking about going to school … the Mangatahi School, or Maraekakaho, and it was all on horse back – horse and dray.

And of course your father was working in that area anyway at Maraekakaho, wasn’t he?

That’s right, in that early stage. Yes exactly.

Well I know you had one brother – I knew John.

There were four of us … four boys. [Chuckle]

And did you all play sport?

No, we were all fairly lax in sport. I for one – and this goes back to my first year at Napier Boys’ High. In those good old days the A&P Show was one of the big events of the year. And the family had very great friends, the Nelsons up at Whakamarumaru Station, and we used to stay up there a lot in the country and so forth, as kids. And this particular Show day I wasn’t terribly well so I was away from school, so Mrs Nelson said “well look”, she said “it won’t do him any harm – we’ll take him to the Show with the family”. So away we all went to the Show. Well I can … again, these things you remember … of course in those days you were privileged to have a bag of popcorn, and I was given this bag of popcorn. Well! The following day I was a complete mess. Something had turned to custard in my gut and I ended up with peritonitis. Yeah, I ended up with peritonitis. I was in Royston. And that was another interesting point, because I had this upset, and it was on a Friday after the Show and I was in Royston, they had to find a surgeon because they knew what the problem was. I was only a kid. They eventually found old Dr Cashmore at about 9 o’clock at night. Well they told me after, they reckon he’d drunk about half a bottle of whisky at the Club before he came. [Chuckle] He did the job, but I was out of this world for three days.

Peritonitis is not funny, though.

Oh, hell no. And I was … gone, and my mother actually stayed alongside my bed every day for those three days. They were the good old days. [Chuckle] That ended my sporting career. I was ordered of course in those days, as well as military training. We used to … those days, you had … you used to do training in high school. And I was banned from all of that. The medical profession just said “no – not having anything of that sort of stuff”. So you know, it was a big thing in those days, an op like that. [Chuckle] Yeah – so there you go, so we were I think, very I suppose distant from sport really. I suppose in those days … you know, there wasn’t the shall I say pressure, or interest or whatever, in sport.

Especially if you were a bus boy at Napier Boys’. Every time I heard there was a practice I had to get on the bus and get home to help milk, bring the cows in.

Well you either had to get on the bus or you had to make for the gum trees on the roadside and have a smoke before you got on the bus. That was a common practice in those days for some of them.

It’s a wonder we ever got home.


You all went to Napier Boys’?

No, no, no, the other two … no, Bruce and I did, the eldest brother, and John went to Hastings Boys’, and then Mike … he must have gone to Hastings Boys’ too.

Are you sure John didn’t go for one year to Napier?

I can’t remember.

Yeah, I knew John quite well and he was a bus boy.

Well he might’ve, and then pulled out and gone to Hastings.


Now that could be right, too – that could be right.

When you left school what did you do then?

Well again, in those days things were pretty hard … pretty hard to get a job. They weren’t freely available, and my mother used to keep at me and at me about getting my name on a list somewhere, or getting a job application or something like this, and I got to a point where I got so fed up I said to her one day “look, Mum, if you keep at me any longer …” I said “look, the best thing to do is you go to a Bank Manager somewhere and you arrange an appointment for me”. Well at that point she backed right off. [Chuckle] It was the end of the story. But eventually there was an ad in the paper for a junior at Dalgety’s and I thought ‘now that’s more interesting for me’. So I applied, and had the interview with old Bill Sherman – he was the Manager at the time. He used to live in St Aubyn Street. And I went and had a discussion with him etcetera, etcetera, and he built me up, and built me up, and sent me off home. And a few days later – might have been a week or two later – I got a letter from him. So pleased with my attendance and so pleased with this, that and the other thing … he said “I’ve decided you’re the one for us – yes, we’ll give you that job”. I thought ‘well …’ so anyway I went along and I became junior at Dalgety’s. And just to finish that part of it off, some considerable time later … we had a wonderful older lady typist there, and I got very friendly with her and she whispered in my ear one day. She said “you know, Dereck,” she said “you got the usual letter,” she said, “but you know, you were the only applicant”. [Chuckles]

So anyway, I mean it didn’t worry me. I had a job, that was the main thing, and in those days of course it was such a different thing, ‘cause boy! No computers, no nothing, all hand writing. And every letter that went out of the office … ‘cause you had to stay in the office until all the mail had been cleared. And every piece of mail had to go in the mail book – you had to write the name of the person, address, time, date … everything, and it just went on and on and on. But once you got into it you just did it. Some nights you didn’t get home ‘til seven o’clock at night.

So how long before they moved you up the ranking?

Well you just did it in very small steps.

Very slow.

Yes, oh yes, definitely. Definitely, and I sort of worked through the system from there. Oh, there’s one stage where I’d done a bit of merchandise and then I got into a bit of grain and seed with a fellow called Harry Fisk, and he ran that. There was one stage where they gave me a shot at being the bookkeeper or whatever you call it at the sales … at the stock sales at Stortford, where I had to keep all the records. I used to stand alongside the auctioneer and the records, you know. So that lasted probably six months, but then a young man came along, a fellow called O’Rourke – can’t think of his other name – he was the up and coming. They saw him as God Almighty, and I didn’t last any longer. I was back in the office, [chuckle] he took over my boots and away he went. And he became one of the top auctioneers and stock agents in the district in the finish. And I just plodded on until I worked alongside old Harry Fisk in the seed department, and he eventually saw an opportunity for me to get out on the road. And so eventually they issued a car – in the old days from Ford Motor Company or Hastings Ford – and that’s when I started on the road.

I must have done about ten years I suppose, on the road with Dalgety’s. I took over actually from a Dave Compton. He was in the business and I took over from him – I used to go out and learn the job from him. He was very, very friendly with all the Wool department people in Ahuriri, ‘cause we had a branch there. And he had a lot of big clients up the Taupo Road and what-have-you, so I had to be taken to be introduced to all these people, you see … [chuckle] didn’t happen once – it took a few days … a week or two … for him to make all the calls and everything. But he would get in tow with all the Wool department guys – they were tough. Sometimes we wouldn’t get home till seven or eight o’clock at night. [Chuckle] Anyway, that sort of got me on the road.

And then I left eventually – there was a position came up … oh, in that space of time I was doing a lot of work on the cropping side [with] Dalgety’s and got to know all the field staff at Wattie’s for all their crops, stone fruit and stuff. And eventually an opportunity came there, and they advertised for a rep – technical rep on the road – and so I thought I’d give it a go. So I applied, and Bob June was the Manager then. He got a reference for me and away we went from there, and spent quite a few years … oh no, hang on, sorry … that was Neill Cropper sorry, it wasn’t Wattie’s. I got the job with Neill Cropper who was part of the group – Wattie’s, Neill Cropper, and the maize company.

Well during this period had you met Diane, while you were at Dalgety’s?

No, that would’ve been – no, no it wouldn’t be Dalgety’s, it would have been Neill Cropper – early days Neill Cropper. I think so, because you see that was back … We met in the show business, with the Musical Comedy Company. And I can’t recall off the top of my head just which one it was … which show it was, but we met there, and then of course in the old show business [chuckle] you see each other a lot, with all these sort of shows and things. And yeah … and that’s when we ended up getting together.

Do you think the fact that you were placed behind that piano in Onga Onga [Chuckle] had any influence on your musical career?

Well no, no – I don’t think so, but having said that, possibly where there was more influence as far as musical drive was concerned, was being in the St Matthew’s Boys’ Choir from such an early age. And I was in that choir for years … grew up into going into the Men’s Choir in St Matthew’s. And that’s when they used to have a full complement of the Boys’ Choir – probably about twenty – and then the full choir, men and women. I mean they were the good old days – we had the whole thing. So that’s when the musical side probably came in.

And so then you became a member of the Comedy Playhouse?

Well it started off with Comedy Company. We started off … I went to the first meeting with Greater Hastings where … old man Jones was one of them. There were three of them … Harry Poppelwell was one …

Richard Jones …

There were three of them, and they started the Greater Hastings … the promotional side. And then they eventually – I don’t quite know how it eventuated, but they actually set up a meeting to look into putting on shows. And that’s when my brother Bruce and I went along to the first meeting. It was up in the Red Cross Rooms in Heretaunga Street above the shops. And we went up there and there was a good old … I can remember the meeting, a very big crowd of interested people, mainly younger, and that was the start.

I wasn’t actually in the first show … I’ve got the photographs of the … stage photographs. I wasn’t in the first show, but then they started to go into more the actual musical comedy type shows. We did about three … two or three what they call Showtimes, which were just shows put together by local people. The first one I think was done with a fellow called Charlie … oh, I can’t think of his name … he did one of them. Neilson, the Clifton station … what was his name, Neilson? He was part of that family that owned …


Summerlee Station. Yeah. He was one of them – he was really into music and plays and things, that fellow. And he did two or three shows – well he was wonderful. But he went overseas, and … lost track of him, but he would be up top of the range somewhere.

So we went from there into bigger musicals. The biggest one of course was ‘Showboat’, and Mary Bell was the real stalwart of that show.

That was at the Municipal Theatre, wasn’t it?


I remember the Maori singers.

Yes. You see, that was the key to it. Mary Bell organised the whole of the Maori [?], [speaking together] and they all came from Bridge Pa, and they were Mormons, you see. And now, you know we were actually doing that show during shearing time, and those shearers would come in from the country or from wherever they were working – Porangahau or Timbuktu – they would actually come in every night for practise, and then for the show itself. And when the show itself was on, of course there were specific times when it was mainly white people … mainly Maori, black people. When the white people part of the show was on they’d all be asleep on the floor backstage – they were so tired. And you had to watch where you walked, ‘cause the lighting was dull – you’d see bodies all round the floor.

Oh, it was actually wonderful. That show, I think we went for about eight days in Hastings – sold out completely. And in those days we used to take the show to Napier, and that was another big job I got involved in, because I used to borrow a truck from Ian Bambry, and do the transporting … cartage. And we did a show in Napier, that ‘Showboat’, and the booking agent was a little fellow … he had a little music shop in town there, can’t think of his name … he actually opened his shop at eight o’clock in the morning ‘stead of nine, because the queue was so long.

Was it Harston’s?

No, another fellow, he was an independent little guy. The queue was so long at his shop door, it went way down, and down another … he kept that shop open until nine o’clock at night when he sold the last seat. And that was for seven days … seven performances.

There was no television, radio was not a … we used to get a few shows on that, but mainly people made their own fun.

Oh, definitely.

And when we look back at the professionalism and that, you must have got an awful lot of pleasure at being part of it.

It was absolutely wonderful. I mean of course the key to it too was that we were able to – for what reason I’m not sure – get the rights to so many good shows … musicals. And a lot of that negotiating was done by the – thank goodness – the actual people we had on committee. You know, we had lawyers and accountants and bank managers and gawd knows what – we had a good selection of business people, and they seemed to be able to open the door to get into those sort of outfits where you have to go to get the rights. And so we had some wonderful shows. And I stayed in there, I was on committee for years, and then I … yeah, I was the President for a period.

And then the place burnt down?

Oh, yes … yes.

‘Cause I remember going up there, and couldn’t believe it, ‘cause you’d had a show the night before or something?

I think we were building up for it – we were in rehearsal for a show. And that was again another interesting point, because that building was the first one erected by a Napier building company where they used these … portals, are they?


And they were all timber – compressed timber or whatever they … It was the first building round here that was made of those, so there was no steelwork in the whole roof structure and everything like that, and of course the whole point being that the whole building being timber – and also containing all the show decorations and everything else – well ‘course, for whatever reason it was, the thing just caught fire. And all of it was timber, you see, there was just nothing left ‘cept a bit of pipework. So that was a real sad … God, yes.

And exactly what street was that on?

That’s on Davis Street. We used to actually live just down the road.

And so you never sought to rebuild there, did you?

No, no. I was out of it then, and left it entirely to a new group. And they – I also had nothing to do with it – but they ended up buying the building that they bought and are performing in now, which I think is so unfortunate because it was just – it’s not a theatre – it’s just not a theatre. But however, they seem to be doing things, and they’re happy, and it’s working, but no that’s all part and parcel of how …

Yes. Well coming back then to Dereck, the Neill Cropper man, ‘cause you had to work during the period of playtime …

Oh, yes [chuckle] … the good old days. [Chuckle] Yeah. No, well with Neill Cropper, I mean it was the actual working … should I say with and for an international company. So there were opportunities there that you simply didn’t get in other types of work.

They were involved in seeds, and flour …

We were only on the chemical side – purely DuPont. Neill Cropper was DuPont New Zealand, and so they handled all the products coming out of DuPont. And all those other hang-ons, like the maize company and all those different … formed part of the group, which – Jimmy actually bought the whole shebang.

But no, I stuck with DuPont, so that was interesting because ten years I did with that company. The most interesting thing of course was the meeting with overseas technical people etcetera, etcetera, and doing trial work. And it was a period when there were some very, very interesting new products coming onto the market, particularly from the big boys like DuPont, and that was … one to mention the name was Benlate, which was of course the saviour of all for stone fruit growers. That was a marvellous thing. And of course the other thing was that there was going to be a big introduction of that product into pip fruit as well.

So we had the opportunity then – all the tech reps from Neill Cropper – we went on a guided tour all round Australia, visiting heaps and heaps of vineyards and apple growing places. That was really the first trip I did overseas with them – that was really good, meeting all these different people. And that was interesting, because [chuckle] … illustrates how things have changed. In those days I had a little baby Brownie … little camera, you know? It was about the best I could afford. And I took heaps of photographs on that little thing, and I can recall I was sitting next to one of the DuPont American guys on a plane. We were flying, and there was some good viewing out the window and I had my little camera, you see, my Box Brownie thing. And he said “here! Give us a loan of that – I want to take some photographs”, he says. So I lent him my little Box Brownie … he was shooting these photographs out the window. [Chuckle] I thought ‘good God!’ But I’ve got a whole lot of those things, and of course they’re all on negatives still, now. I’ve never ever printed them – not worth it.

They’re not a problem today – we can re-do negatives better than photos. We’ve got a machine that we just put them in and … digitalises them.

Well during this ten years you obviously were married, and you had some children?

Yep, yep. We had a couple of children – we had a boy and a girl.

And what were their names?

Boy first – Andrew. He’s now fifty-five, I think. Andrew was born in February ‘64. Where have I got Claire’s? Well she was about two years later.

So are they both local still? Yes, you son is.

Oh yes, so is Claire, yeah – no, no, they’re both here.

Both married?

Yes, they’re both married. Andrew’s got a couple of boys. Claire hasn’t got any children. So they’re all still floating around here doing their thing.

Coming back to Neill Cropper and we were talking about the chemicals and Benlate …

Yeah. [Chuckle]

… and those were the days of the TVC we used to water down and put on asparagus.

Yes. Oh yes.

DuPont had a wonderful range of chemicals.

They were probably the company at that time.

And they could mix them, they could do all sorts of things with them.

‘Course the big thing though around here is that the situation regarding the asparagus crop itself has diminished so much. It’s almost … so therefore that sort of side of it … where the big opportunity is of course, is for the total vegetation on roadsides and railways and those sorts of places, and that’s still there and will have to be for the future. But on the cropping side it’s almost zilch, for those things anyway. But it’s interesting, because the whole front of horticulture in Hawke’s Bay here now has changed, hasn’t it? So much. It’s almost heading in just one direction, and that’s flippin’ apples. [Chuckle] If you can keep them on the tree. [Chuckle]

I see there was a thing in the morning’s paper asking people to bring in any unused chemical.

Oh, is that right? Oh, I see. Yeah, no so far as I’m concerned, I mean it’s been a pretty interesting sort of a time. Now the other point is of course, that when we ended up buying Skelton Ivory … took it over from Bob Skelton … really it was a saviour for Bob, because I mean he was at the point where he was almost going to close the show down, because he’d sort of … the thing had gone downhill. Anyway, Diane and I decided we’d give it a crack, so we put it all together and got it going, and away we went from there. Now I held it for twenty-one years. During quite a large part of that twenty-one years I joined a group … we had a group in the country called Independent Chemical Distributors – ICD – and we had members scattered … it started of with about ten or a dozen of us – we got up to about twenty – solely independently owned companies around the country, and we formed this group, and that was the best thing that ever happened to us. We actually were more or less put together as it were, and supported, mainly by ICI in those days, and they were wonderful. And they organised two trips through the States for all the members, free of charge – completely free of charge, and we spent nearly two weeks. He’d organised – Shane McManaway, yeah – he’d got to know extremely well, a privately owned business in Tennessee and they got us to go over there, and we did a trip right through to there, his area, and back and oh – that was fabulous. We really saw agriculture and horticulture in a big way – totally unbelievable.

But that grouping … of course at the same time it put us all into an area of volume. We all became part of the volume, and therefore we were able to negotiate with our key suppliers, and got better deals etcetera, etcetera, and made it more viable for us as independents to compete with the big boys. And so that helped us greatly. But you know, once that was all over well then that’s put me into retirement, and that’s it. [Chuckle]

The whole mosaic of weed control, pest control, all those things – all the major companies all had a pretty powerful rep. All these guys and all the Mercantile reps who were all experts in their own right, and the farmers never made a decision about what they were going to spray. The whole thing was out there away from the farmers.

It’s basically the same today. I mean it’s absolutely imperative that for example, in an orchard, the grower really needs top quality support because it’s become so technical, particularly as I understand it, through the introduction of so many new varieties. And all these varieties need a different sort of – what should I say? maintenance as it were, and it’s all got to be so technically correct, etcetera.

It was interesting those days – the Department of Agriculture covered all that side plus farm advice, plus drainage advice – there was no charge for it. It was done by the Government.

Noel Congdon in the horticulture …

During the period of time that you were operating here, Hawke’s Bay changed from really grazing, some cropping … it was drained. That changed it into a major horticultural area, and if that hadn’t have happened … wouldn’t be any orchards here today.

It’s a big circle of course isn’t it? Because part of that circle are the actual major companies, ie Wattie’s, Bird’s Eye – they were needing such volume, the product to process and put through. That pushed the whole development. Then of course over the space of time, then we saw for example Bird’s Eye, eventually shut their doors – hello Dolly, what are we going to do now? Mr Wattie comes in with an American name or whatever the hell it is – yes, they’ve gone and weeded a whole lot out. So thank goodness we’ve now got that express desire to grow all these flippin’ apples that we’re doing. So we’ve got that change away from the actual manufacturing side to a greater use of raw material side. So a lot of the product we do now is actually exported raw. It’s been a big, big change.

I don’t think a lot of people today would even realise the change. I look at companies today like John Bostock, who must have some very, very good men working for him.

Oh yes.

The quality of the planting, the way they look after their crops – it’s second to none – it’s amazing. That just doesn’t happen.

Well no, it doesn’t. But there again I suppose, the fact of the matter is that you need those big companies with the dollars behind them to come in and be able to throw the money at it to create what they’ve now got – for example, Turners and Growers. I mean – did we ever want Germans owning our apple trees? No. But we have got ‘em.

But it’s turning around to bite us now, because they’re shutting down Frucorp. Turners sold off ‘Just Juice’ – that was their whole market – they quit that, stripped it, and of course now we have the Germans shutting down Frucorp. The paddocks are getting bigger, they’re taking the fences out …

It’s just beyond any recognition, I mean it’s just so … it’s a bit of a worry in a way, because as we’ve seen already, that little bit of a glitch we’ve just had in the apple industry – if anything major happened like a major frost, or a hailstorm, or anything, we’re so vulnerable by way of area and volume … ooh, man, that would be a disaster.

Talking about spraying – you know, one sprayer today can spray six thousand acres in twenty-four hours. Used to take me three months to spray six thousand acres. [Chuckle]

So Dereck, you never went back to the Comedy Playhouse once you’d retired?

Oh no, no.

You ran Skelton Ivory for …

Twenty-one years.

And it was pretty successful really, wasn’t it?

Well yes, definitely. I mean we were fortunate – well, it was all hard work. I mean the thing is that there were certain things happened at given times – they were just fortuitous things. For example … and I don’t think Malcolm would be too concerned … but he was with Wrightson’s, and something happened there that put him off. He was doing a good job. He was specifically there for horticulture – apples particularly – and something put him off. You know how things just happen out of the blue. And something was said to me, and someone … da, da, da, da. So I thought ‘well, I better have a yarn to him’. So I had a yarn to him. And within a very short space of time he said “I’m coming with you”. And so he did, and away we went from there. And we ended up with five rigs on the road.

And I really believed that I had a really great, experienced, qualified sort of a team to run that Top Fruit business, and we expanded that dramatically. The only thing I’ll say though, against all of that, is that what tended to kill the business was when the conglomerates got together and became bigger and bigger.

Now we were able to do business with – Farmers’ Transport had all those orchards in Central Hawke’s Bay – when they ran that, and we were really successful because Malcolm was doing that area and we had a lot of business from them. But once they … see it’s the same old story … once they joined hands with Mr Apple, or … they all started linking together. And then – that’s right – their normal tender list came out for the horticultural chemicals for the next season, so I did the deed and put it all together. And that was at the first linking together of EEC and Mr Apple.

And one day I had this phone call – “oh, it’s …” Manager of that company at the time. Anyway, he wanted an appointment. I said “yes, by all means” – made the time. Unbeknown to me, two men, standing at the door of my office. I though ‘oh, yeah – what the hell’s going on here?’ The Manager of EEC – I can’t think who that was either – and him. Both came. And they both sat down in the office, we had a little tête–à– tête for a minute, and I … I’m waiting for it, waiting for it, and then next thing Mr Apple pipes up and he said “well, Dereck,” he said “we’ve joined forces, we’ve put all our products together, and” he said “I’m sorry, but you’ve missed out on the whole lot”. Whole lot.

Well … you know? Real kick in the pants – having done so much work particularly in Central. But it was that one man, tipped the balance. When those two companies all got together, I will swear and declare that we would’ve still got some. It was called EEC wasn’t it? I would swear that we would’ve got a share from them, but once the other fellow came into it …

So that, you know … And that’s what would be running the business today.

But see that’s the other thing that’s happened over the period of time that you’ve been working in the chemical business … the demise of all the companies apart from one or two that are left.

Well, exactly.

And it’s cyclic, and once again they don’t think about service, they just think about cutting costs.

They do, that’s the point.

The people that are making the decision are not the people at the front.

No, that’s the whole point about it. And when you think about it, you’ve got three main players, as I read them anyway. You’ve got Mr Apple, Turners and Growers, and the Bostock … they’d be the three that are really commanding the whole situation in pip fruit today.

So it does make it very, very difficult. And I don’t think really, there is much future at all for independently owned companies such as what we’ve had, in the industry today. It’s simply the big boys all the way through now, which is a sad thing because you know, there are so many really good, qualified people out there working in the industry, on the ground, that could in fact be within some framework of a privately-owned business.

Quite often all the chemicals in the world are of no use unless you have someone who has the expertise to advise, and tell you how to use them, because we’ve seen so many things happen in the past.

Well, it’s more specific apparently now, with regards … just to use one example apparently … of applying thinning sprays to apples. Apparently that has become far more technical than it ever used to be. And so therefore apparently, there are very odd, or few, people around who’ve got the qualifications to actually give that advice. That’s a sad affair.

I could certainly offer advice on what not to do.


But as you said, it has become so critical, and it’s not only relative to all the varieties, it’s relative to each variety.


They all have a different reaction.

And I put that down to the actual breeding programme those different varieties have come through, because after all’s said and done … I mean here I’ve got my daughter working down there at Plant & Food, and I mean that’s her job. She’s working all the time on this crossing and what-have-you. And that’s fully her job, all the time, so God knows what the end result is. Once an apple comes through and meets the market, then it’s come from all that background. It’s not the original apple at all – it’s a new thing – totally new. So everyone’s got to learn how to handle that virtually new piece of apple fruit.

When you finished, you didn’t retire then did you?

When I sold the business, yes. Yeah, I’d had enough.

So how many years ago was that?

01. Back in 01. Sold it in 01.

That’s sixteen years.

Yep. And I’d done, what – fifty-five years.

And so did you play bowls, or do anything … croquet?

No, that’s one of the things that I lack. I suppose what happened is, over the space of time, particularly the last twenty years which I suppose is normal, I just put the business and so forth ahead of everything. I mean that was … you know, we’d built it up so much that it was so time-consuming. I didn’t work on it at night, but weekends and things. I suppose really I just did not get involved in a sporting side. And I suppose again that that relates back to the fact that I was written out of sport way back in my high school days.

Now you did spend some time in the Rotary Club in Hastings as well?

Yeah, that was … oh, it wasn’t terribly long, but it was interesting. But again I got to the stage where I suppose it’s … I don’t really know what happened there. I was virtually a foundation member for that Club by old Colin Appleby. He was a land agent, I think, and he introduced me to it. It was alright, but I suppose I didn’t get the same … I’ll tell you what happened – interesting point. In those early days, this … when I look back now … those early days we were a small number. We were younger, we were active, and … some of the things we used to do for raising funds for charity. One was, one of the members had a farming friend – I think it was out the back towards Waimarama somewhere. And he offered the opportunity to drag the sheep dung from under the grating, and sell it. Another one – firewood. Jonesy organised some firewood way the hell up Kereru. We spent the weekend up there cutting firewood. Those sort of projects, they really brought people together. When they were doing those projects … even two or three years in a row – we got the job through one specific man at Wattie’s – envelope stuffing for the Annual Reports for J Wattie Canneries. The whole team would turn up there, but it took us the whole weekend, all up there … a lot of fun. The key to that was we were young enough.

Yes, but also the whole fabric of society changed when we had seven-day shopping.

Yeah, that’s right.

People didn’t have the time.

That was all part of it.

And your grandchildren – what age did you say ..?

Oh, Hamish is ‘bout twenty-three now, I think, and Campbell’s just turned twenty-one. So yeah, Hamish is the oldest one – he’s got a job, some sort of high position, in an Australian company that is the main contractor I understand, to the Government for the laying of all the cable. And this company he works for, as I say, is Australian – all the subcontractors are the Choruses and the … whoever else. So he’s in there, he’s got quite a good sort of a job. He’s up in Auckland.

And then Campbell, the younger one, he’s now I would guess fully qualified as an engineer with Opus.

That’s another good company, too.

It is. Except that’s going to be owned by the Canadians. That was an interesting one because he, straight from high school, he got onto this and he managed to get wind of the application. And he has actually been working with Opus all the way through the five years or whatever it is, and they have paid his full education cost. So that’s all his study, and he has to go to Palmerston North I think it’s three or four times a year for a week for specific training. They even give him a company car [to] drive himself down there. And he lives at Havelock here, and the company’s over at Ahuriri of course, so he drives his car over there, picks up the company car, goes to Palmy … you know? But all of that is part of the salary package that he’s got. I think that’s wonderful … a way to do it … what a wonderful way to do it.

And for them to secure and make one of their people that is going to work for them, make them feel secure …

Absolutely – and qualified. I mean here he is … I mean he could be standing out on any corner with his red jacket on doing the old doo-dah with all his stuff. So yes, so that’s what our two boys have done, so that’s wonderful to think that they’ve gone and … didn’t start off like me. [Chuckle]

There were opportunities there but things were changing. They are much better off today, ‘cause the opportunities they have are far greater.

No the key to it is of course, today the opportunities are there as long as at the right age people can get out, get of their butts and do it. Get out there and do it, as these two boys of ours have done.

So I think we’ve pretty well covered most of the things …

I think you’ve just about exhausted me anyway. [Chuckle]

Okay, well if that’s it, I’ll just say thank you very much, Dereck, for giving us that insight into the life and times, so thank you very much.

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Interviewer:  Frank Cooper


  • Dereck Ronald Whitworth

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