Woodham, Lorna Interview

My name is Judy Shimick and I’m going to interview Lorna Woodham today. She’s going to tell us about her arrival in Hawke’s Bay, her upbringing, about her life and her family and about her retirement. Would you like to tell me about where your parents came from and their arrival in New Zealand?

Great grandparents come out from Ireland. They left Gravesend in the 1800s and came out to Howick in Auckland, and they come [came] as fencibles. Then later on my grandfather was born in Howick, and at the age of fifteen he joined up for the Māori Wars and that; but eventually as [when] he grew up he married in Howick and come [came] to Meeanee. At that particular area in Meeanee they settled as farmers, and that’s where my mother was born. My parents were married in Hastings and I was born in Hastings. I was the fourth one of the family.

Okay – so were your parents farming as well?

No, my father worked for a builder, Harry Edwards, who in those days built the hospital in Hastings here. Mmm. And then my dad worked with Sid Morrison in the days when he invented the Morrison motor mowers.

Oh right; and then they lived in …

In Hastings, here.

… Hastings. And you were their fourth child?

Yes, that’s right.

So can you tell me a little bit about your siblings?

Oh – what about my dad?

Yes, sure.

Yes, he come [came] from Dunedin; once again his parents come [came] over about the 1800s from Scotland. That was in Dunedin … Mosgiel, and he was born there. Eventually he came up to the North Island and met my mum, and they got married in Hastings, yes. So as I say, we lived in Hastings in Princes Street.

So did your dad come up for his work?

Yes, I think he came up to an uncle’s, is the story I heard. Yes.

So was there four of you? Or …

Yes; I had an older brother who was a well known carrier here for many years. And then my sister – unfortunately, at eleven in the school holidays, went up to an uncle’s farm at Puketitiri, and they went out for a walk and the cliff gave way and she and a cousin went down, and got killed. Those girls were only … between ten and eleven. I was only four at the time. Then I had a brother two years older than me, me being the youngest. So I had quite a sheltered life because my mother never really got over it, and you know, there’s always the fear that something’s going to happen.

Can you remember that as a child?

Yes, very much so … the very day that the policeman come [came] around – it was two days after my birthday and I’d gone for a walk around the block and I’d stubbed my toe; and I still remember quite clearly where I was sitting on a chair while mum was fixing up my toe and this policeman come [came] on his bike to break the news to her of the accident. So it’s all very clear – it’s strange how something special like that or tragic like that gets imprinted in your mind. [Background traffic noise]

Yeah, and I guess that really, you know, had a lot of influence on your family?

Definitely … mmm. So then I went … just living in Hastings all the time, went to St Joseph’s School right through, and high school was in those days St Joseph’s. And then I left about fifteen, and I went to work [at] accountants, McCulloch, Butler & Spence. In those days, even though you were young like that leaving school, you didn’t finish your studies so you had to study accountancy. But I had learnt at school in Commercial, shorthand/typing, and I was still keen to do shorthand/typing; so there was [were] no vacancies at McCullochs after about three years, and I went across the road to Kelly, McNeil & Co, Solicitors, and I was a shorthand/typist there until I got married; and of course once you got married, in those days you finished work. [Chuckle]

And what age were you when you got married?

Twenty-two. And we decided to do our big OE [overseas experience] – it was down [in] Christchurch. [Chuckles] And we liked it there, and we actually went and lived there for two years … two and a half years or so.

So how did you meet your husband?

Met him just in Hastings; in those days we used to go to dances … the weekend dances. All the girls from where we worked would go in a group and the boys used to always go to the dances; and that’s how we met over the time.

Can you tell me more about your husband?

Yes, well Joe was quite well known. He was very fortunate in inheriting music, which has come down our [his] family. His dad had a harmonica band for all the children when they were young; and of course he played the guitar and mouth organ together, and also the piano, and had a dance band for thirty years. He belonged to the Orphans’ Club which you probably know about.

No …

No – well he belonged to that, and that’s an entertainment sort of group. Did a lot of entertaining over the years with, you know … with the music, mmm. Yes, and in those days the Orphans’ Club was for men only, and when he become [became] chief of the Orphans’ Club, ‘cause they have their turns at that, the ladies decided to start up their side of it which was similar but separate, called the Pania Club. And I become [became] a foundation member of that, and once again that was an entertainment group, not that I was an entertainer but they got us on stage – I preferred to be backstage. But anyhow, we did get into a ukelele group and we had a lot of fun entertaining people too. And that went on for about over fifty years; we eventually had to go into recess because of a lack of members and that, and we got older.

You had your children during that time?

During that time, yes. Yes, over the years I had six of them. My first daughter was born in Christchurch; she will be seventy next week. [Chuckle] And we come back here and we were going to go out to my husband’s … they had an orchard out in Havelock [North], in Arataki Road. But as time got on it wasn’t working out, so we were going to try and get a home in Hastings – that’s what you did in those days, was settle down. But anyhow, we built next door to my parents because my parents had a section there; they had their house cow and all that, but they decided it was time to give that away, and we built next door there. And of course that become [became] very handy when my parents got older and weren’t well, so I was sort of there to look after both of them.

At the same time as having your own family …

Yes … gradually had the children during that time.

So you had the one child, your eldest daughter …

That’s right, and …

… and came back to Hawke’s Bay …

… I had that. And my eldest daughter lives here now; and then a second daughter, she now lives in Greece … they’ve built a home in Greece, so she’s there; and the third one’s Rotorua; and then [the] next one, a son, is in Melbourne; he’s been there for quite a few years. And then I had an eight year gap, and during that time I went and had a part time job at Slaters. That was a[n] auctioneering and vegetable and fruit place.

Were you doing shorthand/typing there?

No, just a bit of office work on auction days. And that firm, Slaters, was on. the corner where now Kmart is. It’s all in that, so how things have changed. Then I went on to have another son who’s in Hamilton, and my younger daughter is here in Hastings; so I’m fortunate to have the eldest and youngest close by.

Yes, the one in Greece is a bit far away, though …

That’s right, but I see her a lot on WhatsApp. I had a two hour talk with her the other … it’s quite good, because you can see their place, and they take their device outside and show you where they are, and you feel as though you’ve been there.

So have you been there?

No – they want me to go over, but I feel at this stage I’m a bit old to do that. But when they were in England about sixteen years ago I did go to England with them, and I actually visited Gravesend where the great grandparents … the port that they left from there, so that was a little bit of history.

And your son in Melbourne … have you been able to get over to Melbourne?

I’ve been to Melbourne two or three times, yes; and he was just over here recently again for a visit. And I was fortunate enough to go to Perth when my daughter that’s [who’s] in Greece now had her first babe so I was able to go over and visit her in Perth. And then years later when she was in Brisbane, I had a couple of trips over there so I’ve been very fortunate in travel.

Yes. Yes, so you mentioned that you were next door to your parents. You said you were able to look after them when they weren’t very well. Can you tell me what happened at the end of their lives?

Yes, well my mother wasn’t terribly well and she passed away first; and then my father, we were able to you know, keep him at home there for a long time. So just in the last … ooh, twelve months of his life he did have to go over to … those days [it was] called [St Joseph’s] Little Sisters of the Poor. But that was handy and I was able to pop round and see him and then take him home once a week just for a little treat and then bring him back again.

You must’ve been busy with your children and looking after them as well?

Yes, in those days you were a housewife, and you looked after the home and the children and grandparents if they came that way. I think more so than these days, when people go into rest homes.

So what about grandchildren?

Oh, now grandchildren … I have sixteen grandchildren and sixteen great-grandchildren, and half of those are in New Zealand and the other half are in Australia.

Any in Greece?

No. Denise unfortunately … the eldest one that [who] I had gone to see when he was a babe … he died about twelve years ago now of cancer at thirty-four, otherwise I would’ve had that extra grandchild. No, Australia there’s half of them and the other half here. Mmm.

What ages do they range from?

Oh, they’re mid-thirties, I think.

Are those the grandchildren?

Yes, down to the youngest of [the] grandchildren would be twenty-one just recently, mmm.

And what about great-grandchildren?

Great-grands; now … yes, I think nineteen is the eldest one there, down to … there’s one under two, about eighteen months.

That’s a good range, isn’t it?


How long were you two married for?

Yes, we only got to forty-two years because he passed away twenty-nine years ago now. We were in Princes Street, the house that we bought – built, I mean – and we did extend it as [with] the quarter-acre section we had plenty of room. And my husband not being well because he had to have heart surgery, wanted to shift so it was a matter of coming to a flat. We come [came] to the flat here as a stepping stone, because it was so small after a four bedroomed house – it sold quickly, so we were only going to be here a short while. But we were only here four months and he passed away so I’ve been here ever since.

And was that expected, Lorna?

Well, he’d had heart surgery and he had a pacemaker; and when he was here, thinking back, he actually did a lot of work in the garden trying to do things. And something went wrong with the pacemaker and I got word about six months later that the doctors had said something had gone faulty with the pacemaker. But his heart wasn’t in a good condition because it was only three years from when he had the open heart surgery.

So he had open heart surgery?

Yes, bypasses.

And was that a familial thing? You know, things happening with the heart, or was it just ..?

Yes, well they said they had had reports of a couple of unexplained deaths, and they thought that particular pacemaker was being recalled. But you know, you sort of feel perhaps something could’ve been done, but it wasn’t picked up; things weren’t done so fast, and he was only sixty-four at that stage.

That is young. So that must’ve been a shock for you?

Yes, it was hard because we’d just got here. And of course the Mayfair Hotel was just over the back here and it burnt down; and that was only a couple of weeks before he passed away, and of course it wasn’t very nice around here with everything …

A lot of losses …


… in that short space of time.

Mmm. But anyhow, I’ve managed to just keep here, and [chuckle] I’ve been quite comfortable here.

So you enjoy where you’re living?

Yes. Yes, well about four years ago I took ill and there was [were] thoughts that I had to go into a rest home; but anyhow, with a bit of persuasion [chuckle] I come [came] back, and [was] able to get back driving and back to normal life again.

So you’re able to get out and about on your own?

Yes, get around, that’s right.

But after [the] children grew up I was approached to [do] just, as I thought, part time at the Hastings Gas Company. And anyhow, I worked there and saw through the time when we become [became] natural gas, and they did away with the gas equipment and that, and making gas in Hastings there by Central School. And they built a lovely new building and we shifted into there. And then when I come [came] to about the age of sixty, everybody was supposed to retire and it didn’t suit at the time; anyhow, I worked to sixty-one, and that was the time when my husband, Joe, was ill and it was time to retire anyhow. But unfortunately, with [the] natural gas coming in the head office went down to the South Island, so all the staff there in the office got made redundant; so I was sort of away from there in that time.

So did you enjoy working?

It was interesting, yes. It worked quite well because the children had grown up then; the younger ones were at high school and it all worked out quite well.

Lorna, I imagine you lived through the Napier/Hastings earthquake?

Yes, I was about eighteen months old, and I always heard the story because my parents’ house was built when I was born … more or less the same age as me, so it was pretty new. And I believe they lost one window and one chimney, and I’d always heard the story where they camped in [on] the sections; they had the sections because at that stage the end of Princes Street was like country.

And that’s where they set up the camp?

Yes, they lived in tents and that during that time.

They had to be out of their house?

Well just until things settled down, because it’s very scary not knowing, with all these after-shocks.

Must’ve been quite hard with an eighteen month old baby as well …

Yes. Yes, I’d imagine that.

So looking back at your life in Hawke’s Bay, Lorna, what are the biggest changes that you’ve noticed?

Oh – definitely downtown, because all the shops in those days were owned by local businessmen. You know you had Westermans, and Roaches, and Bairds, Poppelwells, Giorgis – they were all local people. And it wasn’t until, I think Smith & Brown come [came] – that was an outside one; oh, we had Woolworths and McKenzies, but the outside – it was Smith & Brown and then the Farmers come [came], and then gradually all other outside firms come [came] in. But it was such a family type of township, and that was the thing about Hastings as I suppose with all towns of that era.

So you noticed it going from quite a family town to … what changed that you noticed?

Yes, things changed a lot, yes. But still, those people in those days did an awful lot for the town, and of course during the war years that’s when they did so many of these concerts and things; they kept together. And of course that started up the Blossom Parade in those days. And I remember those days of the first Blossom Parade; and thereafter it was the big thing … Blossom Parade, and then of course after that we had the A&P [Agricultural & Pastoral] Show. And they were the highlights of the year because that’s when everybody got dressed up and went to the Show.

And that was one of your highlights?

That was the highlights, yes … always very busy making new frocks for the youngsters, and … all [chuckle] done up so nice; whereas in later years you noticed the difference where the dresswear [chuckle] just deteriorated, or … well I suppose, become [became] more comfortable. [Chuckle]

What are the main things you notice about the change in how we dress?

Well, I think you just have to go with the flow too, because you can’t sort of live in the past; and you just sort of keep up with the times. And you can look back and think, ‘Oh yes, well those were better days in some ways’ …

Where you got dressed up and …

Yes, things were different, and the children were sort of … a bit more polite, I think, [chuckle] in those days. But it was … well it was a good life in those days, and you feel quite grateful that we did have that, you know, discipline and things, but as I say, you’ve got to go with the flow and keep up with life.

Yes. How have you found your retirement years?

Yes, they were quite good. Once again I had a friend that [who] said oh, would I like to have this little job? It was just a friendly thing at Farmlands. Women of my age … well I was getting on then, in my seventies anyhow. And we used to go once a month at five o’clock to one o’clock in the morning, sending out the monthly statements and brochures with them to all the branches here. And I think over the time … yes, I was eleven years there, so I was eighty-one, I think, when I finished that. [Chuckle] But that was good, because it was a lot of fun. You’d do your work, and it was always a catch-up with these people each time we went to work.

And how often was that?

Once a month. And then once again, that got modernised where it went to be done by a machine down in Wellington I think; and then head office there got shifted to Christchurch, so that job ceased then. It was all timely because it suited me at that time too. But it wasn’t stressful, it was just …

Nice and social?

Was a social [chuckle] type of job, yes.

Just the hours were a little bit unfriendly?

Yes, it could be twelve o’clock or one o’clock, yes. But of course we’d work you see, in the office where the day staff would occupy during the day, and of course that was our job to do at night.

And you’ve mentioned that now you belong to U3A? [University of the Third Age]

Yes, U3A – it’s a good group; and they have lots of groups but I go for the luncheon group, so that’s social. And then there’s Historical Amblers – I go to that one.

And what’s the Historical Amblers?

Well they go to places of history, like … we’ll go somewhere, and it’ll be for a walk, which I’m not that great on now; but it’s going back in historical places, and very interesting. We’ve been to quite a few things. Another thing that I belong to and I’ve been treasurer for twenty-eight years, [chuckle] I think – Cardiac Companions. Anybody that [who] had heart surgery belonged to it, and their spouse; and of course my husband belonged to that. And it’s been going for about thirty-five years, I think now, and Joe joined that after he had his surgery. Doctor … his name’s gone from me now … but he was our patron; he still is the patron. But anyhow, spouses were members too, and they approached me and asked – it was after Joe had died, the year after he died – would I be treasurer? And of course I still am. [Chuckle]

So that’s another little job?

Yes. Unfortunately, like everything else in those clubs, membership has got down and we’re not getting the same members joining up because people now have heart surgery or heart intervention – they had to change it to heart intervention because [of] other treatments you have. But those people get well and go back to work, and they haven’t got time to go to that. It was a support group too, for helping families when one person had to go for surgery; and it helped with the fares for people to go. But things’ve changed over time so it’s mainly a social group, and we meet once a month for a dinner, and you know, just to get together; and we have speakers or entertainment. It’s been quite good; but with COVID of course we weren’t able to go, and now we’ve got down to just having lunches. But in time as things are it will have to go into recess. ‘Cause Napier … now they had a very, very strong club there, but it went into recess through lack of members.

So how many members have you got now?

Well, we’re down to ‘bout forty-five, I think.

That still sounds quite …

Yes. Well we’ve been getting up to about thirty people, and it’s gradually got down to twenty coming along now; but still, as long as those people want to come along, it’s still nice to still keep in touch with those people

Especially if it’s giving them support?

Well that’s right; mmm.

So Lorna, is there anything else that we haven’t touched on?

Ah … I’m trying to think. Well, as we were growing up we went through the usual teenage years but as I said, you know, they were different. I didn’t have much in sport because I hurt my knee, and of course I wasn’t allowed to play basketball in those days we used to call it. [Now netball] But you know, you still had your interest in sports. And of course when we went to Christchurch, Joe got very interested; he used to play, you know ,football here, but he got interested in rugby league which wasn’t here. And when we come back here he met up with other friends and they started up rugby league here, and it still goes today. Mmm. So we had a lot to do with that because he was involved in that.

Sounds like you were involved in quite a few things in the community?

Yes, over that time … well it was just the way of life.

So I guess if there’s nothing else ..?

Yes – I can’t think at this stage. But going back to the great-grandparents, over the years … some years back now … I went up to a reunion of the defence force up in Auckland which was very interesting, because we were able to have all this information about … you know, their coming over; and it was a wonderful reunion up there.

So sharing family stories?


So was that in Howick?

This was in Howick, yes, they had it there. And at that time my eldest daughter, Marie, she was living in Howick, so it was rather good we were able to go up there.

So anything that you want to share from what you learnt there?

Oh yes … well we learnt about the different things, and how they come [came] out. And one of their children died on the boat, and that was unfortunate; because you see, they took three months to come out, and that was a big thing, you know, the odd one was born on board and others had died – that was the sad part. And going to my father’s side, I have got a letter that a Peter McIntyre had wrote [written] as a child; he come [came] over on the same boat as my great-grandparents. And in that he had daily events, and there was [were] about … all told, there was a couple of children born; ‘bout three children of one family that had died during the trip; and one adult, I think, and of course they all had to be buried at sea. But I’ve got this letter that he had written, and this Peter McIntyre – I think his grandfather was the one that wrote it – that [who] was the war artist, and he did the mural at the library in Hastings here. Yes, so that was very interesting. He made this when he was only a youngster as he come [came] out; he would’ve been about fifteen, I think. So I looked up on Google too, to have a look at it. He did mention in his letter where he had done a painting or a sketch, and he’d given it to a steward and it got blown overboard. So he did another one, and that made me think of the connection of this Peter McIntyre. So I did Google it, and found that he had – it must’ve been him – that had an artist shop or an artist gallery in Dunedin. And of course he passed his talent on to his son who was called Peter.

Oh, there’s an interesting piece of history …

By looking at the dates that I had there, that’s how I … Yes, it is history, because he did do a lot of wonderful work, and he was born in Dunedin and had died in Wellington I think – yes, some years ago. Because I think he did a bit of work in the First World War and Second World War.

Well Lorna thank you for sharing all what you’ve shared with me; really interesting hearing about Hawke’s Bay people’s history, and …

That’s right. And of course being modern with – my sons are into technology like everybody else and cell phones and computers; they educated me on that, so it’s very good.

Yeah, it looks like you’re well set up …

Yes. Well one son works for Sony in Australia, and the other one is in technology; and of course they all set me up, so that I’ve got to keep up. By having family overseas they said I had to have that connection. And I’m very grateful, because it’s great being able to contact and talk and see them.

It is. Certainly different now to how things were …

Yes, well my grandchildren keep me up to date with picking them [it] up; they’ve taught me how to [chuckle] do it – I’m very fortunate.

Yes. Oh, good on you. Okay, Lorna, so we’ll leave it there, but thank you very much. Lovely.

Okay, thanks. Thank you.

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Interviewer:  Judy Shimick


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