Young, James Interview
Today is 30th July 2019. I’m interviewing James Young of Bay View. James is still active in the motor trade; he’s been working since he was fifteen – more than sixty-five years; so he’s going to tell us the life and times of his family.
Well I was born in China, the south of China in a place next to Canton, and we have [had] a small market garden. My father was a rice grower, and we are really just common people, more or less, type of thing. I went to school there; started school, then one day the air was full of planes; and of course – welcome to second world war. That’s all right; then suddenly they start dropping bombs. And then of course the armies come from the south right up north, and came down to [the] south and invaded China, so therefore we had to leave our good house, good land, and what we had [were] used to. And I was only a child about six years old.
But of course we lost Mum also in the war, so therefore it was only myself and my father; and therefore to escape the actual cruelty and the war and all that, we had to make our way to Hong Kong. Why we make [made] our way to Hong Kong is, the British was [were] not at war with Japan, and [Britain] was a free country, more or less.
But then of course from where our village is to Hong Kong is about a hundred and thirty kilometres, and during the war years nothing worked – no electricity, no water, no transport, because the actual roads are [were] all bombed and cratered and all that. Nothing works. So therefore we had to walk all the way from our village to Hong Kong.
So the thing that started this, the Japanese invaded our house and took all the food that we had – no, I wouldn’t say all the food we had – most of the food we had, and that’s rice. And so my father decided that he’d heat up a wok and put the rice in there and heat it, and then take all the moisture out until it’s a brown colour; put it in a sugar sack, tie a knot, and that is your lunch, breakfast and everything. So therefore, when we started on our journey we had a few people joining us as well. We walk, and then find shelter what [where] we can on the way – under a tree or under a [an] old house or in [the] house and all that. And for food – that’s the biggest problem – we find a bit of water, half fill a bowl and half fill with rice, and that is all you get, type of thing. Yeah. I caught malaria on the way and just about, really, died, so my father tells me. But I recover, and after about two and a half weeks we did reach Hong Kong. And of course it’s free … freedom more or less, type thing. Here we can get food, and we had a few relations there. We found shelter.
And then in those days the actual free world are New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the USA; they opened their arms to refugees, on account [condition] that once the war is over you have to go back to your own country. Well that was quite acceptable, because we didn’t want to leave in the first place type of thing. But we are really grateful for that, and of course we pick[ed] New Zealand because we’ve got one or two relation[s] here in New Zealand. So we managed to get passage with the help from New Zealand people on an old steamer … a sort of a milk-run type of steamer. And it is a freighter, and of course you don’t get a room, air conditioned, with a window facing the sea and all that; that type of thing there. But we were amongst the freight, that’s where we sleep. But one thing that’s really [a] God-send is, we’re getting fed. So after a long trip, calling at the islands everywhere; managed to reach Sydney. We stayed there for a few days and then managed to get another boat, and reached Wellington. So from Wellington we came to Napier, and with the help of a few Chinese people we established … my father managed to borrow a bit of money and started a market garden, with the help of local people.
Where was the market garden?
The market garden is now Young Motors, so therefore it’s the second generation. It’s only four acres, but that’s all we had and that’s all the money we … But then of course, everybody seemed to work together; they were kind, the government was really good. We managed to borrow money to get the seeds from Simmonds & Co [Company] and the fertiliser; and we borrowed a bit more money from a relation to buy a [an] old horse. And everything was more or less second hand, and everything was done. So we didn’t even have a tractor, but everything was hand done. And even at my tender age – I was only seven or eight – I was out there hoeing … push hoeing lettuce or anything like that, you know. So therefore my growing up days – I didn’t enjoy going playing football or anything like that; I had to work. So that was the actual first sacrifice for being a refugee, but we had to survive. And we lived in a [an] old house, so it was pretty … thinking about it now … it was pretty rough, but what else can we do? We were glad to survive.
Who were some of the other Chinese people that helped you?
There was Albert Young; there was Loo Kees, but not here – none of them are here …
They all came from the same times, during the second world war; all the refugees. But I’m glad we all survived now. And of course our children has [have] more or less taken over; we tell our children that, and of course we try and give our children the best we can offer them. So we were hard workers, we had to work. But no, we are very happy that we got a second chance.
Well Jim, when your parents grew the vegetables did they sell them at the gate?
No. We couldn’t afford a truck, or none of us can [could] drive. My father can’t speak English or anything like that. And of course every Wednesday and Sunday – there’s a firm called Mahoney & Co,…red truck, they come and pick up for market every Wednesday and we have to work like hell, you know, with just with a wheelbarrow and all that type of [thing]; and also on Sunday for the Monday market. It’s a hard life but … well, we know nothing else but work and all that type of thing. Well we had to work; we were taught to work, more or less. So I always tell my children that … “You know why your father can’t swim?” “No.” “Because I had to work.” They’re lucky, they take you to swimming lessons and all that type of thing. No, no, no, they’re all hard workers, and I’m proud that they have made … well, make a success of their working life.
So which school did you go to?
First of all I attended the Hastings Street School. It’s now a restaurant there. I have very pleasant memories there, and I am very grateful to my first teacher. Her name was Miss Butcher in those days, but I’m not quite sure where she is now. But she got married, Mrs Clark. I think she retired at Taradale, that’s quite a long time ago. She taught me … yeah, I am very grateful … taught me to speak and encouraged me to learn English and all that. And then another school master that I’m very grateful to, that’s Mr Fieldhouse and he was the headmaster of the Hastings Street School. Those two people really taught me English, yeah. To this day I am grateful to them. And then of course I went to the intermediate school and then high school.
So which high school did you go to?
Napier Boys’ High. It’s a good school; both of my boys went to Napier Boys’ High School. In fact my first son, he was the dux of the Boys’ High School. As I said, these are our scholars. He’s the one that went to Oxford. But it just shows you, the grandfather can’t speak a word of English, and now he’s [at] Oxford. [Chuckle] It just shows you, one generation – now Young Motors, and now a big garage, and … I’ll take you there in a minute … and before, it’s just a market garden.
After I finished my apprenticeship I went back to China – to Hong Kong – and I would study there because we didn’t get the education the Chinese … and I was losing my Chinese voice, type thing. And of course after the war my father, he went back to China. It’s very hard for him because he’s middle aged, and also cannot speak a word of English. He miss[ed] his friends, religion life and all that. He was lonely, so he elected to go back to China and I stayed.
And I started my working life with Stewart Greer Motors more or less. That’s the last time I saw my father, because after I finished my apprenticeship I went back to Hong Kong to study as well, but in those days there was a cold war; there was a bamboo curtain; I wasn’t allowed in, and he wasn’t allowed out. And I never saw my father again.
We encourage people to travel because you know what each race consists of, and also find your knowledge. Hong Kong is only the size of – including the New Territories, Hong Kong and Kowloon – is only a hundred and ninety-five square miles, which is one and half [times the] size of Lake Taupo. They’ve got six million …
So you started your apprenticeship with Stewart Greer Motors?
I’m very grateful for Bill Fleming; he was the service manager. I couldn’t get anywhere with the Ford people – they’d never had a Chinese boy before and of course they look at me … oooohh … that’s this Ford place. They were the number one in Napier, in size. Then I went to J E Peach; they were the Todd people that deals in Chrysler and all that, but they didn’t want me. But Stewart Greer – they deal with Morris, Packard … what else? Dodge and all that. So the manager say [said] to me, “Yes, we are looking for [an] apprentice; but we will give you three months’ trial and if you’re any good – yes, we’ll sign you on as [an] apprentice. If you’re no good, you’re out.” “Yes, sir.” And that’s it, more or less type of thing.
So my full style of transport was a push bike – couldn’t afford anything else. After I started work … after eighteen months or two years I managed to save enough money to buy a third hand AJS motor bike. That was the one that really took me around, because I had to go to night school and all that now. And also after work I used to come back and help my father in the market garden; so it’s a busy life for me. But we have managed to survive because we had to survive, because if you don’t survive you go down, you know, you can’t get help or anything like that. But no, I would still certainly encourage the young people, if you want to be a success there’s only one answer, hard work.
And so you carried on with Stewart Greer’s until you finished your apprenticeship?
Yes, yes. I got my A grade – that takes seven years. After seven years I went back to Hong Kong; went back to school. Had a relation in the [?]; he taught me for two hours a day, and in return – I didn’t have much money – I help[ed] him to be a salesman. He’s a salesman for a big company; he’s selling to all these warehouses and sending [?] the shop there, but he can’t speak much English. That’s what I helped him [with] – when you deal with a [an] English firm, I was the salesman for him; but when he deal [dealt] with a Chinese firm where he can do … So I learned a bit of salesmanship from him, and also he’s my teacher, more or less, type … So I still pay my bit for tutoring and all that, but he’s the one that taught me to speak proper … the ethics of Chinese and all that type of thing; bit of history. And it’s a thing that really … well I mean we pick the best between English and Chinese … which is best, you know? Face value, and all that type of thing.
And did you work with cars and motors in China?
No, I didn’t actually, no. I didn’t have much time because I really couldn’t afford to stay too long in China because when I had to leave Hong Kong I was absolutely broke; no money at all. I couldn’t stay longer, so back to New Zealand, and went back to the old firm; you know, “I’m back here”. “Oh look, come back and work for us.” So I was in the tune up department after I came … anyway. But it’s interesting actually how you get on to these people; even tell my sons, you know, “Do your best for them; always hard work; always do the extra piece” – to get on in life, you know. So that’s my working life, and as a student more or less, type of thing.
When I started Young Motors, my working days are [were] seven days a week and twelve hours a day, more or less. I started Young Motors with [chuckle] … all I had was £2,800. Well you can’t build a garage with £2,800. I went to the bank manager; I got out of his office quicker than I went in because he said, “We don’t lend money to people like you with no background, and you’re young – you’re only early twenties – you don’t own any land?” “No.” “What have you got?” I said, “A motorbike.” “How much is that worth?” “£150.” What else’ve you got?” “A set of tools, £150 – “that’s £300.” “Yeah. Yes”, he looked up and down, “yes, you have got £280; and you want to borrow £2,000! We don’t lend money to people like you.” That’s one bank. The name’s already changed now, it used to be Bank of New South Wales; now it’s Westpac. Westpac bought out New South Wales in Australia. I tell the bank manager this, and I get what I want now. [Chuckle] So that’s the difference, yeah. So they tell it’s more than £280.
But then of course, you know what? I am really, really happy. The fact that when I tell the Chinese people around there – there used to be twenty-two Chinese market gardeners in Bay View alone, and a lot of them cannot speak English [at] this time. And when their vehicle[‘s] got something wrong, all they can do is take it to the garage – “Won’t go”, more or less, type of thing. And I used to translate for them. In the days that overtook horses to buy a small tractor – it’s only eighteen horsepower with a Vanguard engine and all that. So that was really good for them you know, and all that. So I used to sort of … even part time after work … I used to go and help them, pick them up and fix them more or less, type of thing. So then of course, when you get twenty-two of them, I can’t keep up. So they said, “Why don’t you open a garage?” And that’s the start of Young Motors here. I used to come back after work and work on the vehicles at night time; I’d do more work than in the … [Chuckle] So that’s it. And when I told them that I don’t have any money because the bank’s not supporting me, you know what? They lend me the money. Yeah. They pitched in and lend me the money.
And your first garage wasn’t that big was it?
No, it was a small garage, that’s all I can afford. Now it’s about ten times the size.
So you carried on working with your local people?
It’s only a one-man band then. I had to do everything; work seven days a week … I had to, to pay off the people. I always remember – there’s a [an] old lady; I call her Grandma. And she’s [a] very kind lady, you know, she’s a real grandma. And she says to me, “Jim, you’re having trouble raising money to start your garage?” I say, “Yes, Grandma.” You know, she lend me some money. I said “No, no, no, no, no.” “Yes, yes, yes.” But boy! I did take the money; she insisted, but I made sure she was the first one I pay [paid] back. Six months, I paid everything back. And she won’t take any present or anything like that. So that’s how … They all, the Chinese, they all gave me face, and I really look forward to them now.
You had tractors originally, didn’t you?
Well it’s only a free trade … we couldn’t afford to have a franchise, no – not like now with big trucks in and out. We were just sort of a service station; that service station – it was designed for two mechanics and one people serving at the pumps and one … also the lube bay. In those days it is [was] five hundred miles for a grease, and a thousand miles for a grease and oil change. That was good business in those days. And Mobil came along – I managed to get a petrol licence; Mobil came along and I said, “Look, I’ve got no money”, so they lend me the money; they put in a compressor and also a hoist to lift the vehicle up, and they gave me two years to pay it off. And I paid it off. But boy, it was really hard going – twelve hours a day, seven days a week. And I think that I missed some of the thing[s] there … some of my friends and all that, the same age group and everything like that; on Saturday they all go out to dances with the girls and everything; here’s me slaving away in the garage, putting on a head, working on a truck or a tractor. I missed all that part.
But you met Lily?
I met her when my second time – I had a bit of [a] health problem. My doctor said to me, “You know, you’re working long hours and all that.” Had a stomach ulcer more or less, type thing. “Take a holiday.” I thought. ‘Oh … no, can’t afford that.’ “No – take a holiday.” So therefore I went back to Hong Kong, and took a couple of weeks off and that. But when I met Lillian in [at] a Christmas party, I sort of like pass[ed] her; my Chinese was getting much better then. You know … “Like you to show me a bit of Hong Kong and all that.” So she agreed, and sort of … [I] think it sort of start[ed] the whole thing then, more or less.
But my wife comes from a very old-fashioned family, and … that’s what I want more or less, type of thing, you know. So therefore when I had to come back – I run out of money yet again – I keep writing to her; and then one day I sent her a ticket – a return ticket, actually – air ticket; no strings attached. “Come for a holiday to New Zealand, all expenses paid.” Well, she never went back. [Chuckle] Well that’s how it is, you know, more or less, type of thing.
You had two sons?
Two sons, yeah; two sons and one daughter.
Your daughter is in New Zealand?
No, unfortunately all my three children are in Australia. Look, Ashley – well he’s been all over the world. He’s still single, fifty-two, and he’s got a really good job, offered in Australia; none in New Zealand. That’s okay. My daughter, she’s a microbiologist, she’s married to a very able … he’s law and commerce; he used to work for the big Deutsche Bank of Germany as a legal adviser, you know – big position, oh yes, in a high position. Made a lot of money there. And now he does the same in Australia; he does some investment and all that type of thing for people – has his own company.
And of course the son now has been working in Denmark for ten years as a research scientist, PhD in biochemistry, and all that, you know. He’s the one that helped … when he was doing his PhD in New Zealand … they helped to cure the green lip mussel problem. Ten years ago they were having trouble with the green algae and all that, and he was in the team that researched it, more or less, type of thing. He was doing his PhD on it, and he’s the one that, seeing he’s the young boy, he has to do all the running around all that type of thing. He’s the one that has to take a box of rats down to these people down there. And they said, “Well, before you harvest, take a sample from [?], and get the contents of the mussel stomach and inject it to [into] one or two rats; and if it dies, don’t touch it! Call me. But if it’s still alive after that you can harvest it”, more or less, type thing. And that’s how they researched – they found out what[‘s] the problem – it’s the fertiliser that the actual farmers were using that killed – so they got the fertiliser engineers and all that, and they changed the actual contents of the thing, and they still get the same effect but using different fertiliser. So that’s how they cured it.
Our children are international children, aren’t they?
Yeah, that’s right. Well my grandson, he’s only seven years of age – he speaks four languages.
What’s his name?
Nathaniel. His mother is Polish, and she’s a daughter of a professor. That’s where they met, because she was doing a PhD in Denmark, and my son was more or less helping her, you know. So when two young people are away from home … And her father is Swedish – professor; and then she’s a sort of a … well, [of] course, grew up as a teenager in Poland; the father and mother divorced and the father went to Sweden as a teacher, I think. So she did her Swedish there, and then she won a scholarship to Denmark and that’s when she went to Denmark [??]. So she speaks four languages.
And then of course, last Christmas, Nathaniel – he’s only just turned seven – he comes to me, and he calls me Grandpa. “Grandpa?” “Yes, Nathaniel?” And he starts talking to me in Danish. I said, “Nathaniel, speak to me in English.” “Oh yeah; dum-dum.” [Chuckles] So he starts talking to me in English then. So it’s just great, you know; a boy of seven can speak four languages.
And so coming back, you got some land and you became a grape grower, and became involved in the grape industry?
That’s right, yeah.
At what stage did that happen?
Well, I [I’ve] always been interested in growing, and of course machinery is another thing that I had to do – to fix it and all that; and of course I’m a man of the land, more or less. So every penny I had was invested in land, like buying this place more or less, type thing; and also in Franklin Road and all that. So I invested in land. And then of course, one day Tom Macdonald came; I know him, I call him Uncle Tom. Uncle Tom’d say, “Jim, would you like to grow some grapes?” “Yes – what would you want me to do? I’m not a grower, I’m a market gardener.” “No, no, no – with your market gardening …” Well anyway, you know … … So he said, “No – you’ve got to … …” “All right, all right, all right … … yes. I got twelve acres – I can do it straight away.” “All right, all right – you do it.” And so he said. “Yeah – we’ll give you the cuttings, you just follow the so and so, and you take the cuttings and I’ll show you how to plant it and all that type of thing.” So that’s how we first started, more or less, type of thing. Then I got bigger and bigger and we ended up with sixty-five acres. No, when we started off, you know, and he said to me, “How long do you want it for?” “Oh, what do you think?” “Do you want a contract? Oh well, I’m supposed to give you a contract” – this is when we sold to McWilliams. “How long do you want it for.” “Oh …” “Okay, fifteen years.” “Okay.” You know, that sort of … shake hands; nothing like what it is now. I miss those good days. No, it’s a different world to what …
So what did you grow here?
At the present time I grow chardonnay for the Mission, and over in Franklin Road I grow sauvignon blanc. So it’s a different type of …
They made some good wine.
They did, yes. No, we all had to start from the beginning and learn from the beginning.
I’m just trying to remember the winemaker …
The winemaker – after Tom there was Bob Knappstein.
He was a gentleman, wasn’t he?
He was a gentleman, yeah. Yes, I’m afraid he died a few years ago. We were the beginners in those days. I used to harvest my grapes – I had my own harvester there – and drive the truck, my Ford seven tonner up to the ramp and all that, tip it in and all that
This was at Thames Street, was it?
Yes. We saw how it was built and everything like that, and the weighbridge and that. We work as a sort of family ; different world now.
And the grape growers were driving some of the harvesters.
Yeah, that’s right.
In fact my brother, Jim, he also grew for Tom.
Yeah. Well he contribut[ed]a lot of good things, your brother – yeah.
So at some stage you got the Fiat agency, didn’t you?
Yes, we had the Fiat agency; we had the Fiat cars, truck and tractor franchise. And then we had the Nissan. But yeah, that’s how we first started. But now we’re more concentrated on trucks now, you know, like Mercedes Benz and everything like that.
And aren’t they big?
They’re big all right; they’re very expensive. In those days I only had half a dozen people working; now we’ve got thirty-two.
Eighteen of them is [are] mechanics.
Diesel mechanics I suppose, ‘cause they’re all diesels, aren’t they?
Oh yeah, diesel mechanics; but then of course we have the petrol part of it. Then we have the car side, servicing cars – we haven’t got a franchise, but servicing cars. We had the chainsaw and mower, because we look after all the farmers and all that type of thing there. Then we have the truck side … we have five, what’s happened to the other … chainsaw, there’s the petrol, parts, truck – oh, Parts Department. So it’s getting bigger, and it’s get a bit too big actually, for my liking. But then of course, you’re caught in a wave that you have to go. The garage that I started, I think about twelve or seventeen people. Now I’ve got thirty-three. [Chuckle] But then it was quite a learning curve, actually, yeah. But as I said, you know, you learn and you work hard and all that type of thing there.
So you became the chairman of the Grape Growers’ Association? Or president?
Yep. Van Asch, he’s the guy that was the first president; I took over from him. He’s a much older man than I am, and he fell sick. He’s [he’d] only been president for about half a year. And those days we haven’t [hadn’t] written down what the law[s] are, and I got the job of doing nothing. [Chuckle] I stayed there for three years until I passed it on to Malcolm Wiffen.
I started the garage in 1975, slowly on my own, one-man band.
Oh, you were only on your own?
Yeah, stated on my own, yeah. I didn’t have any money to employ anybody, and I can’t even afford a cash register. And I managed to get a twelve pound … I used to sell cherries in the fruit shop, and it’s a very small sort of a wooden box. And I divide[d] it into different lots, because in those days you’ve got pennies, threepence; and of course £5 was my limit on the actual cash. And that’s how I started the first day there – one-man band. I used to sell petrol, grease cars, do the repair work at night time.
And did Lily help you at all?
No! She never came until long after that.
It’s interesting to see how this lovely little village has grown. [Chuckle] It’s changed.
Well you wouldn’t think that that land there … that four or five acres there … was push hoeing, and then growing cabbage, and now it’s under concrete. Yeah, six-inch-thick reinforced concrete and a big building on it and that type of … so how time changes. And of course being a worker, now I sort of have to tell people what to do and all that type of thing. So it’s a different type of life; I’m learning every day, more or less type of thing.
Some of the new motors must be a bit of a puzzle to you though?
Yes. Actually, we have three or four apprentices now and it’s a different world to what I had. We take apprentices; they have to have at least three to four years’ secondary school. This is advice to our future apprentices – they must be computer literate because everything is done by computer now, and they must be able to express their writing in work because of job sheets and all that type of thing. So it’s not just doing the actual practical work; they have to do the writing side as well. I never had the opportunity to attend three years’ high school – I only did about six months; I had to work, because I have to live somehow, because my father’s gone back to China. Yeah.
Yeah, Bay View has certainly grown. I used to shoot rabbits around here, but now – gee, you can’t do that now.
So how much land have you got round here?
This land here is only five acres. And then I have another twelve acres in Franklin Road, and then I used to own all the other one[s] next door, but they’ve all been sold, anyway. See my two sons, they want their own life and you know, I give them a chance; “no, you do what you want to do, don’t let me lead you.” So one day they probably might come back and take over from me.
Well with their education they’ll never look back because you know, they’ll just make money that you could only dream about.
Well they are doing quite well, I mean one of these days my youngest son will be a professor, you know? [Chuckle] And having a grandson that speaks four languages, even at seven.
So, now what haven’t you told me?
No, I think that that is … yes, I want to express that I’m a humble man, you know, because I come from a humble family; humble family, and I take everybody as equal. I learned that. I always say to the staff at Young Motors, even to our young apprentice, “If you want to see me the door is always open”, every part of it.
You know, talking about being humble, it’s one of the most precious things that we have.
That’s quite true. No, that’s what I always teach my children – “That is wrong”, you know. And they do realise what I’m talking about.
Okay, so now you’re here on home duties most of the time you said, looking after Lily?
I spend half my time probably, yeah. I sort of pass some of my responsibilities to the other managers, and all that. But Lily is all I’ve got in life, and my children. Yeah. I have a photo of my family in my office there, and … well, I always tell the people I meet – German people over from Mercedes Benz, or Italian people … I deal with Fiat, and I still deal with Fiat … and also Japanese and all that. They chase me down, [???] but that’s [a] long time ago; and I said, “That is my family there, and that’s my life.” Oh, there’s more to come if you want.
What is there?
Oh, it’s like how we’ve been … when we first come to this country, how we’ve been treated and all that type of thing.
Let’s talk about that.
Well, when I first come to this country here I was really frightened, you know. I’m only seven years old probably, yeah; and being frail and [a] bit different. And also the fact that I had to go to school, and I couldn’t speak a word of English. So my father cannot help me with my English; he’s worse than me, more or less. So when I first start Hastings Street School I don’t know what they’re talking about, so I used to hide in the corner more or less, and people – “Come on!” Come and play with them and all that, and I just smile[d] and ran away more or less, type of thing. But that’s how I first started more or less, type of thing, but gradually my teacher slowly taught me [to] say ‘yes’, ‘no’, and all that type of thing, and that’s how I first started.
And as I said, the boys – they give you cheek and everything like that, and just about fight every second week more or less, type of thing you know? But then of course I’d been there about a year or so, my English start[ed] to increase, get better and better, and then we have [a] better time. There’s no more fighting, no more cheek; so I’m part of them, more or less type of thing. And I was always try to learn something, all the time; you have to, to survive … survive the cheek and all that type of thing. But then when we got to Intermediate I can talk fluently with them all the time. They were good mates now, and one of my mates that I used to go to school with – he was working for me, more or less. [Chuckle] We used to sit together. So you know, that’s how I first started, more or less.
My first apprentice at Young Motors – he still works for me. He’s retired; I’m two years older than him. He’s seventy-eight, and he looks after this vineyard for me now. Lawrence [?Kailor?]. And his son is helping; I don’t have time to do physical work in the vineyard so I have to rely on them. So it’s great how your old staff will come back and look after you later on. So that’s one of the things that I learned late in life, yeah.
Now also you spent quite a lot of time in the Rotary Club?
You would’ve been President?
Not President, no. Actually I couldn’t be President because I had to look after Lillian; I couldn’t spare the time. But I do a lot of work for the Rotary Club – citrus drive and everything like that, and I used to be the real truckie because I’m the only one had a big truck and all that. See, we used to wreck houses and all that type of thing, and I used to take all the rubbish away. I’ve done my time with the Rotary Club, yeah.
So what other things haven’t you told me?
[Chuckle] Oh well my life has been … I’ve just about had a go at everything, more or less, type of thing.
But you’ve done it successfully, though.
Well yeah, financially yeah, successful, yeah. Because I had to think, because if you’re not a success … I have no help you see, and I haven’t got any family.
You started from nothing.
I started from nothing – £280. [Chuckle] So the life is yours – if you make it, good on you; if you don’t make it, that’s it. Yeah. So that’s how it is, you know – I don’t have a financial father that’s got plenty of money to help me or anything like that. I had nobody. And when I borrowed money I always repaid back, with respect. And no, I’ve been honest about it.
But when you think about the support you got from your own Chinese community …
Yeah. Well yeah, that was really something I learnt in life, yeah. They all come and say, “We’ll help you.” But they can also see the benefits of me because you know, I can speak the language; I can help them. I’m … what you call? Johnny on the spot; I can fix their vehicle on a Saturday night; and I work any time to get them going, yeah. So you know, when you have a crop that’s ready to harvest, you’ve got to harvest them straight away, otherwise if you leave it a week it’s all gone. So without machinery there, you know, that’s part of it now, you know? It’s hard work and service. I always tell the apprentice that, you know. There’s no shortcut, ‘cause you’ve got to study hard, struggle hard and you learn hard. Well that’s how I did … I said, “If you want any help, my door was always open.” You know? I say that to our service manager, and I said that to our first apprentice. No, that’s how it is; you have to be equal.
Your interest in your garage and the community has served you well with your health as well?
Yes – oh yes. Well, we look after [the] community; we sort of help farmers when they have their sports day. We donate to twenty-two organisations, our firm. One of them I went and – we have a few customers from Te Pohue. And they have a school there; there’s not that many people there, and of course I know all their parents. I walk in there one day and these kids were drinking water from a tank, you know, from roof water. I said, “That’s not good enough.” So I approached the teacher … the headmaster … and said, you know, “Could I help with that? Could I donate a drinking fountain to your school”, and all that type of thing; “and I’ll keep it going.” He said, “Oh yeah, we would love that.” And that’s eight years ago. And every month I pay the bill, and of course they’re getting good drinking water, the kids, you know. So that’s one part of it.
It’s such a simple thing, isn’t it?
It’s such simple … you know, their father[s] and mother[s] sort of patronise me, why don’t I give something back to them, you know? See the children, second generation. They are my friends more or less; that’s what it is now, so you’ve got to give back what you take sometime[s] in business.
So what else can you remember?
Well, I did my part with the Fiat people; I was the chairman of the actual Fiat group for New Zealand, and went to Italy. They had a world conference there and everybody looked at me, a Chinaman, leading the New Zealand delegation. [Chuckle] I said, “Well no, I’m a New Zealander. Yeah.” I think like them now. But they were rather intrigued by me. So it’s been interesting, but it’s all through hard work.
Okay, well we’ve probably got a good amount about your family.
Oh, I see; ‘cause my son sort of rang up, “Dad, I’ve got something … what’s that for?” “Something about me.” “Ooohh, what did you do that for?” “Oh well, some of the people know about me.” I said, “No; good friends know about me now.” I also said I’m a humble man.
But you can be humble; this is a family story. So, Jim, thank you very, very much for letting me interview you, and for the contribution you’ve made to the motor industry, to your community and your family because you must be very proud of all of it.
Well, as I say, that’s my part of my life. Everything you do in life for a man, you reap the harvest if you work hard enough. You know, Rotary has been good to me, and we know quite a lot of people in Rotary; we all respect one another, regardless of what position we play in, whether you’re a worker or managing director and all that type of thing. We work together, have a meal together. No, it’s friendship makes life.
All right, well thank you, Jim. It makes a very interesting story.
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Format of the originalAudio recording
Interviewer: Frank Cooper