Newspaper Article 1983 – We didn’t have much money, but we sure had a lot of fun

The Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune, Saturday, March 19, 1983   23

The Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune WEEKEND MAGAZINE

We didn’t have much money, but we sure had a lot of fun

As the city starts gearing itself for its centenary next year, Gilbert H. Lloyd (left) takes a rib-tickling stroll down memory lane, Hastings. He recalls when it was known as “the town of blazes,” a dog-versus-rat race, and the “little woman’s” lot. The photographs are from the Herald-Tribune’s files…

With Hastings celebrating its centenary of local government next year, let me take you back to the Hastings that was early in the century.

When we arrived in Hastings in 1910, I looked over the side of my pram and inspected the pot-holes in Heretaunga Street, where the horse vehicles and a few one and two-cylinder petrol or steam cars trudged through the gravel and horse dung, and I didn’t think it was much of a town and perhaps we should have stayed in Woodville.

So let’s stroll West up Heretaunga Street and look the place over…

Between Hastings and Warren Streets was the Salvation Army Citadel. The bandsmen and followers would parade outside the two hotels at Karamu Road corner on Saturday late shopping night.

Between hymns, a speaker would exhort the hotel customers to stay away from the “demon drink,” join their group and stay dry.

Meanwhile, small boys would be picking up pebbles from the road and be having pot-shots at the bandsman’s drum.

The “Sallies” had an uphill battle before they won the respect of the public for the wonderful service they render to all sections of the community.

F.L. Bone was next to Simmonds’ seedstore, as it is today, and about 8.30 one morning Les Wall and a fellow named McKay, Bone’s assistants, came out on the footpath with a live rat in a cage.

Charlie Bunker was passing with his fox terrier and it was decided to have a race between the rat and the dog across the street: If the rat could reach the drainpipe opposite before the dog caught it, it could go free.

Traffic on this through main street was stopped and everyone crowded round to see the contest. Dog and rat raced neck-and-neck, with foxy catching the rat about 2 metres from the drainpipe and throwing it in the air before he killed it. Whereupon everyone gave a cheer and the traffic was allowed to proceed.

Outside Simmond’s seed store, at the corners of the recessed windows, were little white enamel troughs with the words “Drink, puppy, drink.” The dogs reckoned this was a great idea.

They would fill up, then move on two doors to where Hannah had “Blutcher” boots hanging from poles right down to pavement level.

Here they would cock their legs and when the customers tried on the boots they would make rude remarks to Hannah’s manager.

It was some years before Simmonds abandoned this canine amenity.

In the next block was the draper’s shop of Matt Johnson, the grandfather of the Jones boys of Bon Marche.

Johnsons had a large Maori clientele and it was a common sight to see a couple of wahines sitting on the kerb cooling their feet in the artesian water in the gutter while the smoke from their pipes curled around their tattooed chins.

Across the street was the Grand Hotel, the tallest building in town – four storeys high. However, I believe the fourth storey was not complete inside, as no doubt it was a bit ahead of its time.

Nevertheless, it boasted an electric elevator when Hastings was without power. It charged its own batteries for this novelty.

When my brother and a young hotel guest started joyriding in the elevator, the manager soon blasted them for flattening his batteries.

And how did the “little woman” manage without electricity and without even water reticulation in early Hastings?

Lighting was frequently gas in the kitchen and lounge, with candles in the other rooms.

Washing day, Monday, was the big day. If father had forgotten to chop the wood before leaving to work all the week up country, mother would fill the copper and tubs with buckets of water from the well, light the copper fire and, while waiting for it to boil, chop up the home-made soap to add to the boiler.

Then she would prepare breakfast and cut lunches for the children as they had to be away by 8am to walk the two or three miles (3 to 4km) to school.

The boiled clothes would be hauled out with a stick and scrubbed on the corrugated washboard, then put through the Reckitts blue in the tub and the and [hand] wringer and out on to the clothes line.

Enough for one day, and ironing and starching was left for Tuesday, with flat irons heated on the coal range and the sheets going through the mangle.

A housewife’s life was so busy she had no time to think up a neurosis and no radio and TV commentators putting such ideas into her head.

Firefighting with no high-pressure had its problems.

Hastings was known as “the town of blazes,” with Knight’s timber yard – where Westermans are in Russell St today.

Sparks from the steam locomotives used to set the timber alight and build up trouble.

The fire bell was on a tower at the railway crossing and first fire-sighter would pull the rope.

The volunteers would drop their hammers and horseshoes and rush to the station to harness the horses and light a fire under the Shand and Mason steam boiler of the fire pump.

By the time water was starting to come out of the hose, 20 minutes would have gone by and the fire would be out of control.

Water was sucked from the large drains and small streams that ran through this swampy town with supplementary water from the borough council’s 600-gallon road washing tank.

In an intense fire, those brass helmets would hot up a fireman’s head like a furnace.

On one occasion the Bank of New Zealand block was on fire and the brigade just gaining control.

Water was being drawn from the big drain alongside the railway line, with the hoses draped across the rails.

The stationmaster demanded that his express train for Wellington leave on time. Unless the brigade disconnected their hoses, his engine would cut them in half, he said.

So the water was turned off and the hoses removed. By the time the train chugged through and the hoses reconnected, the fire had consumed most of the block.

About 1915, Roachs built a large two-story department store at King St corner where women could partake of elegant morning and afternoon teas upstairs. Nearby was the Princess Theatre, where silent films and two-reel comedies flickered across the screen.

The pianist played seintmental [sentimental] music for the love scenes and heavy base notes when the “goodies” were shooting the “baddies.”

We should not be too critical, as it was not until 1896 – a few year before – that New York saw its first moving pictures.

Hastings people were charged about 10c for adults and 3c for children.

From Roachs on, it was mostly houses and horse and cow paddocks to Stortford Lodge, but at Grays Road corner was Bunny McGuire’s baker shop where you could buy a baker’s dozen (13) big, shiny buns for 10c.

The old shop is still there.

At the Lodge was Lynch’s grocery, Lowe’s butchery and coolstores, and the drover’s pub – a busy place on Wednesday, sale day. The hotel was popular with shopkeepers and staff when Hastings shops then had Wednesday half-holiday.

Life travelled at a slower tempo in Hastings then and people had to plan their own entertainments. The drapers’ picnic and similar animal outings by other trade groups were exceptionally popular.

Haumoana was just a nice distance for a large picnic group to travel on a four-wheel dray hauled by two horses.

Then you could go for a paddle or a swim in the sea, wearing your neck-to-knee costume.

In the evening, you and your friends would gather around the piano in the drawing room to have a community sing – with a rush of young men to turn the music for the pretty pianist.

As on old local told me: “We didn’t have much money, but we sure had fun.”

Photo captions –

Hastings: First settlement as offshoot of Havelock North, 1864; rapid development after 1873; constituted a town 1884; incorporated as borough 1886; extensive fire damage 1893; town practically ruined by earthquake 1931; rebuilt with careful town planning. First called by Maori name, Heretaunga; renamed after Warren Hastings (first Governor-General of India and Bengal). – Modern Encyclopaedia of Australia and New Zealand.

Although it was not constituted a town until 1884, Hastings dated its rapid development from 1873 when it celebrated 50 years of progress in 1923 with Heretaunga St decked out with arches and bunting. “Tin Lizzies” had all but replaced horses.

The Heretaunga St of 1905 – and Gilbert Lloyd’s childhood. This Heretaunga St East looking toward the Sacred Heart Church and Te Mata Peak. Several of the firms pictured are still in business.

ABOVE: The Hastings Post Office decorated for the coronation of King Edward VII on August 9, 1902. This building was later used as a sorting depot. BELOW: The impressive post office built a few years later had the clock tower sawn away from the main building after an earthquake in 1914 so it would fall into the street and not wreck the buildings in a further quake. In the 1931 earthquake, the parapet fell off the side and killed a man.

The 4½-storey Grand Hotel in Heretaunga St before it was destroyed in the 1931 earthquake.

The first land agent in Hastings was Mr A. Tickner, who is pictured outside his modest premises.

Original digital file


Non-commercial use

Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ)

This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand (CC BY-NC 3.0 NZ).


Commercial Use

Copyright on this material is owned by Hawke's Bay Today and is not available for commercial use without their consent.

Can you help?

The Hawke's Bay Knowledge Bank relies on donations to make this material available. Please consider making a donation towards preserving our local history.

Visit our donations page for more information.


Format of the original

Newspaper article

Date published

19 March 1983

Creator / Author

  • Gilbert H Lloyd


The Hawke's Bay Herald-Tribune


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today


  • Charlie Bunker
  • Warren Hastings
  • Bunny McGuire
  • A Tickner
  • Les Wall

Accession number


Do you know something about this record?

Please note we cannot verify the accuracy of any information posted by the community.

Supporters and sponsors

We sincerely thank the following businesses and organisations for their support.