When I was drawing up plans for the house in Masterton the chap said to me, “You might want to sell this house one day, don’t build a Spanish bungalow that’re not easy to sell.” I missed the first sale from a joker who wanted to move straight in and the best I could do after that was for a thousand pounds less. I found a farm in Kahutara and put down a deposit. It was the only little farm that I could afford to go into without having to raise a loan. I bought my farm from a returned First World War soldier. Everyone around us was a returned soldier from one war or another. The chap behind me, next door, down the corner, over the road – all returned soldiers from the First World War. The Bidwells cut up and divided parts of their estate and offered them up to help the prisoners of war resettle.
Dairy farming was what I could do – I had milked cows for other people before the war. I was very lucky my wife, who had milked cows all her life, was from a farm and quite happy to go farming and milk cows. When I arrived on this farm in July 1952, there were thirty-eight cows, which were all dry, but on the same land I was soon to have a hundred. I built the feed barns down the paddock and when it was raining and it came to the three-week rotation when the paddocks became mud, they fed from the stalls I made. I had everything. I laid on power and I concreted troughs for the hay. The pump that I used for sluicing down is still there today.
We moved into an old house on the farm, which was really dirty, and set to work and cleaned it up. The whole lot of us slept in the kitchen on the first night. It was riddled with mice and in a terrible state, it was such an old house. We moved in and I rebuilt the house about fifteen years later and I’m still living in it now. In the meantime, I bought the farm next door. I was bit like Dad then and short of money. I had the right wife though, Dorrie was good at saving and watched the budget all the time, otherwise I couldn’t have managed it. One of the first things I did was make myself a Herringbone cowshed.
Dorrie and I had five children.
- Elaine Margaret Born 7 July 1947
- Robert Henry Born 25 July 1950
- David Henry Born 31 March 1953
- Paul James Born 31 March 1953
- Stephen John Born 7 August 1956
So that the ducks couldn’t see in, we entered the maimai quietly by floating in underneath on our boats. At the back of the maimai I managed to get some timber and iron to make a roof so when it was howling a gale and raining like billio we could simply step forward and take our shot from under cover. The ducks flew overhead, looked down and simply continue. We covered the front of the maimai in mingi, a type of manuka that grew in the swamps, and wired it to the posts covering it all the way up so that the birds wouldn’t shy off it.
There were willow swamp trees around us but when their leaves dropped in winter it didn’t give us any protection. However, by covering the maimai in mingi, combined with having the boats come in underneath, we managed to fool the birds. By the time, I finished the maimai, it was three floors high and in amongst the willow swamp tree canopy. When the birds came along and we were right up the top we could see them flying by, sometimes nearly at eye level. Occasionally we’d have ten people shooting and we’d have twenty ducks come in at a time. It didn’t take long to get a lot of ducks. The ducks spiralled around and ended up landing in the pond. Guns were positioned all around the pond pointing in different directions and they’d make a roar. We routinely shot three hundred ducks over three or four days. It was one of the best maimais around and very popular.
On Tauherenikau’s annual New Year’s Race Day in 1955, Dorrie was at the races and I was preparing lunch for the kids, when I glanced out the window to see a helicopter land on our back paddock about a hundred yards from the back door of the house. The helicopter was one of two from the American icebreaker, Atka, that had called into Wellington for supplies before heading down to Antarctica. The helicopters were supposed to be part of a display at the races but high winds forced them away from the racecourse; one returned safely to the ship and the other landed at our back door. I didn’t know what to think when it turned up
Hooking the Farmall tractor up to the helicopter to anchor it as it was very windy, New Year’s Day 1955
Forty-nine years later I was pleasantly surprised by a visit from Doug Law, the Lieutenant Commander’s son who presented me with his father’s pennant from the Atka and a photo of the ship.
My Model A truck
The advance retard on the ignition on the truck was manual and I soon figured out if I retarded the spark and switched the ignition off, then waited an appropriate one to five seconds while the engine spun over under the vehicle inertia, when I switched the engine back on again I would get a very predictable backfire from the truck exhaust. The longer the engine was off the louder the noise, which varied in loudness from a muffled shotgun noise to the loud bang of half a stick of dynamite. At night, the flash from the backfire lit up both sides of the road.
If I saw two trucks parked on opposite sides of the road with farmers having a chat, I would backfire the truck when passing between them. If I could coast up between them and they didn’t hear me coming it was even better. Some farmers later claimed the impact from the backfire blew their hats off. I became quite well-known for this among the locals and sometimes I’d see people hurry around to the other side of their vehicles when they saw me coming.
This all came back to roost though one night when the Larkin boys, who had been perfecting this art, spent some time in ‘the local’ before deciding in the wee small hours, to do a few circuits in the truck backfiring around town. This spree must have lasted an hour or two. The next day, my dad rang me and told me in no uncertain terms, that it was a bit on the nose at that time of the night. I proclaimed my innocence and said I was home in bed at the time. I’m not sure Dad ever believed me. So not only was my truck useful, it also provided me with many a laugh.
I then made myself a small drilling rig. I used three lengths of twenty-one-foot-long (approximately six and a half metres) pipe to make the tower so I had more height for the monkey to fall from. This also provided greater force to drive the pipes down into the ground. I used this for some years.
I put down a few good bores for irrigation as we had artesian water running under my farm. It didn’t take long for the neighbours to hear about what I was doing and the local farmers started asking me to put bores down for them.
When Robert came home I was able to purchase Norm Woodley’s rig, which was much bigger and allowed me to drill bigger bores, up to five inches (nearly six centimetres) in diameter. I put down many bores in the South Wairarapa and to this day I can recall the many different depths of these. In later years, I cleaned bores with a big air compressor and a large mobile welder that I towed behind the rig and the J1 Bedford I travelled with. Dorrie worried the traffic officers would catch up with me but I was lucky and avoided such encounters. I enjoyed this work and didn’t give it up until well into my eighties.
Elaine left home and went to work in the Post Office, first as a telephone operator before training as a teleprinter operator. She had to be able to read Morse Code on tapes and translate it into the written word for telegrams. I was able to help her with learning to read Morse Code. Elaine married Bill Gooding at the age of eighteen and they lived at Western Lake Road, Featherston, where they milked cows and ran sheep and beef on the hill country for over fifty years before retiring to Levin.
Elaine had a terrible accident while she and Bill were hay making, as a result of tiredness I think. She was driving around in a nice, little Fergie tractor on the hay field and put one wheel on a bale and it tipped her over. Bill was down one end of the paddock on the press and when he looked up the tractor went by with no driver on it. He took off on his tractor the full length of the paddock to get to where she was before the tractor did a full circuit of the paddock and went over her. She suffered a broken leg and was lucky to survive. They had three children; Brad, Allie and Katrina.
Robert worked at the local dairy factory during school holidays. After leaving school, he worked on the pylons on the Rimutakas that I helped erect; his work helped add an extra four lines to each pylon. He then came back and sharemilked for Dorrie and me on the farm after having recently married Robyn Abbott. They had two boys, Trevor and Craig.
It was around this time that Dorrie’s mother passed away and she invested her inheritance money in a block of fifty acres on Murphy’s Line, which made a huge difference as it allowed us to winter the cows off the farm. Unfortunately, it was stony ground and full of gorse so that when I stood up on the back of the truck I couldn’t see over it. But after working the block for a few years it had transformed into good pasture with very little gorse. We took forty bales a day up to the block on the J1 Bedford truck to feed out, which eventually built up the stony ground.
Robert worked for me for about five years but was a good photographer and decided to move to Masterton where he bought Alan Cook’s wedding and family photography business. Robert and Robyn separated during this time and Robert moved to Wellington to work with his younger brother, Stephen selling oil. Eventually they took their business to Sydney. While in Wellington Robert met Tina and they married; they had two children, Dorothy and James. Robert went out on his own in Sydney (with the family all helping him) analysing oil samples to determine the cause of wear in machinery. Robert, Tina, Dorothy and Jim still live in Sydney.
After Robert left, I asked David if he’d like to take over sharemilking the cows. David had left school and completed a builder and joinery apprenticeship at Greytown. He built a fine house in Wallace Street, Featherston, and married Janice Chappell whose family worked for the Bidwells; Janice grew up just behind the sand hills at the back of our farm. David and Janice had three children; Julie-Anne, Gaven and Lance. They sharemilked for us for a few years and Dorrie and Janice spent many hours together arranging flowers, which they both loved to do. Unfortunately, David and Janice separated; David remained sharemilking on the farm with the boys and Julie-Anne stayed with Janice. Later, David met Di and after they married they decided to move to Eketahuna and go sharemilking. Later they brought a block of land near Norsewood where they still live. David has returned to his carpentry work and also installs television aerials.
After David left I leased the farm, Bill and Elaine took over the lease for Tulloch’s block and my nephew, Alan Simmonds leased the Home block. This was in place for a while and today, both blocks are still leased by different lessees.
Paul left school and worked at an engineering business owned by George Lee. He married Shirley Gibbons and they had three children; Rachel, Mark and Nathan. They lived in a house at the run-off Dorrie had bought with her mother’s inheritance money. Paul started to work in the factory for Bruggers in Wainuiomata, they bought a house and moved there. Paul and Shirley eventually separated and Paul later moved to Geraldton, Australia. He has done lots of different work over the years from his base in Geraldton where he still lives with his friend Liz.
Stephen left school and completed a motor mechanics apprenticeship at Waggs in Masterton before he worked for a garage in Greytown for a while. He started selling oil for Omega Oil and went on to form his own business selling his own formula of oil from Wellington. Later, he shifted the business to Sydney, which he still runs today. Stephen married Ronnie and the have one child, Olivia.
Dorrie and I travelled again with Bill, Elaine and children; and Bill’s mother, Nina Gooding and family friend Clarie O’Neal this time to Brisbane. We hired campers, Holden Utes with canopies on the back and we travelled up through the Bundaberg Mountains and stopped at all the touristy places. I think it was at the Big Pineapple that we bought massive ice-cream sundaes. We later invested in our own camper and travelled to many parts of New Zealand with Bill and Elaine.
Dorrie and I became involved in rumbling gemstones and I made a spinning drum that we put stones in. We’d wait for the rumbler to do its work and then hand polish the stones before making them into pendants, brooches, rings or bracelets. I had a diamond saw which cut thin slices of gems to polish and shape. We collected stones from places we visited.
We also enjoyed pottery. Dorrie was very adept at the pottery wheel and made some great pieces. We played with different glazes and I fired them in a kiln. We collected clay from different areas we visited, and made some pieces from clay collected from the local cutting just before Martinborough.
I’ve always enjoyed my garden and experimented with grafting different varieties onto my fruit trees. When Dorrie’s brother, John, was working in the orchards he often brought me cuttings of new varieties to try. When I finally finished well drilling I was able to have my own vegetable garden and shared what I grew with visitors. The family received many vegetables and fruit over the years.
Dorrie and me
Dorrie and I nearly celebrated seventy years of marriage before she passed away. Like everyone, there were always the ups and downs but we had many wonderful times we shared and many wonderful things we did together. We made our vows and they were final; there is always a way through, it’s all about commitment. Out sixtieth wedding anniversary was celebrated with family and friends at a function in Greytown.
Unfortunately, Dorrie developed motor neurone disease in the last two years of her life which affected her from the shoulders up. At first, we thought it was a mini-stroke but as the time went on the new diagnosis was made. Dorrie embraced each change that happened with such bravery and just got on with her life. Even when a feeding tube was required she still made the most of every opportunity and loved going for drives with Elaine, the last being one that ended up in Martinborough admiring the new housing area a couple of weeks before she died.
I am still living on the farm and now have a pacemaker. My fruit trees give me much pleasure and last year (2016) a bumper crop off every type of fruit tree in my orchard. The family delighted in the abundance and much was frozen for the winter. This year hasn’t been so good. I go out occasionally but have no real desire to go into town; I have caregivers who take care of me extremely well. I have all I need here.