New Zealand Memories - Issue 143

Page 1


Saturday Excitement Greytown children file into their local cinema for a Saturday afternoon matinee of shorts and serials in August 1947. Obviously influenced by the films they had seen at the Greytown Cinema, two boys display their make-shift cowboy outfits. These are two examples of Les Cleveland’s superb photography; turn to page 51 for an account of this multifaceted New Zealander by Geoff Lealand.



Dear Readers, Building methods have changed considerably since the mid-twentieth century. When Gavin Meadow’s started his apprenticeship constructing State Houses, “nearly everything was done with hand tools”. Gavin’s story not only gives a candid glimpse into the building industry, but also of 1950s New Zealand life: the State Advances loans; six o’clock closing; working hours and conditions; pay rates. It’s a pleasure to print this first-hand builder’s account as our leading article. I was equally delighted to receive contributions from two former ‘Quiz Kid’ contestants. I recall quizmaster and radio personality Jack Maybury during my childhood years when tuned to ‘the wireless’ – and, in fact, my father actually sang at one of Jack’s roving talent shows and won a set of Eskay ties. For motoring enthusiasts, Peter Holmes article offers insight into his father’s career as a service driver; he retired after achieving a driving record of a remarkable 1.25 million miles. Ann Julien describes life in Mangakino after her family’s arrival from Ireland. “Of course travel was by ship in those days (1950) and there was a waiting list for berths, but we were offered a cancellation with only a week to pack up and get to England” writes the author. Short notice indeed! I was fascinated by Murray Guise’s memory of the fluoroscope, a shoe shop oddity that I had neither seen nor heard of (others may recall this contraption), although adhering rubber soles and heel / toe plates to extend the life of footwear was certainly common practice when I was growing up. I had quite forgotten. With the world on alert in view of recent developments, I urge readers to take extra care with hand washing and general precautions as advised by medical personnel until the virus passes.

Wendy Rhodes, Editor




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Editor Wendy Rhodes Graphic Design Icon Design Administration David Rhodes Distributed by


Building State Houses in the 1950s


Gavin Meadows began his carpentry apprenticeship in 1953.

The ‘Quiz Kids’


Radio fame for Pat McCarthy.

Bewildered By Minor Fame


My Love Affair with Radio


Willie’s Hut


School Uniforms


When New Zealand Welcomed Monty


Alexander Turbnbull Library, Wellington, NZ Aubin, Paul Auckland Libraries Heritage Collection Carter Transport Collection Cleveland, Mary Clover, Ken Couch, Cliff Dargaville Genealogy Society Dargaville Museum Dingwall, Paul Dragicevich, Kaye Exisle Publishing Guise, Murray Hewes, Jennifer Holmes, Peter Jaffe, Sam Jones, John Julien, Ann Kirker, Dudley Lealand, Geoff Lowe, G MacDonald, W McCarthy, Pat Tait, Gordon Meadows, Gavin Moor, Christopher Newsham, John Reynolds, Bob Stewart, Graham Strang, Ian Stuff Tairawhiti Museum Watson Family Wilson, John Worsnop, Don

By RMS Niagara to Canada


From the Regions: Bay of Plenty / Coromandel


Centrefold: Hats Are All the Vogue


Searching for Nate


Memories of Mangakino


Readers’ Responses


Such a Modest Man


The Driving Life


From the Regions: Northland




Index and Genealogy List


Editor’s Choice : A Royal Welcome Don Worsnop’s superb night photography.


Opinions: Expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of New Zealand Memories. Accuracy: While every effort has been made to present accurate information, the publishers take no responsibility for errors or omissions. Copyright: All material as presented in New Zealand Memories is copyright to the publishers or the individual contributors as credited.

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ISSN 1173-4159 April/ May 2020

Paul Aubin was one of Dunedin’s ‘Quiz Kids’. Fond memories of radio from Cliff Couch. Paul Dingwall recounts his great uncle’s story. Remember ‘the fluoroscope’ at the shoe shop? Murray Guise does. Christopher Moor documents the popular war hero’s visit. Gordon Tait is welcomed back with an interesting tale.

Friendly Society sport’s event at Collingwood. Sam Jaffe traces his grandfather’s story. Settlers from Belfast: Ann Julien remembers. The party line.

The cultural heritage of Les Cleveland by Geoff Lealand. James Holmes was a service car driver, as told by son Peter.

Cover image: Freda Sands at the seaside c.1900. Courtesy: W. MacDonald.



Building State Houses in the 1950s Gavin Meadows


hese days we are hearing plenty about the shortage of housing and the Government is moving to increase the availability of ‘State Houses’ under various schemes. Of course State Housing is not new; the first State House was completed in Miramar, Wellington back in 1937. Since then there has been many thousands built throughout New Zealand, particularly in the years after the Second World War. But, what was it like to build these houses? We see a few old historic photos and films of men hard at work mixing concrete, lifting house frames and tossing concrete tiles from the truck to the roof. But not a lot is said about the hundreds of tradesmen and labourers who worked hard to provide new homes for young families back then.

Gavin Meadows (aged 22), engaged to Helen, and building their first home in Paraparaumu in 1960. “I drove up to our section from Miramar each weekend to work on the house and it took about 15 months to complete. We had obtained a State Advances Loan of 3% and, as I had very little in the way of a deposit, my labour ‘cost’ was my contribution. In this photo above, Mum and Dad had dropped in to see how I was getting on. The old ‘Thermett’ for boiling water is by my right shoulder and the white spirit two-burner stove is on my left, lower down. Primitive but happy times! As a matter of interest, the 1952 Hillman Minx up on the road was mine and the Ford Zephyr was Mum and Dad’s. The hammer on my lap still extsts today and is working well, but I can’t say the same about my wrists and my ability to swing it!”Courtesy of: Watson family / Stuff


Courtesy of: Watson family / Stuff


A photograph taken above Chaffey Crescent looking over Titahi Bay in about the mid-1950s.

In 1953 I left Rongotai College in Wellington, not having any idea what I wanted to do and not really knowing what there was to do in that big world out there. However, my father decided that I must learn something that would be worthwhile and useful for my future working life. He suggested a building trade and the next thing I knew I was signed up with a builder for a five-year carpentry apprenticeship. The building company was H. J. Corskie Ltd who had an office and joinery factory in Miramar and was building State Houses in Porirua East and Titahi Bay, north of Wellington. Although I had previously worked at holiday jobs and an after school grocery delivery job, I had no idea what to expect when I started my apprenticeship. I was going to learn very quickly! Each morning the staff were picked up by the Foreman in the firm’s old War Surplus Chevrolet truck that set off from Island Bay en-route to Porirua. My nearest collection point was in Newtown, which meant an early morning bike ride from Miramar… in all weathers. We sat in a small covered shelter that was tied to the truck’s deck and accessed by a ladder hanging over the back. At Porirua more men were picked up who lived in the Porirua / Titahi Bay area and by this time the back of the truck was ‘chokka’ with workers hanging on from all angles. When all were aboard, we signalled the driver by stamping our boots on the steel tray of the truck. Talk about Health and Safety! Building companies tendered for government contracts to build a number of houses at a time. For convenience these would usually be in the same street, so that the builder could set up transportable workshops, an office for the Foreman and a ‘smoko’ shed for the lads. These facilities were dismantled at the end of a contract, possibly up to a year, and taken

by truck to the new contract, which would be further into the development area and stretched on into the Porirua East hills. This work was great for builders; instead of quoting and dealing with individual homes and customers, with changes and extras and sometimes the difficulty of disputes over costs, they had the security of a government contract of perhaps fifteen or more homes, with guaranteed scheduled payments. This allowed them to plan and employ their workforce with confidence. We started work on the dot of 8 o’clock, had a 10 minute smoko at 10.00 and 30 minute lunch at midday. There was no afternoon smoko, so we knocked off at 4.50 p.m. The reason why we all missed out on the afternoon break was to allow the Foreman and his Aussie mate, time to get back to the Tramway Hotel in Newtown for some beers before the pub closed. Remember it was six o’clock closing in those days. This was remedied later in my apprenticeship when one of the ‘chippies’ complained to the Union and we got our 10 minute afternoon break and worked until five o’clock. As a naive and ‘wet behind the ears’ 16-yearold, being thrown in with this lot was a very rude awakening. I learnt a totally new language for a start and found out what hard physical work was… and how cold it can be working on the south side of a house during a Wellington winter. Digging foundations in the Porirua clay was backbreaking work, as was mixing the concrete and getting it into the timber boxing. In those days bags of cement weighed one hundredweight (cwt) or 112 pounds; now they weigh 50 kilograms or 94 pounds, a big improvement. Most of the timber we used then was native Rimu and Matai, straight from a North Island mill and, as we used to say, “it still 5


has the birds singing in it!” (Meaning how wet and heavy it was.) Fortunately, through my apprenticeship the framing timber was changing to treated Radiata, which was easier to work with and lighter. No wonder so many carpenters and labourers suffered from ‘builder’s back’. Generally our company had about 20 to 25 men working at one time. These were mostly carpenters (chippies), a couple of labourers, two plumbers and two painters. Many employees were ex World War II servicemen, having served in Africa and Italy, and an airman who was a bomb aimer in England. As you would expect they were a pretty tough bunch, most of them having learned their trade at rehabilitation centres provided by the government, to assist these servicemen back in to civilian life. Knowing there would be a huge demand for housing following the war, the rehab scheme put a heavy emphasis on the provision of tradesmen for the building industry. Immigrants from Britain, Holland, Austria and three Italians (from the fishing community in Island Bay) introduced an international flavour. We also had some local Māori men - my first real involvement with Māori people. During my school days there were no Māori students, although I do recall some hard games of rugby when we played the Porirua boys. The newest apprentice always got the job of ‘tea-boy’ and I had to make sure that the huge hot water urn was filled and turned on first thing. The tea was made in a billy of course, and as the men came in for smoko they would ladle the tea into their own mugs. I remember when we were setting up for a new contract at what

was then called ‘the Prosser Block’ (later Elsdon); there was no water or electricity on the site. I would have to light a fire to boil the water. But where to get the water? We were high up on the hill close to the bush, so I took the billy and found a small stream to fill the billy for the boys’ tea. The carpenters were split up into four gangs - each with a Leading Hand and each gang built an individual house. Cunningly the Foreman would try to start two or three houses alongside each other at the same time. Of course this imposed some competition between two or more gangs; the men would work faster to keep ahead of the other gang. It was head down bottom up (polite version) all day. Nearly all of the men smoked and that gave them a chance to straighten their backs while they ‘rolled a fag’. I heard a story of one boss (not our company), where he rushed around with ‘tailor mades’ so his men wouldn’t spend time rolling their own. The house frames were built on the floor joists and when ready we would lift them up into position. They would need nailing at the top scarfe joint, so the cry went out “single men aloft”, which invariably meant that the apprentice got hoisted up onto the top plate to fasten the frames together. We actually got quite used to walking along the top plate (100 millimetre) carrying timber for the roof and so forth. Now and again there were trips and falls, but I don’t remember anything too serious happening. Generally when a house was ‘closed in’ it would be left to provide work on wet weather days. The floor was laid with tongue and groove timber floorboards,

Elsdon, Porirua in the early 1950s was roaring ahead. Kotuku Street is in the foreground.


Courtesy of: Watson family / Stuff


Courtesy of: Watson family / Stuff

Porirua photographed around the 1950s.

usually Matai or Rimu. Sections of boards were cramped up tight with floor cramps and nailed and punched to the floor joists. With some experience you could hold a handful of nails and nail down the floor at a very fast clip, with the hammer hardly stopping between nails. By this time the electrician and plumber had completed their wiring and piping and the gib board was quickly fixed to the walls and the doors hung. Interior finishings, scotia and skirtings, window and door furniture fitted, shelves in the cupboards and it was ready for the painters to finish off. Today’s builders may be surprised to know that back then carpenters built the whole house from the foundation to interior finishing. Nearly everything was done with hand tools; we only had one bench saw and one electric skill saw (very modern in those days). A good carpenter possessed many skills, including hanging doors and cutting out a complete hip roof, most of which is done in the factory now. The majority of houses had concrete tile roofs, which were laid by a roofing contractor. They would drive their laden truck up to the high side of the house, form a human chain from the truck to the top of the roof and proceed to throw a bunch of tiles man to man. The tiles flew through the air in one continuous rhythmic flow, only stopping when they had to move to another part of the roof. They even threw them over the ridge to a catcher on the other side of the house. We worked an 8.5 hour day and 4 hours on Saturday mornings, the 6.5 hours overtime was paid at 1.5 times the hourly rate. A qualified carpenter would collect weekly pay packet of around twenty to twenty five pounds ($40 to $50) a week. My weekly pay when I started my apprenticeship was three pounds, seven shillings and sixpence ($6.75) and I couldn’t believe that one day, as a fully fledged carpenter, I could be earning that huge sum of twenty pounds a week. As the years rolled by, my young body developed to be able to cope with the needs of the job, and the skills I was learning gave me greater responsibilities. Later I was able to lead a team building a house from scratch to completion. As other apprentices came along each year, I lost the ‘boy’ tag and was on the road to becoming a man and earning the respect of older work mates. On the completion of my apprenticeship, I decided to move to another building company for more experience and I will always remember Harold the Foreman saying to me, “Well Gavin, you will probably never have to work so hard ever again”. The Foreman was probably right in the physical sense, but with career changes over the years came far greater responsibility. This sometimes made me wish for the “good old days”. n





The Union Steamship Company’s RMS Niagara sails past Rangitoto Island in the Auckland Harbour. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections Ref: 35-R1152

By Niagara to Canada Gordon Tait


n 1874 the Gordon family were forced off land in north Scotland and took a ship to New Zealand, landing in Canterbury. One of the family was Christina, aged 13, but is listed as 15 and a domestic servant. At 24 Christina married a shepherd working in Geraldine and they had two daughters, Ann and Matilda (Tilly). Christina’s husband died after a few short years while “raking for sheep in the snow” and Christina died shortly after leaving the girls to be bought up by the grandparents. In 1913 Ann and Tilly were sent to Canada to visit their Uncle William Gordon in Edmonton. The purpose of letting two single ladies in their mid-twenties travel to Canada has always been something of a mystery – especially given the difficulties in communication and the distance from a farm in South Canterbury to far away Vancouver. In 1913 the winds of war in Europe were gathering; I suspect this did not feature in the family thinking. In any event, go they did on the steam ship RMS Niagara. The Niagara was a ship with a reputation.1 It was part of the Canadian-Australasian Company and a mail liner designed as a fast ship that travelled from Sydney, Auckland, Fiji, Honolulu and Vancouver and, on the first trip that left Auckland in May 1913, carried nearly 600 passengers in all classes. The papers of the day provide interesting insights into Niagara – it was the biggest (commercial) ship to ply its trade with New Zealand at 13500 tons and opened a trade route from Australia, New Zealand, to Vancouver. The passenger list on this first trip was 220 first class passengers, 170 second 1 Niagara was the ship that was blamed for bringing the ’flu pandemic to New Zealand, and was eventually sunk in 1940 by a German mine while carrying a large quantity of gold.)

Aboard the RMS Niagara in 1913. The women’s fashion is distinctly Edwardian, and the camera was probably a box brownie. The men are not identified.



Hats Are All the Vogue A scene at a Friendly Societies sporting event in Collingwood in 1897. In the middle ground a group of men are having a tug of war. In the foreground members of the Takaka Citizens Band stand with their brass instruments. No head is uncovered amongst the crowd of onlookers; even the musicians have matching hats. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, NZ. Ref: 10x8-0974-G Tyree Photo - 8045.



The Driving Life Newmans Long Service Driver: James (Jimmy) Holmes Peter Holmes

Early Days on the West Coast James Holmes (Dad) joined Newmans as a service driver on 10 October 1929 at their Westport depot. He had left Granity school in 1920 at age fourteen and began work as a ‘clipper’ in the Millerton mine in October of that year. Driving trucks offered better opportunities and wages by 1926, so he began driving for the Smallhome’s family trucking business. Smallhome’s had purchased their first Republic truck in 1922 and often made the trip up to the Millerton mine to deliver chaff for the horses.1 The Smallhome family lived next door to Dad’s grandparents in Granity where he had resided since moving from Tadmor to Granity school in1918. Although Dad was registered as a ‘motor driver’ on his Driving Licence No. # 466, issued by the Westport Borough Council in May 1934, it is his earliest extant licence. But since the first driver’s licences were issued in 1925, he could have been driving the commercial Smallhome truck on a yearly licence issued by the local authority. With this driving experience and knowledge of the area, Dad would quickly prove to be an asset for 1 viewed 23 February 2019

Holmes Collection

Early driving days for Mr J.C. Holmes in Granity leaning on what is probably a Smallhomes Motors Carrying Co. 25cwt Republic truck, September 1926, with Mr Fox (‘old Foxie’). James Cleveland Holmes ,with a Newmans 1925 Cadillac V8 Tourer 7- seater, meeting the train outside Greymouth Railway Station, in 1929.



Holmes Collection

Newmans in those early days. Drivers were often required to do more than just drive the vehicle, whether a truck or service car; towing, punctures and breakdowns were always problems. But because bridges were also non-existent, the Fox River, 45km south of Westport, was seen as the most serious obstacle to services offered from either Newmans or Gibbs between Westport and Greymouth. There were five rivers in all but the Fox River had the reputation for sweeping horsemen and drays out to sea. Even driving part way to Charleston (26.5 kilometres) was problematic; if the road was open it was still subject to tidal levels as well as floods. A change in the local economy came suddenly on the 17 June 1929 when the Buller Gorge was dramatically closed by slips from the Murchison Earthquake and remained blocked for almost a year. Travel from Westport to Greymouth became an imperative despite difficulties. Initial attempts by the Kennedy Brothers involved the transfer of passengers across the rivers if suitable arrangements could be made. Gibbs Motors (Nelson) finally carried out a survey of the route to determine what modifications to a heavy service car would be needed to establish a regular service. After the necessary modifications, the first trip by Gibbs (Nelson) Ltd. got underway on the morning of the 19 October 1929. High tide at the Fox River crossing caused some delay and, other than some minor flooding over the floorboards, the trip was announced a success. Newmans were alerted and quickly responded by sending the local manager, Bob James, with Dad as driver to Greymouth to test the road. However without adequate preparation they were stuck in the Fox River, but were soon towed to safety by a team of horses and returned to Westport. Six weeks later Dad drove the first Newmans service car to Westport.2 These trips provided enough incentive for bridges to be built the following year, but construction was already well underway on the on the Fox River by November 1930. As new routes were established, Newmans attracted growing interest from tourists with a desire to follow the well-established routes advertised by Cooks Ltd. since 1902 and later by New Zealand Rail. Road travel was not far behind with all weather roads finished between Wellington and Auckland in the early 1930s. Newmans, with Dad and three other service cars, soon took advantage of these improvements. In 1932, with a full compliment of tourists, a convoy of four Cadillac service cars set off for the Far North. Some of this trip is recorded by Dad’s camera, including captioned images of polar bears and views of Auckland Zoo, Wairewa jetty and the convoy ready to depart from the Commercial Hotel in Whangarei. Dad continued as a Newmans Westport Greymouth Cadillac service car driver carrying up to seven passengers. The Royal Mail and freight would also arrive daily with the Newmans service car, along with some welcome gossip and local West Coast news; it was very welcome in those relatively isolated communities. Amongst the freight would have been consignments destined for J. W. Fair Ltd. and General Drapery Importers in Westport (where Miss V. V. Todd was employed as clerk and saleswoman in the showroom from 1924 to January 1930). Dad may have met Miss Todd, (later my mother) before she moved to Greymouth in April 1930 where she was manageress for Thorpy’s Ltd., Economy Warehouse, owned by Patrick and Mona Thorpy (Miss Todd’s older sister). With Dad on the Westport - Greymouth route, no doubt the two were able to continue their friendship on an almost daily basis. This led ultimately to their 26 July 1933 marriage at the Todd residence on The Esplanade, Westport. My mother kept her job as staff supervisor at what became the Mayfair Department Stores Ltd., until August 1935. Mum and Dad lived in Westport for just two years, until Dad’s driving career carried them north with the launch of Newmans (North Island) Ltd. in Palmerston North. His work continued as an integral feature of their married life along with the arrival of a family of four, between 1936 and 1943. By 1945 my parents were able to purchase their family home in Argyle Avenue where we all enjoyed growing up. 2 Miller, J., H. and Spencer, G. High Noon for Coaches 1879-1979. A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington. 1979


E D I TO R ’ S


A Right Royal Welcome Photographer Don Worsnop is responsible for this superb night photography taken during the 1953 - 1954 visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to New Zealand shores. The young couple arrived in Auckland Harbour on Wednesday 23 December 1953 aboard SS Gothic for a New Zealand Christmas. Auckland City was lit up accordingly for the regal occasion; the Queen’s first official reception was at the Auckland Town Hall. Of note are tram lines running under the archway along Auckland City’s Queen Street.


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