Interviewer: …..Mr Hector McDonald, the eldest son of Roderick McDonald, who for many years lived on a property of 100 acres now situated on what is Cambridge St extension and MacArthur St corner, and was then known as (?'ma or ?nga ?pokipoki'). Mr McDonald will tell us of his father and his grandfather and the early history of the members of his family in Horowhenua.
Hector: Yes, Dave. My great grandfather came from the isle of Bute, I mean my paternal grandfather, and he came from the Isle of Bute to Tasmania in 1816, one year after the battle of Waterloo. My grandfather at that time, born in Bute, was six years old. He had one brother and seven sisters - his brother was killed off a horse bolting and running into a tree, his brother Hughie. And he came and landed in Wellington in the year 1830, and proceeded later in the year to Kapiti Island. He was on Kapiti Island permanently until 1832 when he was invited ashore by Te Rauparaha.
Some few years after that he married a Maori lady (?'Te Kopi), and they had one child, but the mother died when the child was born. Later he married my grandmother Agnes Carmont; and she brought up my uncle Hughie, rearing as one of the family. He married a Maori woman from Poroutawhao, a pure Maori, and had another son Hughie; and my uncle Hughie died when his son was born, and my cousin Hughie was brought up with our family. So I had the privilege of having a first cousin who was a three-quarter cast Maori, and me a pure Pakeha.
However my grandfather had - his pakeha family was my Uncle Hector, my Uncle Johnny - my Uncle Hector was six years older than my father; my Uncle Johnny was 18 months older, he was the first one born in the Horowhenua district.
Interviewer: Forgive me Hector, but what was your father's name.
Interviewer: And his father?
Hector: His father was Hector; and my greatgrandfather was Roderick - there has always been a Roderick in our family. My uncle Hector was the first child - the first pakeha child - but he was born in Otaki. Then my grandfather shifted to Hokio, my Uncle Johnny was born in 1858; my father was born on 22 December 1860, at the mouth of what is now the Hokio creek.
Interviewer: Would tell us some more about your grandfather's home at Hokio?
Hector: Yes. My grandfather came there and he leased a lot of Maori land, roughly from the Waitarere Road to the Ohau River, or to Waiwiri Creek. There was no real sure ownership of the land, so my father - my grandfather - paid the money for that land, paid the rent to Te Wiiti (Ed: ?or (Matene) Te Whi Whi?) of Ohau who was at that time the paramount chief at Ngatitukorehe and the people who lived in that vicinity.
Interviewer: Your father had his home at the beach, was it not, at Hokio?
Hector: They had the place behind where the McDonald homestead is now, a little left - about 200 yards to the left of the present bridge across the Hokio.
Interviewer: And was that not an accommodation house ?
Hector: That was an accommodation house - he had a accommodation licence - it was the first licenced hotel in this district.
Interviewer: And who did the accommodation house serve?
Hector: At that time the coaches, of course that was the highway, the coaches were coming through from Wellington to Wanganui up the beach. In fact our local member was very much against putting in roads at all - Mr R.C.Bruce - he said "why put in roads when there's the finest natural highway in the world along the beach".
Interviewer: So your father's accommodation house was really a halfway house between....
Hector: My grandfather's house was a halfway house, yes. Everybody stayed there irrespective of their religious beliefs or whoever they were. My grandmother was a Catholic, my grandfather a Presbyterian; it didn't matter who came, I mean, Bishop Selwyn came, Bishop Hadfield, everybody stayed at our place - apart from all the numerous people who wandered up and down.
Interviewer: Now we'll move on from that Hector, and would you tell us some more about the development of Levin compared with Otaki?
Hector: If you will pardon me Dave, I would like to say to the members of my family. My Uncle Hector - he was one of the few who had a little education. He'd started at Otaki and had a little education at the village, he became a first-class native interpreter - interpreter first-class. Uncle Johnny was the second, then my father was the next, then Uncle Neil was the next, then I had another uncle, Uncle Alan - Uncle Alan and Uncle Neil was the last. There were Aunty Flora, my Aunty Annie, Aunty Aggie, and Aunty Maggie. Now they were all lovely Maori linguists - well there wasn't any need for any other language, you see - but apart from my grandfather having one Maori child, none of our people, although we lived alongside the Maoris, had any Maori children except my Uncle Hector who married one of the Broughtons and had three children. When they separated he married a Miss Rigg from Wellington, and their children and grandchildren are still in our district. I suppose in a sense we were sort of white polynesians, because my people were very strict about obeying the Maori laws.
One more thing I would like to mention Dave is, that my grandfather's name was Hector - (?"Hetita") to the Maoris, as near as they could get to "Hector", then to make it easier to say they called him "Tita". Then my Uncle Hector, he became "Tita" again. Then my Uncle Johnny, they called him (?"Tuitita"), (Ed: or should be Tuiti?) that was his Maori name, or "John Tita" - they never worried about the "McDonald". My father Roderick, they called him (?"Roeri, - Roeritita"). The others died when they were quite young so don't come into the story at all. But then it came to me again, and I'm known all over New Zealand as "Tita" again. Thank you.
Interviewer: Now then passing on from the early history of your forbears, we would like you, if you would Hector, to tell us something of the early development of Levin, and particularly the reason for the early establishment of Otaki prior to Levin.
Hector: Well, it's hard, you know - the geographical proportions of the country - Otaki has a river, Manawatu has a river, and naturally the boats, the traders at Kapiti - they were only small boats - they could come in there, they could go up and load flax and trade with the people. But Muaupoko who occupied an area roughly from the Waitarere road to Muhunoa, to the Waiwiri stream from Buller Road, they had no river and the tribes on both sides were hostile, and they never received the title to their land 'til about 1886, so Levin - well they got left out of it, and as I say, my grandfather, and the Ashdowns, and the Jenkins, and all these people who were living in Otaki, in Foxton - there was always, always any amount of people - there was nothing in between, only my grandfather's accommodation house.
Interviewer: So that was the main reason why Otaki developed. And then of course there was the physical obstacle of the swamp land and Horowhenua Lake between the beach and the ……
Hector: Exactly, Dave. You see, there was no way the swamps at the southern end of Horowhenua, they precluded any chance… you couldn't bring any kind of vehicle over, and in fact there was nothing on this side, only bush.
There is one thing I want to say - the name of this district of course is Horowhenua, which means a landslide. Well, the Maoris lived on the open side, out on the sand country, and if you had gone up on Moutere or up onto the hills there, the bush extended from the southern end, roughly from Proctor's place, what is now Te Hou, round to near Puapua on the Kawiu, way round the other end, was just a block of bush. And when the Maoris - if you sit up on Moutere, or one of the big hills on the seaward side of the Horowhenua lake, they could see the bush from the hills right down and stopped at the lake. "Ah", they said, "that's been a landslide, and the lake has stopped it", you see.
Interviewer: That's very interesting Hector. Now would you tell us about the development of Levin - particularly the putting through of the railway line.
Hector: Yes, well when the railway line was mooted and of course the Manawatu Company formed, there naturally wouldn't be that great a volume of traffic and all that kind of thing, so the government said that they would subsidise the enterprise by giving so much land on each side of the railway line to the Manawatu company as a recompense for the great outlay that they were making; and they promised them so much land, but at that time - the railway had been put through in 1886 - and at that time the land hadn't been individualised; it was only that year when Muaupoko had really made and established their claim to the land.
So they couldn't do anything about it until they surveyed the land. They surveyed it, but then they said to the Maoris "now we've surveyed your land, we'll take it, we want a koha" and charged them £600. Well he didn't care anything about the bush, he didn't want that, he could always just go and (?...?) fences, but now (?....?) you go the other side of the lake.
So they bought the thing very cheap off them - they said "well, you have to pay for the survey" and it wasn't until 1888 that the land was sold. Then the land was given to the railway who then sold it to the settlers that came here.
Incidentally, in the town they followed the New Zealand Land Company's idea of leaving a tenth of the sections of Levin to the Maoris. Granny Retter who was here, and an authority on Maori and a half-caste, said "oh that wouldn't be any good, the Maoris wouldn't like it - they wouldn't want one acre here and an acre over the away", so they said oh that would be all right, I suppose they consulted my people too, & it might be (?more normal?) - Maoris wouldn't go and live one house here & there among the pakehas. So basically the Levin Borough Council became possessed of the national (?natural) reserves you have now, (.??directly, ?recreational) acres behind the various places.
Interviewer: I understand Hector that your father, as he grew older, left the parental home of the accommodation house at Hokio, and moved into what is now the borough of Levin. Could you tell us something about that.
Hector: Yes Dave. My father came in - he had married a Cameron from Rangitikei - in fact I should mention that too - three McDonalds married three Camerons. My father married Annie Cameron, my uncle Johnnie married Flora Cameron, and Sam Cameron married my auntie Annie McDonald; and incidentally, two of my mother's first cousins married two of my father's sisters, so - there was really nobody else much to marry, you see - those two families established what is now our chain of relations throughout the country.
Interviewer: And where was your father's store?
Hector: My father's store was just about a chain from the corner of Queen St & Oxford St, on the north side of the road. And he had a small house along side of it, and that business & house was sold later on to Mr B.R.Gardner who later became the mayor of our town, and a very fine gentleman, and he was in business for some years, I think he eventually sold out to Mr Milnes.
Interviewer: Pardon me, Hector - where did you come into this world of strife?
Hector: Oh yes, well, it's hard just to - but however we used to run through the bush looking for woodhens, eggs, over to where it's now the courthouse, & round about where the hotel is, the Oxford, it was all dense bush; and we were there, but before I went to school my people, my father sold his business, and we went to Koputaroa - not to Koputaroa, to Ihakara. And on April's Fool Day in 1903 or 04 - I'm not sure which - he galloped into a clothes line in Shannon chasing cattle and somebody had put their clothes line across the road, and he had a very bad accident, and he was almost two years in hospital. Then he came in and took an accommodation house where the Plunket Rooms are now - I think they called it the 'Temperance Hotel'. I don't know that it was very temperate in my people's time, because I remember a few fights and things - like, not in the house but round about - it was a turbulent time. While we were there my brother (?Rock)….., and I remember it as if it was today, putting sand in his hair, and he ran out on the road and a mob of sheep were going past and he fell down in the sheep, and the first dray in this town, or the first spring cart in this town, was being driven along and it ran over and broke my brother's back. That was the first child that was killed in our town.
Interviewer: Well now Hector, obviously you had your early schooling in the schools in Levin in those days. It's appropriate that this weekend happens to be the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the Levin school. Would you please tell us something about the early schools in Levin.
Hector: Well that is true, Dave. When I first went to school we were living at that time at a place called Waihou which is practically where the West Derby stud is now, about a mile along on the south side from the top of Queen St., from Gladstone Rd. We were living up there & I used to ride to school, I came down to this school I think in '86 - no '96 - and after being here a few months I went down and attended the school that was run on what is now the Boys' Training Farm. A lovely old man Mr Plunkett-Cole - I don't remember but he had some degrees or something, I wouldn't remember now what it was - but he was a lovely old man, and he was our teacher; I suppose there would be twenty or thirty of us, twenty I suppose from there. We closed that school up and we went to the Weraroa School and Mr Plunkett-Cole was still the teacher -
Interviewer: And where was the school?
Hector: It was about 100 yards from the corner going towards the beach on the southern side of the Beach Rd. We outgrew that school, and half of us went to the town hall in Weraroa, from the fourth standard up - the smaller standards were there - I think on many occasions I played the wag and went down and taught the infants at the other school; and a Miss Sage ran it - in fact one of my earliest pupils was ( ..?..) , who's still here - I hope he hears that.
Interviewer: You were one of the early pupils of the first Levin school - tell us about that first Levin school.
Hector: Yes. Then Mr Dick Seddon decided in his wisdom to centralize the whole thing, so he built the school approximately between the other schools, and everybody shifted in to the village school, on the site of the present Levin School.
Interviewer: You could tell us of the finishing up of the milling era of this town to its present state of being probably the main horticultural district immediately north of Wellington
Hector: Well, Dave, I'll do my best. Naturally, when the available timber, or all that was close enough to make it profitable to handle, when that became exhausted, and - the King country had been opened up, the main trunk railway line had gone through in 1908, they'd got the consent of the Maoris to go through, and of course the milling activities naturally shifted up from anywhere from Taihape, or from this side, from Mangaweka through to Ohakune and all these places, there was millions and millions of feet there - and Levin stagnated until the Nations - I wouldn't know if it was Mr Nation, there was a company of them - started the Levin…was it called the dairy board, or whatever it was... and they opened a factory just to the south end of the recreation ground, about a couple of chain from the corner of Weraroa Road and Queen St.
The first man who was in charge of it, there was a man called (?Mr Ganderton?) - afterwards it became a very well-known name in Taihape - and I remember my father, Mr Hitchings, (….??.... Mr ??Lewis, Armstrong), Mr Adkin - not Mr Adkin, Mr Lancaster - and all the various settlers up at the north of Queen St, saying "oh, what a wonderful thing, we get money every month"; of course previous to that they only got money when they'd shorn the sheep or sold a (?fat one) or whatever it was, but this was a new era when dairying was introduced; and from then on of course nobody needed any telling what (?to vote) and this was a wonderful dairying area although now of course we supply most of our milk goes directly to the New Zealand consumer in the form of liquid. But in those days it was a marvelous thing - I remember all my people talking about it, although I didn't really know what they were talking about, I did know that they welcomed the change. And from that time of course Levin - it was always a good pastoral and agricultural place; and despite we've slipped back now and again, we've gone forward and forward until I would say there's nothing prettier in New Zealand or more lovely than our dear old Levin and its surroundings.
David, I thought I should call you (?Rawhiti) now, now that you're coming to me about the Maoris, but I want to give them a message because they've done a lot to develop our country, and in time of course, and there are many of our fine citizens who claim a little bit of lovely Polynesian blood in their veins - many of our more prominent ones. And I want to say this to my Maori people..(tape ends)
(from accompanying typed page of subjects)
- Mr McDonald concludes with this message:
'To all the people of this area. I am the mouthpiece making this speech. This ne'er-do-well says - This is the record of the early trials, tribulations and memories of the people of this district. So be it. Finally, let me say, God speed and be strong. Above all, keep your Maoridom sacred. These are the sayings of your servant, Hector McDonald".
Transcription done by Doug Bolitho.