Grandad Dale becomes a grown-up

Dale (photo taken by his schoolfriend Bill Killen using colour film, ~1959) #4I finished at Whangarei Boys High School at the end of 1959 (the year the Auckland Harbour Bridge opened) and our family moved south at the same time.  Dad bought the Martinborough chemist shop and recommenced life as a pharmacist, my sister Lynne started her working life (as a hairdresser), and I went to university in Wellington.


In my first year at Victoria University (when I was eighteen), I boarded with the Harrington family in Oriental Terrace.  To cut a very long story extremely short, that was where I met their daughter, Julie.

Julie and I married in 1965 and within five years we had four particularly nice children, Jeannie, Paul, David, and Anna.  Later, they in turn had children, giving me seven delightful grandchildren (Kate, Sharn, Aaron, Alex, Sam, Danielle, and Manuka) and (so far) one beautiful little great grandson (Reid).


It’s been so much fun doing this blog, remembering the past and trying to illustrate how much life has changed since those long ago days.  I started it because my son and daughter-in-law asked me to, but I’ve ended up doing it for myself.  Thank you, Paul and Linda, it was a lovely idea and I’m so very grateful you suggested it.

And thanks, also, to Mandy Lee, who in 2017 very generously welcomed us into what is now HER home, the Maungaturoto house built by my grandfather and uncle in 1946.


And, now, 25000 words later, the story of my childhood has ended.  Nearly six decades have passed since I left school and I’m now seventy-five years old.

Wow, where did all those years go to!!!



Grandad’s grandad

John (Jack) and Mary Hooper (Nell's parents, ~1950@)My mother’s father (Grandad Hooper) was a bricklayer (he and his son, uncle Eric, built our house in Maungaturoto).  He and Grandma Hooper lived in a tiny cottage in Kamo, near Whangarei, and they were both just lovely.


One day Grandma Hooper decided she wanted to start smoking cigarettes, but she decided not to tell her husband.  In those days husbands usually made all the decisions in families, and she was pretty sure Grandad Hooper wouldn’t let her do it.  So she secretly puffed just one cigarette a day, after dinner, hiding behind the kitchen door!!!  Goodness knows whether Grandad Hooper knew what was going on, but, if he did, he didn’t say anything.

In those days, practically every man in the world smoked cigarettes (usually roll-your-owns).  Many women smoked, too, but not often in public.  Here’s an article about smoking in New Zealand:


Grandad Hooper at start of World War OneJohn Charles Hooper (or, “Jack”, as Grandad Hooper was known) was born in England in 1884.  He migrated to New Zealand as a young man where he met and married his Mary (Grandma Hooper).

When the First World War started, in 1914, Jack was called up by the British Army (even though he was a New Zealand citizen by then).  So, off he went to England to re-join his regiment.


His job in the war was to transport munitions up to the front and bring wounded soldiers back.  It was terribly dangerous, of course.  If a shell had hit their horse-drawn cart, the whole lot could have exploded.

Anyway, one day they were hit by enemy fire, but fortunately the explosives on the cart didn’t explode.  However, his mate and one of the two horses were killed.  Now, if that had happened to me, I’m pretty sure I know what I would have done.  I would have thought, fucking hell that was close, and I would have abandoned my mission and gone back to base to report the tragedy.

But people had a much greater sense of “duty” in those days, and Jack Hooper was no exception, so he decided to continue on with the mission.  Unfortunately, the cart was too heavy for one horse to pull, so Jack unloaded half the shells and then continued on to the front with the remaining horse pulling the partly-loaded cart.  Then he had to go back, reload the munitions he’d removed, and make another trip to the front.

It took a long time, of course, but he eventually got the job done.

Grandad Hooper was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (the DCM) for this and other brave acts.  The citation reads “For conspicuous gallantry on many occasions in assisting to remove wounded and bring supplies to the battery under heavy fire”.

He was the first New Zealander to be awarded the DCM on the Western Front.


At the end of the war, Grandad Hooper was offered a job teaching soldiers in the Indian Army.  So he wrote a letter to Grandma Hooper telling her to sell their belongings and bring the children to India.  (There was no email in those days, of course, so the letter probably took months to arrive.)

Anyway, he soon followed this letter up with a telegram (which was similar to an email) saying that he’d decided that India wasn’t a good place to bring up children, so she should wait for him in New Zealand.  Fortunately it arrived before Grandma Hooper and the family had left for India!!!

Grandad Hooper eventually made it back to New Zealand, two years after the war had finished.

You know, if he hadn’t changed his mind, my mother (his daughter) wouldn’t have met and married my father (Alf Lacey), so I wouldn’t have been born and you my grandchildren wouldn’t have been born either!!!

Whew, thanks for changing your mind Grandad Hooper.


Grandad Hooper (with shovel) with Maori School of Instruction groupWhen the Second World War started (about 25 years later), Grandad Hooper was too old to go to war again.  However, he was a very experienced soldier, so the Army used him to help train the Home Guard (the New Zealand equivalent of Britain’s “Dad’s Army”).

Grandad Hooper also spent a lot of time training local Maori units.  The Second World War was an important time for Maori, who saw it as an opportunity to prove that they deserved full citizenship.  When the war was over he received very complimentary letters from the groups he’d helped, thanking him for what he’d done.

In the photo, Grandad Hooper is the man holding a shovel.


In 1958 (when Grandad Dale was 16), Grandad and Grandma Hooper both died, only five days apart.

Grandma Hooper had developed dementia not long before.  Nowadays if you have dementia you usually go into a rest home where you get all the care and supervision you need.  But in the 1950s, we didn’t have those sort of facilities, so if it wasn’t practical to care for you at home, then you had to go into what was called a Lunatic Asylum (or “loony bin” as they were irreverently known).

The nearest asylum was in Avondale in Auckland, so that’s where poor Grandma had to go, which was really sad because it was so far away (about four hours by car).


Mary Hooper's funeral, pallbearers all grandsons, Brian Hooper, Max, Ray Hooper, Dale (Whangarei, Jul 1958)I was a pallbearer at Grandma’s funeral.  That’s me in the photo (in school uniform), along with my brother Max at the back and cousins Brian and Ray at the front.

In contrast, Grandad Hooper’s funeral was a full military affair run by the Returned Servicemen’s Association.  I still remember the rush of emotion as the Last Post was played.  It’s such a powerful piece at public ceremonies, but even more so when it’s played for one particular soldier.

Farewell, Grandad Hooper, you were a very kind and brave man.
Kua hinga te tōtara o Te Waonui a Tāne (a totara has fallen in the great forest of Tane).



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT:  Much of what I’ve said about Grandad Hooper is based on research done by my cousin Craig Hooper.  You can read his very interesting article here:  Thanks, Craig.

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Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island --- map showing AucklandIn 1957 (when Grandad Dale was 15), I spent a wonderful week on Great Barrier Island staying with my boarding school mate David “Coop” Cooper.

It’s called Great Barrier Island because it protects the Hauraki Gulf (and Auckland Harbour) from the sometimes stormy Pacific Ocean.  Nowadays it’s a popular tourist destination, but in 1957 there were far fewer visitors and not many residents at all.


In those days you travelled to “the Barrier” on a small ship, leaving from Leigh (near Warkworth).

The trip out to the island was so very exciting.  It was at night and I can still remember looking over the ship’s bow and seeing dolphins diving in and out of the water as they raced alongside us.  It was all the more exciting because the dolphins glowed with phosphorescence, which you can see an example of in this short video:  Phosphorescence is caused by plankton in the water.

Here is an interesting article about interactions between humans and dolphins in New Zealand:


Great Barrier Island --- Port FitzroyThe Coopers lived in Port Fitzroy, in the northwest of the island (in the house marked “Glenfern Sanctuary Accommodation” in the picture).  It was their home, a boarding house, and the local post office.  Mrs Cooper was the postmistress and Mr Cooper ran a “store” across the inlet (where it says “Port Fitzroy”).

It was such a beautiful place with bush clad hills and very still waters.  The only buildings I remember were their home and the store.  The store was on the wharf;  just a huge shed, really, full of provisions to sell to the locals.  I don’t remember any other houses in the inlet.


Each day Coop and I spent hours rowing a dinghy around the inlet.  We had the whole place to ourselves, with not another boat in sight.  I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at the rowing and kept losing rowlocks (pronounced “rollicks”) over the side.  I don’t think Mr Cooper was very pleased!!!

Some days we got as far as the very small Quoin Island, which is known to the locals as Grave Island (because all that’s on it is old graves).  We never landed on it, because Coop and I were both a bit nervous about ghosts, which is pretty silly really, because there’s no such thing as ghosts, so there was nothing to worry about.

Grandaddy hapukaOne day, friends took us fishing on a launch off nearby Little Barrier Island, and I caught a “granddaddy hapuka” (ugly as, eh)!!!  My one weighed a whopping 12 pounds (over 5kg).  I remember the adults on the boat being hugely impressed, saying it must truly be a “granddaddy” (very old).

We also sometimes went rabbit shooting up in the farmland behind the house.  There seemed to be hundreds of the cute little pests and we’d lie there in the grass having turns at shooting them with a BB gun.  The rabbit stew the next night was delicious!!!


It was my only ever trip to Great Barrier Island and I loved every minute of it.

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Te Atatu

Te Atatu (1950 and 2017)In 1957 we moved from Maungaturoto to Te Atatu (a suburb of Auckland), where Dad took a position selling houses for Neil Housing, one of the first large scale private housing developers in New Zealand.  I was fifteen at the time, and still at boarding school in Whangarei, but went home to Te Atatu during the holidays.

The pictures show how the Te Atatu peninsula has gone from being almost totally farmland in the 1950s to a small city fifty years later.


The ostensible reason for the move was that, at the age of 48, Dad had decided to take a break from the pharmacy business, but I now wonder about this.

I have this memory of him standing in the kitchen at Te Atatu, looking out the window and sadly sighing “I don’t know”.  Mum said “what don’t you know Alf” and he joked his way out of it and we all had a friendly chuckle at his expense.

It’s a bit hard to get over the oddness of that little incident, but at the time I thought “what the hell was that all about”.  I can’t help feeling there was some deep unhappiness involved.


Here is some advice for you.  When you grow up and become an adult, your relationship with your parents will change.  You will start to become friends (as well as being parent/child).

When that happens, remember to have chats with them about “the olden days”.  If you are genuinely interested, and pick the right time, you will learn all sorts of interesting stuff.  You will get a different perspective on your life as a child, which you will cherish when you in turn get old.

But, remember, we all die in the end, and so will your parents, so don’t leave it too late.

As an adult, I had lots of those conversations, particularly with my mother.  (It seems to me that women are the primary guardians of the past.)  Unfortunately, I never thought to ask her why we moved from Maungaturoto to Te Atatu and, now, everyone who knew the answer is gone, so I’ll never know for sure.


Our first house in Te Atatu was at 18 Titoki St, but we later moved to Roberts Road on the other side of the motorway.  The left hand photo below shows the Titoki St house in 2013 (it’s recently been demolished to make room for a motorway off-ramp.  The right hand photos shows my sister Lynne (aged 14 or 15) and Grandad Dale (aged 17), both in front of the Roberts Road house.

Te Atatu houses


Te Atatu is right next to Henderson, one of the first major wine-growing areas in New Zealand, started by immigrants from Dalmatia.  The story of the Dalmatian people’s contribution to winemaking is included in this article:

But wine drinking by the masses was very much in its infancy.  Wine and sherry were often sold in half-gallon flagons (2.3 litres) and the quality wasn’t nearly as good as nowadays.  It wasn’t until the 1980s, when we developed our “grassy” sauvignon blancs, that New Zealand started making internationally acclaimed wines.  The wonderful Te Ara website tells the story here:

While we lived in Te Atatu, Dad also started up a delicatessen business in nearby Henderson (right opposite the railway station).  The product lines were extremely basic by modern standards, but this was another indication that life in New Zealand was becoming slightly more sophisticated.


We lived in Te Atatu for only three years, but I have fond memories of that time, including:

  • My sister Lynne and I strolling down Titoki St on a summer’s evening, listening to the Everly Brothers singing “Wake up little Susie” on a new-fangled transistor radio.
  • Being woken by Mum to be told that I’d passed School Certificate (the equivalent of NCEA level 1). The results were sent by mail in those days (no email or internet or texting), and she had opened my results letter in case her delicate little son was anxious about the results.  She was such a lovely mum.
  • Arriving home for the August holidays with my boarding school mate “Charlie” Tutaka in tow. Charlie was from the Cook Islands and we called him that because his real first name was too difficult to pronounce.  Many years later, when I was an adult, Mum told me that Charlie’s arrival had been a total surprise to her (I’d forgotten to tell her I’d invited him)!!!

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SputnikIn 1957, the USSR (Russia) launched the world’s first artificial satellite, called “Sputnik 1”.  This triggered what became known as “the space race” between the USA and the USSR.

On a fine night, you could see the satellite passing over New Zealand, and I can clearly remember standing just outside the Carruth House assembly hall watching it pass through the sky.  (Carruth House was the hostel I lived in when I was at secondary school.)

From the ground, the satellite looked just like a large star, but it moved across the sky very quickly.  This is a video of a later satellite, but it shows you how fast the Sputnik moved:


GPSIn some ways, the launch of Sputnik 1 also heralded the start of the digital age.  Not only had early digital computers been used in its development, but artificial satellites also made possible (or made more efficient) much of the technology we now take for granted, such as GPS, live coverage of overseas sporting events, and the internet.


Here are some links about Sputnik 1:



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And then there was rock-and-roll!!!

Prior to 1954, teenagers listened to the same music as their parents.  Much of it was very good (with singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra), but much of it was also pretty bland (with songs like “How much is that doggy in the window”).

And then there was rock-and-roll!!!

It arrived in New Zealand in 1954 (when Grandad Dale was twelve) and nothing was ever quite the same again.  Suddenly teenagers had their own music and (it gets better and better) their parents didn’t like it!!!


Bill Haley and the cometsIn New Zealand, rock-and-roll started with Bill Haley’s “Rock around the clock”.  Many history books downplay his importance, but they’re wrong.  For New Zealand teenagers, at least, the excitement started with him.

Bill Haley was followed by other even more daring performers like Little Richard and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.  And some (like Buddy Holly and Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers) weren’t really rock-and-roll at all, but they were top performers and added to the excitement.

It was a great time to be a teenager.


Rock-and-roll wasn’t as guitar-focused as the more modern “rock music”.  In early Bill Haley music the instrumental breaks are mostly taken by saxophones.  There were guitarists in the band, but it’s only towards the end of the 1950s that you’ll start to hear them taking lead breaks.

Some have described Bill Haley’s music as a cross between rhythm-and-blues and country-swing, and I think that’s probably about right.  It was only when guitars started making their presence felt that the later “rock” music was born.


In the early fifties, there were no radio programmes aimed solely at teenagers.  And even after the arrival of rock-and-roll there was only one programme a week (the 30-minute long “Lever Hit Parade”).

The first record I remember buying was Johnny Devlin’s “Wild One”.  It was vinyl, of course (no CDs or MP3s in those days), and was in the fairly new 45rpm format (rpm = revolutions per minute).

In the late fifties, I clearly remember my sister Lynne and I walking along the road with a brand new transistor radio listening to the Everly Brothers singing “Wake up little Susie”.

Anyway, I loved rock-and-roll music and my parents hated it, so life was perfect!!!


Rock-and-roll dancing came in at the same time.  It was effectively an adaption of the earlier “jitterbug”, but prettier and less jerky.  (Here’s a video showing jitterbug:

Rock and roll dancingIn ballroom dancing, the man and woman held each other as they spun around, but in rock-and-roll the main contact was the hand (like in the picture).  Dances that came later (like “the twist”) went even further and there was no physical contact at all.

And movies aimed specifically at teenagers started being made.  The music-focused ones had pretty ordinary storylines (boy meets girl, boy and girl break up, boy and girl get back together), but they let us get a closer look at our new rock-and-roll heroes.  Remember, there was no TV or internet in those days, so we’d only seen them in magazines before that.

There were also more serious teen-focused movies, like “Rebel without a cause”, starring the oh-so-very-cool James Dean.


BodgiesA youth subculture arose at the same time as rock-and-roll.  England had “rockers”, but New Zealand and Australia had “bodgies” (males) and “widgies” (females).

I became mates with some bodgies and widgies one year when four of them turned up at Waipu Cove.  All of our parents thought they were disreputable, partly because of how they dressed.  But it was probably more because everyone was sure the two couples weren’t married (despite sleeping in the same tent), which was considered pretty outrageous in those days.

But they were very nice to us kids and delighted in impressing us with stories of gang fights and getting into trouble with the police.  One of them proudly showed us that he’d let the nail on his big toe grow long then filed it to make a sharp point.  He said it made an excellent weapon in a fight, but I think he was just showing off.

We were mightily impressed with our new friends, but fortunately not enough to get into trouble ourselves!!!


Here are links to some of Grandad Dale’s favourites music from the time:


Twenty tiny fingers (Pat McMinn):
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (Gene Autry):
White Christmas (Bing Crosby):
I’ve got you under my skin (Frank Sinatra):

Rock around the clock (Bill Hayley):
See you later alligator (Bill Hayley):
Lucille (Little Richard):
Good golly Miss Molly (Little Richard):
Blue suede shoes (Elvis Presley):
Jailhouse rock (Elvis Presley):
Great balls of fire (Jerry Lee Lewis):
Wild One (Johnny Devlin):

Wake up little Susie (Everly Brothers):
Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino):
That’ll be the day (Buddy Holly):
Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly):

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Bigotry and Mr Fawkes

Guy Fawkes Day was a much bigger celebration when Grandad Dale was a kid.  There were no public firework displays in those days, so many families put on their own in their backyard.


BonfireIt was a really big deal at Carruth House (the hostel I attended in Whangarei during my secondary school years).  We’d spend days building a ginormous bonfire on a small field next to the school grounds and a few of the boys would create a “Guy” to put on top.  The Guy was a “man” made of old clothes stuffed with newspapers.

There were no restrictions on what fireworks you could buy (or who could buy them) and some of them made pretty fearsome explosions.  The names of the various types of fireworks sounded really exciting to us:

  • “Bangers” were like small bombs and exploded very loudly.
  • “Sparklers” were little metal sticks which, when lit, sparkled prettily as you waved them in the air.
  • “Jumping Jacks” were a string of small bangers that exploded one after another in quick succession, “jumping” on the ground as they did.
  • “Catherine wheels” were nailed to a post where they spun prettily for ten or twenty seconds.
  • “Rockets” flew majestically through the air (unless the bottle you put them into before take-off fell over at the crucial time, in which case they could fly straight into the onlookers!!!).


On Guy Fawkes Day itself, we would light the bonfire when it got dark and then the excitement would start, with boys setting off fireworks left-right-and-centre.  It was actually quite dangerous and each year a few boys would be injured.

The worst case I can remember was when one boy stupidly thought that carrying his hoard of fireworks inside his shirt was a good idea.  Unfortunately, an even stupider boy thought it was clever to drop a lit cracker down the shirt of the first boy.  The fireworks in the first boy’s shirt caught fire and next thing they were exploding.  Of course, his chest was seriously burnt and he had to be taken to hospital.

Despite incidents like these all around the country, the unrestricted sale of fireworks continued for many years.  Finally, a woman known as “the fireworks lady” started a big campaign, and this eventually led to tighter controls being introduced (but not until the 1970s).  Here’s a newspaper article about the fireworks lady:


Nowadays many people don’t know why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, which started about 400 years ago when a group of twelve men tried to blow up the English parliament buildings in London.  They wanted to kill the protestant king (James the First), and replace him with a catholic.  However, the plot was foiled, the plotters (including Mr Fawkes) were captured and tortured and executed, and we’ve “celebrated” the day ever since.

Another triumph for religion, eh.


And, since we’re talking about bigotry, here’s the Kingston Trio singing “Where have all the flowers gone”:  It’s an anti-war song that gently laments the never ending loss of our “flowers” (our young soldiers) to an endless succession of wars.

You know, I suspect that the root cause of all wars is either religion or greed (or both).  And now, in this modern time, we’re witnessing the greed of SOME Western governments and corporates battling the religious bigotry of SOME Islamic people, and both sides complain that the actions of the other side is incomprehensible.  And, so it goes on.

When will we ever learn.

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