Alf and Nell (parents)

Alf with sheep (1919@@@)Grandad Dale’s father, Alfred Ernest Lacey (named after his father, Ernest Alfred), was born on 1 April 1908, in Whangarei.  He was the first person on either side of my family to “matriculate” (the modern equivalent is University Entrance) and went on to qualify as a pharmacist.

Alf was also a very good sportsman, playing rugby (both league and union) at top club level, and was also a very good athlete.

There was no professional sport in those days, but Dad, like other top sprinters, would compete for small money prizes at cultural festivals like the annual Highland Games at Waipu.


Nell Lacey, about age twelveMy mother, Nell Hooper, was born in 1912, in Whangarei, and she was also a very good athlete.  But her main interest was dance (ballet, ballroom, and “modern”).  As a young woman she ran her own commercial dance studio in Whangarei.

Mum’s full maiden name was Nell Sarah Daisy May Hooper (she was named after her aunties).  When she was a young woman, she gave up voting in elections because she got terribly embarrassed when they called out her full name!!!

The photos show Mum and Dad, each at about age twelve.


Alf and Nell started married life in Whangarei, but moved to Auckland soon after.  My older brother Max and I were born there, but the family moved to Maungaturoto in 1943 (when I was eighteen months old), which is where we were when my sister Lynne was born.


Alf, Nell (~1933@)Mum and Dad were terrific parents, and they were very “modern” in their thinking.  Dad, in particular, was a tech freak who just had to have all the latest gear (precision woodworking tools, top-of-the-line single lens reflex cameras, etc, etc).

There were occasional ructions in the family, of course.  I remember the time I was so cheeky that Dad totally lost his temper.  I took off, pretty confident I could outrun this “old” man.  But I’d forgotten that this particular “old” man had been a semi-professional runner, and he had no trouble catching me in about five paces.  Boy, did I get a hiding!!!

But they were generally very patient with us.  When I got sent home from my Maungaturoto school for being a stubborn little bugger, they quietly gave me time to cool down and work out how I was going to fix the problem.  When Mum realised that my sister Lynne didn’t like cooked food, she made her special meals of fruit and raw vegetables instead.

I liked Dad a lot, but I absolutely loved my mother.  She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.


Alf, Nell, Martinborough 1982-ish (taken by Jeannie, with her elbows in)They were extremely mobile and adaptable for the times.  I remember, when their silver anniversary came around, they worked out that they’d had 25 house moves during their 25 years of marriage.  And, over the years, Dad worked in or owned pharmacies in Whangarei, Auckland City, Maungaturoto, Ruawai, Martinborough, and Glenfield and Silverdale in Auckland.

They had the occasional marital problems, as happens with many couples, but they worked their way through them and went on to a happy old age.  They were a great team.

The photo (taken by their granddaughter Jeannie in 1982), shows them in the driveway of their final home, in Martinborough.  They were 74 and 70 at the time.



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Ernest and Ruby (grandparents)

Francis and Sarah Lacey had another seven children after arriving in New Zealand, making a total of fourteen.  Their twelfth child was Grandad Dale’s grandfather, Ernest Alfred Lacey (my father, his son, was called Alfred Ernest Lacey).

When he was 24, Ernest married 19 year old Rubina (“Ruby”) Gibson in the Primitive Methodist church in Eltham, in Taranaki.  All we know about Ruby’s background is that she was born in Christchurch and that she was of Jewish ethnicity.  They must have moved north quite quickly, because their first child (my father, Alfred Ernest) was born in Whangarei, where the family eventually settled.


I can barely remember Grandad Ernest (he and Nana separated in the early fifties and he died in Auckland in 1955), but I certainly remember my Nana Ruby.  Everyone who knew her would agree that Ruby was a right “battle-axe”!!!  She was extremely dominating (presumably, that’s why Ernest left), ruling the family with an iron fist.

My favourite story illustrating this happened not long after her two eldest children were married.  When the two couples arrived for a weekend visit, Ruby ushered the “boys” into one bedroom and the “girls” into another.  And the shocking thing is that the newlyweds all agreed to this arrangement.  None of them dared challenge the matriarch!!!


Freda Lacey (Alf's sister), Rubina (Ruby) Lacey (Alf's mother) (~1940@)The saddest Nana Lacey story relates to her only daughter, Freda (the picture shows Freda and Ruby at their home in Whangarei).

All the children (except my Dad) had a form of congenital deafness and my Auntie Freda seemed to be most affected by this.  Although she was a very competent businesswoman (she owned and ran her own photography shop), Freda was as quiet as a mouse and was totally dominated by her mother.

When she was in her fifties, however, Freda met a man called Spencer.  All of her siblings thought that Spence (as he was called) was a really lovely man, and a plot was hatched to help them “elope”.  Even as middle-aged grown-ups, they were all still so frightened of their mother that no one considered the possibility of just telling her that Freda had met someone nice and was going to marry him!!!

So, a date was set and arrangements made to secretly whisk Freda away.  But, sadly, when it came to the appointed day, Auntie Freda just couldn’t do it.  She loved Spencer, but couldn’t bring herself to defy her mother.  They couldn’t really continue their relationship in secret, so, in the end, Spence gave up and left town and Freda continued living with her mother.

A story of broken hearts from a different time!!!


Despite all this, I liked Nana Lacey.  Yes, she was slightly terrifying, but I can remember lots of kindnesses and laughing, too.  Because of that fondness, when she finally died in 1973, I drove all the way from Wellington to Whangarei to attend her funeral.

The family matriarch was dead.  An era had ended.

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Francis and Sarah (Lacey great grandparents)

Francis and Sarah Lacey were Grandad Dale’s great-grandparents.  That means they were my grandchildren’s great-great-great-grandparents (five generations before you)!!!

Francis and Sarah were born in the 1840s and lived in Nettleton in Lincolnshire in England (quite near where Robin Hood and his Merry Men had their adventures).  They were very poor, Francis working in labouring jobs on farms and in mines while Sarah brought up their many children.


There were major workplace changes going on at that time.  Farmers and mine owners were trying to increase their profits by cutting costs, and that meant extremely low wages and no sickness or retirement benefits.  Families were struggling and there was widespread poverty.  But times were a-changing…

For a start, labourers were trying to form a trade union (to improve their bargaining power), but the bosses were resisting, as you can see from this newspaper report of a speech to disaffected workers:
A good deal had been said about labourers’ grievances, and he thought they had some foundation for complaint, not alone on account of being insufficiently paid for their services, but also for bitterness they had experienced from employers when they had the hardihood to form themselves into an Union for mutual support and defence. He could not understand the arbitrary principle of men being discharged - not because they were bad or disobedient workmen - but because they were inheriting a little more intelligence from their combination as members of the Union. He had told the farmers they were going to work in the wrong way, and that tampering with the free rights of their own men was, in the present day, not to be tolerated

The other major change was that many of the disenchanted poor were leaving Britain and emigrating to colonies like New Zealand.  One day, Francis and Sarah saw this advertisement:

Francis-Emigration meeting

Then, not long afterwards, Francis went to a meeting in nearby Claxby (an hours’ walk from their home in Nettleton).  A man representing the New Zealand government was extolling the virtues of life in the South Seas and Francis was convinced!!!

It was all arranged and, within a year (in 1875), they were on the “Halcione” sailing from Gravesend near London to New Plymouth in New Zealand.


Francis and Sarah were 35 and 30 years old when they left for New Zealand, and they took their six youngest children with them:  Georgina (10), Catherine (8), Elizabeth (7), Francis (4), Emma (2), and Henry (1).

We’re not sure what happened to John, the eldest, who would have been 14 at the time.  Maybe he had died earlier, of some childhood disease, or maybe he stayed behind because he already had a good job he didn’t want to leave (children left school much earlier in those days).


Halcione painting

The Halcione

The trip in the three-masted barque took over three months.  If you think the ship looks a bit small for 300 passengers, you’re right.  There were over 200 adults and children crammed into the dark and dank steerage deck (the lowest deck).

There was a measles outbreak on the voyage and eight children under the age of two died, including Francis and Sarah’s one year old, Henry.

Everyone in steerage was from Lincolnshire, so there were friends there, and the bonds of common purpose, but it must have been a terrible trip.


Francis Lacey (1895)On arriving in New Zealand, Francis and Sarah settled in Taranaki, where they had another seven children, making 14 in total.  Families were so much larger in those days!!!

Francis began work by just getting whatever labouring jobs he could, but he eventually managed to buy a small farm and (at age 60), bought and ran a bakery business in Stratford.  The photo shows him, as a successful businessman, in his mid‑sixties.

They were very religious people.  Francis was even a preacher at the local Primitive Methodist church (Primitive Methodists are an offshoot of the Methodist Church, which you can read about here:  Oddly enough, neither my parents nor my Lacey grandparents were the least bit religious.


Sarah LACEY (1900-ish)Francis died at age 71.  Sarah outlived him by fifteen years and eventually died at age 81 (despite the risks and hardships involved in fourteen pregnancies).  They are buried in the same grave at the Te Henui cemetery in New Plymouth, next to their eldest daughter, Georgina.



If you ever go looking for their graves, go to the Lemon St entrance and look for the Primitive Methodist section, which is quite close to the entrance.

Te Henui cemetry

Grandad Dale standing beside the graves

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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!!!


Jack and Mary (Hooper grandparents)

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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