Coop Family Centenary - The Tuki Tuki Station story (Part Two)
In April 2021 the Coop family celebrate 100-years and four generations of farming on Tuki Tuki Station which backs on to Shaw’s Tiromoana property and Clifton Estate on the foothills of Cape Kidnappers.
William Pritchard (W.P) Coop and his wife Ada, the grandparents of present owner Kip Coop, acquired the property in April 1920 but the 100-year designation is only applicable from when they first began actively farming the property a year later.
The Coop family had originally been saw millers at Coop Town and Little River in Banks Peninsula and logged an area called Springvale. Five of six brothers came to the North Island and W.P moved to acquire farms in the Wharerata hill country in Poverty Bay and Young Nicks Head. Then he and two of his brothers leased remote land at Tawapata and later at Onanui on Mahia Peninsula where the RocketLab is based today before purchasing a farm at nearby Okepuha Station.
After WW1, W.P Coop took a lead from his wife Ada who was keen to return to Hawke’s Bay. On inspecting land up along the Tuki Tuki River he found Jim Brownlee, the owner the owner of Tuki Tuki Estate, was eager to sell and the price was right. Stock and plant were valued by Wellwood for Brownlee and Arthur Field, a friend of the Coops from Banks Peninsula.
W.P was around 35-years old when he and Ada moved to the Tukituki Valley; his son Malcom was only six years old. Malcolm later wrote a record of his life for family members:
“It was one of the driest years ever that summer and all the stock was valued at drought prices. They had just finished valuing when dark clouds started to form and while having a cup of tea at the house down came the rain and the drought was broken. Brownlee was wild but the valuations were already signed and so by a stroke of luck W.P got in on the right side.”
The Coops had purchased 1490 acres (603 ha) at £250 per acre; plant for £470 and stock for £302 taking over the Tuki Tuki property on 1 April 1920. Former owners the Brownlees moved to Greenfields for 18 months and then to Wairoa.
Holts Ltd completed alterations to the house and Ada and the children; with furniture including the piano, arriving by boat to Napier. W.P drove the buggy and pair of horses with dogs to the new property. As the family settled in they employed two farm hands to help run the property. Ada hired a governess to teach children Joyce and Malcolm who were soon attending Craggy Range School, originally by Red Bridge and later up at Craggy Range.
W.P grew oats in a strip paddock; contractor Pat McCarthy did all the heavy work including ploughing and cutting, stoking and stacking wheat and old Jack Tawera, who had worked with the Coops in Mahia, thatched the stacks. Chaff was cut the following spring and bagged, stored and eventually sold.
In 1928 the Depression raised its ugly head with wool prices dropping to threepence a pound and stock prices falling in proportion. The Bank of NSW stuck by its clients and kept lending when others were forced to walk off their farms with nothing
W.P battled on after he broke his leg and it knitted crooked, meaning he limped the rest of his life. He was further crippled with arthritis in one hip and could only ride side-saddle then had to give up completely when his hip failed.
Son Malcolm had left school in 1934 to help an inexperienced farm hand run the property which was falling into disrepair. “Gates and fences, yards and everything was broken down. The hill and dip paddocks were covered in blackberry bush with many fallen trees and branches”. There was little water in some of the paddock and no fencing between the road and paddock that ran down to the river.
W.P’s wife Ada died in 1935 after a long illness leaving even more responsibility for Malcolm and his older sister Joyce. The struggle to make the property work only increased when Malcolm called up to serve in the Solomon Islands during WWII. Joyce never married; having lost two suitors during the war, taking over the running the property and dedicating her life to supporting the family.
G.B Waddington, manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Napier arranged for Perry Wilder, a farmer and land valuer from Wanstead to offer guidance on running the farm which was now mortgaged beyond its value. Relief was offered through the Government’s Mortgage Redemption Scheme designed to help farmers get out of extreme debt by reducing the interest or wiping the debt.
Malcolm, in his own stubborn way, preferred to work off the mortgage and accepted the lower interest rate. The bank appreciated that decision and working with the family as they worked off their debt. “Many of the present-day illustrious families owe their good fortune to this Bill and had their debts cancelled completely,” he said in his family memoir.
When W.P died in 1956, the debt was cleared but then “death duties” kicked in and the farm was back in debt again. The hard work continued splitting macrocarpa posts, making paddocks sheep proof, putting in water pumps and piping water from tanks to troughs and things began to look up.
In 1960 an aunty had left the Coops part of her inheritance. Joyce moved to Havelock North and Malcolm who was now married to Judy (Short) used their share to completely renovate the old Tuki Tuki house with new carpet and curtains and a driveway around the big elm tree, a new car shed, stables and other improvements to the farm.
Over time family shares in other properties were cashed in, enabling further investment in Tuki Tuki Station including expanding the acreage. Malcolm purchased 210 acres (85 ha) from Michael MacDonald the brother of Sheila and Colonel Nielson who had purchased the massive Summerlee property which had been broken off from Clifton Station in 1925.
The old cook house which doubled as a cottage burnt down around 1970 and a new house was built in 1978 for Malcom and Judy’s son Kip and his wife Dale (nee Cooper) who took over the 1700 acre (688 ha) Tuki Tuki property and homestead in 1979-80.
Kip Coop was born at Tuki Tuki Station, attended Te Mata School soon after it was completed, and spent much of his life there. He recalls the worst drought, perhaps comparable to the period when the Coops first purchased the farm, in 1987 when there was no spring or autumn rain and a succession of struggles to battle the elements and keep the property viable.
The family were involved for many years in the local hunting clubs, their show jumping horses included the well-known Rajah and The Raider. His father Malcolm was “a great equestrian” and still hunting at 86-years. He died aged 88-years in 2004.
When Kip, Dale and their family headed up to Gisborne for a polo tournament near the family property at Young Nicks Head around 1994 they felt a particular sadness as they passed the site of the old Morere pub which her mother Judy and father has once run. It had burnt down just a few days earlier.
The surprise turned to horror when they received a call two days later informing them their own home, the historic Tuki Tuki homestead had burned to the ground. The upstairs balcony was being re-decked and restored and resurfaced with neurolite.
“The company sent out a man to do what should have been a three-person job on a hot day in January when there was a norwesterly blowing. He apparently walked away leaving the torch going and it set fire to the house,” says Kip.
Dale had not taken any jewellery with her on the trip up the coast and like everything else it was gone; it had been in a silver case which melted in the heat. “I walked across the ashes and as I was looking around at the destruction in the area where the jewellery had been in an upstairs bedroom and I saw my white gold wedding ring sitting there, untouched shining like new. The firemen couldn’t believe it,” she says.
The fire on 12 January 1994 left only the chimneys standing and the old storeroom with family documents and photos in it. Much effort was made to literally sift through all the ashes looking for items that might have survived.
Among those recovered were a number of old Maori adzes and artefacts found on the land during ploughing and a Musket Wars era bayonet. The only other item carried over from the former structure was an antique mahogany dining table which was not in the house at the time of the blaze.
The house was rebuilt in a multi-story colonial style designed by Cambridge architect Rob Singleton and completed within three years. The bricks from the chimneys now form part of the fireplace surrounds in the new home. Singleton says he didn’t want to create an exact replica of the old homestead but a modern version with traditional architecture that looked timeless as if it had always been there.
Personal interviews with Kip and Dale Coop
70-odd years at Tuki Tuki, handwritten notes from Malcolm Coop, December 1996 and personal interview with Kip and Dale Coop February 2020
A Bit of the old in the new, Hawke’s Bay Herald Tribune, 17 May 1997