Topic: Bob Harkness

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Robert, or Bob Harkness was born in 1913 and interviewed in 2012. Listen to him recount life in New Zealand and Tauranga.

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Robert and Val Harkness

Robert Harkness

 You can hear a full interview by clicking here.

Robert was born in Wellington, 1913, to a family of 5 children. He was one of twins. I interviewed him in his room at Aspen House, Tauranga in July, 2012. He was in good health for a 99 year old, very lucid and much more like someone in their 60s or 70s than the near century that he was. His age meant he could recall events as far back as the Armistice/ end of hostilities after World War One, the spread of the Spanish Flu Epidemic in Wellington and the Great Depression years. Robert, or Bob as he usually referred to himself as, moved to Tauranga with his young family in 1954. He worked for the Papamoa Quarries, Roberts Concrete Products (building the Wharf until 1962), as well as Bay Fertilisers for 16 years before retiring at 65 years of age.

His parent’s Christian beliefs were in his memory central to family life.  His Father emigrated from Scotland where he was Scottish Presbyterian and connected with the Brethren in Wellington. His father taught him to play the trumpet, a hobby he kept until the age of 95. As a teenager (1926) Bob worked in the meat works during holiday periods.  He went to the Wellington Technical College and did an engineering course before working as an apprentice during the Great Depression to avoid getting the sack. Once qualified however he lost his job due to widespread unemployment. After 3 months of working around the house he heard about a job in the workshop (for the railways) and applied and won the position (May 1934).

Called up for service in the Second World War he was classified as Essential Services and required to stay in New Zealand working on locomotive engines and other railways related work. He recalls feeling relief that he could carry on with his life. Life in New Zealand consisted of long hard working days. Due to labour shortages across the country women moved into many jobs previously held by men. Working nightshifts Bob considered buying a motorbike but instead bought his first car, an Austin. Petrol shortages meant he had to choose carefully when and where he would use it. During these years Bobs first wife made slippers for the soldiers at war.  He recalls the men returning bitter from the war in 1946/47, seeing it as a "waste of time".

Bob moved to Tauranga in 1954. He recalls Tauranga as a “cosy little town”, “nice and easy”. He had two children 9 and 6 when he first moved. Bob remarried as a widower at the age of 70 (pictured)

 You can hear the full interview by clicking here.

 Topics covered include:

  • 1918 Influenza Epidemic (2’48” – 3’30”)
  • Bob’s Father and his early childhood (3’15” – 7’08”)
  • The Great Depression (7’32” – 11’50”) and (31’09” for 20 seconds or so)
  • WW2 years (begins 13’43”)
    • Labour shortage
    • Women in work (16’-17’12” also 31’51” – 34’07”)
    • His first car /  petrol shortages  (begins  17’12”)
  • Post war years (begins 21’30”)
  • Tauranga years (begins 13’04”, and again 34’07”)
    • Life in Tauranga  (22’02” – 26’42”)
    • Changes in Mt Maunganui (35’13” – 37’)
    • Technology changes (begins 37’33”)
    • Religion in Tauranga (Begins 26’42”)

Bob died October 15, 2012. Age 99y



A version of this article was archived in August 2016 at Perma CC



15 October 2012. Age 99y

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Bob Harkness

Year:c.1970, c.1980, 1913, c.1918, c.1940, c.1950, and c.1960
First Names:Robert
Last Name:Harkness
Date of Birth:1913
Place of Birth:Wellington

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