Arthur Huia Honeyfield, 1903 – 1996

The following are edited extracts from Arthur Huia Honeyfield, Max Avery, 1916 (with permission from Arthur’s son, John Honeyfield).

Introduction

It should have been no surprise that a great-grandson of the adventuresome and enterprising Richard (Dicky) Barrett, trader, whaler, interpreter and hotel owner, would in his own field become an entrepreneurial leader in agricultural commerce and marketing.

Arthur Huia Honeyfield stepped beyond Dicky Barrett in that he demonstrated unique ability to excel both in private enterprise and as a bureaucrat. He was a pioneer aviator, he was early on the scene in exotic afforestation, he had qualifications in law and accountancy, he established the second commercial planting of avocados in New Zealand, and he was the “money man” behind the development of New Zealand’s largest export port.

Yet, when he died in Tauranga in 1996 aged 93, his name had faded from central government and local body politics. Few remembered the extraordinary abilities he displayed in organising the supply of food to 400,000 American servicemen in the Pacific during the second world war, and his strategies for the raising of massive loans to finance the development of the Port of Tauranga. Perhaps he was little remembered because he was little honoured, and perhaps he was little honoured because in stepping beyond his great-grandfather and making a success of the huge tasks entrusted to him, Arthur Honeyfield, genial and sociable though he was, had no compunction in stepping on toes when necessary to get the job done.

Early career

Arthur was educated at Tataraimaka School followed by the New Plymouth Boys Hight School. After leaving school to help his father with mixed farming, at the age of 21 Arthur successfully applied for a job with Wright Stephenson at its Wellington head office.

Arthur studied law and accountancy after work by attending night lectures at the Victoria College. Even while studying Arthur gained rapid promotion with Wright Stephenson. At 24 he became the managing secretary of the Kiwi Bacon Company, becoming general manager in 1933. By 1935 he held positions not only with Kiwi Bacon, but Amalgamated Dairies and Anchor Products Ltd, distributing butter, cheese, milk-powder. bacon and eggs.

The bureaucrat

With the election of the Labour Government in 1935 and takeover of agricultural marketing, Arthur’s private sector roles were lost and so he joined the Internal Marketing Division of the Primary Products Marketing Board based in Auckland.

Pioneer Aviator

Arthur obtain his aircraft pilot certificate during the very early days of aero clubs forming in New Zealand. Arthur was motivated by the potential to utilise flying for business trips, as well as getting some fun out of it. He put it this way:

As a young business man with a lot of travelling to do I dreamed up the idea of flying around the country rather than use the slow metalled roads. Tauranga was then not much more than a fishing village and returning from there on one occasion I decided to take a closer look at Kauri Point, landing the Gypsy (sic) Moth on a little beach down from Hugh Moore’s place. I remember tying the plane to a fence and walking up to meet the only inhabitant, a Mr Jenkins”.

Katikati Advertiser, August 3, 1993

According to Land Title Records Arthur purchased 246 acres at kauri Point on September 10, 1934, a property that he subsequently named ‘Tatara’ no doubt in memory of the Honeyfield family property at Tataraimaka.

One of Arthur’s early solo flights was to Tataraimaka on 6 March 1932, undoubtedly demonstrating his new means of transport to his family in taking a couple of flights from there, cruising over New Plymouth.

Marriage

Arthur’s political boss (and soon to be Prime Minister) the Rt. Hon. Walter Nash, Minister of Marketing, sent a telegram message on the occasion of Arthur’s wedding to 27 year old Edith Cecilia Scheele in 1938: “Hearty congratulations and good wishes. I hope that your marriage will be as happy and promising as your association with me since you joined the staff”.

Edith was born at Killara on Sydney’s upper North Shore and came to New Zealand in her late teens.

Arthur was then aged 35, with the marriage taking place four years after purchasing the property at Kauri Point. Another 50 acres at Tahawai Peninsula was purchased in 1938.

Arthur and Edith had two children, John and Elizabeth.

The couple and their children spend many years enjoying Tatara. Honeyfield house parties were events of some consequence. The annual Christmas party was an opportunity for them to entertain business and local government acquaintances as well as friends and neighbours.

Second World War

The outbreak of war in September 1939 had a major impact on the Internal Marketing Division. Arthur Honeyfield joined the New Zealand branch of the United States/United Kingdom Joint Purchasing Board (JPB) established to share resources for the war effort.

The man the JOB looked to in anticipation of making all this possible was Arthur Huia Honeyfield, and he did not disappoint it. It was then that Honeyfield’s multi-tasking abilities came to the fore, and for the next five years he was to exploit them to the full.

Max Avery, 2016 page 21

Public Service

In 1956 Arthur entered a new sphere of public service, representing his fellow Tauranga County ratepayers on the Tauranga Harbour Board. The 1950’s were a dynamic time for the Board due to extensive investments upgrading the port to handle exports of pine forest products. Arthur went on to chair the finance committee for eight years and then becoming deputy chair in 1969.

In 1971 Arthur travelled to Japan with fellow board member R.A. Owens to examine progress being made in the shipping and handling of cargo units. They talked containerisation with port authorities, shipping and industrial executives and returned to lay the ground work for the development of Tauranga as a major container port.

Fellow board member Tony Grayburn recalled that Arthur:

… made me very welcome, and was so helpful at board meetings … His business experience and contacts were invaluable to the Port of Tauranga, particularly so in the case of dairying and horticulture. His advice was always sound and given with good humour and a loud laugh”.

Max Avery, 2016: 41

Arthur stepped down as deputy-chairman in 1972, and after 18 years of service, did not offer himself for reelection in 1974.

Arthur was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal in 1975.

The Bay of Plenty Times editorialised on Honeyfield’s death in 1996:

The status of the Port of Tauranga as the leading export port in the country and a catalyst in the economic activity in the region owes much to the talent Mr Honeyfield demonstrated during his long years as finance committee chairman. The real power base of the developing public utility lay in his hands. His years as a public servant had prepared him for working the system with the powers-that-be in Wellington to the benefit of the board.”

Max Avery, 2016: 41

Pioneering Avocados

Arthur first became interested in the avocado when he visited the United States in the course of his wartime food production activities and saw avocados being grown and marketed in California.

By 1969 Arthur had sold his dairy farm and relinquished his position as chairman of the finance committee of the Harbour Board. He was 66 years of age. What better time to start developing his remaining 52 acres, and perhaps start a new industry! He build a small grafting shed and set about learning how to propagate avocados. Grafting was a matter of trial and error, and progress was slow.

Arthur preferred to do his own marketing, drawing on his experience and contacts from earlier years. He preferred to lead, rather than to follow.

By 1987 many horticultural industry leaders believed that Arthur was responsible fo pioneering the local avocado industry.

Last years

Edith died in her 83rd year after 56 years of marriage. Arthur died in January 1996 at the age of 93.

The end came quickly. Arthur Honeyfield became ill in January, 1996 and was admitted to Tauranga Hospital and he died on the 21st.

The squire and lord of the manor of Tatara, the avocado advocate, the harbour board money man, the innovative and persevering public servant of World War II days, the dairy and pork industry leader, the pioneer aviator, had gone and Tatara was empty.

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