With more than 150 Hawke's Bay building projects under his belt Syd Watters, of construction firm Watters and Jackson, says he now prefers owning buildings to constructing them.

"As landlord I make more money," he said. "Building is too competitive. It's cut-throat, just terrible."

He said chasing continuity of building work was difficult, "especially quoting for jobs when you already have your hands full".

The 88-year-old started his carpenter/joiner five-year apprenticeship in 1944. With one week left on his apprenticeship he bumped into another apprentice builder he knew from school, Lyal Jackson, who invited him to travel to Australia.


"We went to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide for most of 1949.

"We were just doing odd jobs and the idea was to move on to Europe but with the coal strike the whole country started to close down.

"We were hand-to-mouth for money because the wages weren't too good. We spent all the money on food, on board and travel. We didn't save anything.

"I landed in Adelaide with not enough money to pay a week's board and had to give them my Rolex watch, which was my 21st birthday present, as bond.

"With the country closing down we decided to get out of it as we would probably lose our jobs."

They returned to Napier where their old bosses offered them jobs, but they soon started their own business.

"Soldiers back from the war got married pretty quickly and state houses were starting.

"We built a couple for a start and then we got four quite quick.

"After a couple years we got 12 along Riverbend Rd. For young guys in their 20s, 12 houses in a row was something.

"I would do the wages at night and he would look after joinery factory we had just started. Everything we earned went back into the firm.

"Then architects came to us and we started doing architectural houses. Private houses were higgledy-piggledy all over the place. We wanted bigger stuff so we started doing commercial work."

Their first commercial job was at Hereford School in Havelock North.

"We built a big dining block, a kitchen block and then the maids' quarters.

"Man that was a hard year. Clay under the surface we had to dig out."

"Because we had to do our own concrete in those days we bought a one-bag concrete mixer that I'd start behind at 7am and we would work until 9pm by the truck's headlights."

The pair went on to build landmarks such as the Napier courthouse, the first stage of Hawke's Bay Prison and the main grandstand at McLean Park. They also started 10 building-related companies.

"We were pretty busy in those days."

They sold out of the company in the late 1980s. "Lyal and I had had enough, we had been working 24/7 for years."

The company carried on using their name but later went into liquidation.

"They mortgaged themselves to the hilt to buy us out."

Both are dogged with health issues but retain significant property portfolios and a lasting friendship. "I was very lucky to run into Lyal. It was just pure chance. He is a good cobber."