Episode 2

The Magpie House

The Vegetable Club

In 1951 a modernist, black and white house is built at 22 Ascot Terrace in Wellington. Meanwhile, in post-war New Zealand there’s a stark division between left and right. It’s hard to fully comprehend the paranoia of the time against Communism and the Soviets. 

In this episode we hear the story of an innocent social club—a vegetable co-op—that comes to be spied on by the Special Branch of the New Zealand Police, and of two talented young diplomats, including the owner of The Magpie House Richard Collins,  whose careers and reputations would be damaged as a result.

Who was the spy? And what was it like to live under a cloud of suspicion in a city as small as Wellington? Seventy years later, the ‘children of the Vegetable Club’ tell their parents’ stories.

‘The Magpie House’ is available on all major platforms.

Click any of the links below to listen.

 

In 1951 a modernist, black and white house is built at 22 Ascot Terrace in Wellington, designed by refugee architect Frederich Schwarzkopf for a young diplomat named Richard Collins and his family. 

It is a time of stark division between left and right. A 151-day confrontation on the wharves of Wellington pits left wing unions against the right wing government. Communists are not wanted in the public service—especially in areas that pertain to national security—and the conservative government feels that a purge or a vetting of all public servants should be undertaken. The police keep an eye on anyone suspected of being a communist—they tap phones, they monitor meetings, and they keep dossiers on people. These days it’s hard to fully comprehend the paranoia of the time against Communism and the Soviets. 

Meanwhile, Richard Collins and left-leaning friends form the ‘Vegetable Club’, a vegetable co-op which meets on Fridays to distribute cheap veggies amongst their social group—but mostly, it’s a chance to get the friends together for a casual weekly catchup. In the early days they meet in the law offices of Nigel Taylor and Keith Matthews at the McCarthy Trust Building on Lambton Quay. But it’s not long before the Vegetable Club comes to the attention of the Special Branch of the New Zealand Police (the forerunner of the NZSIS), and a spy is in their midst:

“The actual distribution of vegetables is certainly not the type of business which one would expect to find organized from the offices of a reputable legal firm … the question is posed as to whether the VEGETABLE CLUB may be a cover for other activities…”

In Episode 2: The Vegetable Club we hear the story of an innocent-sounding club that comes to be suspected of passing secrets to the Soviets, and of two talented young public servants whose careers and reputations are damaged as a result.

“They were told they’d never get a posting again … They were the victims, they were the eviscerated bodies hung out to dry and that was because they were diplomats and were involved in policy and foreign policy and things like that.”

Who was the spy? And what was it like to live under a cloud of suspicion in a city as small as Wellington? Seventy years later, the ‘children of the Vegetable Club’ tell their parents’ stories.

Host: Kirsten Johnstone
Guests: Chris Cochran, Nicola Saker and John  Saker, Nick Bollinger, Jacqueline Matthews, Aaron Fox, Sarah Lake

Music in this episode
The George Fraser Orchestra with John Hoskins: Misty Moon
Rosa Elliott: Landfall
Ross Harris: One Small Diary
Ross Harris: Memory – Funny
Douglas Lilburn/Denis Glover: The Magpies (instrumental)
Douglas Lilburn: Prelude 1951
Douglas Lilburn: Three Inscapes, I
Douglas Lilburn: Five Toronto Pieces (1963), IV Sings Harry
Douglas Lilburn: Canzonetta no. 2
Douglas Lilburn: Allegro for Strings
Douglas LiIlburn: Prelude No. 2
Larry Pruden: Lambton Quay March
Paul Schramm: Birds at Dusk
151 Days: (anon.)
Across The Line: (anon.)

For additional information on the music in this podcast, please click here.

Production team
Producer: Kirsten Johnstone
Research and Interviews: Jane Tolerton ONZM

Sound Engineer: Phil Brownlee
Script Advisor: Melody Thomas of Popsock Media
Production Assistance: Roger Smith, Jonathan Engle, Karlo Margetić, Alpana Chovhan, Nina Lesperance, Aimee Somerville
Executive Producers: Diana Marsh, Leoné Venter, Eva Radich

Special thanks to
NZSIS (New Zealand Security Intelligence Service)
RNZ Concert
The Lilburn Residence Trust
The Lilburn Trust
The Denis Glover Literary Estate
Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision
Atoll Records
Rattle Records
Ode Records
Performers in the podcast music excerpts
Cover Art: Kennedy Kioa Toi Faimanifo of Manatoa Productions

This podcast is supported by funding from Creative New Zealand.

 

 

© Copyright Centre for New Zealand Music Trust

Host

Kirsten Johnstone
Kirsten Johnstone is an audio producer and editor, who learned to craft impactful stories and sound while working for RNZ. Through 16 years working for RNZ National and RNZ Concert as a producer, on-air host and content creator, Kirsten built a name for herself as an empathetic interviewer and thorough researcher. Along with Melody Thomas, she runs Popsock Media, a new podcast production company which in 2021 is producing a series about Lake Alice for Stuff, and is working with NGO Just Speak on another series.

Guest

Chris Cochran
Conservation Architect and trustee of the Lilburn Residence Trust.

Guest

Nicola Saker & John Saker

Daughter and son of Dr Dorian Saker. Dorian was a member of the Vegetable Club.

Guest

Nick Bollinger
Son of Conrad Bollinger. Conrad was a member of the Communist Party when he was a student and later a member of the Vegetable Club.  Nick is also the grandson of Maria and John Dronke who were featured in Episode One.

Guest

Jacqueline Matthews

Former journalist and member of the Peace Corps and married to Keith Matthews. Keith and Jacqui were members of the Vegetable Club and Keith’s law firm offices were used to host the meetings.

Guest

Aaron Fox

Historian with an interest in cold war and military history.

Guest

Sarah Lake

Daughter of Douglas and Ruth Lake. Doug was a diplomat working for External Affairs and a member of the Vegetable Club.