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Thistles And Ferns
The Memoirs Of Bob Walker Of Waipukurau, New Zealand


Waipukurau, New Zealand 25 November 1925 - Lower Hutt, New Zealand 29 March 2012

ROBERT LESLIE WALKER born November 1925, Waipukurau.

At the prompting of my children, I will endeavour to set down something of the history of myself and family as I know it including reminiscences from my point of view about my Father, Mother and Brother and Sister.



Firstly, my own personal details ….

I was born on the 8th November 1925 in Sister Anderson`s Nursing Home in Gaisford Terrace Waipukurau. As my mother used to say, I was a birthday present for her 26th birthday which was on the 15th November. I can even tell you that a girl called Joan Staines was born in the bed next to me but two days earlier. As can be expected in a small community we went right through school together.

My father Thomas Wilson Walker was born in Invercargill on 19th November 1895 and my mother Margaret Williamina Pemberton (known to everyone as Reta) was born in Stirling (just outside Balclutha) on the 15th November 1899. I have an older brother Ronald Wilson Walker born 19th August 1922 and an older sister Joan Margaret Walker (now McHardie) born 25th October 1923. Dad was a Pharmacist and had been appointed to Pukeora Sanatorium, which was a new TB Hospital for returned servicemen. TB was at that time a feared killer disease which was treated by giving patients lots of good air, good food and plenty of rest. As it was all very new Dad had to learn more skills such as bacteriology and radiography and as he said it was a great place to work and live.

Mum of course was a dedicated housewife and mother and a very good one at that. I can look back now and deeply appreciate the love and care Mum gave to all of us particularly as she was the disciplinarian. Dad never raised his voice or hand to us. Mum was totally devoted to Dad as he was to her. She always said how much she loved her children, had no favourites, but Dad came first.

My first coherent memories are of the house in Hatuma Road. This was about a mile and a half out of Waipukurau in the country. It seemed at that time to be a large house but in fact it was quite small. It had 4 large brick chimneys and a long hall running from the front of the house to the kitchen at the back. All the rooms opened off this hallway and I seem to recall that I was in a room to the left of the hall. Out the back we had a long corrugated iron shed that Dad used to keep wood in. It also housed his old square tank Douglas Motor bike.

Dad used to ride this bike to Pukeora every working day, a distance of about 2 miles, and as the roads were only shingle in those days, had quite a few "incidents" He did tell us about one which I think is worth relating.

Just up the road a farmer called Fairweather had a sheepdog given to chasing motor vehicles. In those days of course there weren’t many of these, but every time Dad went past the dog would come out and bite at his foot as he rode past. Dad got fed up so, in his dispensary he made up two small glass containers of chlorine. Next morning the dog did his usual thing so Dad reached down and broke one of the containers on the dog’s nose. As Dad put it, the dog disappeared over the ridge in a cloud of dust and was never known to chase cars again.

At about age 4 I recall my Grandmother Pemberton with her new husband John Clark coming to stay. I can remember insisting that he come with me to see all the Hawthorn trees, which were then in full fruit. Years later I learned that all he did when we got back was to complain about the distance I had made him walk. Apparently it was a least a mile each way and he wasn’t used to walking. I can also recall about that same period I had a wooden whistle and on trying to blow it one day, I got bitten on the tongue by an earwig which had taken up residence Still when I was about four, I can recall Dad and his West End Orchestra practising at our place and over the road at Davis`s place. Sandy Davis played drums, his brother (Jack) played Saxophone, Bill Rust the Violin, and a lady whose name I can`t recall played piano. Dad played Trombone. Dad and some of the others used to play for the Silent Movies and the West End Orchestra was very much in demand for Balls and Dances. Mum told me that when I was about three, the Orchestra was playing at the Annual School Ball and she was helping with Supper. They put me in a makeshift carry cot and put me down at Sandy Davis` feet right by the bass drum where I happily slept the whole night through. Perhaps that is why I love music and dancing.

At five of course it was off to school and what a dramatic welcome I got. Summers in Hawkes Bay, particularly to kids, were long and hot and 1930/31 was no exception. I remember that we had gone to Napier earlier on and I have a vivid picture in my mind of watching a large number of yachts sailing a regatta on the inner harbour.

We then went down to Wellington when Dad took his Annual Leave and came back home on the second of February. On the morning of 3rd February 1931, my school career got under way and history will tell you that this was the day of the Napier Earthquake. As we were only 30 miles away you can imagine we got hit hard. The quake hit at 10.30 am fortunately, as we were all out in the playground at the time for morning break and I can remember taking off at full speed to our teacher Miss Caughley. I was fast even in those days and I reckon I got to her first. She was only about 5 feet tall but I`m sure she had every Primer One child in her arms and I was in danger of being crushed. I have no real idea how long it lasted although it seemed a long time. A little later my sister Joan appeared around the corner of the Standards Block and we walked off down the School Lane to the Main Street. I seem to recall that my brother joined us there but I`m not sure. The most vivid memory I have is seeing a large pile of bricks in the middle of the road with the big town clock resting on the top. These bricks were the front of the Post Office and when you looked at it, it was like a dolls house with no front. You could see the Counters on the ground floor and the rooms on the top floor where the Brownes lived. He was the Postmaster. We then all walked the one and a half miles back home to Hatuma Road to find our mother very shaken indeed. It seems that when the earthquake hit she was by the back door. She ran round the house to get to the front gate and on the way a brick from a falling chimney just caught her heel and bruised it. She told us she then had to really hang on to the front gate to stop from falling over as the ground movement was so violent. In fact all our chimneys had fallen down but luckily all had fallen outwards and did not damage the roof Mum did the cooking for the next few weeks out in the wood-shed on a Primus stove.

Dad went to Napier on the day of the earthquake with the Medical Rescue teams and came home on the Wednesday night. On the Thursday he borrowed a brand new Ford Coupe from one of the San porters, a guy named "Dummy "Percival, and took me with him back to Napier. As we approached Napier along the Marine Parade you could see a three storey white building with a lean of 30 to 40 degrees which I think was a private hospital. My only other strong memory of this day was seeing a tramcar lying on its side in Clive Square with its woodwork still smouldering. (I have since located a picture of the hospital which was known as Dr Moore`s Hospital.) I have written at length about the earthquake because it was such a devastating thing to happen to anyone at such a young age and my memories are still vivid. Memories of my years passing through school are strong and numerous but I will in general deal with the important (to me) ones. Having survived the earthquake we were soon back at school which had had a great number of cracks plastered over and in all the years at primary school, I was never sure how safe it really was. As I said we had to walk the one and a half miles to school down the main road which was still shingle with a rough footpath down the side. However, later on that year we shifted into Waipukurau and lived in a house in Northumberland Street. This was a new experience of having lots of neighbours and some of them were a pretty rough bunch. There was another family of Walkers with a lot of kids mostly older than us and I can remember some of the boys, Ulie, Freddie and George. The girls names I can`t remember.

I have two strong memories of Northumberland Street. The first was around about Guy Fawkes Day and Dad had bought some fireworks. He had one powerful one called a "Double Banger "which was very powerful indeed. Well we were all sitting at the tea table and Dad was pretending to light the wick of this "Double Banger" to scare us when unfortunately he really did light it. He didn`t have much choice then so threw it into the open fireplace where it exploded and brought down a shower of soot and dirt. The room was a shambles. I seem to remember that Mum was less than pleased and I’m sure Dad copped it when they were on their own. The second thing I remember was being doubled on a pushbike by a boy called Dennis Bliss who was the son of a local baker. Never having been on a bike before I made the mistake of letting my foot hang by the front wheel, when my sandal got caught and we had a nasty fall. The skin was taken off the top of my feet and there was blood everywhere. Fortunately I was right outside home and Mum in her usual capable fashion soon had me cleaned and fixed up.

Shortly after this we moved again; this time to Racecourse Road and a rather bigger house. I was I think in the Primers at the time. The next year took me to Standard One where I had a teacher we knew as Miss Pussy Williams. I realise now that she was very young and probably just out of Training College. I have no idea where she got the nickname of "Pussy" but I had a real crush on her. She was lovely. My Standard Two teacher was Miss Marshall known to all as Ma Marshall. She was a tall angular sort of woman who was a strict disciplinarian, and whom I always seem to upset. It wasn’t about my lack of scholastic ability as right through primary school I was always first or second in the class, competing always with, Bernie Dowrick, Charlie Lum Jack and Margaret Gideon. I think I topped the class in Stds 2 and 5 and was first equal in Std 3 with Paddy Howlett and 2nd in Stds 4 and 6.

1932 was a significant year as we shifted to Pukeora Sanatorium, to a house on the farm below the hospital. We were to live there until New Year’s Day 1941. Besides the Hospital Pukeora had a 400 acre farm which produced everything required to feed all the "live in "staff and patients. Several staff families lived on the farm. They were McVicars (2 Boys Bob and Des) Abrahams (2 boys Nelson and Selwyn ) Fergusons (1boy 1 girl Peggy and John ) Howletts ( 3 boys Ray, Paddy and Monty) Walkers (2boys 1 girl Ron, Joan and Bob) Yanko 3b ,1g David, John and one younger brother and sister whose names I don’t remember) Mcleans (1b,1g, Alistair and Shona.

The core of these families remained fairly constant over the next seven years but the McVicars and Mcleans moved away. No other families moved in. Each day we travelled to school by bus and this could be either a big Packard Taxi or a 20 seater bus. Later on the Packard was replaced by a new Hudson Terraplane car. Mike Udjur, a Dalmatian owned a Fish Shop, the local Taxi and the Bus Franchise, so we never knew what we would be travelling in. Later on during `39 and 40 I mostly rode my bike to school. I say my bike but it was in fact owned by one of our local butchers (Charley Wadman) and was a fully geared and equipped road racing bike.

Once again because we had to go straight from school to catch the bus home, we never got to be invited to people’s place or to birthday parties or such things. Similarly as a family we never had birthday parties and did not invite many of the kids to our place. There were enough kids living on the farm that we formed our own fairly closed society. What a wonderful life it was for a seven year old with literally thousands of acres to roam around in and miles and miles of rivers and river-beds.

The Sanatorium itself was situated at the top of the hill 4-5 miles west of Waipukurau and was surrounded by a 400 acre farm which as I have said made the institution virtually self sustaining. Our house was down on the farm and was about 200yards away from the Stables, slaughterhouse and pigsties which. It sounds pretty gruesome, but they were not visible from the house and we didn`t have a smell problem, Immediately below us down a steep hill was the remains of 6 fowl runs. All that was left were the concrete block bases about 30 feet by 30 feet and stepped down the valley like stairs. These proved a wonderful playground as they were so smooth and didn't turn to mud in the rain.

Within about two years however they had pulled up all the fruit trees, and, a little later had pulled the glasshouse down. I can remember 4 or 5 of us kids had been down raiding the orchard and we looked into the glasshouse on the way home to see what if anything we could eat. Berty Cullen the orchard keeper and his girlfriend (later his wife) Doris Hook were having a bit of a cuddle in the there and although he spoke a few harsh words to us he never ever mentioned the fact that we had been raiding the orchard. What it was to be young and innocent.

From the moment we went to Pukeora I spent every minute I could with Tom Taylor the Ploughman, Labourer and General Dogsbody. He was an Irishman about his middle fifties, unable to read or write but was a wonderfully competent man on all things farming. He loved his horses and they would do anything for him. I spent all my years at Pukeora learning everything Tom could teach me and by the time I was 12 I reckon I could handle any job on the farm within my physical limits. I could plough with a three horse team and do all the necessary things to look after the horses and harness them for work. One of my favourite jobs was in the winter, when we would harness Daisy our Clydesdale mare up to a dray, go and cut a load of ensilage and then feed it out to the cows. It really ponged, but I loved the smell, even though Mum reckoned she could smell me coming from half a mile away.

We had one bad accident and that was when Joan and I were riding on the footplate of our horse drawn spreader spreading superphosphate on the paddock in front of our house. The Super was quite lumpy and Joan and I were breaking down the larger lumps by hand. Joan when pushing down on a lump got her finger caught in the "star wheel" which rotated and let the super fall through to the ground. She yelled and old Tom who was driving stopped the horses so quickly that Joan only lost her fingernail and not her whole finger.

The farm also had a milking herd of 120 Ayrshire cows which were milked twice a day. They were so well trained that nobody ever had to drive them to their day and night paddocks, or go and get them when it was time for milking. They did it all on their own. I learned to milk by hand but it was not a thing I enjoyed doing. I always helped with cutting and stacking the lucerne, cutting and baling hay and ploughing and sowing. Old Tom entrusted me with helping him set up the guide markers for ploughing. We would take a measure from a fence at one end and make the same measurement at the other. We would put in a tall marker stake at each end and then I would walk the whole length of the paddock putting in stakes every 30 or 40 yards so that they all lined up. We would start the plough at one mark and and plough a dead straight furrow to the other end marker. After that it was a simple matter to plough the paddock with long straight furrows that were very much a matter of pride in those days.

Probably the most memorable incident of our lives a Pukeora was the night the Nurses Home was burned down. It happened that one of our local Taxi drivers (Stan Thompson) was courting one of the Sisters and they were parked outside the home about midnight. They noticed flames in the Matron’s lounge. Sister ran through the Home and woke everybody while Stan rang the Waipukurau Volunteer Fire Brigade and any other staff member he could find. I must say that I was not popular that night, as I wouldn`t answer the telephone when it rang in the middle of the night. It was in the kitchen right through the wall from my bed. Anyhow they kept ringing and Joan finally answered and called Dad and Mum who slept right up in the front of the house. Dad dashed off but Mum wouldn`t let us go and watch the fire so we didn`t see it till next morning. Then there was nothing but a pile of ashes. The only thing that survived was the asphalt tennis court for which Ron and I were quite thankful as we used to spend hours playing tennis there. I particularly recall that on the morning after the fire Joan and I spent a long time in conversation with two of the girls from the home. One of the girls was Winnie Cann and the other was ....Ford. (Can`t recall her first name).They were going into great detail about losing everything. A short time later they arrested and convicted Winnie Cann of lighting the fire. It turned out later that she was a known arsonist who liked setting fire to Hotels and Nurses Home. She apparently confessed to a number of fires but would not confess to a Nelson Nurses Home fire in which a girl was burned to death.

Another interesting part of life at Pukeora was our Wednesday night picture show. This was held in the Social Hall with strict segregation of patients and staff - patients on the left, staff on the right. It was quite laughable because everybody breathed the same air. We had a single projector operated by Doug Howlett and in between changing reels he played one of the five records he had. My favourites were ‘Road to the Isles’ and ‘Peg Leg Jack’. Coming up to the time when I was 12, I was beginning to appreciate the difference between girls and boys and had developed a real crush on one of my class mates called Gwen O`Connor. Gwen had started school with us in Standard 5 as she was from Wairoa. I think her mother had died and she had been sent to live with her maiden aunt, Miss Beacham. However I found out that like most young girls Gwen had a romantic streak and what she told you wasn`t necessarily the truth. So the reality was probably a bit different. That was a great time in my formative years as Gwen and I "went steady" until the end of our fourth form year when she returned to Wairoa. I also had two inseparable friends - Bob Johnston and Rod Chisholm. Bob was going steady with Kath Hubbard and Rod was going with Pam Smith. We all went to dances, pictures picnics etc and played a lot of tennis together …. just the usual teenagers of our generation. After Gwen returned to Wairoa I had a couple of brief romances with Sheila Walker and Edna Sparks, but it was never the same as our old gang. When I look back I must say that they were wonderfully innocent and protected days and the reality of making your way in this world were mercifully hidden from us. I should mention that in 1943 Bob Johnston joined the Navy as a Signalman and Rod Chisholm who was actually two years older than Bob and I joined the Airforce and became a Fighter Pilot. He did a tour of duty in the Islands flying Warhawks, while Bob went to England, trained as a sonar operator, and did his sea time on an anti submarine frigate in the English Channel. Rod married Isobel Munro and settled in Hastings while Bob married Nola Green and settled in Masterton. I had the good fortune this week (23/3/99) to catch up with Bob at the Carterton Golf Club where we caught up on a lot of history. I should mention that as at this time Rod, Kath and Gwen have died.

When Bob and I were in the Scouts together Rod gave us the framework of a 12 foot Indian style canoe which his father had kept in a shed. We covered it with a double skin of unbleached calico which we sealed with numerous coats of paint, finishing up with a bright red topcoat. We must have spent hundreds of hours paddling up and down theTuki Tuki River. Bob left school as soon as he was able to (I think at age 15 ) and went to work in the Hardware section of Hawkes Bay Farmers so Rod and I spent our spare time together either out rabbit shooting or riding our push-bikes all over central and southern Hawkes Bay. We both had paper rounds and on a nice Saturday morning we would meet up after breakfast and go riding. Our journeys (all one day trips) took us as far as Napier to the North and Woodville to the South and all points in between. I might say that at this stage of my life my bike was a Raleigh Sports given to me by Ron when he joined the Airforce. I have actually never owned my own bicycle in all my life.

One other significant happening in the era was when I was in the Third Form at High School (1939). Just at the start of the May holidays I had ridden my bike (on my own) to Dannevirke and back and the day after I developed a terrible earache. Dad took me down to the Hospital where they diagnosed an acute infection of the middle ear (Acute Otitis Media). Now it so happened that Dad had received his first supply of a new drug called M& B 693 or Sulphapyridine. (This was the first of the Sulpha Drugs of which Sulphanilimide became famous ) I was the first patient in the Hospital to receive this drug. One of the things about sulphapyridine was that all eggs and onion had to be excluded from the diet and they very carefully didn`t give me any eggs or onions. However I was a very sick boy and the only thing I could tolerate was soup so this is what they fed me. (loaded with onions). The infection just got worse and I rather think I was in a pretty desperate situation because without further ado they operated on me by cutting through the eardrum and lancing the infection directly. It took me a couple of weeks to recover before I went home and I remember feeling very put out because I had spent all of the May School holidays in Hospital . I felt that was a pretty raw deal. As a comment on this I should tell you that a girl called Evelyn Halford from my class developed the same complaint about a week after me, was admitted to Hospital, given M&B 693 and walked out cured after 3 days. I was rather annoyed.

[end of part one]

I finished my schooling at High School passing University Entrance in 1942, and taking extra subjects in Plane Trigonometry and Drawing (Freehand and Mechanical) I passed Engineering Preliminary and qualified for Higher Leaving Certificate in 1943. At about this time a chap called John Pickie (our 3rd grade Football coach) chased me up to join Hawkes Bay Farmers as a Stock and Station Agent but I couldn`t see myself staying in Waipukurau all my life, so turned that down. At the same time I had the opportunity to apply for an Officer Training Course at Duntroon College in Australia. I wasn`t that keen but the recruiting Captain kept at me by visiting me twice at school and even asking the Headmaster to try to convince me. Dad put a bit of pressure on me not to accept so I didn`t.

I enrolled at Victoria University and came down to Wellington to live at a Bed and Breakfast boarding house at 120 The Terrace run by a charming lady called Mrs Baird. I must say on looking back on that period of my life, that it was not a very happy time. Here I was a callow youth from the country, with no friends, schoolmates or anyone in a big city, when I was used to knowing and be known by ev’rybody. I also had made a bad error in judgement deciding to take Chemistry as one of my subjects as I had not taken this at High School. I had taken Biology as a science, but this was not an option at University because I was taking Engineering Intermediate. I would have been better taking a Degree in the "life" sciences. This put a great deal of strain on me so that by the end of the year I had not taken "terms" in Chemistry although I had in Pure and Applied Maths. I must mention that I was only able to do this year at University because my brother Ron provided me with 3 pounds a week during the Varsity year.

At the end of the Varsity year I got a job with my uncle, Alan Pemberton working with the Maintenance Gang at C&A Odlins. This was an experience and a half. When I started, the gang had a project on, which involved pulling down the Sawmill and 4 Mill Houses at Hinakura (out behind Masterton) and rebuilding them all at Wereroa (Levin). All went well for the first three weeks and we duly dismantled the mill and houses into sections, loaded them up and transported them to Levin. This involved a number of round trips. We were working around sixteen hours a day and when we were at Hinakura the company paid for us to stay at the Club Hotel in Martinborough. This pub later became famous on TV as the pub at Pukemanu. Staying at this pub was another one of those life experiences that it would be hard to forget. Mick Quinn was the local Publican and he was from a family who had run pubs all over NZ (e.g. Quinns Post). He was a great guy and was one of the most entertaining fellows I`ve ever met. He had one particular trick I must recount. When Mick gave you change, if he had more than one coin, he would spin the largest one on end and make it run round and settle behind your glass. He would then bet a whisky against you buying a round that he could spin the smaller coin and make it land on the first one. He had a very high percentage of success, but I seem to remember getting a few drams… whisky was in very short supply at the time. Once, (I was about 19 then), when we had spent most of one evening drinking with a group of local people, I asked Mick whether he had any after-hours trouble with the Law. He replied that I had better ask the guy I was drinking with as he was the local policeman!

During the pulling down of these houses I had run a splinter of jarra into my right hand middle finger. I pulled it out and thought no more about it till about four weeks later when my hand became so painful that the firm sent me to their doctor, a Dr Hutchison. He looked at it and lanced the infection and referred me to Wellington Hospital Outpatients for regular dressings. After a week the finger had got worse so I asked the Hospital if I could go home to Waipukurau, and, after some debate they agreed. Getting home was an adventure in itself as then, about December 1944 wartime restrictions on travel were quite severe. It meant that you could not travel more than 50 miles without a travel permit and it always took a few days to get one. This meant that I couldn`t book on the Napier train so I bought a ticket to Masterton and caught the Wairarapa express. I got off at Masterton and bought a ticket to Waipukurau without being questioned, got back on the train and travelled to Woodville. I then waited at Woodville for about an hour before the Napier express arrived and travelled through to Waipukurau. I must say that at no time did anybody ask me for a Travel Permit. When I finally got home, Dad whipped me straight off to the Hospital where the Medical Superintendent gave me a real going over and announced that the infection was so widespread that if it couldn't be brought under control very quickly, he would have no option but to amputate the finger. Well he and Dad had a consultation, and, as a result, I was given a course of penicillin which fortunately beat the infection and left me with my finger. I then spent six weeks on ‘Workers Compensation’ at a higher rate of pay than the ordinary workers’ wages. They calculated ‘Compo’ on the basis of 2/3rds of the average of your last six weeks wages, and, as I had been working sixteen hour days my payment was very high. In fact I was called the ‘Compo King’ when I went back to work at Odlins for the rest of the vacations and also finished up in Levin for six weeks rebuilding the houses we had pulled down, as well as building a new Sawmill.

With the new academic year coming up, I returned to Wellington and decided that I had to get a full-time job to support myself; so I applied to the Manpower Authority as was required by Law in those days. They gave me a list of possible employers, who, for the most part, were factory companies. However, there was one Company I recognised called Watson Victor Ltd. It was the X-Ray and Electromedical equipment company that had installed all the X-Ray equipment at Pukeora, and, as Dad was the Radiographer there I had already met one or two its people. I duly fronted up and got a job, initially in the store, but with the promise that I would be given the first office job available. This opportunity came after a couple of months and I was put in the orders section under a guy called Andy Caverhill. From that point, with only a one year break, I spent the next thirty-two years working for them.

This really is the point where the direction of my life changed. I was 19 and pretty well able to take care of myself so I settled down to making it my business to learn everything about the medical fields in which the company was operating. I must say that my upbringing, and the fact that I had studied Biology, made this a relatively easy and painless line of learning, so I really began to enjoy my job. Our Managing Director was John M. Graydon, a very fine man, and one of the old school whose favourite saying was, "It is not who is right, but what is right"! He was a very ‘hands- on’ boss and would turn up when you were working and put you through a ‘catechism’ of what you were doing and why. It was amazing how many times in the early stages of my employment he would arrive as I was not quite doing things right and so I soon learned to think pretty hard about what I was doing and thus avoid embarrassment. I must say that I have always taken pride in my work and the work ethic which has guided it, and I am sure that this feeling could be attributed to the fine teaching that I received from John Graydon.

At the time I joined Watson Victor I was living in a ‘bach’ at the back of a house in Durham Crescent off Aro Street. Two of the guys at ‘WatVic’ arranged for me to get full board with a Mrs Jordan who ran a boarding house at 235 Ohiro Road, Brooklyn. This was not only a huge improvement on my previous digs because it was full board, but also, as there were about twelve of us in the house there was always company.

It was here that I met Nigel King who was to become Best Man at my later wedding. He was a wonderful pianist, and our mutual love of music was one of our main touching points. Thanks to my Mum I had learned all the old songs that she used to sing and we enjoyed many a good old sing song together. I must admit that I never thought that I might have a reasonable voice. I tended to think of myself as a mere warbler. Nigel, however, was a great one for playing by ear, and, when we first got together I would ask if he could play a certain song. Quite a lot of the time he wouldn`t know it and would ask me to sing it through for him. Next thing he would play it back perfectly with full chord harmonies and said that it was no trouble at all because my voice was so accurate for pitch and melody. There were some wonderful times at Mrs Jordan’s.

That same year (1945), because I was a keen tramper and dancer, I joined the Young People’s Club which was very active in both these areas. Another two friends of mine at Mrs Jordan’s who also joined the club, were, Gordon Carmichael, a lad who hailed from Dannevirke and who worked in the Railway Booking Office in Courtenay Place and a Murray Grey. The reason I mention these guys is because we were together when Victory over Japan was declared (VJ Day) and it became a true ‘Lost Weekend’. I was riding my bike up Willis Street that morning when all the windows in the Evening Post Building opened and showers of paper were thrown out. The armistice had just been signed. Instead of going to the Parkin Plating Co where I had been heading, I rode up to Courtenay Place and there joined up with Gordon and Murray to join in the celebrations. I won’t go into too much detail because an awful lot was quite hazy and the time factor became quite compressed. However, I do recall some parts of the pub-crawl we undertook, mainly the Pier and Post Office Hotels. These were the hangouts of a lot of the mostly Irish Watersiders. I recall that we spent most of our time singing all the Irish songs we knew and we came out loaded with bottles of beer without having spent a red cent. They were all so maudlin and home sick they wouldn`t let us pay for anything. Although we were in many pubs after that, the other one that stands out is the Duke of Edinburgh. This was one of our regular pubs as it had Cascade Beer on tap which, to our mind, was the finest beer in NZ at the time. The publican used to boast that a new barrel coming into the Hotel was in the cellar thee months before it came on tap. Well all that went by the board because by the time we got to the pub it was dry--all the draught beer had been drunk and they were down to their last few bottles. My last vivid memory of this episode was being stopped by Police as we walked home through Central Park about 11.00 a.m. next day and being told by the Sergeant to go home and sleep it off.

The next few months were uneventful being taken up with work, tramping, dancing etc. Many know that I love dancing and would go out of my way to go to a dance. One of the girls from the Club (Betty Barker) also loved dancing. If she didn`t have a partner she would ring me up and we would go dancing together. Indeed the whole YPC gang would go to a dance or a Ball at the drop of a hat. I always like to point out that I never "went out" with Betty as a girlfriend but just as a dancing partner. From about September ‘45 to January ‘46 I went out with a girl from the Club called Nan Marshall who, shortly after I went deer culling, married Betty Barker’s brother Eddie who at the time was Club President.

Although engaged in all these social activities I was still very much a lonely country boy, so, under some pressure from a work-mate of mine named Les Pracy, I joined up with him to form a deer culling party and joined the Internal Affairs Department. I resigned from Watson Victor with the assurance that, should I ever require it, there would be a job always available to me. So on the eighth of January 1946 I reported to the Otaki Railway station for duty as a deer culler.

Perhaps I should give a little background to this deer culling business. Deer graze a bit like sheep and cut vegetation right down to ground level. They also like the bark of the Konini tree and without much trouble can ring-bark and kill it. This probably wouldn`t matter much if deer grazed in lowland pastures, but they don`t. They graze the mountain top pastures of tussock grass and the Konini grows in the head-waters of all the mountain streams. As they eat the tussock down they expose the soil to rain and snow and thus accelerate erosion. The Konini trees help to stabilise the land in the head waters of the rivers, but when destroyed erosion becomes a major problem. I firmly believe that the problems with deer were never as bad as was thought, but at this time (1946), because of the War, our mountains had not been shot-over for 6 years and deer , goats, and pigs had bred till they were quite out of hand.

With this background I arrived at Otaki Forks and was issued with an MLE .303 1902 vintage, long-barrel, open-sights’ rifle – known affectionately to all as a "Long Tom". I asked if the long barrel wouldn`t be a bit of a problem for "bush shooting "to be told by the Field Officer that I wouldn`t be doing a hell of a lot of bush shooting as I would spend all my time on the ‘Tops’ for which a Long Tom was ideally suited. He was right. I really came to rely on the accuracy of a long barrel when shooting at altitudes of about 3000 to 5000 feet. The SMLE short barrels were never quite as accurate.

I only spent one night at Otaki Forks as next day Les Pracy and I were taken to Eketahuna and then into the eastern side of the Tararua Ranges to a place called Putara. This is in the valley of the Mangatainoke Stream and is about 15 mile from Eketahuna and became our primary Base Camp. From there it was a two or three day tramp to get to our advance base Camp in the Waingawa Forks just below Tarn Ridge. We settled into the hut at Putara which was at the beginning of the Ruapai Track and for the first week spent all our time shooting the ridges and tops within a days tramp of the hut. We then packed up all our gear and supplies and moved on to the Ruapai Forks Camp situated at the confluence of the Ruapai and Ruamahanga Rivers. Here we had two ‘eight by ten’ permanent tents with well made bush bunks. These were made of punga tree trunks covered in deep layers of dry vegetation and were very comfortable indeed. After a couple of weeks shooting this area, Les Pracy had to pull out because of a damaged foot, and I was joined by a chap called Ken Purcell who only stayed a week then decided it was not the job for him. He was replaced by Ted Rye, a very experienced shooter and Bushman. Ted had a dog ‘Mac’with him, about 6 months old; a Bull Mastiff Blue Merle ‘cross’ who stood about 2ft 6 at the shoulder and had a jaw that would take your arm off.

Just as an aside, one day, when we were packing supplies along the track at Ruapai, we met a tramping party from the Tararua Tramping Club comprising about 6 guys and 4 women. We finally worked out that Mac had never seen a woman before. It appeared that having been born in the bush he couldn’t handle the strangeness. I should also tell you that about a month later, Mac went missing after a days shooting with Ted. After a week or so we gave him up for dead. Three months later on a return trip to Ruapai I went into the equipment tent and got bowled-over, literally, by Mac, who had obviously been living on what he could catch and kill and had probably holed up at Ruapai hoping we would come back.

Shortly after Ted had joined me, our Field Officer, Bert Barra came out to camp and told us we had to be up on Tarn Ridge in three days time in order to receive an airdrop of 3 months supply of food and ammunition. This was to be the first ever air drop of supplies to deer cullers and was to be somewhat of an experiment. We duly turned up at Tarn Ridge and laid out the drop signals on the ground and waited...... for three days. We then tramped out to base and Bert made contact with Internal Affairs to be told that the Public Works’ plane had engine trouble and to forget about an air drop. Thus we had to pack all supplies in on our backs. This we duly did by carrying these packs, averaging 100lb, 6 days a week for about 4 weeks until we finally had all supplies back at our camp at Waingawa. Thus, there was virtually no shooting for this 4 week period. In due course, the first successful air drop made comprised building materials for a hut being built on Mt Crawford.

The only real incidents in the remainder of my time in the Tararuas was being burnt out while shooting the head-waters of the Waiohine. We had just got a fire going at our overnight camp when we spotted a bunch of deer coming down a side stream. Naturally we took off and cleaned up the mob but when we got back to camp we found that a pair of trousers belonging to Ted had fallen from the tent rope into the fire. The fire had burned the trousers but one leg was lying against the side of the tent and the whole thing had gone up in flames taking all our sleeping bags, packs and spare clothes with it. It was a three day tramp out to base so we had to spend two nights out without any sleeping bags or shelter. The other was being turned round in the fog while shooting on Dorset Ridge and not being able to move or find my way back to camp until about four in the morning. Another cold night in the tussock.

[end of part two]

Part 3

After coming out of the Tararuas at the end of May when the Tops were covered in snow I spent two weeks on leave at home and then crossed over to the South Island on the Tamahine for the Winter Shoot in Marlborough. This turned out to be a very different kind of shooting. My old Field Officer Bert Barra was head of the training school they were setting up in Wairau River Head-waters and Ted Rye my shooting partner was assistant Field Officer in the Area where I was to report. I was due to report at 2.00pm on the Wednesday at the Adelphi Hotel in Kaikoura. By six o’clock that afternoon I still hadn't seen my new field Officer although I had asked around a few times. At closing time when I checked again with the barman I was told that I had been drinking with the fellow for the last two hours. The guy’s name was Les Owens a fairly feisty west Coaster and we had been getting on pretty well. He asked me how an educated guy like me had got into the culling business and I told him my friend Les Pracy had suggested it. Nothing was said but I was a marked man from that moment on. What I didn`t know was that before the War, Les Pracy and Les Owens were shooting partners over on the Coast, but one day Les Pracy caught Les Owens beating a horse over the head because he had baulked at a water crossing. Les Pracy had then given him the father and mother of a hiding and you can imagine that there was no friendship between them.

I teamed up with a guy called Buckridge and to this day I don’t know his Christian name. He was always called Buck. As experienced shooters it was our job to go into a shooting block after a team from the Wairau Training School had shot-over it, and then take-out any game that was left. As we had a large pack of dogs we invariably took out more game than the original party. Les Owens used to come down to our camps and grizzle that we weren’t making the tallies we should etc etc whereas in fact we tallied higher than any one. To make a long story short he niggled us to the point where we had an argument about a transfer to a block and a change of personnel. I had really had a gutsfull and resigned. It was only later that Ted Rye told me they wondered how long I would stick out against Les Owen because of my friendship with Les Pracy. Strangely enough, after all this argument with Les Owens he became, outwardly, very friendly and as a result he and Ted Rye and I drove an Internal Affairs van to Blenhein and stopped there for three hazy days at Barrie’s Hotel. Afterwards, I climbed aboard the Tamahine and returned to the North Island and it was an incident on this day that determined my future career.
I got off the Tamahine in Wellington in the late afternoon, wandered up Lambton Quay to an old haunt of mine, the Piccadilly Restaurant, sat down and had a meal. About halfway through, the Medical Manager of Watson Victor (Charles Masters) walked in and sat down at my table. After a lot of catching up he asked me what I was planning to do and said that there was always a job for me at Watson Victor and I only had to ask. Next day I travelled to Waipukurau to sort out what I should do, although I was very keen to join the Forestry Service.

It so happened that the first week I was home they had an Ad in the paper for Forestry Hands so I duly went off to Hastings for an interview which turned out very well except that I didn`t take the job. During the interview they were very impressed with my background and experience and said that on that basis I would have to be rated a ‘Leading Hand’. As I was only 20 they felt that I could have great difficulty running a gang of workers most of whom would be pretty large Maori boys. I felt discretion was the better part of valour and left ...quietly! It seemed to me that the best thing to do was to contact Watson Victor and see what they had to offer. So I got on the phone to John Graydon the NZ Manager who, I must say, was delighted to hear from me, and gave me a job on the spot. I duly returned to Wellington, became assistant to Dr Morice Fields who was then just setting up a new Scientific Division and settled back into things very well.

Being back in Wellington I of course returned to my old haunts, the first one being the Young Peoples Club (YPC). When I arrived I was given a very warm welcome and was told that I would be the Labour Candidate in a ‘mock election’ they were having as there was to be a General Election in November. Considering that prior to going "Bush" I had been in the B Grade debating team, it must be confessed that my speech was a total and utter disaster. First of all, I had never been politically minded; if anything I was National oriented. Also, I had been out of touch with people for nearly a year and frankly had no idea of Labours Policies. I was however elected with a good majority …. most of the members being staunchly Labour. In particular, one attractive young girl whom I had never seen before came up to me and said "That was the worst speech I`ve ever heard." That rather damaged my pride, but, as I agreed with her, I just turned to Betty Barker and said, "Who the Hell was that?" She told me that her name was Shirley Harvey and that she and her sister Olga were relatively new members. I must say, that apart from her comments, I thought she was a lovely looking girl and decided she would be worth getting to know. When her sister Olga found out I was an athlete of sorts I was invited along to a showing of the film of the 1936 Olympic Games and it was suggested I should join the Petone Amateur Athletic and Cycling Club. This seemed to me to be a good idea because I would get an opportunity to get to know Shirley. However, the night I turned up at the Athletic Club I was told that Shirley wasn`t an athlete, so I decided to walk Olga home on the off-chance I might meet up with Shirley again.

It seems that about then Shirl accepted that it was her I was interested in but unfortunately we never got any time to spend alone as Olga always seemed to be there. In the fact the first time we were alone was when we went on a midnight cruise on the old Cobar out to the Wanganella which was then on Barret’s Reef. As Olga was suffering from some painful shingles, and couldn’t move around much, Shirl and I escaped and had a wonderful evening.

By the time March 1947 came around I was certain that she was the girl for me and I proposed at eleven minutes to eleven o’clock one evening just before dashing off to catch the bus at Cuba Street. Looking back, I suppose that I had not really appreciated then just what a huge step it was to ask a girl to marry me, and of course I hadn`t even thought of buying an engagement ring. One of the first things I did was to ring my Mother and ask her to send some of the money that I had left with her after I’d come out of the Bush; and of course I broke the news of my engagement! This was a real case of putting the cat among the pigeons as, not only had Mum and Dad not met Shirl, but also Mum was worried about what her ‘baby’ was getting himself into. But, being a good Mum, she sent me the money as requested and I went into Stoneham Jewellers on the corner of Cable Car Lane and bought a very nice solitaire diamond ring.

Shirl and I decided that we would not make our engagement official until her 21st Birthday on 4th June 1947 and I carried the ring around in my wallet until then. Actually Shirl (who hadn’t seen the ring) used to look after my wallet and watch while I was playing football, but she was never aware that it had her ring in it. Just after I had told Mum and Dad of the engagement, they arrived down on a visit, mainly to meet Shirl and ‘check her out’. I am happy to say that both decided immediately that I had indeed picked the right girl.

Shirley lived at 64 Adelaide Street Petone, with her Father, Grandmother and young sister Olga. Pat, her oldest sister, lived down the street at the flats at 80 Adelaide Street. Apart from her job as a spray painter at Jeldi Lampshades, Shirley had to do all the cooking and housework and generally look after the others in the house. Her Grandmother was quite a tyrant and she could make her life most uncomfortable. At that time football was pretty important to me as I was playing Senior Grade for Victoria University 1st XV, and, if I wanted Shirl to come out with me on the weekends to football or athletics etc., I would go around on Saturday morning, boil the copper, and then do the washing so she could get time off. This need to help was always there but we coped and always managed to get out together.

Not long before we were due to get married, Alf, Shirl`s Dad, got himself into a bit of difficulty with the paying of the rent and the buying of food, so he asked me to come and board with them so that there would be enough money coming in to keep him solvent. I should say that Alf was a Sailmaker by trade and at that time was arguably the best single handed sailmaker in NZ. However the war had made it almost impossible to get sailcloth so he really had no regular work. This meant his only source of income was his War Disability Pension. He had been seriously wounded at Gallipolli and couldn't really do any heavy work. Anyhow the arrangement worked well and helped him out of what could have been deep trouble.

In the months before we got married, when I was not participating in team sports, Shirl and I spent our time down at the Hutt River mouth. We had an old friend called Ossy Ryan who had a boat building shed down there. He always had a dinghy available for us and we spent many, many hours rowing on the river. We both loved doing this and it was a very happy period in our lives.

It might be hard for the younger generations to appreciate how difficult life could be in those days, particularly in relation to earning and saving money. With marriage in view, although no date had been set, it became a question of how soon we could save up to afford to get married. Shirl working as a spray painter in a Lampshade Factory probably got about three dollars per week, and I got about four. We decided that the best thing to do was for me to give my wages to Shirl, less a little spending money for myself. All Shirl’s wages were taken up in keeping the house going for her father and sister. I doubt that she had more than a few shillings a week to spend on her self. Alf never had a ‘bean’ so if we were going to have a wedding we were going to have to pay for it ourselves. To cut a long story short, it took 18 months of saving before we were able to get married on the 2nd October 1948; and we, on our own, paid for both the wedding and honeymoon. We married at 4.30 p.m. on the day. I suppose it was a good wedding but being a mere man I was probably not qualified to judge!

Our Wedding party comprised Shirl and me, Nigel King (Best Man), Betty Harvey (Chief Bridesmaid), Scotty Mills (Groomsman), Olga Harvey (Bridesmaid), and Suzanne Sherratt (Our 4year-old Flowergirl). Unfortunately we had picked a day when the North/South Football match was to be played, and, as it got close to 4.30 there was hardly a male to been seen at St David’s Church. Apparently they were all down at the Central Hotel listening to the match on the Radio. My brother-in-law Alan who was an Usher was also getting worried at this stage as the Minister was nowhere to be seen either! Alan went next door to the Manse, and there in his gardening clothes, still unshaven, listening to the football was Frank Winton the Minister. I understand that activity in the Manse was furious with Frank arriving just a minute or so before the bride who fortunately was fashionably ten minutes late! The upshot of all this was that Frank Winton had forgotten his Book of Service but managed to do the whole thing from memory. Although he left quite a bit out of the service I guess Shirl and I felt we were really married, so no harm done. We had our photos done at Jauncey Studios and then had a wonderful reception at the Heretaunga Yacht Club. The honeymoon was certainly a wonderful new experience. We had booked into the Portage down in the Marlborough Sounds but stayed overnight at the Waterloo Hotel opposite the Railway Station, and. perhaps it says it all if I tell you that Shirl was the first of the Hotel's patrons to be down at breakfast in the morning. She said she was hungry or something!

End of Part 3


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