Right from the start I was making Mum lose sleep. I put in my very first appearance at about 1.15am 7th of November 1964. We lived on a farm at a place called Pukehuia (it’s pronounced “Pookiehooeeah”, sort of), near Tangiteroria, and it’s on the way from Whangarei to Dargaville. My Dad was a farm manager. I don’t remember much about living there as I was very young when we left for Mahia Peninsula. I do remember the shepherd though, Les. He had a pair of six-shooters he had bought back from the States. When you are five years old, a real live six-shooter is about the coolest thing ever. Les was a great story teller. He was laid up in bed once with torn up leg. He told me he had been gored by a wild boar. Turns out he just rode too close to some barbed wire!
I started school in Pukehuia and it was about a mile walk down to where the school bus came by. The bus shelter was a big corrugated iron water drum cut in half and put on its side with a bench in it. This was a common sight on school bus routes in New Zealand. I remember my excitement at getting my first leather satchel school bag. It seemed enormous, but you see them now and they are pretty small. I also remember bullies putting tacks on my seat on the bus. Bullying was going to have quite an impact on my later school days.
The family car back then was a Volkswagen Beetle. We used to like to ride in the little cavity behind the back seat for some reason. Before we left Pukehuia, Dad bought the only new car we ever had, a white Mark II Cortina. White! Why?
Mum’s parents, my grandparents, lived in Whangarei and had a farm out at Maungakaramea. My grandfather, Grampie, was one of the great All Blacks. His name was Innes (Bunny) Finlayson. He played 36 matches for the All Blacks between 1925 and 1930, including six tests. He scored 11 tries and was the first All Black sent off in South Africa, on the very first All Black tour there in 1928. We were hugely proud of Grampie. He was a huge bloke and my grandmother Jessie, or Sessie as she was always known to us, was only little.
For reasons I didn’t find out about or ever really understand, we moved to Onenui Station on Mahia Peninsula when I was five. My baby brother Campbell was six months old and my older brother Finlay was seven. Onenui Station was an 8000 acre sheep farm on the Peninsula which is the north-eastern most tip of Hawkes Bay. It is one of the more remote parts of New Zealand. From our home to the nearest town, Wairoa, was 91 kilometres. Because of the winding gravel roads for the first part of the journey, the trip to town was the best part of two hours. The settlement of Mahia with a little shop and school was about 25 kilometres away. Onenui was a truly astonishing place to be a kid. We had about 10,000 ewes on the farm. Nearly 1000 cattle and about 3000 wild goats. The shearing shed was down on the beach and the wool bales would be rowed offshore to a waiting ship to take them to Napier. We had ocean all around – on one side of the Peninsula was a good swimming beach and on the other side a big reef. When I say a good swimming beach, that is apart from the large numbers of great white sharks in the sea. We used to see them in the surf just off the beach. There is an island just off the end of the Peninsula and apparently the gap between the island and the mainland is a good feeding ground for sharks.
On the reef side, there was quite a climb down a cliff face to get to the beach. The dogs wouldn’t take it on but we clambered down to watch the giant manta rays feeding on the reef. We would also often find crayfish pots that had come loose from their moorings off shore. We would light a fire on the beach and stuff ourselves with raided crayfish. These are much bigger than the European lobster and they don’t have claws. The buoys were those beautiful glass ones, with rope over them, which are so sought after now. We used to give them away to our rare visitors.
From the house it was about a three mile walk direct up and down many hills, to get to the beach. So, we used to drive down on the much longer track to the beach in the old international truck. It’s a long walk home when the truck axle breaks in one of the many culverts.
It was too far to go to Mahia School from up on the Peninsula and luckily Onenui had its own little school house, Tawapata Maori School. Fin and I attended with the head shepherd’s son and a local family, the Mataira kids, from down on the flats at the far end of the farm. All seven of us. The Mataira’s used to ride their horses to school. Annie Ormond used to come from down nearer Mahia to teach us. She drove an orange Holden Monaro with black bonnet stripes.
The Mataira’s moved away and then it was just the three of us at the school. That was not sustainable, so we had to go to Mahia School. It was a long dusty drive down to the end of the school bus route. Then a school bus ride to a school where we were the only white kids at the time I think. They called me “Moonface”. My best friends at school were “Juicy” and “Bung ear”. Bung ear was so named because he had something misshapen about one of his ears. Even the teachers called him Bung-ear. I never knew his real name. The Headmaster at school was a shark fisherman in his spare time. He used to put the sharks on the lawn in front of the school on Monday mornings. We used to love seeing these massive beasts and often would play king of the castle on them. Playing king of the castle on a dead shark is a great game.
One day, the bell rang during lessons and there was great excitement. We were told to hurry onto the playground. Mahia School is at the edge of a sea cliff and the playground abuts this cliff. We stood at the edge of the cliff and watched in amazement as a large pod of killer whales passed by just offshore. We had a fantastic view of them cresting and blowing, diving and well, being killer whales. It’s a vision I will take to my grave.
At the weekends we used to spend most of our time at the beach. We used to catch sea-horses and octopuses. We would harvest Paua and cook them on the beach. One day, though, we found a little blue penguin. I caught it and took it to school for show and tell. Best show and tell ever! I did let it go though. Little blue penguins are quite solitary animals so it was fine. One day, we also saw an elephant seal on the beach. An absolutely enormous thing; quite scary in fact.
The Peninsula is steeped in Maori history and we had some slightly weird experiences. One day we thought it might be interesting to have a little excavation of an old Pa site (an ancient Maori fort). We had barely begun to dig, when we were overcome with a strange feeling that we just shouldn’t be tampering with the place. The Maori put a curse or tapu on these ancient sites – we didn’t really believe that stuff but there was no denying the feeling of wrongdoing in tampering with the place – really eerie.
Another time we found a human skull on the beach. We took photos and showed it to Mum and Dad. They were horrified and made us put it back where we found it. When we went for another look, it was gone! This wasn’t a place where people just happened by. Also, the photos [we took at the Pa site] were the only ones on the film that didn’t come out.
A local lady was tending her husband’s grave down at the old beach cemetery one day when she heard a lot of wailing and eerie sounds. She thought it was spirits talking to her. It was actually whale song. Whales have been known to come in close to shore and one got beached when we were there.
The reason the shearing shed was down on the beach was historical but you couldn’t really get trucks up the very steep winding road up to the farm. We found this out the hard way. A handful of Freightways trucks from Napier spent the best part of a week stuck on the roads as the truck and trailers wouldn’t get around the very narrow turns. We had to unload the sheep they had in them while the trailers where perched at precarious angles hanging over bluffs. Then uncouple the trucks and use the bulldozer to widen the track to get them off the hill.
So we rearranged the track a bit and then the huge new shearing shed was built up on top of the peninsula. It was a ten stand shearing shed, that’s huge. We used to get shearing gangs staying in the big shearer’s quarters and their kids would come to school with us. One year a very pretty girl turned up with them and I suddenly discovered a whole new inability to speak. I used to carry her books for her. I do not remember her name.
Mustering the 10,000 ewes for shearing or drenching or drafting and so on is a massive undertaking on such steep and wild property. Fin and I used to get paid a dollar a day to keep the wild goats away from the sheep muster. You didn’t want goats in with the sheep as they could give them some sort of disease and also generally get in the way and be a nuisance. The ones that did get in among the sheep used to walk about on their backs in the yards. It was a pretty funny sight.
We used to have great adventures on the farm. Dad would go pig hunting some weekends. I had to sit on the back of the old truck if I didn’t want to join in. One day I was sitting there hearing all the kerfuffle of dogs and pigs in the bush. Dad was shouting to the dogs and then a pig came steaming out of the scrub, past me on the old truck and disappeared in the opposite direction to where Dad and the dogs where. I was only little and couldn’t shout very loud so the pig had a great head start before Dad realised what was going on. We got him in the end though and he was delicious!
Another favourite pastime was building forts in the hay barn. We had a big barn a mile or so from the house and Fin and I spent a good day down there building a very impressive structure. We went home mid-afternoon and it was blowing a howling gale. We got back to the house to be asked by Mum where Campbell was.
Campbell was 18 months old and Mum had thought he had been with us. He hadn’t been, and had been missing for half a day on a remote peninsula in gale force winds. Where do you even start looking? You have to wonder why mum thought him being with us was ok and why wasn’t she looking for him the minute he was out of her sight. But that’s another story for another time.
So we set off out into the storm to search. Your voice was just carried off in the wind and the place is so rugged and remote he could literally be anywhere, or under your feet and you wouldn’t see him. Mum was having kittens. We eventually stumbled across him in the scrub a few hundred yards from home. Crying because he had lost a shoe. So no harm done then!
Lasting harm was done though when I got my first bike. Mum and Dad sat me on it and pushed me off across a track, which I then promptly left and careered down a hill and clattered into a parked trailer. I was in a lot of pain and they were doubled up laughing. I was cross with them for days.
Every year we used to have an old Maori drover come to stay with us before we got the muster together for the sales. Old Eru would tell us amazing stories about the local legends. We used to sit in his lap and hang on to his every word. Then one day he would set off droving. Basically in those days this was how you moved sheep long distances.
The fencing gear there was laid out by helicopter and we got to ride in it. That was an amazing experience. Also the top dressing was done by DC3 as the farm was so big the little Air-Trucks and Fletchers couldn’t cope.
I think we were incredibly lucky to live in such a place as youngsters, but Mum I think needed a bit more civilisation around her. We packed up our stuff into a Hawkes Bay Farmers transport truck and set off for southern Hawkes Bay. We drove behind the truck and we could see our pet dog, Toby’s eyes shining in the back of the truck as he peered out.
We arrived at a place called Te Uri. It’s on the road from Dannevirke to Porangahau, right on the right side of the border between Hawkes Bay and Manawatu. The farm was called Tirohanga. Dad was farm manager. This was much more like civilisation. Just 44 kilometres from the nearest town which was Dannevirke. Pretty unremarkable sheep farming country. We had an old school house in a paddock across the road from the house. In the old school house in a cavity in the wall was a bee hive. We used to throw a pinecone at the beehive and run away as the bees swarmed out the window. We would then run back in and pinch some honey while the bees were off being cross and get out before they came back. Great fun, nice honey.
We went to school on the mail bus that travelled between Porongahau and Dannevirke. The bus was driven by a grumpy old bugger called Fred. Out in the back blocks of New Zealand, mail was delivered and collected by the mail bus. You hung a canvas satchel with your mail in it on a special stake and the bus would swing by and grab it. Then, in the evening on the return journey from town, the mail bag would be flung unceremoniously onto your drive. It was best not to send breakable stuff in the post in the old days. We kids would help out with the larger parcels in the back of the bus. One particularly windy day Fin was helping and opened the rear doors which got caught in the wind and smacked him full in the face. That’s how he got his broken nose.
When I arrived at the new school, I discovered I had been taught pretty well at the little school at Mahia. Because we had such close supervision, I was reading two full years ahead of the kids at Awariki School. Awariki School was about 25 kilometres from Te Uri. It was a school of about 30 kids and three teachers. Mr Algar was the head master. Mrs Coleman taught the primmers and a Miss Gibson was the one I remember who taught Standard One and Two. Miss Gibson played the guitar and I remember her being quite pretty. I had to recover a ball one day from the top of a classroom and commented “Look at all the bloody water up here”. I was severely castigated for swearing. Another day I was caught spitting and had to wear a sign all day saying “Beware, I spit”.
School in those days was 9am until playtime at about 10.30am. Then we had school until lunchtime, which was an hour. The school had a concrete tennis court and a large playing field with an adventure playground that the local farmers had built themselves. The sort of thing that would give Health & Safety a fit of vapours these days.
The most popular games were 4 square, long ball and bull rush, and hopscotch for the girls. I very much doubt you are allowed to play long ball or bull rush at schools anymore. Long ball is simple: two teams, tennis court, One team has the tennis ball and are on the court. The other team is gathered at the base line. One by one players from the team without the ball have to run through the team with the ball.
The team with the ball attempts to throw the ball (as hard as possible) at the runner and hit them. When a runner is hit the teams swap over. The team with the most runners not hit is the winner. A really good hit with a strong throw is called branding. It hurts. Bullrush is a similar principle to longball, but without a ball. You have runners and catchers and then a mass stampede, people usually got hurt. Another good game was scrag, where you just “scragged” each other. There is also a last brief break in the early afternoon, called ‘little play’
I had my first and only riding lesson at Tirohanga. Dad woke me at 4am and put me on the back of old Martha to follow him out into the high country for a muster. It was quite scary at first but I got the hang of it. Martha was very calm and gentle and we had a great day together. Martha was also very tactile though and one day when leading her, she came in so close she trod on and broke my little toe. It is still a funny shape today.
We had a guy come and stay with us for a while. His name was Peter. I can’t remember what he came for or why he stayed. He was a big fan of Mum’s chocolate sponge pudding. To this day it is simply known as Peter’s Favourite.
Life revolved around school and the farm. Docking was always a highlight. We used to help the dogs muster the lambs to the temporary enclosures out on the back of the farm. The blokes would sort the lambs from the ewes and do the docking and we would hang around the pens ready to set off in pursuit of the inevitable escapee lambs. Great fun, very tiring.
I hated doing hay though. So hot and dusty. Such long days with all the scratches and hay in your shirt. Easily my least favourite farming activity. We had to go up and down the paddocks lining the bales up then heaving them up onto the trucks. Hard work for small boys and young men.
Shearing was OK though. I used to be the rousie. A combination of jobs, like keeping the sheep moving through the pens from the yards. Sorting the wool, pressing the bales and marking them. Best of all though was the tea and pikelets and the shearers yarns over a beer at the end of the day.
We had our first flight in a plane at Te Uri. Top dressing on our place was done by a plane called a Beaver. It’s a great day out roaring up and down the farm hills and valleys in a top dressing plane.
Fin and I shared a bike. It was a very basic affair. No point having a flash bike on a gravel road. We lived across the way from the Pedersons. They had a daughter called Julie. I liked Julie, even though she was older than me. They lived up on a hill which had a back paddock. There was an excellent track down this paddock which culminated in a dip and a gated entrance.
If you open the gate and ride down the hill on your bike you can get some real speed up. You can then get some great altitude on a jump when you come out of the dip and fly through the gateway. This is a fantastic way to show off to someone like Julie Pederson. However it is significantly less clever when your bike hits the gate post in mid-air and you carry on to hit the gravel road with your face. I looked like red beard. I had completely lacerated my face, shredded my mouth and had to eat blancmange for about two weeks. Lesson learned.
We often used to go to parties in the local area and they often dissolved into very drunken nights. Mum and Dad would entertain sometimes and in the morning we would go and raid all the left over dips and chips. The party might be at some-ones house or a woolshed, or the local hall. It was always ladies a plate and gentlemen a bottle. This kept the costs down for the hosts and saved a lot of preparation work. When you have a party in a hall in rural New Zealand you decorate it with the aluminium strips that milk bottle tops are cut from. You get these free from the local dairy factory.
Our parents liked their dance songs stampy. Kiwis love to bellow along to a great chorus and stamp their feet on the wooden hall floors. Songs like “Have I the right”, by the Honeycombs or songs by the Dave Clarke Five were always popular. There were many classics which stick in my mind though: “Ten Guitars”, “Obladi Oblada”, the Beatles, of course, and local heroes like Ray Columbus. Mum and Dad were big fans of the Kingston Trio and Harry Belafonte, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Johnny Cash and Tom Jones. Mum would tell you Dad was actually a bodgie in the old days. The kids would be playing in the field the cars were parked in for the shed and hall parties. Occasionally an adult head would look out. Later in the night when we were supposed to be asleep in our cars we would often be in the wrong car with our little friends instead. It was not unheard of for families to arrive home with someone else’s kids instead of their own.
I have very fond memories of the rugby parties. When the All Blacks were touring Great Britain, we would get together at someones house to watch the tests. These were on a black and white TV in the middle of the night. We would all gather round to cheer the All Blacks playing on the other side of the world in those great mythical stadiums. Listening to the wonderful commentary of Bill Mclaren. They were special times.
One very memorable party though was a New Year’s Eve at Don & Joel McLean’s place. They had got a mini-tanker of beer in. The whole local community was there. In this part of New Zealand you knew absolutely everyone in a 40 km or so radius. A very nice lady and her daughter, the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life turned up at our place that summer. The lady was an old school friend of Mums. She lived in Auckland and had come to us for a holiday. The girl was amazing. The first girly girl I had ever met. I was used to rough and tumble country girls. This was a girl from the big city. She broke her arm on that holiday. I can’t remember how but I was so concerned for her. She was pretty and breakable as well!
We took them to McLean’s and all the kids were off having adventures but the pretty girl couldn’t as she had a broken arm. I doubt war games in the woods were her cup of tea anyway. I wanted to play war with my mates but I had to take care of the pretty girl. At bed time, while the adults were many drinks into the evening, the pretty girl and I retired to Mum and Dad’s old yellow Holden Kingswood. The car is (as I said before) where Kiwi kids sleep when their folks are partying. I let the pretty girl have the prized back seat and I hunkered down in the foot well. I told her that she could be my girlfriend. I had never had a girlfriend and nor had I ever wanted one. The pretty girl didn’t actually get any say in the matter I just told her that was what she was now. She didn’t say anything about it, as I guess for her it was about the worst idea ever.
In the morning we woke up in a bed. We had been moved during the night as the party was still in full flow so the kids were bought into the house and tucked up properly. Everyone trooped up to the Johansson’s as they had a swimming pool. Remember in New Zealand, New Year’s Eve is in the summer. We were all in the pool when a naked man came running from the changing room and dived in. “Where are my bloody togs”, Turt Ellingham shouted as sobriety came suddenly with the cold water. Great days!
A few years later we moved to Awariki which was positively suburban at only about 20 kms to Dannevirke. We were managing a farm for a bloke called Graham Twist. We had a huge 3000 square foot house and a tennis court. This was the most luxurious place we had ever lived in. Also I could walk to school as Awariki was only a few hundred metres away. No more grumpy Fred on the school bus. As an aside, in between the two farms we spent awhile in a cottage which I later helped Dad demolish. That was a bit surreal. We ended up living in another cottage on the same spot, which was where we lived when I left New Zealand, after we had lost the farm. But that’s a bit later on. We haven’t got to the part about our own farm yet.
Awariki was a nice place to live. We lived on a tarseal road for the first time in our lives. I learned how to play tennis (but never mastered it). I learned how to ride a motorbike, a Honda XL 125. We had a stream nearby and I used to go eeling in it with a pitch fork. One day I caught an eel that weighed 19 pounds, that’s a seriously big eel. There was a bridge down the road where we used to write message on the concrete underneath, in mud. We were very primitive graffiti artists. I believe I wrote something in devotion to Rebecca Twist. She was one of Graham and Caroline Twist’s, two daughters. Very pretty but not as pretty as the prettiest girl in the world from Auckland. My great mate throughout my time at Awariki was Shayne Ferguson. Shayne and I used to sit together on school trips and starred opposite each other in the school play. She was, and apparently still is, a great girl. She now runs her late father’s farm. Her Dad, Terry Ferguson, was one of life’s great gentlemen.
We had an amazing school trip to Wellington to see TNVZ in action and go to the Ford Factory. We met Tina the weathergirl and saw a Ford Cortina Ghia in the flesh for the first time. Another great school trip was up to Urewera National Park. A week long adventure which was an amazing experience. The boys and the girls separately spent a couple of nights out in the bush. We boys thought it would be terribly funny to remove the cutlery from the girl’s equipment. They didn’t think that was so funny somehow.
By now Finlay had gone to boarding school at Palmerston North Boys High School. I was doing quite well at school. On the odd occasion when Mum was the relief teacher, she would send kids to me to teach them things she didn’t know. I was top at maths, spelling and reading, among other things. Most agreed I was a bright, if a bit attention seeking and opinionated, kid. One day there was an invitation at school, which had been sent to all the schools in New Zealand. The invitation was to enter a play writing competition. The winners would be produced and performed on a TV show called Childs Play. I had never written a play of course but thought I would have a go. My play was called The Sultans Pyjama’s.
The upshot is that my play was one of the winners. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened in my life. I was invited to go to Auckland to be interviewed on Childs Play. I was going to stay in a hotel and go on a passenger plane. It was an amazing thing to happen to me. Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the trip was on. Mum and I left on an NAC plane (NAC was the predecessor of Air New Zealand). We flew in a Fokker Friendship; Mum was terrified and gripped my hand very tightly. We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Auckland – it was amazing, my first ever hotel stay. Mum’s friend and her daughter ,the prettiest girl in the world, came to visit. I was very pleased to see her again and now she was even prettier at 12 than she was as a little kid.
So I got to go to the Childs Play studio. I met Illona Rogers who had acted in my play. Illona Rogers!! Kiwis will know who she is. She interviewed me on the sofa in the studio. I was all cool and calm, of course. There were three plays in my episode which went out on TV2 at 6.30pm on March 4, 1978. I was at Palmerston North Boys High School when it was on TV. I was allowed to miss some of evening prep to watch it – just me and a couple of masters and prefects. Luckily the majority of the boarding house didn’t see it as I would have taken some serious stick for it, I reckon.
Back to the TV show. There was an after show party and I got to meet all sorts of TV people. I was hooked. I wanted to work in TV. It was just so glamorous compared to the life in the sticks I had known.
The bad times
I left for boarding school in 1978. I was going from a country school of 30 kids to a school of 1200 boys in the city – Palmerston North Boys High School. I lived in the boarding accommodation called College House. It was presided over the legendary, Ian “Coke” Colquhoun. Coke had a dog. I have forgotten its name but a memory that will live with me forever is the sound of its collar and lead jangling up and down the corridors in the morning and evening.
This sound announced the arrival and departure of Coke Colquhoun, waking us up and wishing us goodnight. I hated Palmerston North Boys High School; or rather I hated many of its students. Bullies made my life a misery from the moment I arrived until the day Mum and Dad took me home. I won’t name the bullies, as they know who they are. There is no point me raking this over. The result was though, that I lost my appetite for learning, I became rebellious and problematic. I couldn’t cope with the constant beatings and taunting. I gave up paying attention in class and began seeking it instead through my behaviour. I was inattentive and disruptive.
Halfway through my second year I was removed from the school by Mum and Dad. They had threatened me that if I didn’t buckle down they would bring me home and send me to Dannevirke High School. It was the best threat I had had in my life. I jumped at the chance to escape my torment.
Dad had just recently got together enough of a deposit to achieve his lifelong ambition of his own farm. He had bought a little place near Ormondville. We named it Rangiora, after the Mangarangiora Viaduct which ran over the river through the farm. It is New Zealand’s longest or highest wooden viaduct, I think. We had 300 acres and about 1000 ewes. I took the bus to school and it was a very different experience to the formality of Palmerston North Boys High School . I was in the top class in the 4th form, 4R. I spent a few months paying attention but my studiousness didn’t last long.
I used to help out on the farm after school. I certainly wasn’t doing any homework. I would move the sheep around and do general chores as Dad was going fencing during the day to help pay off some of the mortgage. Mum worked in an office in town. I used to go out with a motorbike and trailer and collect the odd dead ewe, just general farm hand stuff. School became just a place I went to during the day. I spent the day amusing myself at the teacher’s expense.
I had a great mate that I had known since I was a kid, called Guy Ellingham. He was at Wanganui Collegiate and would pop in for a visit when he was home from school. Dad had recently built a new cattle stop on the driveway. Hacked at great effort from pretty much solid rock. He put a big post at each corner and made it too narrow for a truck to get through. This was so the sheep trucks would know this wasn’t their entrance and drive into the house paddock. The entrance was maybe a little narrow though as Guy found out when he thundered in, in His Dad’s Land Rover, and wiped out two of the posts, at ground level.
Dad was crutching at the time. Hot work on a hot day. He was not in the best mood to hear the news his cattle grid had been broken. Luckily Dad was very fond of Guy and the verbal abuse was reasonably mild. A year or so later, we had some athletic rams in the house paddock so Dad put a couple of planks through his rebuilt cattle stop. These were to stop the rams trying to leap over the grid. Guy came for another visit, this time on a motorbike.
He came very fast round the corner to the gateway and crashed straight through the planks dad had put up. A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and Mum opened it to find Guy on his knees on the doormat hands clutched together as if in prayer and repeating, “I am soo sorry!” Of course, this was one of the funniest things Mum had seen in years and we still laugh about it now.
I don’t remember precisely the order of events or exactly when it happened, but then our world crashed in. We had a couple of the worst seasons ever. Our sheep were dropping like flies as they were out of condition and there wasn’t enough food. What used to be a motorbike and trailer job collecting the odd dead ewe became tractor, trailer and front end loader work. We lost a third of our stock. Then the government privatised New Zealand.
Farming could no longer pay its way and the subsidies were removed. It was carnage. Stock prices fell through the floor; interest rates went to 30%. Dad was losing his livelihood and his life’s work. For my part I had discovered the delights of Punk Rock to enhance my rebellion at school and at home. I wasn’t doing any work at school. I was getting letters home about my behaviour. In my spare time I was blasting the most offensive music out of the old radiogram and record player that we had. Let’s just say things weren’t great at home.
I did achieve one thing at school though. I am pretty sure I am the only student from Dannevirke High School who played 1st XV rugby, 1stXI cricket and 1st XI soccer – not in the same year of course. I was also captain of the house debating team and chairman of the social committee. One day on a geography field trip, we were looking into rock formations. There was a huge deviation recently dug out towards Norsewood. A couple of hundred feet of rock formations exposed. We could take samples from all of the layers.
The problem was that they were up a cliff and we didn’t have climbing gear, nor were any of us experienced climbers. We found a length of rope though and it turns out one of my co-rebellious students had been in the scouts. He reckoned that he could remember how to tie a knot. We made our way to the top of the cliff through some fields and James fashioned a knot of sorts to an old tree stump.
I placed the rope around my bum and waist and perched at the edge of the cliff. Below me, a drop to certain death if it turned out James didn’t actually remember well enough how to tie a knot. I abseiled down the face, throwing bits of different rock down to the classmates at the foot of the cliff. Well clearly I survived, but it was curious as normally I would not have trusted James with a boiled sweet, let alone my life.
I was very high profile at school because I was so rebellious and mischievous. I seemed to have a bit of a fan club. Someone kept carving my name into stuff, “Abbot rules”. Carved into desks, into a steel toilet door! Someone had spray painted “Abbot sucks” in the underpass in town. Someone else painted it out and sprayed “Abbot rules”. I liked that.
I used to know a girl who lived nearby. She travelled on the bus with me but wasn’t in my circle. She was a couple of years behind me at school so not on my radar at all. I happened to be a bit rude to her about something or other when we were on the bus. She screamed back at me “Well I wouldn’t go to the school ball with you even if you asked me!”. Considering we were not discussing the ball and taking her had never been a point of discussion, or ever even entered my head, it was an odd thing to say!
I guess she had been hoping I might ask her to the ball? Her Dad was an amazing cricketer. During one of the many local cricket matches, he would arrive late in the innings, fresh (or not) from the hay field. Hit a fifty or so, playing in hob nail boots, and go back to work.
Dad struggled on with the farm. In my final year at school we had a get together at a Marae to do some young adult bonding rubbish. For some reason I got up and told my story about why I was such a clown at school. There were many tears, including me. It was a very sad night as it seemed most had much crap in their lives.
The highlight of my last year at school though was the party. Mum and Dad went away for a rare break. I invited a few mates around for a couple of beers. Of course, this evolved into a full 48 hour bash. I had hidden Mum’s precious things under dressers and in cupboards. Someone arriving crashed into one of the locals reversing out of the pub across the road.
On the second morning I found Bucky Thirtle asleep in Mum and Dad’s bed in Mum’s nightie. The party was talked about for years. Mum and Dad came home to a reasonably clean house though. I might have got away with it apart from the fact that I had put all Mums ornaments back in the wrong place. She knew I hadn’t been cleaning. Well that and the orange spray paint saying “Abba sucks” on the side of the house and all the wheelie marks in the house paddock. At the end of the party, I had 23 dozen empty beer bottles to trade in for another crate.
Later that year I was asked to leave school. I had wasted my education and I believe the roots of it were in the bullying at Palmy Boys. It wasn’t helped but the subsequent upheavals, but once a kid like me loses the interest in learning and is allowed to get away with it, it’s all downhill.
As I had failed all the things I needed to pass to go to University, that option was closed to me. I also didn’t have the qualifications to do anything much other that work at the local Freezing Works. That repository for the Kiwi kids who don’t do well at school or aren’t clever enough to escape the drudgery of New Zealand country towns. I really didn’t want to end up in a white suit and gumboots hacking away at animal carcasses for the rest of my life. I had no idea what people did for a living as we had no career guidance at school. So I applied to join the New Zealand Army. I was accepted and told to turn up at Waiouru camp in January 1983.
I had a wild last free summer with Guy and his mates from Wanganui Collegiate. We went to Taupo for a holiday. We took a tent and Guy, his friend (who had the car) and me drove up to the lake. The car was a 3.0 litre Capri, that was pretty cool. We met up with some mates of his and we stayed in the camping ground. There were eight of us. Guy had a chum from school called Derek.
We just called him “Wreck” as it was a nice abbreviation of his name and he was also a total shambles. Wreck had been given an MG Roadster by his parents as a reward for graduating from School. Wreck soon realised that an MG is very anti-social as you can only get one mate in it. So he went to a local car dealer in Taupo and traded his MG in for a Chevvy Impala. This is an enormous car and you can get all your friends in it so we were all happy and able to things together rather than in convoy.
I achieved legend status with Guys’ mates from Wanganui , which was nice. We went to Kinloch for a day just for a change of scenery. We were clowning around by the lake and the lads thought it would be very funny to sneak off and leave me by the lake. A good few kilometres from Taupo. About half an hour drive if I recall. I realised I was by myself as I heard the huge engine rumble by and they leaned out the window waving and shouted “See you Sand, bring some chicks back with you!”. Hilarious of course!
This was no big deal really as it’s very easy to hitchhike around New Zealand and I could just thumb a lift back to Taupo. It was a lovely day though and I was happy enough just skipping stones into the lake. I saw a figure walking towards me along the lake shore. I recognised her as a school friend of Guys younger sister. I said hello and we got chatting.
Turns out she was holidaying with some friends at Kinloch. She asked me back to her place to meet her friends. What I entered was a house full of Ngatawa school girls, loads of them. I told them that I had a number of mates they knew or knew of, back in our camp in Taupo. The schools in that area used to mix quite a lot for social events. So as they had nothing better to do, we set off in two cars back to the camp. Eight public school girls and me.
When we got to the camp the girls snuck up on the tent and waited. I poked my head through the flap to see the chaps sitting around bored, drinking beer and talking shit. They gave me a big welcome and said “So did you bring any girls?” Knowing of course the answer would be no.
At this point I flung open the flap to allow the girls to troop in to much whooping, cheering, laughter and considerable astonishment. My reputation was sealed and a great night was had by us all. Well sort of, as we had no idea how to score with girls and these were nice girls, not little tarts. So we all got drunk, played music, a little bit of snogging here and there.
We drove out to the Wairakei Hotel for the New Year party. I can’t remember much but clearly we all got drunk and fell down. Wreck drove 12 of us back to camp in his Impala. We were stopped on the way though by the police and half of us were thrown out as the car was overloaded. I am amazed Wreck didn’t get done actually. We were on the side of the road and a very kind soul stopped and squashed us all into their Hillman Avenger, which was already full. Great days!
On the way home from Taupo we drove over the Desert Road past the Waiouru Army camp and training area. It looked very bleak and forbidding. I was going to be there in a week. My friends were all going to University to learn how to be teachers, lawyers, accountants, even just better farmers. They were going to have fun and great careers. I was going to be a soldier. I felt very, very sad and a little bit frightened.
To be continued in part two….