Uncle Gordon


Every family should have an Uncle Gordon. We had one, and what a treasure he was for our family one and all, even today we would all feel the same. Gordon was a seaman, I heard him one time boast that he had never earned even one dollar while on land. This was true too, but in retirement he did work for various family members, but he never sought, or looked for any payment. He arrived in Alexandra for a two weeks break to stay with my sister and brother in law to recover from an accident he had at sea. He never left, ended up staying for some thirty years.


What really sealed his decision to swallow the anchor, was that Doug Maxwell my Brother in Law came home one day, he declared that he had purchased several acres of fertile land out on Earnslaw Flats. He had the intention of planting some fruit trees, all to fulfil a long held dream. Gordon chimed in and said, ‘If you buy the trees’, ‘I will make it my job while I’m here to look after them’. Doug never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, promptly ordered some Six Hundred cherries trees. Mainly Black Dawson, a plump, dark, and sweet American variety. ‘You are mad’, declared all the other local growers, ‘There is no market for so many cherries’. At this time it was true. The growers went on. ‘We should know, we can’t even sell what we grow now’. Well as it turned out they were wrong on all accounts, once the cherries came on line, Doug exported nearly the whole of his crop to a Chinese who lived in Singapore. He had met this man by chance at an Airport overseas,. This turned out to be a profitable relationship all round, and a friendship too.


Gordon was in his element, as the orchard grew, so did his knowledge of the management of an orchard, together with the expertise that he gained. It turned out to be a very successful operation. My memories as far back as I can remember to when I was a small boy. These memories were peppered with incidents that always seem to involve Uncle Gordon. At this time I was fascinated by the flight of birds, especially sea birds. I observed them for hours, and was fascinated that they could hover right up to the point of a stall. I determined that birds all knew the principals of flight from only a few weeks old. You could see how they were able to hover right on the point of a stall. I was fascinated by this also, observing that the way some of the birds feather’s fluttered, signalling this condition even to me. I explained all this to Gordon, and one day he returned with several kits of model Air Craft for me to assemble, as well when built, they would actually fly. This fostered further, my interest in aviation, and ended up with me being a pilot in the Air Force.


One day he turned up with a friend Don Urquhart, who just happened to be the Bosun of the famous ‘Tall Ship’ Pamir. All of the extended young family were staying with our Grandparents, at Murdering beach. These two decided after an incident that involved tree climbing, that our lesson for that day, was to overcome our fear of heights. So all kids went out to climb a cliff. I wasn’t too impressed in their selection of the cliff, to me it seemed to be made out of ‘Wheat Bix’, and just as crumbly. A chance remark was made that day still sticks in my mind. Halfway through our climb up the face, one of them said. ‘If only your mother could see you now’. This was when he was passing one kid further up the cliff to Don over a dangerous pinch.


Another incident that I remember well, was when Gordon turned up with a thousand pounds, in Hundred pound notes, being his share in a very profitable crayfishing trip to the West Coast. These notes which he gave to my mother with the instruction. ‘Leah, could you hide these for me’? My mother did just that, given that in those days this was equal to a small fortune. She was up to the task, and concealed the ‘Roll’ in a curtain rod. Easy putting the money away, but later she found it impossible to retrieve same. When the laughter died down, a trip to the hardware store to buy a hacksaw solved the problem, but alas, a new curtain rod was required.


Other kids outside the family orbit, also laid claim to Uncle Gordon, enjoying the largess that always accompanied his arrival. I remember another occasion when he arrived out to Murdering Beach where the extended family of kids were all holidaying. He said he hadn’t brought anything for the kids on this trip, but he was going make up a list for any lollies they would like. I was going to be despatched into Dunedin, to make a visit to Woolworths and fill the list. This was I should add was during the depression. For this task I was given two pounds, an enormous sum for the time. This was ‘safety pined’ into the pocket of my shirt. This money I suppose would be the equal to several hundred dollars of today’s currency. This journey I was about to embark on for a ten year old, was a long one. Lugging a suitcase and a pack back I went back along the route we had to travel when we wished to stay at the crib. Climb up and over the point to above Long Beach, down the Maori Track which was an old steep slip on the face of the cliff, then onto Long Beach. Pick up the road to Mihiwaka, and catch the train for Dunedin. I arrived at Woolworths, only to run into real trouble. ‘No way’, were they going to sell such a large order to any snot nosed kid, especially with such an improbable story. In two minutes flat I was in the Managers Office explaining this. It was an Uncle Gordon’s treat. Could they ring my parents, they inquired? This was a joke, as at that time we didn’t even have electricity. I could see from their behaviour, not many families could lay claim to an Uncle Gordon. My story was so improbable, that in the end they relented, probably by greed to double the weekly sales of lollies for that week. With my purchases I set out on my return journey. I was dog tired but the time I reached Long Beach flats again. Looking up I could see a row of Kids all camped out at the top of the Maori Track. This sight spurred me along for the next two miles.


The family owned several Hotels in Port Chalmers and Dunedin. In spite of his close contact with Liquor, Gordon never smoked or drank. However he did have a weakness, and this was horses. He studied them and followed them with a passion. I don’t know if he lost a lot of money, but he certainly knew what had a chance in any race. Anytime I went to the races with him, I always had him mark my race book. Then I only had to pick from three or four horses for each race, and I knew I had a chance with the odds tilted in my favour. We were regular visitors to the racing festivals in Christchurch, and travelled overnight with any of the family who were interested.



Gordon owned many cars, I was designated by default his chauffeur. I even bought his cars, as he was never around when they became available. I remember once while an employee of the Bank, being called into see my manager for a ‘please explain’. What were all these funds flowing through my account? as Gordon was a cash and carry man, and didn’t have any banking facility. It also seemed that not many families had an Uncle Gordon either.


He was not a Catholic, but was educated with his sisters at Catholic Schools and Colleges. This meant that a large number of his friends were Catholics. It appeared that Grandfather Mckenzie had a row with the local headmaster, what it was about has been lost in the annuals of time, but the result was, that he shifted his family out of the State School system.



Another incident that sticks in my mind concerns my first day at school. Arriving home for lunch, found Uncle Gordon at the table as well. How was school today? I had only three hours, but clearly something was bugging me. I related, ‘There was one boy who kept taking my plasticine’ ‘Punch him on the nose should he do it again’, was Gordon’s gratuitous advice. Well armed with this instruction, nobody would touch my plasticine again. Well he did, Archie Carey was rushed off for medical aid, and to stop the copious blood flow. I was taken by the ear, dragged unceremonially off to the Head master’s Office. ‘You nasty little beast of a boy’, Ms Nicholson kept crying out. ‘Look at what you have done’. I suppose there was lesson here too. Not all advice is good advice, even if it’s Uncle Gordon’s. I never told the whole story, and lived with this stigma all the while in the infant room. Archie and I actually became good friends much later



We were indeed lucky to have our Uncle Gordon.



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