Growing up


As a young boy growing up in a Sea Port, with a cousin and my brother, we spent most of our free time together. As well, we were all about the same age. It was good too, as together we were quick, and able to exploit all that was on offer. Especially the activities that interested young boys, that we could and did enjoy. For a start, the Dock area was fenced off, but the gates were always open, so we were free to come and go as we wished. All other wharf areas and the fishing steps were wide open as well, so we could wander anywhere we pleased.


If we could time it right, it was good to be present when ever a ship entered one of the docks. Then we waited until the water was lowered to about only six inches deep, then it was time to move down onto the bottom of the dock, and get after the fish that managed to get themselves trapped when the vessel moved in. Now they were there for the taking. Occasionally we actually caught a sea run salmon, but mullet and red cod were the most common catch. Often even the odd octopus turned up, but back then I didn’t know that you could eat such fare. Many meals that ended up on our table came from this source.


Another activity that we kept a close eye on was the pilot Launch. It was also moored in the dock area. The Skipper Mr Marris, and Engineer Mr Thompson were both happy to give kids a ride, providing we could get the timing right. Whenever they were putting out to sea to meet a ship, placing the pilot on board, or retrieving him from a vessel when it was safely at sea. This exchange took place a few miles off the Harbour entrance. Not always could we fit all our arrangements in with their work day. Goodness we had school to attend, so very often it was a no go, especially when two movements were taking place. Sometimes the launch would often tie up at Aramoana to wait on the second vessel, to save steaming back to Port Chalmers.


We knew as much as any Harbour Board employee about shipping movements. We kept in close touch with the pier Master. Whenever we met up with him, and our wandering brought us in contact. We would quickly catch up with all the projected shipping movements. We also wanted to know about the Tug’s movements, at the time it was based at Port Chalmers too. Captain Scoullay was in command of this vessel, he was generous too, and often allowed us on board his tug for short trips. I was fascinated with the power of this steam tug. When on board I often hung over the scuttles peering down into engine room, which took up half of the below deck space, and the boiler the other half. I was fascinated by the heat that came from below, the smell of hot oil, all projected the latent power of the huge engine. Capt. Scoullay had another attraction too. He owned a beautiful sailing dinghy, and a slip around at ‘Back Beach’. The prevalent winds either seemed to blow up, or down the harbour, the Capt. was fond of sailing across to Portobella and back. Both of these trips were on what is called a ‘broad reach,’ which is the most powerful, and fastest sailing angle for any sail boat. I don’t know if we got taken along on many occasions as ballast or kindness, but regardless, we didn’t need any urging to climb aboard, it was an exciting ride.


Late afternoon when the fishing fleet were returning to unload their catch, we could be found handy to take their lines, and tie them up. Should it have been a good day, there were a lot of ‘freebies’ available. Undersized soles that couldn’t be sold, or thrown back, by the time they were retrieved from the ‘cod end’ of their net, they were already dead. A dozen of these threaded onto a wire and lugged home, were a very welcome and tasty addition to the dinner table.


One of our adventures stands out. Uncle Duncan McKenzie was in Port as the Chief Officer of a Union Company vessel. It initially had called at Port Chalmers, but was to be relocated to Dunedin to load cargo. We had permission to travel with her and wonderfully, we were to dine on board while on route. We departed as soon as the tide was in full flood. When we came to the narrow passage between Goat and Quarantine Islands, the current would have been running about 8 knots. Uncle Duncan’s station was on the forecastle, and as we approached the narrow gap, I said to Duncan. ‘Could you tell the Captain, He is travelling too slow to maintain steerage, and he is making his turn too wide’. ‘Continue, and we will run aground’.’How would you know that?’ Reply, ‘I sail over here often with Capt. Scoullay’ ‘Where we are heading, there is a sand bank right in our path’. ‘I should know, as it also gives us problems at low tide’. Well it happened, and while we waited for the vessel to refloat, we dined on fine linen with silver service, and in resplendent style. No one at the table referred to the sand bank that we were stuck on.


I haven’t mentioned our milk run activity, this took place on weekends. We started out on this caper very early in the mornings, around 5am or 6am. I should say too, that the whole household was woken by our alarm clock, which by the way, we had put into a four gallon kerosene tin to make more noise, and to ensure we woke. This and the clatter we made departing, was something the rest of our family hated with a passion and didn’t enjoy. They let it be known, they wanted an uninterrupted ‘sleep in’.


We were unpaid in this exercise, but we had another agenda. We were all teaching ourselves to drive in their vehicle. Another interest was that we also liked to make a visit to Stephenson & Cook’s moulding shop to watch the molten pour of cast iron, whenever they lit up their blast Furnaces. There was an awful lot for small boys to do in our town. We were very lucky indeed.


What a difference today. For a start, everything is fenced off. Little boys of today don’t enjoy the freedom that we had, and they are the poorer for it. I’m not sure who or what they are protecting? or are they are just endeavouring to keep terrorists out? But I’m sure we would have found a way through.





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