Home' Greymouth Star : January 6th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, January 6, 2015 - 7
y children are my
Jan Fletcher says at the
end of our inter view.
It is a telling insight
into a woman who
has been entwined in the fabric of Greymouth and
Rapahoe for more than 40 years, much of it as an
outflow of her family commitment.
Many people visiting the West Coast for the first
time are likely to have encountered Jan Fletcher as a
Coaster, although she was not born that way.
The daughter of a tailor, Janice Mary Leggett was
born in Christchurch in 1940 and grew up in leafy
Fendalton. She laughs when she recalls that her
somewhat charmed existence as an only child was
later upset by the subsequent arrival of seven siblings.
“I went from being an only child to a child minder,”
Educated at Fendalton Open Air School and
Papanui High School, the commercial course Jan was
directed to had a pragmatic purpose: it would help
with the requisite work before marriage.
This 1950s expectation did not necessarily sit well
with young Janice, who often clashed with her equally
She knew her own mind early and learned to stick
with the things she believed in. Her love of reading
was one such attribute, despite constant goading by
‘ You’ ll never get a man reading like that, Janice,’ was
the oft comment.
However, reading was a ready escape for her, a
window into another world.
On finishing school Jan went to work for the
Canterbury Education Board, administering the
payroll for country school support staff.
“ I know every placename on the West Coast and
Canterbury because I used to pay the caretakers and
c leaners every week.”
Her next stab at independence, “mostly to get away
from dad,” was nursing.
It led to the nearly 19-year-old Janice meeting Peter
Fletcher during a weekend jaunt to Kaikoura with
“ He started quoting poetry, and that was that. I was
They married in 1961 and Jan returned to her old
work at the education board. A period of working on
farms in Canterbury followed for the couple during
which the first of their five children was born.
Peter trained as a health inspector and after jobs
in Christchurch and Southland, the young Fletcher
family arrived in Greymouth in March 1970. Peter
worked as a health inspector for the Greymouth
Borough, Runanga Borough and Grey County
councils, while the family settled in Karoro.
Jan says that 45 years ago she was not really
impressed with the prospect of living in Greymouth.
“ I wasn’t thrilled when we came here — after the
neat orderliness of the Canterbury and Southland
However, “there was so much to do” and, in the
business of living, the Coast forged a place in her
“It was a good, friendly place — things got more
interesting when I moved into politics. ”
That interest had bubbled since the time she first
voted at the age of 21, voting for National’s Syd
Holland. She subsequently realised she had a real
choice and aligned herself with Labour, where she has
remained firmly ever since.
But meantime, Jan and Peter had other priorities,
like raising a young family and developing the
The Fletchers heard about a plan to develop the old
Rapahoe School as a camp shortly after their arrival
on the Coast.
The area was set aside as a public reser ve and they
became involved about 1974, initially as a weekend
and holiday undertaking.
“ We were always going to have it as a sideline —
more or less as a place for weekend camping,” Jan says.
Life was not necessarily easy, however.
The loss of their 10-year-old son Reon in a garage
fire at their Karoro home marked a significant low
point. Jan had returned to the workforce by this
stage, working for the former West Coast Regional
Jan is candid about the difficulties she faced as a
young married mother with five young children, and
how she found herself housebound and depressed for
a significant time.
After nearly suffering a breakdown Jan discovered a
creative outlet which helped her turn a corner — the
Greymouth Repertory Society. This gave her new
impetus, allowing her organisational skills to emerge
and she eventually became the society’s president.
From there, Jan broadened her acting horizons to
the operatic society, although she is frank about her
musical abilities: “I can’t sing a note.”
But it enabled her other creative abilities to flourish,
including writing. Drawing on Hedder Hopper, Jan
developed a regular gossip column for the Greymouth
Star, principally on theatre life.
“ Every time we did a production, it would be in the
paper the next day. Every day, I would do a little bit
about what happened behind the scenes.”
This writing ability was later employed in support of
the Labour Party, and today Jan is still an occasional
correspondent to the newspaper on politics.
Among all this Jan was actively involved with the
former Greymouth Intermediate School, which led to
her position on the Greymouth High School board of
governors for 15 years. This in turn led to her role in
the foundation of the Tai Poutini Polytechnic and Jan
was a founding member of the polytechnic council.
At the same time she was involved in Labour Party
circles as secretary for the Greymouth branch and a
member the electoral committee, before taking the
job of secretary to West Coast MP Kerry Burke,
about 1984. O ver the next six years she also acted as
She fondly recalls this period, regularly rubbing
shoulders with David Lange, Mike Moore, and Helen
Clark as they popped into her office.
Jan also became a member of the Labour women’s
council and retains close party links.
“All my political life, to me Labour means people,
National means money,” Jan sums up her view of
As Jan began her electorate work, Peter lost his job
with the council. The family reassessed their priorities
and resolved to make the Rapahoe campground a
It provided a real contrast to their previous busy
family life in Karoro, and was a tonic for the future.
“It’s a different atmosphere. ”
In the beginning, the campground simply consisted
of the old school building and toilet block, but
facilities have gradually expanded over time.
With Jan’s keen eye for gardening the place has a
mature, natural setting. It has been their home for
over 20 years and has enabled them to stay family
focused, while also enjoying regular trips to Australia,
where they keep a house bus.
It has also been a window on many “incredible”
people who pass through their accommodation.
“Our biggest problem is to try to retire,” she says of
Jan has been a dab hand with computers since
the 1980s and enjoys the internet for the intimacy
it provides with her grandchildren and a wider
knowledge of the world.
At one stage she was involved in about 18 local
organisations, and while she has gradually shed those
commitments she continues to stay “connected”.
“I take an interest in everything. You can do so much
more nowadays with the internet. How can you not
be interested with things, in the least?”
Jan Fletcher has contributed to the
Greymouth community in many ways over
the years, but when it comes down to it, the
feisty 74-year-old campground proprietor
quietly rejoices in the life of her family.
BRENDON McMAHON reports.
PICTURE: Brendon McMahon
Jan Fletcher at her Rapahoe camping ground retreat.
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