Home' Greymouth Star : February 25th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, February 24, 2015 - 5
ou know, it’s just
like Q ueen Street in
Auckland some days,
the traffic that comes
down this highway
is quite amazing. It
wasn’t always like
that, though,” Paddy
Paddy was born in the Rewa Maternity Home in
Greymouth in 1925, the son of Patrick and Martina
“My mother was a Manzoni and my father used to
work at the Hokitika Hospital, that ’s where he met
mum. He used to breed race horses with his brother,
Lawrence. The cottage I live in has been in the
Manzoni family for around 120 years, so it ’s been here
for a while.”
Paddy was educated in Hokitika at St Mary’s
Primary School before furthering his education at
the old Hokitika District High School, and then
Greymouth Technical High School.
“ We lived in Hokitika when I was young. The late
Jock Tulloch was in my school class and he had a
bike. I pestered mum to get me a bike like Jock’s,
and eventually she did. Not many people had bikes
and I think at the time Jock and I were the only two
children with bikes in Hokitika.”
Moving up to Greymouth for high school and
boarding in the school hostel was an education
in itself, as he recalls lingering welt marks on his
“It was quite an experience as the hostel was for
country boys and girls. We had a house master and
if you talked when the lights went out you copped
it. The prefect would pot you, and normally Connell
Werner and I had to go and knock on the house
master’s door. It was then down to the common
room in our pyjamas and we’d get the cane across our
backside. We’d check the damage done in the ablution
blocks, compare notes so to speak — welts across our
“ In winter time we all had to have cold showers at
the hostel and when we used hot water the house
master would see the steam. It was up to the common
room again and another couple of canes across the
Paddy Kirwan worked at the Kumara Post Office
as a message boy when he left school and eventually
became the town postman, before transferring to
“ I started work at Kumara on May 12, 1941 and
at Waiuta I became the assistant to the postmaster.
Waiuta was in its heyday, the pub was busting at the
seams and the miners would play Slippery Sam, a card
game. There would be stacks of money on the tables.
Gambling was rife. There was another game where
the miners would bet on two blokes holding a fly in
each hand. It was called ‘flies on the window ’ and at
the call they would let their fly go and the first one to
land on the window was the winner. I remember Bob
Campbell would win a lot of money betting on flies.
He told me later the trick was to have two flies — one
in each hand.
“Sunday night we had movies in the hall, and they
were popular. I was courting a young lady from up on
While ‘up the hill’ at Waiuta, unbeknown to Paddy
a couple of robbers blew the door off the Post Office
safe looking for the mines wages.
“ I lived at the back of the Post Office and when I
opened the door one Sunday night I was greeted by
smoke and the smell of gunpowder. All they got away
with was 80 quid, which was the float. Luckily, I had
put all the money in the mailbag on Saturday and left
it at the backdoor for Hec Scott to pick up and take it
down to the railway station to be sent to Greymouth.
“The police had a fair idea who did it — a couple of
Aussie blokes — but they couldn’t prove it. The two
suspects left Waiuta soon after but were picked up
in Auckland stealing handbags and ended up in jail.
When they were at Waiuta they used to go out into
the backrooms of the pub and lift up all the window
catches,” Paddy says.
“Bert Comte was the publican at the time, but his
wife was on to it. The pub was a goldmine within a
goldmine, and those no-gooders knew that.”
Paddy spent time working in Wellington as a
telegraphist morse operator and on telegrams, before
moving to the east coast and then a career in the Post
Office, transferring from Wellington, back to the
West Coast and Auckland, where he worked until his
retirement 33 years ago.
Paddy has fond memories of old Kumara, with the
old saying, ‘you can take a man out of the town, but
you can’t take the town out of the man’.
“I live in Auckland now, but every year I come down
to Kumara to live in the family home on Seddon
Street. I always come down for the Kumara Races and
ever since I was a boy have attended most meetings.
I remember one year it rained solid for weeks before
race day and carried on raining for another three
weeks, non-stop. Pelted down, rained cats and dogs,
the club never raced that year but if they did it would
have been boat racing, not horse racing,” he laughs.
Long-time Kumara resident Bill Stewart sounds his
horn as he drives past Paddy’s house, bringing a smile
to the old-timer’s face.
“Billy-Bob Stewart is a good friend of mine. I’ve
never forgotten the time he yelled out to me from
across the road from the Kumara Hall, saying he had
a couple of winners. The two horses, Heidelberg and
Sir Gundy, both won and we had put a half crown on
each with the bookie and we got £2 2 shillings back. I
bought a pair of roller skates off McCarthy Dunedin
with my winnings. I don’t know what Billy-Bob did
with his, but I will never forget that — I was 17 years
old and Billy-Bob must have been only 11.”
Paddy recalls the Kumara of his youth as a town with
gravel roads, a thriving community with employment
attracted to gold and timber.
“The first time I came to Kumara was with my
grandfather, Joe Manzoni, by horse and trap to get
groceries — that was 80 years ago. My grandfather
had a gold claim at Callaghans, it was a very rich
claim but they worked it originally for two years and
never got threepence from it. Eventually, they found
the gold lead, which was right at the backdoor, and
were getting gold by the sack full. They cleaned it out
and then the lead just disappeared.
“ I saw some of the nuggets as a young fellow —
big as your thumb, big as a marble, yellow, yellow,
“ In my time there were nine pubs in Kumara and
hundreds of children with the Catholic and the State
schools both full of kids. The gold and the mills kept
the town going. There were six mills operating, and the
gold dredge groaning day and night. On a still night it
could be heard even louder than normal, groaning like
a large monster, making a hell of a noise. ”
On Sundays after church there would be a gathering
at the Theatre Royal Hotel or the Empire Hotel for
members of the Kumara Catholic community.
“ We would take turn about at each pub in the
afternoon after church, go to each pub week about
turn. Pearce Gilbert asked me to go and see how many
of us (Catholics) we had in the pub. I counted and
came back saying there were 29 of us, and one other,
who was Bill Bishop, a Protestant.
“The Empire publican used to be too busy cooking
Sunday would be the best day in the week for the
Empire when the Micky Doos came along,” Paddy
“There were nine pubs in Kumara in my time,
and there was Pearns Brewery up by the Kumara
Cemetery, run by the Murthas. Water for their
brewery ran from the cemetery down Sandys Hill,
through Murphy’s slaughterhouse and finally to the
brewery. The beer brewed was famously named as the
beer with body in it!”
A cattle drive along a dusty Seddon Street was a
regular occurrence back then, and Paddy recalls the
time he and Ginger Pamment dodged danger.
“Ginger became a good friend of mine, but prior to
this wild herd of cattle beasts charging down Seddon
Street I wouldn’t have known him from a black
spider,” Paddy says.
“He was looking after a cow on the side of the road
and yelled to me to help him move the cow out of the
path of the cattle. Prior to the cattle appearing Ginger
had been giving me cheek. I’ve never seen anything
like it, these wild cattle charging and a big bullock
was about to charge the stockman’s horse. Ernie
Rutherford was the stockman and next minute, crack!
he went with his stock whip. Crack! And the beast
went down on its knees. A great bit of horsemanship,
the best I have seen, masterful.”
Paddy enjoyed hunting and fishing while growing
up in Kumara and still goes down to the Taramakau
River chasing trout.
“I actually caught a 4lb trout last trip, it took me an
hour to reel it in as I only had a light breaking strand.
I was nearly going to give up but I got it in the end
and into the frypan — beautiful. ”
A touch of emotion glistens in the old-timer’s eyes
as he looks out across Kumara.
“I never married and have been single all my life.
I was bitten when I was a young bloke and basically
that was that — you know, it was the girl on the hill.”
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Paddy Kirwan relaxes on the front veranda of his Kumara home.
Kumara has changed a lot in Paddy Kirwan’s 90 years. When he was a lad, the population was largely Catholic and had nine hotels
to choose from to slake their thirst. These days Paddy divides his twilight years between busy Auckland and regular trips home to
laid-back Kumara. Reporter PAUL McBRIDE catches up with the old-timer on the veranda of his Seddon Street home, which has
been in the family for 120 years, as he watches the world go by.
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