Home' Greymouth Star : August 4th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, August 4, 2015 - 5
orn in Manurewa in south
Auckland, Ernie Crisp says his
wandering days are now over
as he reflects on his long life
from the comfort of his home
“Some day you are going to reach the end
of the road, one day for sure. I’m not there
yet but the signpost in the distance is there
somewhere,” he smiles.
Travelling around was just a way of life, but
it was also an escape from the tough times
growing up in south Auckland.
“My father was a sod buster and contractor
— you name it he did it, and in those days
that ’s what they did. I was born during the
days of the Depression, which was on its
way out but times were tough. My mother
would make ends meet, though. I remember
eating a lot of mince, beans and veggies.
Everyone had gardens back then, including
us, and basically sausages and mince was our
Ernie grew up with brothers David and
Donald his sister Avis, but with sad eyes he
describes how his early life could have been
“I could have had four other brothers
but they all died early in life. My young
brother John died from a twisted bowel,
while Michael and Anthony were born too
early. Jimmy was born premature, too, and
struggled to sur vive. Things were tough for
my mother. ”
As a young lad Ernie attended Papakura
School before going to Otahuhu High
School, but he entered the workforce as a
“ When I was in standard six I was at
school with Barry Crump. He was a hard
case and had his own way of doing things.
He used to argue with the teachers because
he would never say mum and dad, always
called his parents the old woman or the
old man. When I left school I became a
counter jumper, which was basically a shop
assistant and worked at Melsop’s Hardware
for a term, but then went and worked
in D ury at the cheese factory, cheese
punching. That is, breaking the milk down
to junket, then salt it to get curd before
pressing it and putting it on the wooden
shelves to mature. A bit involved when I
think back on it.”
Ernie moved from job to job in quick
succession spending time here and there.
“I was at the Tamaki dried milk factory for
a short while, and then went to the South
Auckland Municipal Abattoirs washing
sides of beef, and in the pig chiller. My
father left us, broke up with my mother, so
after they split we moved with her down to
Christchurch. We came down on the ferry
— it was exactly the time Edmund Hillary
climbed Everest. I was 18 years old and
started working in the railway goods shed,
but was called up for military ser vice and
ended up in Waiouru for three months.”
On his return to Christchurch, Ernie
worked for Kiwi Bacon at Aranui before
joining a contract team to paint bridges.
“I was just a dog’s body at Kiwi Bacon
— six sausages to the pound, have them
hanging over your hand, that sort of thing.
But I also worked for a private bridge
contractor. We painted the steel under the
Gorge Stream and Calf Creek bridges on
the Lewis Pass, and I liked working outside.
“I enjoyed it and would have been
there for years if we had the work, but it
didn’t last so I ended up heading down to
Roxburgh working for a bloke called George
McCallister in a steel yard. We used to bend
all the steel reinforcing for the building of
the Roxburgh Dam. While living down
there I found I could hang my clothes out
dripping wet at night and they would be
dried the next morning — you used to get
very warm winds down there during the
While travelling around the countryside he
did not trust his leather boots, preferring to
use public transport.
“I ’d either travel by train or bus, get on the
old steam train and follow the tracks. You
could never guarantee where you would end
up when you were hitchhiking.”
He enjoyed his tumbleweed existence, but
when he moved back to Christchurch to
work for a building firm in South Brighton
he finally looked to settling down.
“I was working for Frank Mathews
Builders and Eric Pithie, who was to be my
future father-in-law, worked there. I ended
up marrying his daughter Allison, who lived
down the road. We met at the library. She
used to read and I used to read and we both
liked this Aussie author called Ion Idriess
— on e of the most descriptive writers I’d
seen. He wrote about Australia. The wife
went and had a look at some of it in later
years but I never got around to it. We’d been
married 20 years before deciding to go and
have a look.”
The couple had four children — Eric,
Alan, Peter and Tina — and when Ernie
joined the railways it became a time of
travelling for the whole family.
“I joined the railways because it had
housing available and when we had got
married we came across to Otira as there
was a vacancy over there on the track gang.
Then we moved to Waikari on the track
gang — it was the biggest a—hole of a
place in the whole world,” Ernie says. “One
of those places that blows a howling cold
nor wester and then a hot one. The ground
was always that dry, but I did my two years
and got out. I couldn’t get out quick enough.
I went to Kaikoura on the track for seven
Ernie says the railways environment
inevitably involved shifting and staff were
always on the move.
“ With the railways it was a way of
getting promotion, get up the ladder a
bit, so to speak. I spent a couple of years
in Christchurch again but I didn’t like
the cities, I never did, so I ended up in
Stillwater. There were four railway houses
in Stillwater and more up at Ngahere as the
railways was a big employer and rail was on
the go then.
“All the extractive industries, the coalmines
and the mills, were in full swing, and the
produce would all go across on the wagons,
the coal and the logs. I remember you could
sit up at Otira and there would be wagon
after wagon heading across to Christchurch,
and the empty ones would be returning, too.
The lines were always busy, not like today.”
After 40 years ser vice with the railways,
retirement was compulsory and so Ernie
parted company with his employer.
“ From Stillwater I was recycled and
thrown out into the dog tucker bin. I did
my 40 years’ ser vice and that was how it
was with government jobs back then. I used
to pig hunt, shoot deer and chamois, if I
was in the right place. The railways offered
those opportunities, and getting the skins
you could make a few extra bob. We weren’t
overpaid in the railways, put it that way.
“ Looking back, I got to meet some good
old characters who were on the old-time
gangs. I met some terrific people, and like
anywhere else there were some not so good
ones too. I met blokes who wouldn’t be
frightened to tackle any job on earth.
“ You know, I had a wonderful wife who
made my time and my life memorable. I’ve
always had itchy feet and I enjoyed my
life travelling around — I’m just a natural
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Ernie Crisp relaxes at home in Runanga.
Ernie Crisp has weathered the sun over the years as he travelled around New Zealand. Finally he settled on the West
Coast in his twilight years. PAUL McBRIDE listens to the stories of this natural wanderer.
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