Home' Greymouth Star : August 18th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, August 18, 2015 - 7
Whatever happened to . . .
John Burford was a well known dentist in Greymouth a generation ago. But during his
time on the West Coast he did more than drill holes in teeth. He wrote a popular book,
headed the Greymouth Rotary Club for a while and helped save the Coronation Hall at
Ross. He loved his time in Greymouth, as he relates by phone to LAURA MILLS.
ohn Burford grew up in the North
Island and as a graduate planned
to head to London. To fill in the
six months before his departure,
he took up a job in Greymouth —
and stayed for 27 or 28 years.
He arrived in town by train
in January 1964 and found that
Greymouth suited the self-
described “small-town person”.
He started out with a surgery above
Greymouth Motors (now Olsens Pharmacy)
and the petrol station. His consulting rooms
lacked insulation and the wind whistled
Dr Burford became probably the first
in the South Island to do dentistry
sitting down and brought in a chair and
equipment from the United States to do
“Dentists always had bad backs,” he laughs.
“ You could tell them walking down the
street, bent over. ”
To properly accommodate the equipment,
he had new premises built in Albert Street
with the help of a US design company. The
TAB was right next door, and you “couldn’t
get down the street on Saturday morning
with people placing bets”.
One day a friend from New Plymouth
visited and spotted the empty Coronation
Hall, at Ross. He went into the pub and
was told it was to be demolished shortly. He
told Dr Burford, who was in Rotary, and
he in turn told Greymouth jeweller Barney
Sutherland, who was in the throes of setting
The friends split the transport costs and
the hall was “taken apart and put back
together like London Bridge”. It remains at
Shantytown to this day.
Dr Burford is also known for his
photography, which he started as a teenager
in New Plymouth. A friend had converted a
room to darkroom, and he was smitten.
He published three photo books on the
West Coast. The first one, The Coast and the
Coasters, made the top 10 in the selling lists
of New Zealand at the time.
There were some breaks away from the
Coast. In Canada, he took courses on
orthodontics. Before this, he carried out
only basic orthodontic treatments because
other wise Greymouth people wanting
their teeth straightened had to travel to
About 1990, a Christchurch locum offered
to buy his Greymouth practice. Dr Burford’s
father was sick by then, so he decided to
semi-retire to Auckland and be close to him.
In the end, his father died before he got
“I left with a certain reluctance,” he says
of Greymouth. “ I really enjoyed the West
Coast and the friends. I prefer spending
time with ordinary people, rather than
someone who thinks they are important
because they live in Remuera and drive a
certain type of car.”
When he left, his assistant and receptionist
went with him. In 2000, he built a new
purpose-built office in Newmarket using
an architect (who is also a dentist) from
Nebraska. The floor area of this office
is larger than the dental department at
When he sold up in 2010 the business
had grown to four dentists and a staff of
He is still not that comfortable living in
a city and looking out windows at the next
building — especially after his last house in
Greymouth, at the top of Stanton Crescent
and with an awesome view.
“So we built a house on a cliff top on
Whangaparaoa Peninsula, about an hour’s
drive north of the city. The area has a
‘country’ feel, almost like the Coast, and I
am much more relaxed living there.”
Dr Burford still works three days a week
“ because I like it ”, though these days he
only does orthodontic treatment. He has a
particular interest in jaw disorders.
“It started in Greymouth when a lady
came in with a lot of headaches and a
He sent her to an oral surgeon, who
injected steroids, but the pain got worse
and she ended up in Seaview psychiatric
hospital, in Hokitika.
“S he knew she wasn’t mad. One day she
walked out and into the sea and drowned
A few years later Dr Burford got the
opportunity to do a course in the United
States and realised then what had been
wrong with that unfortunate patient.
“ I might have saved her life. That got me
Jaw disorders, he says, are “much more fun
that drilling holes. ”
Dr Burford has four children. Visiting
his son in Christchurch a year or so ago, he
popped over the alps for a feed of blue cod.
He talks warmly of his time here, and the
friends he made.
“ You had to make your own entertainment.
You couldn’t go to the ballet or the theatre
or the opera every night. They were happy
PICTURES: Burford Collection
Seated dentistry: in the Albert Street office with Patsy Farmer assisting, in the days before they wore gloves.
John Burford on his 70th birthday with his four children — Michael, Melanie, Janine and Chris — all of whom grew up in Greymouth.
John Burford with Mike Bruce, at Rutherglen about 20 years ago.
Taking over the reins of the Greymouth Rotary Club from Jack Tulloch, in
John Burford’s first surgery, above Greymouth Motors, with his first nurse
Links Archive August 17th 2015 August 19th 2015 Navigation Previous Page Next Page