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he daughter of Jack and Flora
Priest, Joan was raised in the family
home with her sister Marion and
younger brother Jack.
Deep Creek and you had to go over
a swingbridge to get to it. Kotuku was a milling
town when I was growing up and there were two
mills. My father worked in the bush and my mother
looked after the farm and milked the cows.
My father would go to work and walk out to
Blairs Block with a hurricane kerosene lantern
burning — go to work in the dark and return when
it was dark with the lantern burning.”
Joan went to the Kotuku School and later
attended the Greymouth Technical High School.
“At Kotuku there were 60 children attending
school in my time and Mr Barracot was the
headmaster. Rather than send everyone into
Greymouth for the trades and cooking classes he
had the boys build our own building. They put the
bricks in around the chimney and all the timber was
supplied from Jack’s Mill.
“ To get to the high school was a bit of a ritual. We
would bike two miles down to Mrs Marshall’s and
leave our bikes on her veranda and then walk to the
railway station and catch the steam train. It would
take us one and a half hours to get to Greymouth,
we would stop at all the stations along the way.
We’d walk from the Greymouth station up to high
school, and then it was all over again but in reverse,
leaving Greymouth station at 4.30pm.”
Joan recalls the hum of activity at Kotuku with the
mills in full production and the way of life as her
parents made ends meet during testing times.
“The timber from both mills would go by steam
train to Christchurch. Mr Johns had two draught
horses which pulled a wagon loaded with timber
to the railway station, where the yardman was.
I remember, too, when World War Two was
declared — it was on my 10th birthday, the 3rd of
September, 1939. We had the only valve wireless
in Kotuku and all these people arrived to listen to
the news — I thought they were coming for my
birthday. Our house was a meeting place and the
old wireless would be crackling away all the time at
It was a time of ration books but having a small
farm helped the Priest family through difficult
times, through the Depression and the war years.
“I was a little girl during the Depression, the big
slump, and there were tough times. You could only
get threepence for a sheep so dad would just hang
on to them. During the war years we had ration
books and mum made her own butter. We were
lucky in those tough times as we could live off the
farm,” Joan reflected.
Aged just 17, Joan fell in love with a young Micky
Shand after a courtship which took in the dances
held in the popular West Coast halls of the time —
the Stillwater, Gladstone and St Columba — and
attending movies at the old Opera House added to
The couple were married and lived at Kotuku
before moving to Cobden where they raised their
two sons, Michael and Christopher, and daughter
“The first time Micky took me home I was at a
birthday party and he was 18 years old, I was 17.
I was so shy when he walked me home but it was
all on after that. We eventually got married and
Michael and Margaret were born at Kotuku and
Christopher in Cobden. D utchy Gillman and the
mill manager Oscar Hay were the only people who
had cars in Kotuku at the time and when I went
into labour with Michael, D utchy drove me into
McBrearty Ward. The gravel roads were pretty
rough at the time but Dutchy got me there in one
It was back to the old school days whenever Joan
wanted to travel into town, and as a young mother
the tried and true method of rail transport was
again put into practice.
“I’d go into town by train and try to keep clean
with the baby. All the soot would come from the
train, looking back it was terrible. The boys on the
train would always look out the window going
through the Stillwater tunnel and they would then
turn around with a smile — white teeth and black
faces like Sambo!”
In 1955, when Micky got a job at the Strongman
Mine, the family moved to Cobden and in 1964
they took over running the Gilmer Hotel, in
The Shands ran the popular pub in Gresson Street
for a number of years, leaving lots of memories of
long nights, characters and the late-night ring on
the bell. It was not a matter of if, but when, the
policeman’s finger would press the bell and that one
ring echoing through the bar after-hours always
drew a direct reaction from those within.
“The first time the bell rang I was lying asleep
in bed and woke up to see all these people in my
room. I had to rub my eyes to see if I was dreaming,
I wondered what they were all doing there. I knew
nothing about hotels, absolutely nothing when we
first took over,” mused Joan.
“The first Sunday, Micky came running up the
stairs and said I would have to get behind the bar
and help him. Someone asked me for a 5oz — they
might as well have asked me for the moon, I didn’t
have a clue. Gosh, it was after a Sunday league
game and the bar was full. It was a baptism of
fire for me but after a while it wasn’t too difficult
because an 8oz was eightpence and a 5oz was
sixpence. We basically only had beer then, very few
of the top shelf.”
While there were numerous police raids on
the Gilmer, the local constabulary was pretty
good overall as she reflects on some memorable
“One night there were 40 pairs playing darts on
a Sunday. Billy Brennan was a real character and
a real good friend. He’d give out the prizes at the
end of the night and would always say something
witty about somebody. He was an engine driver and
during the day would stop the steam train outside
the hotel and come in for a cuppa.
“The bell rang this night and (sergeant) Jimmy
Wright was on duty. Everyone scampered as soon
as they heard the bell ring. Jimmy came back into
the hotel after looking around outside and said to
Micky ‘I didn’t know you had a St Bernard (dog)
Micky?’ ‘I haven’t,’ Micky said.
Jimmy looked at him, ‘ Well you have one now ’.
It was the woolly head of Freddie Cutbush in the
Another night the Blaketown Playcentre put on a
concert in the Gilmer when the bell rang.
“Gillian Williams and Maureen Anderson were
entertaining at the time and everyone took off when
they heard the ring. Jimmy Wright found a fairy’s
wand and a sparkling slipper outside. He came in
holding them both and said he wanted to know
who carried this wand and who fitted the slipper.”
After doing time at the hotel, Joan and Micky
moved to Paroa, where they built a new house and
Micky worked for Fletchers before going on to
work for the Phoenix Meat Company, at Kokiri.
“ We bought a whitebait stand at Jacobs River and
enjoyed whitebaiting, and we took holidays at our
bach at Woodpecker Bay (Fox River). It was great
for the children and ourselves, stepping back in
time, no power, no tv, no radio, but a lot of
crayfishing and fishing. It is all about family and my
role was being there for Micky and bringing up the
family, and enjoying life along the way.
“ We had a wonderful marriage and we live in a
wonderful place. The West Coast is the best kept
secret in New Zealand.”
Joan Shand has lived all her life on the West Coast and has fond memories of growing up at Kotuku during the Great Depression
and war years. Now living at Granger House rest home in Greymouth, she shares some of her story with PAUL McBRIDE.
Joan Shand at home at Granger House.
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