Home' Greymouth Star : December 1st 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, December 1, 2015 - 7
arry and Janette Speirs moved
to New Zealand from Scotland
“I moved from Scotland to
New Zealand many, many,
many years ago. From the
west coast of Scotland to the West Coast of New
Zealand — both places are similar, from the
surrounds to the people. ”
This West Coast, however, was not Harry’s first
port of call when he landed on New Zealand
Their first five years in this new land was spent in
the farming areas of inland Canterbury. Harry was
a shepherd in Scotland and picked up similar work
“ We left London for New Zealand on my 22nd
birthday. I married my Janette, we filled in the
immigration paper work and our next stop was New
As they were filling out the paper work they heard
of the sinking of the Wahine and the rattling of the
Inangahua earthquake, but neither were enough to
put them off heading to the land of the long white
“ We came to New Zealand late in 1968 and went
straight to Hororata, then to North Canterbury
then to Mayfield,” Harry says.
During that time he was not only a shepherd
but a dab hand at fencing — hard work, especially
during the arid summers in Mayfield.
“The ground was rock hard — it was some of the
hardest work I have done.”
He then won a contract with Lands and Sur vey
to fence some farms around Moana, working from
Christmas through to March or April, then head
back to Canterbury to do some more fencing.
Next, Lands and Sur vey offered him a full-time
fencing job on the West Coast, with roadside weed
spraying to boot.
“O bviously I said ‘yes’ — much to Janette’s
disgust. She didn’t want to come, but once she was
here she didn’t want to leave. We have been here
permanently since 1980. ”
Harry just “likes” the West Coast and that is why
“ I like the people, the environment and even the
His introduction to weed spraying came with the
move to the Coast, and it demanded a lot more
work than he had expected.
His weed spraying career began in 1989, and
he was killing weeds — and weeks — along the
roadside the entire length of the Coast.
Twenty-six years later he is on his fourth truck —
and each of them has racked up 400,000km.
Harry recalls he only had one mishap along the
way, and that was an accident when he was parked
up on the side of the road.
“It was a beauty. I was sitting in the truck and a
motorist was driving towards me — she had fallen
asleep. She lost control of the vehicle came across
on to the wrong side of the road and blew me off
the road. And it was in the Shenandoah in the
Buller Gorge — we could not have been further
away from help. She was very badly hurt and I tried
to go through the window but my shoulder stopped
Two rescue helicopters from Greymouth and
Nelson, and all the emergency ser vices from
An interesting sideline to Harry’s job was
watching the comings and goings along the road.
One lunchtime at Paringa he was enjoying a
peaceful lunch when a car flew by, with the police
in hot pursuit — lights flashing and siren blaring.
The car they were chasing stopped and the three
cops pursuing them jumped out and quickly had
the driver on the ground and in handcuffs.
It turns out the driver was from the North Island
in a stolen car and had been on a burglary spree
during his South Island trip.
“I never heard what happened to him.”
The police left the scene as quickly as they arrived.
Harry has also seen his fair share of bad drivers,
and quickly adds that there was a good mix of
tourists and locals.
“Quite often the tourist drivers were predictable
— the locals, though, are not.”
Harry gave up the fencing side of the job after
about 25 years, but has stayed in Moana since
moving to the Coast, picking up a ballot block
from Lands and Sur vey.
In between jobs he spent 12 months delivering
milk around Greymouth.
“I was the milkman and delivered to Karoro and
Kumara, as well as Blaketown.”
When he first took over the roadside spraying job
there were very few rules and regulations, but all
that has changed with time.
At first, he just drove along the side of the
road spraying the weeds, whereas today there are
warning signs and following vehicles. So a job once
undertaken by Harry alone now involves three
people — the safety vehicle driver, the spray truck
driver and the sprayer.
“It used to be just me. When I first started
spraying down south there was hardly any traffic so
there were hardly any issues — today there can be
lines of traffic. In the early days, south of Whataroa
I never saw many vehicles. Now, especially during
the summer time, there are people all over the
place, so the safety regulations are there for a
Apart from the time a motorist crashed into him,
Harry has a proud driving record: “I have never had
Over the years he has met an eclectic bunch of
people: “Some have been interesting, while I’ve had
the odd argument with others — not everyone says
‘thank you’ to me for spraying their road frontage!”
The job is not as simple as driving along the road
and spraying every weed he sees, but he laughs at
how quickly they grow, especially in the days before
trucks carting fertiliser were covered.
When the fertiliser was blown out of the trucks it
naturally fed the luxuriant roadside weeds.
Harry not only travels the Coast highways
regularly — he does it slowly so that he knows
every culvert on the Coast. He knows, for example,
there are 120 culvert ends in a distance of just
10km at Lake Moeraki, and his job was to keep
them clear of weeds.
“ If there was surface flooding in too many places
it often meant I was not doing my job — the weeds
had taken over and were blocking the culverts.”
Although he grew to love the West Coast rain,
it was sometimes a hindrance, making trips down
south especially a waste of time.
Once every three or so years he would head to
Haast to spray, but days on end of rain would halt
his work and more often than not he would return
home with a full load of weedkiller.
“ I’m pretty good at predicting the weather but
every now and again I get caught out,” he says.
A weed sprayer’s job is never done and he was on
call seven days a week after a full week.
“O ver the years it has become a bit of a pain as
often I don’t get a day off.”
One of the jobs that has to be done annually is
the eradication of noxious weeds around safety
rails, especially if they grew higher than 100mm.
Just like in the home garden, springtime is
the busiest on the road, but added to that is the
unpredictability of spring weather.
“If I miss a week, or even just a couple of days, I
end up chasing my tail for the rest of the year —
but after 25 years I have got good at reading the
In his spare time he finds “plenty” to keep him
occupied. He played indoor bowls for a while, but
was away too much and could not commit himself
to the sport.
Harry and Janette have travelled back home
to Scotland a few times, but their last trip was a
Janette picked up legionnaires during their
stopover in Dubai, but the symptoms did not
emerge until they arrived in Scotland.
“Janette spent eight to 10 weeks in intensive
care. Thank goodness we were well insured — her
care, which included flying with an intensive care
nurse,was $100,000. She travelled with the nurse
and her oxygen tanks in business class, and I got
kicked into cattle class,” he laughs.
“Now I’m semi-retired I’m sure I’m going to
have plenty to still do. I’m still working but not
anywhere as much as I used to. I’m 69 — I’ve done
my fair share and enjoyed every day of it . I’m still
healthy so I thought, ‘ Why not slow down?’.”
Worn and leathery Scotsman, Harry Speirs, has travelled up hill and down dale, clocking up hundreds of thousands of kilometres
from Karamea to Haast killing weeds. He chats to VIV LOGIE about his life on the road.
Harry Speirs with his trusty weedbusting truck.
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