Home' Greymouth Star : February 4th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 - 5
PICTURE: Paul McBride
Jimmy Casserly, at home in Dobson.
The man from Dobson
ere are not enough hours in the day for Jimmy Casserly. He enjoys pottering around, reading books and is always
open to any opportunity to take his rod and box of tackle to go shing. He is well known around Greymouth, this 'man
from Dobson' with the distinctive voice, the ash of gold in his teeth and a patent laugh. PAUL McBRIDE reports.
immy Casserly is a jack of all
trades, having worked in a cross-
section of employment during his
working life, but above all he is
proud to be a West Coaster.
He was raised in Taylorville with
his brothers and sisters Kathleen,
Michael, Carol, Pat and Peter after
his parents moved the family from
"Dad was a from down south, a place
called Shag's Point, and was a shearer. He
moved to Waiuta and that's where he met
mum, she was a Kennedy from Reefton.
ey got married at Waiuta.
"Dad worked at the Dobson Mine when
we lived in our house in Oxford Street, in
Taylorville. We were one of the rst families
in the State homes there --- an open re in
the lounge, coal range in the kitchen and a
large copper in the wash-house to boil the
clothes. We used a washing board to scrub
Jimmy went to both the Taylorville and
then Dobson schools before completing his
education at Greymouth High School.
"I never went to the Marist school, that's
why I am a very good speller," he laughs.
"I do remember as a kid when we were
living in Taylorville during the Second
World War all the blackouts we had to have.
No lights or candles were allowed at night
and we would all be huddled with mum in
the sitting room. Dad was away at the war
ghting in Egypt. Planes would y over
all the time and I recall one evening seeing
12 planes y over Taylorville. I don't know
whose planes they were but they de nitely
had you on edge."
On leaving school Jimmy left his print on
numerous occupations, each job a dollop of
paint on the canvas of his career.
His rst job was at Ashby Bergh's
hardware store, in Mackay Street.
"Straight out of high school into the
hardware department at Ashby Bergh's
(but) I was soon out at the Wallsend Mine
working in the bins after that, loading all the
coal wagons. Loading the big Q wagons was
a pretty responsible job for a 16-year-old.
It was when the Dobson Mine had blown
up and a lot of the miners from there had
transferred to Wallsend and were working
"When Dobson was back up and running
the miners transferred back and Percy
Maughan, the underviewer, asked me to
go down below. I said I wasn't going down.
Percy was an old Englishman and he said,
'either down the mine or down the road,
laddie --- please yourself '."
Jimmy went underground, down the
Wallsend vertical shaft in the cage, and he
accepted the changed environment and
underground production process.
"Bill Burn worked at the bottom of the
shaft, Colin was his son. It was a wet job
and he'd be covered in water every hour of
the day. He got paid wet time but it was
the only place where you got paid cold time
back then. I got it, but it was cold in winter
down the mine."
ere were times when production was
held up due to disputes, and at other times
unreasonable complaints, he says.
"Stoppages caused by unreasonable
complaints were regular. One day there was
a whitebait run in the Grey River and one
miner said we should be whitebaiting, not
working. Stumpie gets up and makes up a
story someone had stole his axe and work
stopped --- everyone basically adjourned
to the bathhouse and went whitebaiting,"
"It didn't really worry me going down in
the cages to work as it was a pretty safe
system, it wasn't really daunting. Later I
moved to the Dobson Mine to work on
the rope road, hooking the wagons up and
taking them right down to the bottom of
the mine just before the 10-box jig. Ten
full wagons would come down and pull the
empties up, the wagons would go along a
level and then down to the miners at the
face --- 3000ft down.
"It was really hot down there, 86 degrees
(Fahrenheit) but I was lucky as I would be
in the airway on the mine. We would be
working about 10 chain down. Every time
the rope would stop you would see the coal
dust rst and you would hear the breakaway
wagon coming. I remember Tom Anderson
yelled and we both pushed hard into an
alcove against the wall of the mine and the
box ew past."
Later, with good friend Ernie Warren in
tow, Jimmy headed to Hastings to try fruit
picking before travelling down to Auckland
for a period working in a number of
occupations along the way.
"In Hasting we didn't stop picking fruit,
I think it was the mining background. e
owner was sorry to see us go as we cleaned
the large orchard right out --- apples, pears,
apricots, peaches --- and ate plenty of the
fruit while we were there. It is beautiful up
there and I really enjoyed it. In Auckland I
worked for Fisher and Paykel, assembling
washing machines, dryers and stu before
going to work at the Morris Minor car
Eventually, the travelling twosome ended
up in Te Teko, where they began working
on the Matahina Dam construction in the
concrete and steel tying stages of production.
Jimmy transferred to the Ministry of Works
after a while and went to Turangi as a
percussion driller, drilling for excavating
rock for the Turangi dam.
"I worked on the tunnels under the dam,
which is the inspection area of the dam as
well, but then we decided to go to Tasmania
diamond drilling. I actually saw a Tasmanian
devil out at Cradle Mountain, it was 200
yards away. Neville Smith was with me at
the time. ey were pretty rare back then,
there is a Tasmanian devil and a Tasmanian
tiger. e tiger has stripes like a zebra but
the devil has a pug noise like a rotweiller ---
I saw the devil,."
Jimmy also has claim to fame in being the
only person in 121 years to have escaped
from the notorious Port Arthur Prison.
"It was headlines in the front page of the
Hobart Times, I was around 26 years old at
the time. I was on a tourist bus to see the
jail and of course everyone got o and went
to the left and I went right. I joined up with
another line of people from another bus
and took us into a con ned room. e jailer
had a massive key and he locked us in for
the experience and I just started sweating
and panicked, I was getting claustrophobic.
I nearly kicked the door in and when he
opened the door I just bolted but the main
gate was locked as well. I climbed up on
to the wall of the prison and saw my bus
in the distance, I jumped, which was 20ft,
and hobbled o to the waiting bus. It was
terrible," Jimmy grimaced.
" ere was no dancing that night."
Jimmy returned to the West Coast and
started working for Kanieri Gold, drilling
samples along the Taramakau River, and it
was during this time that he fell in love.
"I met my wife Yvonne (nee Lowry) in the
Dobson pub. I was singing one night and
she fell in love with me. We were married
and lived in Dobson, where we brought up
our two children, Shane and Amy."
Jimmy worked as a driller prospecting
for gold on the Grey River for a year and
then had a complete change of direction,
spending many years working indoors.
"Gray Hillman gave me a job working at
Calder Mackay's, which became Farmers, in
the late 1960s, initially on Mawhera Quay. I
was eventually working in the furniture and
"We had a good crew working around
there at the time --- Meredith Crozier,
Gray Hillman, Margaret Martin. Meredith
started work in Calder Mackay's as a young
girl and ended up running the Farmers
operation in Greymouth. We moved around
to Mackay Street and I worked there until
Even now there are not enough hours
in the day for Jimmy, especially with his
passion for shing.
"Len Lingard, my good mate, and I would
go away shing all the time. We went away
once and came back two weeks later, ended
up in Collingwood. We'd take o and didn't
have a clue where we would be going, set
up the tent in a camping ground, nd a
restaurant and a pub and next morning get
up and go shing.
Fishing is not his only sport.
"I was secretary of the Brunner Rugby
League for 18 years, manager, administrator
and I'm still on the committee. e club is
very strong in the schoolboy grades and we
have teams in nearly every grade, which is
"I go whitebaiting down south the odd
time, and have a house down in Kaitangata,
down in Otago, but I wouldn't swap the West
Coast for anything --- I was just pleased I got
out of Port Arthur in one piece!"
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