Home' Greymouth Star : February 18th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - 5
The Grey Valley was a di erent
place when Barbara Knutson
and Jack Becker rst met in
the 1950s --- more bustling
and tightly-knit, with a
strong sense of identity in
each township. While they miss aspects of
the old lifestyle, things are still pretty good
for the well-known Ahaura couple.
"We're both very lucky," Barbara Becker
says. "We've got ups and downs, but nothing
that stops us. We count our blessings there."
Jack Becker was born in Greymouth in
1926 to Ernie and Pearl Becker. His father
was a locomotive driver at the Nelson Creek
sawmill and worked for a while on the dam
at Kokiri, while his mother ran a boarding
house. He had a brother Graham and a
He grew up in the Depression years, but
can not remember any particular hardship in
"My father always worked seven days
a week, all the time. Five o'clock in the
morning until seven or eight at night. We
had a wonderful life, ran wild, pinched
apples, did all those kind of things kids do."
At age ve he moved to Wallsend
and attended school across the river at
Taylorville, walking across the swingbridge
every day. When the school burned down
--- along with a hotel, library, billiard room
and house --- the family returned to Nelson
Creek, taking up residence at Hatters
As he got older, Jack began working in the
bush with his father.
"We were contracting, laying tramline. No
wages either, you just earned your keep."
Barbara, meanwhile, was born at Carterton
in 1930. Her parents were Alice and Len
Knutson and she had two older sisters, Leith
and Margaret. Like many families in the
area, the Knutsons came from Scandinavia,
so they always pronounced the 'K' in their
name and do to this day.
She can remember the earthquake in
1942 that caused widespread damage in the
Wairarapa, but overall her childhood was
"We were lucky as children. Dad had a
business and we never ever went without
anything during the Depression. We were
always well fed and we had holidays."
After attending Carterton Primary School
and Wairarapa College, Barbara went to
Wellington Teachers Training College for
one year in 1948. She had to transfer to
the Christchurch school when her father
retired and the family moved. She taught in
Sumner for a while, and then came to the
West Coast as a relieving teacher.
"And I haven't got away yet," she laughed.
Barbara had no trouble making the Coast
" ey all say you've got to be born on
the Coast to be a Coaster. I wasn't born
here, but I've lived here ever since 1951,
and my family were all born here and my
grandchildren were all born here. I kind of
think they could accept me now."
Meanwhile, Jack was educated at
Greymouth Technical High School, worked
at the Rough River mill and Hahn's sawmill
as a contractor, and was also at the Blackball
coalmine for four and a half years. He
moved to Ahaura after the Blackball bridge
washed away in the 1950s, and then ran a
silver pine sawmill cutting railway ties.
In those days, Ahaura had two hotels,
its own police station, a Post O ce and
a number of shops. Travelling tradesmen
came through with their delivery vans
every week --- a butcher, a shmonger, the
greengrocer from Ikamatua, a draper, a
men's out tter. A regular bus service took
people into town for the day, and a railcar
passed by on the way up to Westport.
Community halls were still thriving then,
and every Saturday there was a dance
somewhere in the region.
e economy back then was driven
by classic West Coast personalities ---
coalminers, sawmill workers and farmers.
"We had a lot of identities," Jack said.
" ey were real old hard cases. ey worked
Barbara said it could be challenging for
women in the small country town.
"It was all right for the men in those days
because there was the mill or the Forest
Service, so there was always a job. But there
was nothing for girls leaving school. ey
had to go away if they wanted to be a nurse.
ere were not very many females round the
Jack and Barbara met each other through
the numerous leisure sport clubs in Ahaura.
ey married in 1953. Barbara carried on
teaching throughout the Grey Valley for
years, taking breaks when their sons Russell
and Anton were born.
"A lot of teachers grizzle and moan, but
that's because they have to. I didn't have to
teach. I taught because I wanted to teach."
She had great experiences with most of
her students: " ere were lovely children
through the valley. I still keep in contact
with some. A lot of the children from this
school have done very well."
In 1969, the Beckers took over the
local transport company and ran it as a
family business, carting animals, general
shipments, concrete, and grain from
"When Jack and I bought it, there were
two trucks," Barbara says. "I think they've
got 12 now."
"Two trucks and two drivers," Jack agrees,
"and I was one of them."
Barbara continued to teach, building a
career of nearly 40 years, and got involved
with the Girl Guides, the forest rangers and
various other committees.
However, things were changing in the
Grey Valley. By the 2000s, small schools
in Moonlight, Ikamatua, Totara Flat,
Ngahere and Nelson Creek were closing
down one after the other, and with them
went the tightly-knit culture of rural
"When the schools were in those little
places there was always a Christmas concert
and they all went to the hall," she says. "It
was like a community gathering. But they
don't do it any more."
Jack said the loss of the schools and the
community halls was a drastic change.
"It's a loss of identity."
Still, his retired school teacher wife says
the resulting Awahono School, in Ahaura,
amalgamated in 2005, has proved itself as a
"It has produced a lot of really good people
over the years. e education is there if they
Ahaura Transport Ltd is now run by
Jack and Barbara's son Russell, and the
business is doing well. eir grandson,
Kurt, the eldest of four grandchildren, has
also worked there for the past eight or nine
years. "We tried to talk him out of it," Jack
Far from feeling stuck in the Grey
Valley, the couple have travelled together
a number of times, to Fiji, Singapore,
the Gold Coast, Europe and England,
as well as regular trips 'over the hill' to
Christchurch. Jack has also visited Chile
four times to help with son Anton's
spaghnum moss business.
Last year, the couple celebrated their
diamond wedding anniversary.
"We've had a happy life," Jack says.
PICTURE: Christine Linnell
Barbara and Jack Becker relax at their Ahaura home.
Long-time Ahaura couple Jack and Barbara Becker have witnessed a lot of changes in the Grey Valley over the
decades, but between his role in the family business, Ahaura Transport Ltd, and her long history of teaching at country
schools on the Coast, the couple can enjoy retirement knowing they have left their mark. ey talked to
CHRISTINE LINNELL about their life together on the West Coast.
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