Home' Greymouth Star : July 29th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 - 7
t began here, I’ve been
here all my life,” Frank
McGuire says of his
If the name Frank
McGuire does not ring
a bell, you are not alone;
his nickname is so
widespread that many do not actually know
his real name. It all started when his mother
gave him the nickname “tuppence ha’penny”
in reference to the old currency. It was
shortened to “tup”, something his family still
call him today.
“People took tup to tub and tub to tubby
— a lot of people don’t know my real name.”
Like all good nicknames, it stuck.
Tubby comes from a true working-class
background; his parents and grandparents
all grew up in Blackball, too. His maternal
grandfather was a butcher, his other
grandfather worked on the railway, across
the river at Ngahere, and his father worked
in a mine and a sawmill.
The Blackball boy would go on to marry
a Blackball girl in 1969, and he and wife
Janice have three children — Keri, Melanie
Growing up in Blackball led to several
“ We used to spend heaps of time in the
bush, trapping possums, fishing, tramping.”
With the Croesus Track nearby, Tubby was
making his way there from a young age, even
before it was opened up as a public track.
“The track was there but you had to slash
your way through some of it — I spent a lot
of time up in the hills. ”
He started at Blackball School in 1949 and
moved on to Greymouth Technical High
School, although his love of the outdoors
kept him out of school for a while.
“I missed my first term at high school
because I fell over the tops while shooting
with my father at the Ahaura-Kopara. I
fell over and dislocated my arm and had to
walk out from up the tops. I cut the ner ve
and they said that if I hadn’t cut the ner ve I
would have been in absolute agony. I had to
have a ner ve graft, I nearly lost my arm. ”
Repaired, when he got to school he made
use of his arms during three years in trades
course, with hopes of becoming a mechanic.
“I ’ve always been mechanically minded,
right from when I was a kid I used to pull
things to bits to see how they work — I still
In 1961, Frank started in the Ministry of
Works as an apprentice fitter and turner,
where he would stay for 45 years before
ending his time there in June 2006 as an
“ When we first started off, the machinery
we had was an old Ford tractor with a
bucket on the front, all the way up to the
modern diggers now, the progress was
He worked on everything, doing
maintenance on “chainsaws to dozers and
diggers” and could be sent down as far as
Paringa for weeks at a time.
“ When I first started work there it was a
picnic, it was just a fun place to be.”
His improvisation skills were as much
tested as his mechanical skills.
“ You never had a service truck as such, you
the store and load the truck up with what
you thought you would need.
“If the loader broke down, the private
contractor would be laid off. M e n’s
livelihood basically depended on that loader,
you had to get it going.”
As the MOW was phased out the depots
around the Coast closed.
“It got down to only two of us in the
workshop, back in the heyday you’d have
20-something. Things changed, after
they did all the work down south and the
restructuring of the Works, they closed
the Haast workshop, closed the Westport
workshop. We were left and we had basically
from Jackson Bay to Karamea to cover. ”
Eventually, Tubby was made redundant,
but that break from work did not last long.
“I finished there on the Friday of Queen’s
Birthday weekend, and started working for
Birchfield Minerals on the Tuesday.”
His job there was brought into a slightly
larger scale, performing maintenance on the
Grey River gold dredge. He worked there
until retiring in December 2012 after “51
years in the game”.
Tubby is perhaps best known for his time
as a long-ser ving member of the Blackball
Volunteer Fire Brigade.
The old coal town had lost a few homes
to fires so two meetings were called, in
February and May 1963, towards setting up
He was working out of town at the
time and had no intentions of joining up.
However, he was approached several times
and was persuaded to join, never expecting
that he would be there for 50 years.
“Fifty years later I am the only foundation
member in the Blackball brigade.”
The brigade acquired a Dennis fire engine
from Wellington and drew up plans for a
station to hold it. Those plans were approved
on April 28, 1964 and with voluntary labour
from the community and surrounding
districts helping to build the station the
brigade held their first meeting later that
year, on August 6.
Since starting as a fireman, Tubby has
taken on many roles. He worked his way
up to deputy chief fire officer, then took
a step back to become station officer. He
later resumed as deputy again and in 1987,
when he tried to step down, he was instead
promoted to chief.
resignation but before I could the CFO
(chief fire officer) told me he was going
to do the same. After some debate on the
matter I was talked into staying on as CFO.”
Much like his entire tenure in the brigade,
Tubby ended up staying in the chief ’s role
longer than he expected.
“It was only to be a short time but it ended
up being 10 years.”
He eventually stepped down in 1996 and
began to work his way back down the ladder.
He saw plenty of action during his time
with the brigade.
On February 23, 1973 the brigade received
a call to a telephone pole at Roa Road. The
fire engine stopped working and by the time
it was up and running again the fire had
quickly spread up the Blackball ridges and
into the gully where the mine workshops
and buildings then stood. They were
completely destroyed, along with the coal
bins. The fire then carried on up the gully
towards the tv translator building.
“ We had three teams spread along the hills
and we had a major struggle to get water up
to the tv building. We had a 600ft forestry
hose up the hill and the FWMP pump
was hard out to get some water up there.
We managed to save the building with no
damage. The brigade didn’t get much rest
Perhaps Tubby’s most significant
contribution to firefighting was one he did
With a drop off in teams competing in
four-man firefighting events, he and another
long-time member, Les Neilson, decided to
trial two-man teams.
Together they wrote some runs for the
West Coast Fire Brigade Association
which were picked up by the NZ United
Fire Brigades’ Association and adapted
“ Now everyone is running two-man events,
which is a bit sad, we didn’t want that to
happen. They were only sort of a fill in, now
they ’ve taken over. ”
PICTURE: Nicholas McBride
Frank ‘Tubby’ McGuire relaxes in his backyard, with the Paparoa Range in the background.
Frank ‘Tubby’ McGuire has Blackball in his veins. He spent 45 years working with his hands at the Ministry of Works
and is the only original member still in the town’s volunteer fire brigade. He told NICHOLAS McBRIDE about life
growing up in Blackball, his 50 years in the fire brigade and the origin of his nickname.
The original members of the Blackball Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1964.
The brigade in 1976. Tubby McGuire, as deputy chief fire officer, is in the front row, fourth
The Blackball Volunteer Fire Brigade in 1964 with its Dennis engine. Tubby McGuire is on
the far right.
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