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hether it has been
playing his part in
running the Cobden
Bowling Club as its
president or greenkeeper,
delivering Meals on
Wheels around town,
calling housie at a local pub, helping to run the
contract bridge club or setting up and coaching a
junior football team, Stuart Oliver has certainly
contributed to the town he loves as home.
He has not even allowed the heart attack he
suffered four years ago to slow him down. In fact,
he has had a new lease on life since. He also has
not let himself be discouraged by the fact that all
three places he has worked at in Greymouth —
the regional office of the National Cash Register
Company, clothing factory Lane Walker Rudkin,
and Trent ’s Wholesalers — all closed down while he
was working for them.
It was, after all, work that drew him to the West
Coast in the first place.
Born in Invercargill in 1944, Stuart was educated
at Tweedsmuir Junior High School and Southland
Boys High School. His first job was working for
NCR, helping to install, ser vice and maintain their
In 1971, when Stuart heard that the Christchurch
office of NCR was not very happy about having to
run its partner office across the alps, he saw a chance
for promotion and put his name for ward to take
it over. NCR accepted his offer and he moved to
Greymouth with his wife Lyn.
However, the office closed just eight years later
in 1979, at which point Stuart went to work as a
technician at the Lane Walker Rudkin clothing
factory, looking after their machines. That was a
job he would hold until 1990, when one day the
management came in and told the workforce that it
was quite literally, the end of the production line.
“ When they closed the factory — the
management basically came in and called everybody
into the smoko room and said, ‘right, that ’s it, the
factory’s c losed, you’ve got 10 minutes to get your
gear and get out ’.
“ Well they didn’t know what West Coast women
are like — they just got stubborn and put their
foot down. I think it was about three months we
picketed the place for.”
Stuart then went to work for Trent ’s Wholesalers,
firstly on a full-time basis and then, after leaving
for a couple of years, part-time. He worked at the
wholesalers right up until a couple of months ago,
when it shut down.
Given his unlucky run in workplaces, he jokes, “it ’s
probably a good thing I’m retired”.
He has a few amusing stories to tell from more
than 40 years of working on the Coast, especially
from being the only man working at LWR in a
factory of more than 100 women. It was, he says, an
“ interesting” experience.
He also had a spot of fun one year after the
factory’s Christmas work function, which was
always held the night before the last day of work.
That meant that most staff came into work the
following morning feeling more than a little worse
for wear. Stuart and a colleague had to go into
work early to fire up the boiler, so they were at the
factory before any of the other staff arrived. They
drilled holes into the plastic toilets in the women’s
toilet cubicles, of which there were about eight, and
attached fishing lines to the flushing mechanism.
Whenever someone walked into one of the cubicles,
they ran along the line of fishing lines, giving each
one a good yank. One woman came rushing out of
the cubicle with a shocked look on her face, saying
“oh my God, that toilet flushed all on its own”.
It was also through work that Stuart got involved
in many of the activities he is still involved with
today. For instance, it was while he was ser vicing
cash registers in a local pub that he ended up
playing darts, something he has been doing now for
After a particularly busy overtime shift working
for LWR he called into the pub to have a beer on
the way home. That night happened to a Tuesday,
the same night the Cobden Bowling Club was
hosting a contract bridge tournament. The Cobden
team was short of a player, and as Stuart had always
played cards, he was roped into playing.
After a night spent playing bridge some of the
Cobden team members then suggested Stuart pop
up to the bowling club and try his hand at bowls,
too. That had led to 26 years’ involvement with the
c lub, some of which as president but more recently
as greenkeeper, a job which had taken up more than
a little of his time in the past few months, as the
green was yet another part of Cobden which had
been damaged when Cyclone Ita whipped the Coast
on April 17.
When he went to check on the green the day after
the storm there were pieces of metal sticking out
of it, forcing the club to cancel its annual Easter
tournament. However, he is hopeful of getting the
green back and ready to play on fairly soon.
Stuart ’s heavy involvement with the local bowls
c lub had also led to him sitting on the board of
Bowls West Coast.
Despite the perception from some that bowls is for
people of a certain age, the Cobden club has at least
six young players, one of whom is the highly rated
Ethan Kelleher, who has represented New Zealand
in international bowls.
The involvement with bowls, in turn led to Stuart
being a regular caller for Tuesday night housie
which Bowls West Coast has recently taken over
running at the Union Hotel.
Bowls is not the only outside sport he has been
involved with. Some years ago he had played for a
local football team, called Teachers, aptly named as
most of the people who played for the team were in
With no team for youngsters in Cobden, Stuart
and another player, Vern Newcombe, set about
forming a junior team, which he then coached for a
couple of years.
Stuart had been busy in the community in other
ways. For the past 10 years he had been doing Meals
‘‘Maybe it was my upbringing, because all my
friends were like it, but I have always believed in
giving back to the local community. Without the
community we would all be stuffed. If I ever need it
someday, I hope someone’s there to do it for me.”
heart of the
PICTURE: Ben Aulakh
Stuart Oliver, ready for a game of bowls at the Cobden Bowling Club.
In 43 years living on the West Coast, Cobden resident Stuart Oliver has been involved with community groups as varied as bowls,
bridge, housie, darts and football. Despite all three of his workplaces closing down while was working there, he remains as committed
as ever to the community, as BEN AULAKH finds out.
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