Dad was a freezing worker.

Ian and Elaine with their some of their mokopuna

My dad did a trade when he was a young man. He became a bookmaker. But he couldn’t feed his kids on what he was making so he got a job at Hellaby’s Freezing Works in Otahuhu.

He worked hard and we never went hungry, even during the lengthy strikes that the freezing workers undertook that won not only themselves a pay rise, but also made a huge contribution of General Wage Order that everyone else got. That’s why we never went hungry. During those strikes workers on other sites supported the strikers knowing that they would win as well.

It was a good system.

Dad didn’t mind working hard because it allowed him to support his family. We even had a holiday some years. 7 kids on a holiday wouldn’t have been cheap.

When I was a young man I got a trade as well. Dad pretty much made it a condition of tenency at 10 Buckland Road, Mangere. So I got a trade. I went to the same place my older brother Neil went to get a trade.

The Otahuhu Railways Workshops.

Getting a trade was great. I worked in the trade for a while after I was made redundant.

But what I learned most of all as I learned to become a tradesman was that there is a number of ways to do things but the goal was always to do the job properly.

It’s not rocket science.

Oh wait, yes it is.

Dad died 26 years ago yesterday.

It’s a cliche to say I think of him all the time, but I do.

He taught me so much, and he even made sure I learned more by doing a trade. He knew that it wasn’t to build railway carriages for the rest of my life, but to learn how to approach any task well.

He taught me what a father needs to do, and he taught that lesson in a lot of different ways.

Dad’s main concern was how his kids would grow up. He didn’t want us getting into trouble with the cops. He made us do sports and there we learned how to play in a team. He made us know how to behave in company and we were always welcome guests at many homes of people we vaguely knew.

7 kids.

He taught us how to speak to our mother and our mother was the easiest person to speak to in the world, so he taught us about a mother’s love.

Dad made sure there was music in the house and we had good gear to play the records he bought from the RCA Victor Record Club. In that gear and in those records, he taught me how to love music. Imagine no music. Can I ever thank him enough?

I know for sure I didn’t at the time.

Sorry Dad.

We disagreed on a lot of things, as you do. But over the years I got the chance to actually tell him a lot of those times he was right and I was wrong. And he never made a big deal of it.

Dad checks out my footware as Grandad gives me my 21st key.

Dad was in the union and spoke often at union meetings. So did my grandad, who also worked at Hellaby’s. An old unionist called Bob Small, who was very active in the rank and file of the Meatworkers Union, remembered Grandad by saying ‘lovely fellow your grandad, and as I remember, a bit of a conservative’. I can see that. Presbyterian Scottish and the natural order of things. But grandad supported the union too and had got locked up when the Hellaby’s workers went on strike to support better quality food Hellaby’s were supplying to our WW2 troops.

Don’t fuck with a Presbyterian Scotsman.

Compared to me, Dad was a bit conservative. But we were on the same side, always.

I had my tone, and he had his.

Dad went to election meetings too, with his mates. They used to heckle and he’d take the floor and deliver a question, so pointed and focused, that whoever was listening shut up and listened. Every single time.

He was an orator, literally.


My ticket to heaven.

I learned a lot from Dad. And I think of him all the time. In a lot of ways, this is how I give him everlasting life. I never forget him and I appreciate him more every day that passes.

And I know he believes in everlasting life because he took me too church and Sunday School so I could go to heaven. And he made sure I had the pass to get in by making sure I was baptized.

And I know how much he believed that because when he died and we had to tidy things up Mum found an envelope in a draw. It has seven cards on it and they were our baptism cards from the local church.

I am certain that he kept those cards in case he needed to address God and remind him that maybe his son wasn’t perfect, “but he did in fact pay the cover charge and here it the reciept, Lord, and with all due respects, King of Men, that was the deal at the time and I’m hopeful that you’d reconsider and be good enough to correct your mistake. Praise yee”.

And I’m 95 per cent confident that those would be the words he would as well.

So Dad’s been gone 26 years, but I’m going to have a drink with him tonight.

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