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Simon Gundry is a Devonport and North Shore identity, and character, who is known for calling a spade a spade. He is a director of contracting company Gill & Gundry, is an enthusiastic and active sailor (past crew-member of Ceramco New Zealand, Lion New Zealand and Shockwave) and is a life member of the North Shore Rugby Football Club.
Happy March – hasn’t this been the most wonderful summer? Great reminders of our childhood, experiencing the North Shore and its’ wonderful beaches and outdoor facilities that we are privileged to live with.
Compared with Cheltenham, Narrow Neck or Takapuna beaches, Duders Beach on the foreshore of Devonport, right by the old and wonderful Masonic Hotel was an insignificant and a halfpenny scrap of land at the foot of Church Street – hardly worth being identified by the term “beach”. It’s a touch longer than a cricket pitch and indeed, thinking back to my childhood in the 1950’s and 60’s, many a fine test match was played there. The square leg and silly mid on virtually standing on the road and point and extra cover was knee deep in the Waitemata. Duders Beach is bounded to the western side by the Sea Scout den and to the eastern end by the bulge of a miniscule look out point, that houses a couple of seats, some grass and a flower bed and a column called “Watsons’ Clock. Duders Beach has no trees spreading welcoming shade on a summer’s day, no grassy embankment on which to relax. The only amenities being a cold water shower and tap at the Sea Scouts Den end; and wide concrete steps running its entire length for sitting and regular steps for walking up and down to the beach. The only vista it has is a superb view of the moored yachts and sailing craft plying the waters of our harbour.
Until the middle of July 1991, Duders Beach had a unique amenity unparalled on the North Shore, it had the piles. These have now been removed, much to the disappointment of the people to whom these weather beaten old piles were a vital part of our childhood’s halcyon days. Now let me tell you what the piles were for. They were used for Devonport Yacht Club members to clean their boats, to scrape off the seaweed and mussels that had accumulated during the winter months and apply a coat of antifouling that would get them through the summer. The kids around the Duders Beach area of the 50’s and 60’s are scattered now, married with families of their own but they look back fondly to their carefree summer days and they remember...
On any summer’s day when the tides in and sun’s out the Duders Beach bunch used to arrive on foot, on trolleys, on bikes or the little kids with their Mums at their favourite swimming spot. They’d arrive wearing their togs, bare feet dancing over the summer scorched sand. The Parlane boys and the Willis boys from lower Church St, the Nevilles, The Wyatts and the Priestleys all from upper Church Street, Butch Baxter, the Kneebones and the Ferryman twins who lived on the side of Mt Victoria. The Burnetts, whose family owned the dairy across from the beach – it was handy having Mrs Burnett who was a trained nurse, and would fix up many a cut or graunched leg.
The Mums and the occasional Dad would spread out on the wide steps, arranging their towels, their suntan lotion and the magazines, a bottle of warm orange cordial, and of course my Mum, with her packet of Pall Mall, preparing for an hour or two of watching the smallest ones learn to swim.
Learning to swim was quite a structured and disciplined procedure, the little kids splashed up and down in the shallows until they got the hang of it until one blissful day when a particular Mum decided that one particular kid was competent enough to swim to the skids, which was in fact the ramp coming down from the Sea Scout den to enable the scouts to launch their boats. From there, the newly promoted swimmers could practise their belly flops that would one day become genuine dives off the piles. This process may have taken half a summer, but eventually a swimmer was given permission to swim from the skids to the piles. It was pretty scary stuff at first, the distance looked as wide as the Pacific Ocean, as you surfaced from your improved belly flop and struck out towards your goal.
You knew your Mum was sitting on the steps watching, so you tried to do your best style, but by the time you were nearly at the Piles, your arms would be nearly dropping off and your head would be thrashing from side to side. You knew, too, that when you reached the piles the most daunting and intimidating test still lay ahead. You could get up to the top of the piles using the pieces of iron to clamber up on. But once you were there, you faced the rest of the larger and stronger kids all standing along the beam, Kings of the Castle, all atop the piles. They may have been your friends, your foes, neighbours or cousins, or even your brothers and sisters, but when you met them on the piles they only had one aim, and that was to stop you joining them. They shoved and pushed you, stamped on your fingers as you climbed up. They laughed and shouted until you fell in the water, but you’d swim around and try, again and again.
Then one day, when not many of the big kids were there, you’d get to the beam unchallenged and you’d stand on the outermost pile and you’d be King of the Castle. You’d dive into the water time after time until you could do it clean and straight.
You’d be one of the big kids then, and next summer you’d be doing your utmost to stop some little kid who has just swum from the skids from making it up onto the piles.
Like most of us older Devonport people, I remember those halcyon days.
Please, please, please we must fight with everything we can to stop the Ports of Auckland from encroaching further into our wonderful Harbour. If they had their way they would reclaim nearly the whole harbour with hardstand and Japanese car parking lots. We cannot let this happen.
Channel Magazine: Issuu 52 March 2015