• The Kestrel Ferry in better days. The last of the big double ended ferries that a lot of people still remember plying the harbour between Devonport and the City.

Looking down the barrel at Christmas

It’s getting near the end of the year, again. We are looking down the barrel at Christmas, hopefully some summer weather and our usual holiday pursuits of swimming, barbecues and general relaxation. 

It was so nice to have daylight saving start, the lighter evenings make such a difference. I can get into my garden in the evening, after a hard day at work in the concrete gang.

It’s hard to believe that Walter Gill and I have been working together in this field for almost 50 years, after walking out of Takapuna Grammar School in 1969 with absolutely no idea about what we were going to do as a future career. Somehow it all fell into place, with the help of some wonderful mentors, established builders on the North Shore such as Bill Manning, Ted Frost, the Bell brothers, David Winstone, Arthur and John Irvine, Trevor Ion, to name but a few – people who allowed us to dig their foundations by hand, tie the reinforcing steel and place the concrete. We started work on the Neil Homes subdivision on the corner of Sycamore Drive and Sunnynook Road. We dug foundation block holes, and placed in them two foot long concrete panel foundation piles, from these the wooden floors were constructed. It was hard, labour intensive work. We owned a wheelbarrow, a couple of spades and shovels and a spirit level. We weren’t paid wages, we were paid a contract rate – the more holes we dug the more money we made. From the Neil subdivisions, we graduated to the new subdivisions of Maxwelton Drive in Mairangi Bay, Stapleford Crescent behind Freyburg Park, Chatswood Subdivision in Birkenhead and over the years we have done literally thousands of house foundations, but more of that later next year.

Now, I read this with some disbelief in our local paper, the Auckland Council are planning to build a Bean Rock themed playground in Devonport, at a cost of over a million dollars. I think I may have made my feelings known about playgrounds before. The existing playground is perfectly adequate, and visiting and local children make good use of it. Children don’t need to be entertained all the time, a bit of spare ground can be used for all sorts of games, as we all did when we were children.  An impromptu game of rugby, or softball or cricket or even a game of Bullrush if there were enough kids around. 

Which leads me to thinking this million dollars plus could be better utilised for saving the Kestrel – this is the last of the big double ended ferries that a lot of people still remember plying the harbour between Devonport and the City. Catching the ferry to the city for work was a ritual, waiting for the big ramp to thump down and then climbing on to the ferry, in rough weather the ramp would be moving up and down with the tide, and sideways in the wind. Regulars used to have their special seats and smokers were always downstairs. There’d be knots of people talking, meeting up each morning or evening, some reading their Herald and others just enjoying the ride. When the ferry came close to berthing, you’d have the young men leaping onto the piles, and climbing up the wharf to get through the gates quickly. No electronic tickets or gates then, just a queue of people and one person clipping your ticket. In the evenings, you’d have a 20 minute ride across the harbour and you could feel the stress of the day melt away as you neared the wharf in Devonport. Occasionally, you’d have the excitement of watching someone run for the ferry and leap aboard as it was gently pulling away, most of the time they’d make it onto the deck and everyone would settle back into their seats. Once it a while, there’d be a miss and a splash and one of the life rings would be thrown over and the foolish person hauled up onto the wharf to wait for the next ferry – in 40 minutes. 

I read in the Herald the Council’s Panuku Development arm has decided the Kestrel must be moved from its berth at Silo Marina, to make way for the influx of superyachts. A private company wants to restore the Kestrel as part of a marine heritage precinct, and has organised a berth for it to go to, but it cannot be berthed without insurance, which in its current state, can’t be secured. In the meantime Panuku have said it must move, and the company who want to restore it have nowhere to take it – and in desperation have said their only option is to tow it out to sea and sink it. 

We can’t let this happen to a part of our maritime history. I can still remember the old vehicular ferries being moored at St Mary’s Bay, rotting away and finally being broken down and buried under the carpark at Westhaven. Such a waste, and such a shame. It would be wonderful to see the dear old Kestrel steaming gently across the harbor again. Are we going to remember our history only in yellowing photos or flecked film when we could see the real thing? 

I know where I’d rather see the $1,000,000 plus of ratepayers’ money go.

By: , Gundry's Grumbles

Issue 93 November 2018