When I met up with Ron at a local pub, he belied his 80+ years with a twinkle in his eye, a clear voice and a sharp memory. We spent the afternoon over a pint, as club life in the 1960s came to life in Ron’s reminiscing.
How did you first get introduced to the club?
I came to New Zealand from Liverpool, back in ’56. My first flat was in Wadestown and I used to go up the hills at the back of Crofton Downs, across paddocks where Ngaio is now and over the ridges to Karori. I really enjoyed getting out like this, it was so different to where I was brought up.
A friend from work got me to come down to Tongue ‘n’ Meats at the Trades Hall, where the club used to meet in those days. I remember some of the people I first met – the Catchpoles, Dot Christie before she married Dave Catchpole. They signed me up for my first trip, which was a working party to Smiths Creek.
I had no gear; the older hands sent me off to Vern Small’s, a shop in Mercer St. They were very good there, always friendly and with great advice. My first pack was a Bergen kidney crusher, I followed that a few years later with a much better external-frame mountaineering pack. Vern Small’s is long gone now but all the outdoors shops are still there where it used to be. Vern Small’s was opposite where Bivouac is now.
You were on the committee a good ten years, and joined only a couple of years after you joined the club.
That was because Dotty Catchpole was getting married so she wanted to relinquish the secretary’s job. Trevor Walsh, Sue’s father, asked me if I would take it on. I said I’d never been a secretary before, he said, “Oh, you’ll be alright!” And so it was.
Who were some of the people you went tramping with?
I mentioned Nick Jennings, he was one that sticks in my mind. Dion Quirke, he married a club girl, Doreen Daley. We weren’t known as the ‘Wellington Tramping and Matrimonial Club’ for nothing!
Ted Daken died early and suddenly in the early 1960s, just a few days after I’d been on a Mangahau-South Ohau weekend with him. That was really sad – he was a good mate of mine.
Graeme Hall was a fit and strong character. Easy going at the same time, very likeable guy.
I shared a flat in Newtown from 1960-1969 with Allen Higgins, Neil Gray, Peter Atkinson, Brian Devon and others too. There were a few parties over that time!
The Trampers’ Marathon features a lot in your photo album.
Yes – it was a Wellington Associated Mountain Clubs event between us, the Catholic Tramping Club, the Tararua Tramping Club, the Hutt Valleys and the University club.
There’d be other events too – tug of war, Billy boiling, that sort of thing. And there’d be a campfire on the Saturday night afterwards. There was a guy in Tongue ‘n’ Meats, Peter, who would be the MC, he’d get people singing along, it was good fun.
You’ve also got a long history with the Lodge. What was it like back then when it was ‘new’?
I remember the opening of the Lodge in 1960. Trevor Walsh was president then, and he was involved with 2-3 others to select the hut’s location on Salt Ridge where it is. So he was the one that cut the opening ribbon.
A ‘simple mountain hut’ it was in those days. The bunk area was a U shape, with bunks three tiers high to sleep 24. It had one of those stoves with an auger oven on each side of it, that’s where the meals were cooked and it was the main heating for the lodge too. There was also a pot-belly stove for the drying area. Toilets were long-drops out the back.
We used to travel in furniture trucks. On ski trips we’d put in a platform, so the gear would go underneath and we’d stretch out in sleeping bags. We’d leave from Platform 9 of the railway station; the driver would stop at National park, he’d have a kip there and we’d stay in the truck. On Saturday morning he’d take us up to the Top of the Bruce.
Then, much later in the mid 1990s, Noel Thomas approached me to see if I could take over the lodge bookings job from Brian Hunt. I wasn’t much active with the club at that time and I really enjoyed returning to involvement with the club again.
That long-drop would have been exciting in the middle of the night in a freezing blizzard!
If you’d had a few drinks too! There were quite a few parties there and I got myself more the worse for wear a couple times!
You were on committee when we acquired Paua Hut, weren’t you?
Yes, we were approached by the Paua Tramping Club – they were winding up and so asked us if we wanted to take over their Paua Hut. We were delighted to. Trevor Walsh and Neil Green both had their own private huts in the Orongorongo valley but having a hut there for all club members was really worthwhile.
What was it like, receiving a Life Membership of the club?
I can’t remember now what was said, because it was complete surprise to me that I was going to be nominated. It meant that replying to my nomination was tough.
I remember saying that it’s always been the case that the club has been very special to me. It’s been my whole social life for so long. I enjoyed being involved. My social life was completely wrapped around the club.