Opinion: Caught in the act 

Peter Carr

By Peter Carr

Visiting Timaru two weeks ago on a business journey reminded me of an incident which happened 56 years ago.

I was serving as Second Officer on a ship capable of lifting large tonnages of New Zealand produce and, in addition, carrying 90 first class passengers between London and New Zealand. It was a pleasant, though hard-working life which involved six weeks on the New Zealand coast, firstly discharging domestic and industrial goods – then returning to London with cheese, butter, meat, wool and, in the right seasons, fruit.

Timaru was one of several second-level towns and cities we visited in both main islands. It was a standing fact (and sometimes a joke) on British ships that more UK-based ships officers married nurses from Timaru hospital than any other hospital in the country.

So back to the incident. We had been in Timaru almost a week loading mainly Canterbury lamb. By the time we had closed the hatches and prepared the ship for sea it was late. The engineers warmed up the machinery ready for an 11pm departure. At that time, I was in discussion with the Master (Captain) as to the route he wished me to navigate to the next port.

The harbour pilot – in the shape of the Timaru Harbour Board’s excellent Harbourmaster, strolled in to greet us, announcing, as he did, that he was going to guide us out of the Harbour. A very normal practice.

The Master was a very strict disciplinarian and expected his officers to follow in his wake and his mould. He was a good teacher and expected a very high standard of behaviour and decorum. But, upon viewing the Harbourmaster he took a second look and exploded. “Good God Pilot, what do you think you are doing?”

What was causing the Master to raise his voice in great surprise was the Harbourmaster’s visual appearance. He had come straight to the ship from the local repertory theatre, and his face was still displaying the full make-up of whatever strange role he was playing to the good people of Timaru. There he was, in full uniform with gold-peaked cap on his head, and still displaying the facial visage that the audience was expecting to see for the gory role he had been playing.

History does not record his response to the Master, but we did get out of the port safely and deposited our acting hero at sea, over the side and down the ladder to the waiting pilot boat.

Looking back at Timaru just two weeks ago, while there are some changes connected with the port and allied industry – and population growth– nothing much has changed. I imagine the town now stretches north and south to about double that of 56 years ago.

And looking back at Timaru just two weeks ago, while there are some changes connected with the port and allied industry – and population growth residential enhancement – nothing much has changed. I imagine the town now stretches north and south to about double that of 56 years ago. But without doubt it will always be home to many people for whom big-city urban sprawl and restrictive traffic movement are  anathema. And lucky for them too.

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