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Port legend

Trevor Gedye spent a working lifetime at Gisborne’s port, starting as a clerk and rising all the way to become secretary manager of the former Gisborne Harbour Board. He shared his memories with John Jones.

The future of Gisborne’s port remains a great interest for Trevor Gedye, a man who spent more than 40 years working there and knows its post-war history probably better than anyone.

Now 93, Trevor Gedye joined the Gisborne Harbour Board as a 19-year-old in 1945 and spent the rest of his working life there rising in stages from rates clerk to accountant to secretary-treasurer and secretary-manager before his retirement 32 years ago.

The only interruption to that time was his World War 2 wartime military service which consisted of one day. He was called up, had his medical and five months later Japan surrendered. They heard he was coming, he jokes.

As rates clerk Mr Gedye oversaw a complicated rates system with 13,000 ratepayers. He produced 25 years of annual accounts including farm accounts for the 44,044 acres (17,842 hectares) of the Tauwhareparae Endowment.

The farm was leased to a number of local farmers with poor rentals on 21-year leases with right of renewal with no increase in rent. It was then a struggle to get control of the farms for the board requiring an Act of Parliament in 1960.

“Right from the start there were those on the board who wanted to sell the farms but with some supporting board members we managed to convince them to keep them,” he said.

“There was a lot of angst,” said Mr Gedye who still believes the farms should not be sold.

He remembers the first forestry boom of the 60s which was much anticipated but collapsed with people adopting a policy of “storing it on the stump” for their trees.

Keeping the board financially viable and maintaining the port was a struggle for many years. The income from the farms was a big factor in managing until expansion of the wharves began.

The No 4 and 5 wharves were built with interlock steel sheet piling and followed by No 6 which was the first to have its structure under the wharf, the earlier ones (1, 2 and 3) were built on piles.

Deepening the harbour channel was a challenge with the dredge Foremost Prince called in to dredge down to 30 feet (9 metres). It struggled, including one time when one of its barges went ashore on Waikanae Beach.

The export wharves and No 7 berth followed but there were still challenges.

The board fought to keep the hard-won coastal trade — coal, cement, maize, fuel oil and petrol — and managed to keep the port going until the logging trade really boomed and the port eventually became part of Gisborne Holdings.

There are many memories from his time at the port.

Early on the Harbour Board office was in lower Reads Quay, demolished later for the Wattie’s fish factory, and while there he recalled a large wave coming up the river and hitting the rail bridge on the full, a result of the Chilean earthquake in the 1960s.

Another memory is the 1951 waterfront strike which closed New Zealand’s ports for 151 days.

Then there is the case of the revolver which sat for many years in the board’s safe and for which there is a back story. There was a small island between the shore and Taumotu Island that was quarried away for the port development in the 1920s.

When that was gone, the board looked all around the district and settled on Whareongaonga where a small vessel, the Monowai, was sunk to make a temporary breakwater on which to moor but a storm came and broke its back. Work to get the stone continued, which involved setting up a camp and the workers had to be paid.

Somebody always went in the car with the pay clerk, carrying the revolver which fortunately was never needed. It sat in the safe for many years before it was eventually given to the police.

The Gisborne Harbour Board moved its office to the port to be more accessible to the hub of the harbour and the meet and greet of the ships captains.

A full diving suit, originally used for port development, was filled with paper and displayed in the stairwell of the new building.

At one stage the board had a real problem with crayfish pots being left in the harbour channel. An advertisment was placed in The Gisborne Herald that these pots would be lifted. The pots were brought to the wharf and later sold and any crayfish were released to the water at No 6 & 7 wharves.

He also remembers the “ship girls” ringing him at work and home to ask when the next ship was due.

Other memories are the freezing works meat being loaded on to lighters and taken out to the home boats for the trip to Britain. Also the coastal boat the Margaret W which operated weekly between Auckland and Gisborne handling beer, sugar, therefore being known as a bread and butter boat.

The fishing fleet was the second largest fleet in New Zealand early on.

He recalls the memory of himself and wife Nola escorting Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, who had arrived by air to the royal yacht HMS Britannia which was moored at No 7 wharf.

When the Navy and Japanese vessels arrived there was a ritual in which he and the board chairman were expected to go aboard for drinks and much shaking of hands and bowing. It was not an onerous task and they were then invited back to our office.

Then there was the time that a ship putting out to sea came back with a huge dent from hitting Butlers wall.

Also, the British aircraft carrier, HMS Indefatigable, turned out in the bay as it was too big to bring in. Its draft was such that its propellers churned up sediment when it turned.

Mr Gedye also went on board visiting submarines tied up at the wharf.

A staff children’s Christmas Party was held each year and the highlight was a trip on the Takitimu tug in the bay to see the dolphins.

Although he says he is a bit behind things with the port now, when he was there he suggested the port road should come through the old rifle range with cargo from the Coast. The trouble was that it was Maori land so the board backed off.

“I believe it was logical then,” he said. “Now, however, Kaiti Beach road is getting eaten away, you cannot even go down to the end to look at it.

He believes that rail should be used to bring logs from the old Matawhero Railway Station to the port, which would reduce congestion, noise and the risk of accidents in the city.

There is room for expansion on the reclaimed land at Kaiti using the method the board successfully adopted of placing large concrete dolosse (large geometrically-shaped blocks) and backfilling.

He is not happy with the development in the inner harbour.

“You can’t even get parking now and they are going to put in flower beds and other things.”

The fishing club has upwards of 4000 members and it seemed a shame they would go and wreck it for them. It looked to him that what they wanted to do was convert it into a shopping area. But it is supposed to be a working port.

He does believe Kaiti Beach could be expanded. He was there with former engineer Eric Adye when that land was reclaimed.

“They could put a wall out even if it was only like we did with five tonne blocks and dolosse. You just put them in and fill in behind — it worked for us.

They could easily put out a wharf or weir to allow boats to be launched. There is plenty of land there for reclamations. In fact Harbour Master at the time, Roger Dunn, actually drew up a design for this very event which would be feasible still today.

“We did know when we built the harbour that we had that wave trap on the seaward side of the slipway, the boat harbour by Butler’s Wall where the dredge and the lighters serving the “home boat” ships in the roadstead were kept.

“We knew once we pulled that out to enable larger ships to turn we would have a surge up the harbour at times, unless we extended the breakwater or put it higher.”

While he still wants to see the port thrive he thinks they could compromise with the rail even if logs were railed in from Matawhero. If they were brought in that way they would not have to go through residential areas.

Restoring the line might be worthwhile so long as they could get people to patronise it before work started. He remembers the Motu line which closed because it was not being used.

He married Nola Lloyd in 1951 and they still live in the MacDonald St house they had built 66 years ago. The couple had four children and now have 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

Still fit and mentally-alert he says he gave up mowing the lawn in their large section last year but admits he has been using the rotary hoe on their vegetable garden recently.

Getting down to business in his garden is no problem for 93-year-old Trevor Gedye who still lives in the house he and his wife Nola built 66 years ago after they were married. Picture by Liam Clayton
Trevor Gedye pictured at the time of his retirement 32 years ago. Picture supplied