Keep smiling and laughing
Looking through photos of Gisborne man Brian Costello’s life, there is one thing that stands out. Debbie Gregory spends an afternoon finding out why he always has a twinkle in his eye and a big smile on his face.
The 87-year-old, known by most as Cossy, is a familiar sight at Gisborne’s biggest club — the Gisborne Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club.
Cossy joined the club 62 years ago on day one, when it had a tin shed for a base and was a neighbour to the Tatapouri Hotel, which he leased at the time.
Over the years he has watched it grow from the handful of members at the start to 5300 members who enjoy time at the clubrooms based at Gisborne’s inner harbour. He clearly remembers the early years of the club.
“We had no sounders those days and fishing spots were worked out by sketches on paper using landmarks . . . which were not readily shared.”
He says it was a split decision to move the clubrooms to its inner harbour spot 26 years ago.
“But it was the best decision. We tried to buy the building at that time but couldn’t. Now the club is struggling to get a lease more than three years for the building — that does worry me.”
Most days you can find Cossy, who is now a life member, sitting at the “table of knowledge” — a table he and other grey-haired wise men claimed in the first week the club moved to town.
Since cruise ships started arriving into Turanganui-a-Kiwa/Poverty Bay, he has been a tourist guide at the club, drawing passing cruise ship passengers inside with his smile and knowledge of the fish on the walls.
But Cossy has done a lot more than being a loyal fishing club member in his long and interesting life so far.
Gisborne born and bred, he was the middle child of a family of five girls and two boys. He has covered a range of occupations, with a few things most important — his family and enjoying life.
As a child, he lived in Aberdeen Road and attended Gisborne Central School and Gisborne Intermediate.
“I wasn’t much good at school and Dad said if I could find an apprentice job, I could leave school. So I did.”
He joined HM Ritchie and Sons as a plasterer completing apprenticeships in both fibrous or inside plastering and solid concrete.
He was 15 when he started and five years later, fully trained, he decided to move on.
“My sister was living in Whakatane and her family was tangled up with the Rangatikei Dairy Company. They said they had enough work to keep me busy so I moved there.”
However, this was not to last long.
On his 21st birthday, he had returned home to celebrate and was driving his girlfriend home after having a small celebration with family and friends.
“I was just leaving home along Aberdeen Road and had my arm out the window of my little 1932 Ford pick up truck and was side swiped by another vehicle. That was the end of that for a couple of years. My arm was mangled and my truck was smashed too.
“I went back home . . . well, you had to in those days. There was no sickness pension and no insurance.”
He was grateful doctors were able to save his arm, even though it would never be the same again.
“They were talking about cutting my arm off . . . there were a lot of tears shed over that idea I can tell you.”
Once he came right enough to go back to work, he concentrated on solid plastering- concrete. His arm injuries meant he was not able to do inside plastering any more.
“I got work with the Rope Construction Company from Roxborough. They had the contract to build the Waipaoa Bridge and the Lytton Road Bridge so I worked on those in my 20s.”
Once those bridges were finished, he decided to start up his own business again and set up BJ Costello Ltd, a general concreting business doing bridging work.
Around the same time he met and married Napier woman Thelma McMahon and soon their two children, Sue and Mark were born.
'I had no objection as long as they bought their booze from me'Cossy got into ready mix concrete and in 1969, another local business bought him out.
Then came what Cossy describes as a “strange decision” — he took on the lease of the Tatapouri pub from Dominion Breweries. It was 1971. They put their house on the market and it sold in a week.
The pub was in its hey day and Cossy learned the business and loved it.
“We survived six years there and I met a lot of people. It almost became too popular but the two good things were 10pm closing and no Sunday trading so we could still have a life.”
He said he never had any customer problems and the biggest issues he remembered was when a dam up the hill behind the pub burst and he woke up to three inches of silt through the pub.
“We had to close for a week to clean that up.”
During the time he held the lease, the Tatapouri Sports Fishing Club was born.
“They asked it they could build a club house on the land owned by Dominion Breweries and I had no objection as long as they bought their booze from me,” he laughed.
Then in 1978, there was a new career change for Cossy.
“The opportunity came up to buy the Waikanae Motel. It was definitely a lot easier than the pub and we enjoyed it a lot.”
They ran the motel for about 12 years and built an extra six units onto the nine-unit motel.
He also set up a tour business as a sideline taking visitors to sights around the district.
After 12 enjoyable years with the motel, Mrs Costello became ill with melanoma and they decided to sell up.
“We moved to the house I live in now and I got sick of doing nothing pretty soon. So we went and bought a vineyard.
“It was a gewurtztraminer vineyard at Makauri and had been a bit let go.”
This was during a time when 90 percent of the grapes grown on the flats were chardonnay and Cossy built the vineyard up selling the fruit to Nobilos.
“That paid the wages and kept us amused, and we made a few bob when we sold that in 1998 after mum (Thelma) died.”
He was pleased they did some travelling around the world before his wife died and enjoys many momentos of their travels in his home.
“Then I sort of thought I might retire but decided to go share farming. My brother had 500 acres at Waimata and I just couldn’t do nothing.”
So for the next four years he built up a cattle herd, then helped manage his brother’s farm after he died.
Two very special places for Cossy and his family are Mahia and Lake Waikaremoana.
“When we sold the pub we took up a bach at Mahia as part payment and have had a lot of good times there over the years.”
It’s where his boat B Cos has had a lot of outings and where he caught the biggest fish of his life — a 743-pound mako shark while fishing for marlin off Mayor Island. The jaw of this huge fish is on the wall in the fishing club.
“We have also spent a lot of time fishing at Lake Waikaremoana — we had a 26-foot caravan and it was our home away from home.”
He has also been a pig and deer hunter in his younger days.
“If I was not working, that’s where you would find me — in the bush hunting.”
Now properly retired, Cossy is taking old age in his stride. He is losing his sight and isn’t able to drive his car any more but gets around on a motorised scooter and catches a ride in the Tata Van to the table of knowledge at the fishing club most afternoons. He enjoys his five grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.
And what is the secret to a long and happy life?
“You have to keep smiling and laughing,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.