Bluey Hill was a very active personality in the mining and timber union movement, fighting hard for rights and conditions. He was a good public speaker, and a close friend of Paddy Blanchfield, the Member of Parliament for the West Coast for many years.
He worked in the Dobson coal mine for a time, and narrowly avoided being underground when one of its worst accidents occurred. The dates indicate that would have been the 1926 disaster which killed 9 men. As I recall, the story was that he had just come off shift, had a shower and was heading home when the mine he had been working in blew up behind him.
He did not return to mining, but worked on oil drilling rigs in the hills behind Brunner, and at Notown (near Kotuku) for a while. Following the drilling rig adventures, Bluey moved his family to Te Kinga and took up work in the sawmill there. He also enjoyed a bit of prospecting and telling stories about getting gold, coal and rubies in a single pan.
The photo at left is likely to have been taken at Te Kinga. According to Nanna Kemp, Vic and Joe were born in Dobson, but the 3rd sibling – Daphne – was born at Te Kinga.
At some point in his working life he suffered severe smoke inhalation and his lungs were badly damaged. One lung collapsed and was removed by a German Jewish refugee doctor. Unable to do the hard labour associated with logging or milling operations, he was forced into early retirement.
To augment his modest pension, he did the haircuts for pretty much every man and boy in Te Kinga. I have personal recollections of that! The hand clippers seemed to pull out as much as they cut off, and he always said that there was only a week between a good haircut and a bad haircut! He also sharpened lawnmowers and knives, fixed clocks and other small tasks.
During the winter, he always had trap lines out along the railway line for miles east of home. Trap lines also extended along the lake shore, and he used his small clinker-built dinghy to inspect those.
His favourite leisure time activity was fishing out on Lake Brunner in his 12ft boat with it’s outboard motor. Trolling for trout with home-made lures made from all sorts of items. Sometimes from a penny – he would send us to the railway siding to get a shunting engine to run over a penny a couple of times to flatten it out to make a spoon-style lure, embellished with some red plastic and a treble hook.
I lived with Nanna & Poppa from age 5 until finishing High School. Every weekend of fishing season while he was alive and well enough, he and I would get a fishing trip out on the lake. The bountiful catches were distributed to friends all around the village. They were invariably repaid by gifts of meat, eggs, milk, cream, fruit or vegetables in following days! 50 or 60 years ago, the barter system was popular!
More memories of Albert Victor (Poppa) Hill contributed by other family members….
I saw him sitting on the porch at Nanna hills all rugged up ..1970…story I heard was he was on lake working for the mill one day as they retrieved logs from Mitchell’s and he went in lake and saved a drowning man and got pneumonia and had lung problems because of that.
Also remember Nana Hill had to put down possum lines ..traps..up to 6 miles..trapped and sold skins. She picked blackberries into tins and put them on train to market to sell…and she was postmistress to smallest post office in NZ at time, handling telegraphs, the whole lot in those days. Putting mail on train etc all for wages for her husband and family because he was unable to work..
Me and mum (Gran Beardsley met uncle Vic (Poppa’s son) on the train..Christchurch to Te Kinga as he was steward often…loveliest man and his statement to us often was …you are now in the land of milk and honey! We used to laugh at that!
The train journey, I was four, Gabrielle was one, we came on the train from Christchurch, 1968, just the three of us for some reason, train stopped in the Otira tunnel, Mum (Joyce) seemed extremely concerned, started cutting up an apple for me. Eventually we reached Te Kinga, and there was Poppa waiting for us. I was hoisted up upon his shoulders and he walked us back to that wonderful cottage. I sat on his knee on the couch not far from the coal range, wondering why he had such a hairy nose! The things we remember, happy, joyful memories.
I think I remember it because Mum was concerned about stopping in the Otira tunnel for so long. Something happened to the train, Mum didn’t want it to catch on fire, which clearly would have been a disaster!
I had a little red coat with red patent leather shoes on and he kept touching my hair and smiling at me. I probably reminded him of his twin daughters when I look back on it now.
I also have other memories, mainly having a bath after the copper had been heated in the wash house and the fact that when sleeping in the front bedroom, it was so dark, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face! There was also the time that Nana let me watch her taking her hair down and brushing it, it was long, in their bedroom. She had an amazing set of crystal beads and an amazing hairbrush on her duchess, I thought she was very flash indeed.
Omg Kate all I remember is staying at Nanna Hills when I was four and getting ready for the train back to Chch & couldn’t buckle my yellow sandals saying “bugger my sandals” Mum Joyce & Nanna looked at me with their mouths open aghast LOL
So many things could be written about Bluey Hill but the overarching theme is patience and kindness towards us kids. We seemed to spend as much time at Te Kinga as we did at any other place. Got the nickname Bluey… it was his hair colour, back in the day anyone with red or reddish hair often got Bluey as a nickname. Red Harper got his nickname from his initials R.E.D Harper, (Ronald Ewan Douglas) no one was ever brave enough to call him Ronald. His brother was nicknamed Blue because of his reddish hair. Just thought I would throw that one in for a bit of local colour.
I remember going round the possum traps with him around the side of lake Brunner when I was about 8 years old. I managed to get my fingers caught in a trap (agonising). I could tell that poppa Hill really wanted to kick my butt because I had done something that he specifically told me not to do. However, he very calmly got my hand free, held it in the freezing cold lake water then spent time showing me how to make a flax leaf dart, took my mind off the pain and we continued round the trap line.
When there was a possum in the trap he would grab it by the tail and say “come here jacky “
Poppa dispatched the possums by hitting them on the head with a ballpeen hammer 🔨
He would release them from the trap and hold them up while they bled out and he would glance at us and say things like “ that’ll stop him from farting in church “. It certainly added a bit of dark humour to what was a traumatic experience for a young mind
Poppa Hill was a keen fisherman as we all know and he cruised around lake Brunner trolling for trout in the little wooden boat that ended up painted blue. I was with him one day in Horseshoe Bay when he hooked up a big brown trout. It was an epic struggle and I remember being terrified that we were going to tip the boat over. He was quite a big bloke even in old age, and he wore rolled down thigh gumboots and no life jackets ever saw the inside of his boat. He would stand up in the boat with one foot on the thwart and he would lean over to get the net under the fish. This caused the little boat to list alarmingly so I would move as far as possible to the other side. This made the boat level up a bit and caused him to miss with the net . He actually got a bit cross that time.
Poppa Hill was often filling in time by playing “patience “ the card game, some decks of cards were almost worn through because he used them so often. We would usually have a game of euchre after tea, one or two kids and nanna and poppa Hill. I have to say that I can’t remember poor old poppa ever winning a game. When the cards were really running against him and he lost the unlosable hand he would just look at the victorious grandchild and say “ you could fall headfirst down the shithouse and come up with a mouthful of gold fillings “. He had some great sayings for a developing mind!
One story that epitomises his attitude to life is George Reeves haircut. Poppa Hill used to cut our hair when we were kids. He used a pair of scissors for most part but had an electric trimmer to finish with. Short back and sides was the only style. One of the sawmilling families in Te Kinga at this time was the Reeves. Their boys George and Billy were sent down to poppa Hill for a haircut and he duly trimmed them up. I think he only charged a nominal fee of one or two pence for the work., he was generous with his time. However, George got sent back because his dad reckoned that he hadn’t got his money’s worth and the hair was still too long. Poppa Hill was quietly outraged at what was essentially an insult to his generosity. I remember him saying quietly words to the effect of “ too long hey, well that won’t be a problem this time “ Ten minutes later George Reeves was looking like a bowling ball and Poppa Hill said something along the lines of “ I don’t think you will have any complaints about that “
George had to wear a beanie for about four weeks and he never came back for another haircut
Poppa Hill was on multiple medications as he got older, there was a tin on top of the kitchen cupboard that held all his pills 💊 He called it “Pandoras Box “. So true in so many ways.
I remember mum saying that whenever Nana Hill got a bee in her bonnet about something Poppa would refuse to get into an argument with her. He would head outside and walk around the garden, whistling. Mum reckoned that used to rile Nana up more so maybe there was a little more method in his approach? I can reach way back and remember rare occasions walking down to the lake with Poppa on his daily constitutional, my bare feet scuffling through the soft lake silt on the road, long before tar seal was poured…
Ben Kemp (Dad) as relayed over the phone.
Lived with Poppa and Nana age 5 to the end of his high school days so spent a lot of time with Poppa and Nana Hill. It was a pleasant place to live, he felt happy there.
Poppa was a kind grandfather. He always made time for us kids and was never the type to shoo you away when he was busy. He always gave you a little job to do to make you feel useful. Like “hold the end of this while I saw it off” or similar. A lovely place to be a little boy growing up as Poppa had lots of nuts, screws and nails and salvaged items you could use. He wasted nothing. If he salvaged a couple of planks, he would pull the nails out, straighten them and put them away in a jar for later use. The grandchildren would often find little bits and bobs, parts of machinery etc lying around on their adventures and come and ask him what it was. He’d say, I don’t know…but if you find me another one I’ll have two!
Nana wasn’t as demonstrative with her love, she never said it but you were in no doubt she loved you. We always had clean clothes, a full tummy and Nana always had plenty of fishhooks and cartridges for a young boy. She always cooked a Sunday roast with all the trimmings. It was usually lamb, roast potatoes, carrots, parsnip and peas. Poppa had a sense of humour too. He would stand at the table calving the roast, give Nana Hill a wink and say, “the nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat”. Dad said this went over his head at the time, but it was because she was a slender lady. She would smile back at him. He remembers they were very close.
Dad helped his grandparents a lot with chores after school every day with physical chores such as cutting firewood and bringing in wood for the stove.
Winters – Possum trapping for the fur. Summer – picking blackberries to sell to markets in Christchurch. Once weekend Dad, Nana, Poppa and Aunty Mac picked 28, four galleon cans (these cans were originally for egg pulp but cleaned and reused) to put on the train. The had been up and down the river, at the McLeod’s and all over the place to get this bumper crop. They would lug them to the side of the track and Poppa had a bicycle and he would hang a can from each handle and walk them back to the house.
He remembers hearing that Poppa was a bit wild in his youth and enjoyed a drink back in the day. Dad always remembers him having a bottle of Queen Anne whiskey in the cabinet. He had scars on his face particularly around his top lip which were noticeable just after a shave. This was caused by fishing with an explosive torpedo bottle as a younger man. You would take a torpedo soda bottle, put carbide in it and then a few drops of water and seal it. This would create a carbide gas. You would then launch the bottle into the water, and it would explode, stunning any fish in the nearby vicinity to be stunned and float to the surface for an easy catch. Unfortunately, Poppa must have been too slow and the bottle exploded causing shards of glass to cut his face quite badly. He was lucky not to lose his sight.
People had to create their own fun. Dad remembers Bosy and Rose Becker would arrive at Nana and Poppa’s house with all their children on a tractor and trailer for afternoon tea and they spent time telling stories, eating drinking tea and playing cards.
Poppa was an invalid, Dad thought it had something to do with getting drenched and getting sick after that too. His lung collapsed. Luckily there was a talented Jewish doctor working at Grey Hospital who was able to remove the damaged lung safely. Poppa was unable to work after this, but it didn’t stop him doing everything, he just was a bit slower. Walked hills, around the lake, fishing and trapping and picking berries. He had worked for years before this in the sawmill at Te Kinga so thankfully had a rent-free mill house even after he stopped working as the demand for the houses at Te Kinga wasn’t high. To supplement income, he cut hair, fixed clocks and sharpened lawnmower blades Dad remembers him at the table with his glasses on fixing a clock and there were parts everywhere. Dad asked how he knew which part went where. He replied that that he didn’t know exactly but that the only secret to fixing a clock was that there were no bits left over at the end! Dad doesn’t remember any electric hair trimmers, just manual ones which pulled out as much hair as they cut, making it a traumatic experience for a young lad!
He was quite politically active, involved in the unions. Had a close friend that was a member of parliament named Paddy Blanchfield. He was also a good public speaker.
He was a lovely gentleman with a great sense of humour. He used to tell the grandkids funny nursery rhymes. One went like this…” High on the mountain tops, green grows the grass. Down came a Billy goat sliding on his …. overcoat”. Except that if there were no parents around, he would substitute “overcoat” with “arse” and have a good giggle and no doubt the children would learn the naughty version and recite it proudly later to their parents!