Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Overalls, stout boots and a cut lunch"

When I got home tonight a whole bunch of old exercise books and papers were placed on my desk in my study. My wife had been doing some sorting out and these were old things dating back to my plumbing apprenticeship. I found this type written letter dated 14th January 1966 ....On the letterhead of A. & T. Burt, LTD. and addressed to "Mr David H. Brown" 

Dear Sir,

       we are pleased to advise that your application as an apprentice in the Plumbing Trade with us has been approved.

       Would you please report to this office on Monday 31st January 1966 by 8 a.m.

       You will require Overalls, Stout Boots and a cut lunch.

Yours faithfully,

J. R. Harrison
Plumbing, Heating & Ventilating Dept.

That means that I began work 47 years ago today. I recall fronting up nervously to the office and there was an elderly (Probably in his 50's they retired at 60 in those days) man - "Charlie" I think his name was - who did all the paper work and gave you a little pep talk about being conscientious and "you don't need to listen to the smut that you will hear!"  (He was an earnest Christian man and knew that I grew up in a Christian home.) I was then passed on to the site manager and delivered to a big hospital building site to meet the foreman. ... I confess I heard the smut.

I guess I had my life all planned out... I would do the normal things.. get a trade behind me, find/select a girl, eventually get married, have a mortgage, raise the kids, earn a living and make money to retire on. I was sick of school and having had a plumber for a father and worked with him, I was quite interested in the type of plumbing this firm did. It involved the normal sort of stuff, but also big building sites and mechanical and heating engineering type of work.  I was mechanically minded. I enjoyed working with metal so full of interest I began this apprenticeship and this journey in life.

I was young (17) quite strong and fit (I loved bike riding) but I was relatively quiet and not at all confident.  The young boy back then would never have imagined the journey of life that lay before him. It would be hard to imagine that the boy that fronted up in "overalls and stout boots" (I bought both at an army surplus store)  would have...

  • Once he finished his trade turned his back on the work he enjoyed to go to university.
  • Then travel with his wife and six month old baby to Australia for four years ministerial training.
  • Have several Church ministries including two years as a Fieldworker living and traveling in a caravan with wife and four children.
  • been a farm worker, a hardware store salesman and had a few months of unemployment.
  • Raised 5 children - two of whom are "mixed race" adopted and one a foster daughter with severe handicaps. 
  • Shaken hands with the Pope, met and talked with three Governor Generals and been invited to a reception with royalty.
  • Dabbled in self-sufficency.
  • Received a NZ honours medal.
  • Muddled through his ministry career with a love/hate relationship with the Church.
  • successfully conducts weddings, funerals and church services. (this quiet often tongue-tied boy?)
  • Adventured in housebuilding with Habitat for Humanity.
  • Become a chaplain to emergency service workers and a brewery.
  • Taken up running late in life and even entered a few triathlons.
  • Been involved in running a night shelter and an accommodation place for ex-prisoners and a weekly drop-in centre.
  • Led 24 Christmas Day Community Christmas dinners.
  • and still at 64 is not a real confident man.
There are other parts of the journey I could add, but suffice to say the life that ended up being lived was very different than the life that would have been imagined for this young boy climbing the stairs to the A. & T. Burt office 47 years ago today.  I would have made more money as a plumber! I would have lived a settled life and had some money to retire on. .... not the unpredictable existence I am living at the moment. Ah well, its been a hell of a journey this last 47 years.

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