Remembering Berwick’s development

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Graeme Neale of Ashburton remembers working on the land development of Berwick Outdoor Experience site, near Mosgiel 50 years ago. He had a 10RB drag line used to clear land.
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Octogenarian Graeme Neale has been taking a trip down memory lane spurred by the report of three young women who took part in this year’s Berwick Outdoor Experience.

Emily Wilson, Molly Jones and Emily Polmear attended the eight-day course, near Mosgiel, and were guest speakers at a recent Ashburton Pakeke Lions meeting detailing their experience.

They were sponsored by the club.

Graeme, a member of the club for the past 10 years, said it was a reminder of another time for him; 50 years ago, when he was a member of the Balclutha Lions.

Graeme, 83, was brought up in South Otago.

He, and others across Otago, were involved in the development of the Berwick site, taking it from overgrown land to a suitable facility set up for use as an outdoor experience venue.

The Balclutha Lions president of the day was instrumental in Graeme’s involvement in the project.

‘‘President Jack Harold said right we are going to get this Berwick Experience going, and so we did.

‘‘We used to travel up to Berwick, cos Berwick is closer to Balclutha than (Ashburton) is,’’ Graeme said.

The Berwick site was developed it from overgrown land to a suitable facility set up for use as an outdoor experience venue.

The land was sourced and developed with road tracks, and infrastructure for huts.

He said it was at least a yearlong effort.

Graeme, a farm worker at the time, was on the drag line clearing land.

It worked on wire ropes. There were no hydraulic excavators then.

‘‘I used to take six chain a day with that machine … when hydraulic excavators came I went to Invercargill where they had a High Mack and it would do the six chain in an hour.’’

He eventually bought a Proclain in Christchurch for £600 and had to wait weeks for it to arrive from England.

‘‘I came back to Balclutha and I got up at three o’clock in the morning and was doing a job with the hydraulic excavator,’’ he said, such was his excitement about its arrival.

The land was sourced and developed with road tracks, and infrastructure for huts.

Graeme has been at the development stage for other projects over the years including the IHC calf scheme.

He received a Lions International’s Melvin Jones Fellow for his dedicated humanitarian services and is active in the Ashburton community collecting old coins and banknotes as part of Lions Heads Up For Kids appeal, wine bottle tops for aluminium, and rubbish with Litter-Free Ashburton.

Graeme now wishes he’d kept his older 10RB drag line as it was obsolete but said there is a 22RB on display at The Plains historical museum in Tinwald.

‘‘When I wasn’t driving (for work) I had my drag line (in use at Berwick). There was a lot of building going on,’’ Graeme said, of those early days.

One of the men had a bulldozer.

The site was overgrown farmland. But it was a communal project with various groups involved.

‘‘We used to met a lot of people there, it was really good. It was a great place to meet, but to think that it was just farmland, and 50 years ago.’’

The site was overgrown farmland. But it was a communal project with various groups involved.

Graeme revisited the site a couple of weeks after the trio spoke at the Lions meeting.

The course, run mid year, encourages participants to broaden their experiences in life by using teamwork to improve individual confidence and self-esteem.

The day starts at 5.45am each day.

Activities include abseiling, kayaking, confidence course, learning knot tying, team bonding and first aid with other participants, all complete strangers.

It is mentally and physically challenging, which contributes to the level of achievement for participants.

During their speech the trio spoke of struggling with some of the activities but participated in all. They also spoke of the extra strain attending with complete strangers and the unknown but felt stronger and more confident as a result.

‘It was a great thing to think that it turned out like it is and Pakeke sponsored these girls,’’ Graeme said.

‘‘Fifty years ago is a long time.’’