Some Highlights in the Life of Dick Cole

1904 - 1995        

Photo gallery

During my Uncle Dick’s funeral I gave a short eulogy adlibbed from some brief notes that I jotted on the back of an envelope just before the service. Telling stories about Dick was never difficult because they were so entertaining. The hard part was deciding where to stop. Somebody approached me afterwards asking for a copy of the eulogy I had presented and of course I had nothing to give them so I promised that when I got home I would write out what I could remember and post it to them, which I did. And that set me going on the task of recording some of the highlights of Dick’s remarkably full and colourful life.
Michael McMurray Cole

Dick was born in Hunterville where his father worked as a butcher. He was the fifth child of Robert (Bob) and Blanche Cole. In order of age they were Jack, Thelma, Lottie, Bill, Dick and Mac.

As a child Dick would have been what is these days termed hyperactive. His mother sometimes despaired at the task of keeping track of him and getting the housework done at the same time. A helpful neighbour suggested that an excellent method of occupying a small child was to put treacle on his fingers and give him feathers to play with. The child would spend ages plucking feathers from one finger to another and peace would reign. She decided to give it a try. She coated Dick’s fingers with treacle and gave him the feathers and quietly observed him in anticipation of some uninterrupted chore time. Some hope! Dick picked a couple of feathers from one hand to the other and then in a swift display of impatience, brushed his hands together vigorously to remove the lot and was off to see what he could get his little sticky fingers into next.

Dick spent most of his formative years in the Paraketu Valley near Waimiha in the King Country where his parents had taken up a block of steep bush-clad hill country. They first lived in a couple of wooden floored tents. Water had to be carried in buckets from a stream. The only other structure on the initial clearing was a set of sheep yards. His father had worked for some time as a land valuer and continued to do so while developing their property. It is said that he eventually valued every farm in the King Country. Bush was felled, burned and the land sown in grass. There was always plenty to be done and the children were expected to work hard. It was no easy task for their mother coping with the primitive conditions and caring for Mac, who was very young at the time.

One of the major early tasks after the bush was burnt off was to fence the place into manageable sized paddocks. The hillsides were strewn with partly destroyed stumps and logs including an abundance of totara much favoured for posts and strainers. A common method of moving fence posts and battens in difficult country was by using a number-eight wire flying fox. One afternoon Dick was splitting posts up on the hillside over the creek from the Cole house. A wire was strung from there down to the back yard. Using a couple of staples he attached posts to the wire one at a time and sent them whizzing to the bottom where a knot in the wire ripped the staples out and they fell to the ground. At knockoff time when his father called out to come home for tea, Dick decided to cling under the final post and save himself a long walk down the hill and across the gully. With the added weight however the wire developed a huge sag and he was left dangling high above the ground well short of his intended destination. There were shrieks of alarm from his poor old mother. Fortunately his fitness and tough hands stood him in good stead and he completed the journey hand over hand in great style.

On one occasion Bill and Dick were helping their father to prepare a sheep for home consumption. A rope was attached to a short stick passed through the hocks so that the carcass could be hung upside down for gutting and skinning. The two boys were grunting in unison as they struggled to haul on the block and tackle when suddenly their father swung around and growlingly demanded to know what the hell they were grunting about! Little did he realise that all they were doing was imitating him and it took all their control to keep straight faces.

He loved practical jokes. Once when his cousin Leo McKay came to stay the boys were sent outside to play. Much later when Leo did not reappear the adults went to investigate. They found him shut in a small netting chook coop that was used for confining clucky hens. Dick had put him in there saying he would only let him out when he had laid an egg. Poor Leo was not very bright.

No person or creature was safe. During playtime at school in Fitton’s Whare Dick would take some of his followers up the bush at the back armed with a slender pole with a boot lace noose attached. The game was to slide the pole up to an unsuspecting morepork and lasso him from his perch.

When Bob Mertens was a child he had a tin pedal car, which was a rather lavish toy for those days. There were no handy paved areas and it was impossible to propel through the grass of the paddock but he found that if he pushed it to the top of a slope he could achieve a pretty good down-hill run. As he did so a pup that Dick owned at the time would careen alongside him barking madly and Bob would try to run it over. This he eventually managed to do which must have annoyed Dick somewhat because next time Bob went to ride his pedal car he found a big fresh cow pat sitting on his seat.

Girls were obvious victims of Dick’s teasing and a room full of them was irresistible. He would get long stocking and cut a small head hole at the toe and thread it over a kitten’s head and make holes for its legs. He stuffed the trailing part lightly with paper and tied it at the end. Released at the appropriate moment of an evening gathering it would run about a room through the girls’ legs with the fairly realistic appearance of a snake, resulting in screams and general panic. Mac remembered an evening party for some town children who were billeted in the district at the time. The bigger boys kept making whispered mention of a ghost horse that roamed the countryside on dark nights and gradually they created an atmosphere of uncertainty. Towards the end of the evening one of them stationed himself at the light switch while another waited outside the door with a bleached horse’s skull stuck on a broomstick and draped with a sheet. Suddenly the room was plunged into darkness and with a yell of Ghost Horse! The apparition was revealed in the doorway illuminated by a candle. There was screaming panic and when the adults finally restored order, some of the younger kids were so distressed they had to be taken home. I do not know whether Dick was the instigator but you can assume he was right in there.

He would do impulsive things just for the heck of it. He once shaved his eyebrows off and when his horrified mother asked why, he said it was to keep the dogs off.

While on the farm that Dick built his first boat. It was a dugout canoe adzed out of a solid log. He and his mates used to dam up the stream on the neighbour’s flats to form a temporary navigable stretch of waterway. One time playing at being Indians, he and a couple of friends paddled up the creek setting fire to patches of overhanging fern as they went. They then turned around and paddled back through the smoke and flames, which was great fun though not popular with certain adults. Cowboys and Indians was their favourite game. Dick developed outstanding horse skills. He could do all the cowboy moves such as you used to see in movies where the hero rushes out of the saloon in a hail of bullets, vaults into the saddle over the horse’s rump and gallops madly out of town. At the full gallop he could hang onto the horse’s mane and swing down onto the ground, take two long strides then a stiff-legged prop and the momentum would swing him back up into the saddle. He once performed this stunt on the beach at Raglan in an effort to impress some girls. He executed the move with such exuberance that when he bounded back up he flew clean over the horse and landed in an undignified heap in the sand on the other side. Dick always enjoyed telling stories against himself. Dick had a great sense of humour. There was a never-ending fund of these little stories that were made all the more amusing by the animated fashion with which they were told.

Dick was a great romantic and adventurer. In his late teens, without telling his family, he went up to Auckland and found a position on a freighter bound for London. Many months later his mother received the first real news of him in a letter started in the West Indies and eventually posted from New York, which went as follows:

Bam Pot
West Indies
March 4th

Dear Mum

And all you must be terribly worried about me by this time but I should think that Bill would have written my whereabouts shortly after I left. I got that job at the extremely last moment so I had no time to make arrangements. I knew of the job as some of the trimmers intended to desert. I brought my bag down to the boat and stood by in case the men turned up which they did bar one, hence my presence in these latitudes. We came through the Canal yesterday. I retired to the crows nest, stood there lost in wonderment for six hours. The locks are beyond my description but it was the lake that took my eye. The surface is dotted with small islands on which all manner of graceful palms grow to the waters edge and beyond that a little. The sun set about that time and the effect was wonderful.

We passed countless ships of every kind from oil boats, tramps, passenger steamers, a naval ship to a submarine. We coaled at the Colon and are now en route for New Port, Antwerp, Boston. New York and London where we will pay off. I wish I had Uncle’s address but I suppose there is no way of getting it. I will stay in London a while for the Exhibition and then get a boat for the States.

The “butler” is just cleaning down the tables, he goes purple in the face if one addresses him as such. The American Fleet is just passing us on the port bow but unfortunately all that is visible are the lights, it being very dark. The day we crossed the line (March 31st) being near the Pago Pago group of islands the sea was alive with strange fish life. Giant rays that looked like huge butterflies, sharks, flying fish, sea lions and black fish. The air likewise was filled with birds, some old stagers that made me almost die laughing. Well Mother I had better get to bed as work begins at 4am tomorrow.

About 26 hours off New Port but only one more watch and the bunkers will be filled up and brimming over to the trimmer’s delight. They say New Port is in Virginia but it might be in Green Land for all I know. From New Port to New York is only forty hours run so we will be home about the 28th of this month.

Since last I scribbled on this pad we have had a squadron of battleships as escorts. Sixteen Yankee Man of Wars quite close to us, they were on the lookout for rum-runners I suppose you know I am in the stoke hold in this boat, “Port Sydney”, (sister ship to Port Elliott). We left Auckland with 3,600 tons of black diamonds aboard and your noble son has shifted 400 ton of the afore said diamonds.

It has not done me any harm, in fact a lot of good, for my arms, shoulders and Back have developed wonderfully. It is not such a bad life in the stoke hold ¾ we have a deal of fun playing tricks on one another. One coal pusher will never take his turn to fill up the water can but he drinks more water than anyone down there. So on one occasion after he had finished dumping red hot ashes and was nearly dead with dust, heat and thirst he goes over to the can, tilts his head and swallows a quart of water and then has from the appearance of the stoke hold hands, the funniest choking fit ever seen. It appears someone had filled the billy up with salt water. There are lots of other things I will have to tell you when I get home.

I met a girl in Auckland ¾ very unusual for me ¾ she was off Fullers and said her name was Ritchie. I asked her if she knew the Ritchies from the Island. She told me the names of everyone in the family and said her father was our Mr. Ricthie’s brother. Strange was it not.

Dear Mother, once more I take up my pen (no pencil). I hope you will excuse this dirty letter written in pencil but I left Auckland schooner-rigged as the saying goes. We have been to New Port but sad to relate the weather was bitterly cold and nasty misty rain prevailed, but all the same I had a good look around. They coaled the ship at pier 39, Chesapeake Bay which reminded me of Faires record.

They only took six hours to put 3,600 tons on board but the trimming took a long time so I had a while in the town which is about the size of Auckland and very foreign to me. Practically everything in the shops was dirt cheap.

We left there this morning at 6am and will get to New York tomorrow morning to spend a pleasant time there I hope. Will write you again from London. My pencil has broken so I will have to go and get some sleep as I will be keeping late hours in New York.

I am having a royal time. Life has a charm for me if I am constantly seeing new lands.

Hope you are all well and having a mild winter. With love to you all

I am
A Beautiful Bird
Called Coley the Trimmer.

The steam ship Port Sydney, previously the Star of England, weighed 9,136 tons with an average cruise speed of 13.5 knots or 25.00 kmph. It was owned by the Commonwealth & Dominion Line Ltd, London.

It appears that Dick left the Port Sydney in New York where he found work and wrote the following letter home.

In the States the term apple knockers originally referred to labourers who harvested apples and then it took on a slightly derogative term for country hicks.

599-5 Avenue
New York
October 21st

Dear Mother and all the Apple Knockers,

I was very glad to receive your letter last night and the photo which is good of you and Thelma. John hasn’t altered any, although he looks as if he has put in a hard winter on Rice and Mutton.

You surely cannot be receiving all the letters I wrote in August. I can’t recall to mind whether it was fifteen or two anyway I am sure of two, in which I told you about receiving letters from Kathleen Cole, “Auntie Lil” and one from the Mississippi Shipping Company, Delta Line, New Orleans. He told me if there was anything he could do for me he would be glad to do it, so did the rest of my correspondents so I guess you must have been putting a hard luck tale in to them.

I suppose you have my letter the first one from New York telling about our move and the new job. We have been down there about six weeks now. I am making about four pounds ten shillings a week but half of it goes for board and lodgings. I have brought a new suit, shoes and hat, also two sets of winter underwear so rest easy Ma I have “wool next to my skin.” From all account the following winter promises to be very cold. We are having the preliminary right now and it has dosed me up with a nice cold on the chest. I also have a bad attack of “summer industry” as Doris Fitzsimmins once termed the disease, so I have taken a day off, the second one since I started in the M.S.T.

I am going to make a desperate effort to save a little money between now and this time next year with the prospects of getting a ship home but how to get a ship sailing from here to home is still a mystery. I was thinking of getting as cattle boat from here to Liverpool and taking a trip to Belfast.

I also think I could get a ship from London or there abouts, sailing for New Zealand easier than from New York. If I don’t do that I will have to cross to San Francisco the cheapest way possible. I had a very nice letter from Aunt Africa which I answered without delay. I suppose you have read in the paper about Z.R.-3’s trip from Germany to New York. It is a tremendous looking thing in the air. We had a good look at it from the workshop one morning. It sailed quite low over New York and went quite close to the Woolworth building, (the highest in the world). It was some comparison. We also saw the World Fliers.

I will answer Thelma’s letter this week and Mac’s next. I have just bought a pad, pen and ink, envelopes and stamps so after this the mail packets will have a list on.

With love to all. I will be by the time this note reaches its destination, your twenty year son,


Aunt Africa was his father’s sister Elizabeth, who had been a nursing missionary in Africa. The Z.R.-3 was a zeppelin. A mail packet is a mail boat.

Dick obviously decided to get home via San Francisco and made his way to the West Coast by becoming a hobo and jumping trains. The freight trains made fairly laborious progress and were slow enough on inclines to get off and on. The main problem was avoiding getting caught by railway guards or police and there was the constant problem of finding food. A great numbers of hobos were travelling about the States following rumours of work. Jobs were scarce and Dick’s meagre financial resources were soon depleted.

He travelled through Oregon in the dead of winter. One freezing night he slipped into an empty boxcar and huddled up against a sack in the dark and tried to sleep as the train rattled on. To his horror the light of dawn revealed that his pillow was not a sack of produce but the dead and frozen body of a hobo. He couldn’t get off the train quick enough. He realised then that there was a very real prospect of starving to death or dying of the cold. In desperation he went into an army recruitment office and joined up for three years service in the American Army. This is the letter to his brother Bill describing some of the events of that time. It is interresting to note the Americanisms in his language

Fort Slocum
US Army
January 31st 1925

Dear Bill

By the above you will see I have flown again. I left my job in Brooklyn and tried to get a job at sea but nothing doing so another hobo & I jumped a freight car up to Albany. We rode the blind out of New York that is on the back of the engine. We rode all night and stopped at a place called Yonkers & slept all day & caught a freight out of there that night. We made her at a crossing & the first guy made her but by the time I went to get on she was off the crossing & so was I! & I got dragged along on the live wire & got my knees badly knocked about on bars and things but scrambled on at last but ho boy wasn’t it cold about zero. We got in to Albany next day and stayed there a week. Could get no work so went on to a place called Rome. We first rode in an open L (?) car nearly full of snow. One old tuff layed down in the snow & went off  to sleep & snored to wake the dead it was snowing hard and soon got covered up so we couldn’t see a speck of him. After that we crawled along the top of the train & got in an open freight car. I went to sleep there & my feet being wet my feet froze. It was correctly 22 degrees below zero we found out afterwards. When we got to the Rome depot next day my shoes were full of ice & I couldn’t get them off so had to melt them off at a radiator during that day my feet swelled up to a great size and were terribly painful. I was broke by that time & went without food for 48 hours & by that time I was feeling a little peevish or famished so I walked into a restraint & ordered a royal feed. I then walked up to the desk & told the girl to call the manager. When he came I told him to call a cop as I had no money he let me go but you should have seen his face the girl gave me a nice wink and a smile as I walked out. I then caught a freight back to Utica and there I told a whole bach of lies to join the U S Army. They sent me to Syracuse & from there to New York – Ft. Slocum. About 8 hundred of us sail for Hawia on March 4th.

I have signed on for three years.

Address my mail Engineer
U S Army

That will find me all right.

I am anxious to know how Lottie & the child are. I guess there will be mail at Fraisers in Brooklyn for me as soon as I get leave I go over there and get it.

Your Soldier

Basic training was at Fort McDowell in California. Dick became Private Richard Cole of the 3rd Engineers and was posted to the Schofield Military Barracks in Oahu, Hawaii, leaving California on May 14th. This was more like it: a tropical climate and three meals a day! This letter dated Saturday Evening, September 26th, was written from Schofield Barracks. Postage to New Zealand was two cents.

Dear Ma,

I was very glad to receive those papers, read them from start to finish and even the price of second hand autos, not to forget the Matrimonial column. I also received a bulky envelope from the Dead Letter Bureau. Enclosed was a great effort of Thelma’s, one of her greatest I reckon and I laughed more over it than anything I have ever read. There was also one of yours, one from Agnes and last but not least, one from Betty Ellis. They arrived here before I did and consequently were unclaimed but I think they must have ripened with age for they sure made good reading.

Well things are going pretty smooth at present but there is a bunch of work ahead of us as there will be a General Review and Inspection about the middle of October. I think the best thing for me to do is put in my name for a trip to Hilo, that is on the Isle or Hawaii. They give you a ten day pass, ship you over there and give you five pounds pocket money and take seventeen pounds out of your payroll. I think that would be a real 21st birthday don’t you, that is if I could manage to miss the Gen. Inspection. I hope you get those photos alright, the envelopes looked a bit doubtful. I am enclosing a couple of snaps of the ole crobate and a dog faced soldier, looks kinda mean, does he not? The hoss I mean, but if I unhitched him he would follow me all over, nosing around for banana skins and bits of pineapple. He is mean though when he gets excited and heated up and if I gave the ole beggar his head he would pile me so high that I would be able to get a clear view of Diamond Head, Honolulu.

I am buying a small camera on pay day for a pound and a half so will be able to keep you well supplied with snaps.

I didn’t sign the pay roll in August so the little old money order came in more than handy. Am sorry Aunty Lil’s letter set you to worrying. It was while I was in Slocum that I told her I was going over the hill and that dump was enough to make the feathers drop out of a fellow. It won’t be long now before I have one year in. You see I am starting to count the days already. Imagine it Ma? I will be twenty three when I have finished in this land of palms.

Well Mother I have never in my life felt less like writing. You will have to excuse my mistakes as I feel like an old hen with her head chopped off. How is Thelma getting along in Wellington (tram I guess). If Lottie has any snaps of the baby I would sure like to have one. I hope Dad and you are well, don’t work too hard while Thelma is away. I would give a hundred bucks for one of your good old dinners after eating this Army chow.

Must close now as it is close to lights out. 

Best love,
From your wandering Jew son,

When the Army discovered his consummate skill with horses he was in hot demand to deal with their most obstinate cases. Despite his plans, he did not escape the big General Inspection. His duties for that auspicious day included preparing Colonel Barney Google’s horse for the parade. In Hawaii there is a plant similar to our whao tree which has small chestnut-like seeds and just before the Colonel mounted his steed they tucked some the seeds under its tail. The horse proceeded to back around in circles scattering the front lines of the assembled troops in all directions creating much confusion and hidden mirth. On another occasion a few of them consumed an illicit brew of alcohol. It turned out to be a dangerous concoction and two of the men died.

The prospect of three more years servitude to Uncle Sam must have become too much so Dick and three companions decided to “go over the hill” anyway. Had they been caught they could well have been shot. An undated letter from Barnawartha in Victoria, Australia tells the story:

Dear Mother,

Received the cable and money which I was very thankful for yesterday. I asked the people to see if there was any mail for me but they forgot the cable had been there a week when I got it. We are leaving here tomorrow for somewhere in NSW for the harvest. They pay a union wage of ten to fourteen bob a day so we will do pretty well there. From there we will go to Newcastle where wages are excellent. I will just work long enough to save fifty pounds which will be about March and then I will come home.

I suppose you are awfully anxious to know how I gave the Yanks the slip. Well the four of us had been watching the shipping then two of our clique went to Honolulu on detached service and discovered our ship had come in. She was a Welsh boat and the watchman agreed to let us on. So we left Schofield on August 16th and slept out on the Waikiki Beach until Friday midnight when we went aboard and down into the bottom of the poop where the air was rotten and the place stunk and oh Mother dear the heat was terrific. Talk about sweat ¾ our cloths were soaking in five minutes. Well the ship never sailed until Monday night so that was sixty-six hours we were below without food or water and on Tuesday we looked like four badly treated ghosts. The Captain signed us on as passage workers and he knew we were soldiers too but we all had proof that we were British so it was very white of him don’t you think to sign us on. We called at Nauru for phosphate and then went to Melbourne and from there to here so you have the story.

The other letter I meant to put the return address on when I had found it out but one of the girls posted it so you see it wasn’t my fault. Excuse the writing as I am in an awful uncomfortable position in bed. Will write later when I get another permanent address. How is everyone at home? Hope you are all well, will close now.

Your loving Son Dick

His next correspondence was a missive. The last page of the original letter is missing but is fortunately included in a typed transcript that Dick must have subsequently done:

November 18th

Dear Mother I started this as a sort of a diary of my travels but I think it would interest you at home so will finish it up and forward it on.

I walked off the ship about October the 6th 1926. I had stowed away from Honolulu, Hawaii. 

I enquired what direction the Sydney road led out of Melbourne of a young lad who gave me two bob. I got a room that night and started on the road bright and early and walked till noontime and found I was in the wrong direction. Spent the last of the two bob getting to the Sydney road. Walked until about five when I jumped a big lorry and rode until about eight o-clock and near died of the cold. We were going up a stiff hill when a huge flame burst from the hood of the engine but it died down immediately, much to my sorrow for it was cold. The fan belt had been off for some time and the engine must have been red hot. I could see a light over in the fields so made for it. Knocked at the door and asked for a place to sleep. They were kind people and gave me a jug of tea and the first nourishment I had had since leaving the ship and a nice warm place to sleep. In the morning they gave me ham and eggs and I started on the road again. Walked three miles and got a ride in a car about thirty miles and walked another two miles and got another lift about twenty miles on a motorcycle. Walked another mile or so and got a ride on a trap with a shearer who was on his way to a job and he told me to wait in the next town, Avenel by name and camped alongside an engine in a small sawmill. One of the workers returned after his supper and brought me a delicious feed. I stayed in the town until three o-clock and, no job forth coming, started on the road again. Went in to a house and a sweet young girl came to the door and after asking her for something to eat she brought me out a great hand out and I started happily on the track once more.

Walked until about six then went to a farm house and asked for a place to sleep. The lady was very nice and talked for quite a while. I fed her pet lambs for her and then caught some young magpies for the kids. When the husband came home he gave me the key to an old house where I lit a nice big fire. I lay me down to rest. Then a kid came in with a billy of tea and some bread and butter. It was the second drink of tea I had had and of course I upset it before I had touched a drop. Well I had a little cuss and went to sleep. Next morning was Sunday. Walked until twelve o-clock to a place called Euroa where a car picked me up. It was driven by a young girl assisted by Dad. She was learning to drive and Dad was eating on her till I could have kicked him in the corsets. He showed me a goods shed where Ned Kelly locked up the populace while he robbed the bank. They took me as far as Manello. I went through the town and started going for handouts and got five knock backs. I then came to the conclusion that this was a poverty stricken part of the country. The sixth house was the most dilapidated place I have ever seen. Dirty kids and dirtier woman. Anyhow she gave me some bread and jam and while she was getting it I overheard her tell the eldest girl that Dad had been on the track in his young day and Dad insisted that she should always and never turn a hobo down. I think he would have been much better off if he had been on the track right then.

After I got on the road a lorry picked me up and took me as far as Wangarata. It was getting dusk by this time so I got out of town and tried the houses for a shed to sleep in but without success. So I tried to sleep in a small depot and did so for about an hour and near went stiff with the cold so had to keep walking and walked until sun up to a place called Springhurst. There I met three swaggers who gave me some bread and tea. One of them was going my way so we went along together. We got a lift to Barnawartha where as you know we got a job.

We started on the road again and we got two more lifts to Wodonga, three miles from the NSW border. That was Saturday so we stayed over Sunday and took a tram out on Monday at 3.15 pm. Bought a train ticket to a little place called Henty. Now you know the passenger cars are different from yours. Instead of corridors, the compartments run starboard to port so that the porters can only collect tickets when you alight.

So when we came to Henty we stayed in her and went to a place walled Wagga Wagga, a distance of about ninety miles from Albury and twice as far as we should have come. When the train pulled up we hopped out on the wrong side and got away safely and made a camp for the night.

What with walking and getting lifts we went forty odd miles to a place called Bethungra. By this time I was heartily sick of George as he is a ‘omey and growled night and day. From there we took a train to Cootamundra where I picked up with a fellow hobo who was much superior to George. He had the same amount of cash I had so we left poor old Georgy Porgy. That night we jumped a freight train and got out at a place called Hardin and left ‘omey asleep in a truck. We slept that night in a carriage and stayed in town the next day and went to the pictures that night and so missed our freight but jumped one early next morning and went to Young. In that town we stole into a Cockies cherry orchard and made ourselves sick. That night we jumped an express. First we couldn’t see any apartment without women in them so we got right underneath her and rode on the rods with swags and all but the wind was too cold there so at the first stop we hopped in with a car of drunks and rode her to Cowra until Monday and just missed two jobs by the skin of our teeth. Well Monday night along comes an express so we pulls alongside. It was awfully light being near full moon and there were lights every where and the only likely car was right in front of the station masters office. We calls to one of the men on board and told him to open the lavatory window which he did and in we goes. But some dirty, dirty dog who heard us get in told the night officer so over he comes and unlocks the door and says tickets please. Well we bought tickets to the next stop where we camped the night. Next night we jumped in a truck but it was nearly full up so at the next stop we hopped in a carriage but the fireman saw us but he didn’t say a word until they discovered a fire on top of a cattle truck which he thought we might have started so he told the guard. Of course we didn’t start the fire. We hadn’t even had a smoke while on the trucks. Well everyone on the station got excited so they put a cop in the car with us and locked the door. In the first place the cop asked us how long we had been on the train so we said the last stop, but one of the passengers told where we got in and so did the fireman so they took us on to Blaney.

On the way we sang the prisoners song for the benefit of the cop. When we got to Blaney their passenger evidence had gone and the fireman thought they had us for keeps. All we had to do was pay our way between two stations.

After this we decided to leave passengers alone and just ride the freight. There is a carriage in the van just as good as the mail trains, so we jumped one of them out of Blaney, unrolled our swags, took off our boots and woke up next morning at Orange station, one hundred miles from Blaney. From Orange last night we came thirty nine miles and it took her all night to do it. So we are camped at a place called Manildra and have a great breakfast of steak, toast, tea and sponge roll. We have a billy and a frying pan, so we are sitting on top of the world. We are laying in the grass alongside a stony creek, basking in the warm sun, listening to the birds and frogs...

[last page to be added]

It was in the warmth of Australia that he experienced another method of free train travel. He would arm himself with a suitable plank and slip underneath a wagon when nobody was looking. The plank was positioned to rest across a pair of bogie axels. He would lie face down lengthways on top of the plank and hook his arms over the front axel thus being hidden from view and relatively comfortable. Dick said that the only danger was in becoming mesmerised by the sleepers flashing in front of ones face and then it became a real battle to stay awake.

He was a daredevil and could never resist a challenge. At a public swimming pool in Australia one afternoon he observed some young blokes showing off to the girls. They were taking turns at bouncing off a three-metre diving board and landing feet first on a one-metre board below which resulted in a spectacular bounce for the final dive into the water. Up he went to give it a go. The first part went all right and he landed perfectly on the end of the lower board but made the mistake of not keeping his legs stiff. The result was that his body stayed more or less still while the board whipped his legs rapidly up and down at a great rate, and he finally flopped limply off into the water. He was so embarrassed that he swam off under water to surface as far as possible from the scene of his inglorious performance. He slipped out of the pool and slunk off home. He once dived off the Karapiro hydro dam which was a considerable height. He was worried about ending up so deep that he would loose his breath before reaching the surface again.

As he hit the water he forced himself to turn up so sharply that he thought he had broken his back. However there was no damage done.

Dick finally found work at Broken Hill where he was able to save enough money for his return passage to New Zealand. It must have been about 1932 and he worked at home for about a year, probably paying off his debts to the family. He eventually settled down on a farm at Kakaramea in Taranaki. By coincidence, his great nephew Michael Cole (a son of Rex and Molly) and his partner Mavis live in Dick’s old house in Wood Road.

Unannounced to his family, he married Frances Tully. They had two children, Mark and Nancy. I can remember having a holiday with them when I was perhaps only six or seven years of age. Dick and Frances were unbelievably kind to me and I have always regretted loosing touch with Frances after they parted company in the early fifties. Their place was a real menagerie with chooks, ducks, pigs, cats and dogs. Nancy slept in a small room off the porch. I was amazed to see her sitting up in bed in the morning and movement in the blankets heralding the appearance of a pet possum. Mark’s obsession was with trains and his model railway ran from one room to another through a hole in the wall. They seemed to get along completely happily without too many rules.

They were dairy farming. At the completion of milking Dick would let his old beardie sheep dog off and then go on with cleaning up the shed and milking equipment. Meanwhile the dog would have rounded up the two cart horses and have them backed into to the shafts of the cart so that all Dick had to do was harness them. It was always a race between him and a neighbour to reach the factory first. He would roll the cans off the stand, leap on the cart and gallop hell-for-leather down the road.

One morning the two of them were neck and neck as they rounded a sweeping bend in the road just before the factory. He forced his opponent aside just at the start of a boxthorn hedge. A horse went each side with the cart coming to an abrupt stop jammed into the hedge. Dick sailed on to victory.

He later had a wonderful contraption in the form of an old cut down Fargo truck that had large rear wheels with chains and no cab. It served for all sorts of jobs on the farm including raking hay at which it was very fast. Haymaking was a co-operative activity in those days with neighbours helping each other in succession until the harvest was done. There was one bloke who was always last to finish milking and last to reach the dairy factory. It was just his way. This used to annoy Dick at haymaking because, when it came time to work this mans job, everyone had to wait around till he ambled back from the factory. One morning Dick decided to speed him up and went over and loaded his cans on his cart for him, which resulted in a slightly earlier start. However, when he went to assist the following morning he found a chain threaded through all the handles of the cans and padlocked to prevent interference!

Dick later built his first house that had a large shed across from it in which he had all his bee keeping material and equipment. He was incredibly energetic. I remember when I was about eight years old, visiting there with my parents. It was afternoon tea time on a warm summer’s day and I was enjoying listening to the inevitable adult yarning when Dick suddenly leapt up and dashed outside. He grabbed up a kerosene tin and rushed about the lawn beating a rapid tattoo on the tin with a stick. The air was full of bees. He was only wearing shorts and a light shirt and socks; it seemed suicidal. He flung the tin aside, whipped on the garden hose and swung a length of it around, spraying water in the direction of the bees. They immediately proceeded to settle in a large compact cluster on a branch of a tree. He then returned inside to resume his cuppa and to regale us with beekeeping stories. It turned out that the swarm had probably absconded from one of his hives and was off to find a new place of abode elsewhere and Dick wanted to recapture it. Bees, he explained, are reluctant to fly in thundery weather or rain and the trick is to approximate those conditions, thus fooling them in to settling.

Having done so he was confident they would remain where they were till evening when he would introduce them to a new hive and return them to the apiary. He also pointed out that bees do not usually sting when swarming.

On another occasion a couple of his bulls came snorting and pushing at each other and looked like they would destroy the garden fence. Once more Dick rushed out in shorts and socks and roaring like a bull himself and attacked them with a small length of firewood that was to hand. Again I was convinced he would be killed. The bulls gave way though, retreating to leave the fence leaning but intact.

Dick was very generous and every season for a number of years we received a sixty pound tin of Taranaki clover honey, as did many other people. He never arrived at our place empty handed. Other favourite gifts were cakes, pastries and large cartons of ice-cream. (This was before his days of health consciousness.) The real treat was to lick the melted ice-cream from the empty carton. I can still taste that distinctive flavour of ice-cream and cardboard.

Dick built a dinghy in the shed and encouraged by its success, went on to make a small inboard runabout. Next he decided to build a substantial launch. Armed with a set of plans, a book on boat building and a great amount of enthusiasm he was away. The shed was too confined to lay out the frames so he hired the Patea town hall for the purpose. Building the boat was a big job and I remember him telling me how many hundreds of screws he used as fastenings. Boating in and out over the Patea bar was hazardous to say the least and he gave himself one or two nasty frights.

His first major adventure in the launch was a lone-handed trip across Cook Straight to visit a friend on Cuvier Island. He treated a neighbour’s boy, Ian McCartney, to the first leg of the journey from Patea to Wanganui. When Ian’s parents drove down to the mouth of the river to pick him up there was no sign of the launch to be seen. It occurred to them that perhaps the boat had proceeded up to the town. They drove back to check but they were not there. Time was running out because they had to get back to the farm to milk so they took one last rather panicked trip out to the mouth but to no avail. They had no idea as to what may have happened and feared the launch had broken down at sea. They had no option but to head back to the farm from where they phoned and asked the police to investigate the situation.

It turned out that the launch was in the river all the time and that in all the driving back and forth they had missed each other.

Dick decided he would brew up and have something to eat on the way across  Cook Strait but down around Kapati Island a fairly nasty following sea developed. Waves started splashing into the cockpit so he closed the cabin off in case it flooded. As the waves increased in size he had a constant struggle to prevent the boat broaching. There was no way he could let the wheel go for even an instant. Tea and food were out of the question. Water was coming in faster than he could bail it out. The crossing took about six hours by which time he was at the point of collapse with hunger and fatigue and was up to his waist in water.

Eventually he had the launch trucked up to Lake Taupo to where he no doubt expected conditions to be less rigorous than on the west coast.

Just south of Taupo Township at Five-Mile Bay lies the famous Picket Fence at the mouth of the Waitahanui Stream so named for the anglers who stand shoulder to shoulder, early morning and late evening, casting out into the rip and current caused by the stream flowing into the lake. Due to the popularity of this fishing spot and the nature of the current, the Waitahanui attracts the most experienced anglers who shuffle across the mouth into position in their chest-high waders and gentlemanly etiquette prevails to allow such crowding.

Dick naturally spent time cruising around in the launch exploring the shores of the lake. One day upon spotting the Waitahanui Stream he decided to motor in and see how far he could get up the waterway so calling out a warning, “Look out! I’m coming through,” he swung in towards the row of fishermen ahead. There ensued a frantic scramble and much cursing by those in the way having get aside to avoid Dick’s boat and at the same time reel in their lines to prevent them being caught up in his propeller. He had only gone a short distance up the stream when the launch hit a sand bar causing the motor to stall and he couldn’t get it to restart. He soon found himself drifting rapidly sideways out towards the lake.

The unsuspecting fishermen had just reformed the picket fence, all concentrating upon their fishing, back on to silently impending disaster. Dick’s sudden yell of “Look out! I’m coming back!” caused mayhem to say the least and a shower of abuse as he passed through scattering fishermen and out into the lake. Suddenly the engine caught and Dick was off along the shore pushing the launch at full revs and not daring to look back.

Dick’s brothers Bill and Mac (my father) were very keen trout fishermen. Bill fished frequently and Mac tried to make a yearly pilgrimage to the Lake. They were the very epitome of all that is gentlemanly in the art of trout fishing. They obtained the required licences and observed fishing etiquette. For example, they would never troll from a boat because it was considered unsporting and required little skill. Dick was also keen but, in contrast to his brothers, had a much more pragmatic approach which was, why muck about with licences and fancy flies, etc., when all you really needed was to get a meal? While Dick was living on his launch below the Taupo Township he made a habit of feeding the trout at the back of his moored boat and some of them became quite tame. So, whenever he wanted fried trout for breakfast he only had to sprinkle some bread crumbs over the stern and tickle one aboard, straight into the hot pan.

When I was about ten I had the privilege of camping with my father and his two brothers in the Western Bays. Bill and Mac would sally forth in the dark each morning to the mouth of the stream to fish the dawn rise.

Dick and I would sleep until driven from the tent by the heat of the day. One morning after one of his hearty fried breakfasts, he equipped himself with a stout snapper hook and hand line, leftover bacon for bait and, as an after thought, the ·22 rifle. Without saying so, he was taking me on my first poaching venture. We headed inland through the scrub for a time and then, cautioning me to silence, we crept forward through an undergrowth of ferns. We were soon looking down a low bank into a pool of dark, still water at a bend in the creek. Dick was carefully preparing the fishing line when suddenly he grabbed my shoulder and froze, staring intently across at the bushes on the other side. “Pigs!” he hissed, stealthily reaching for the rifle lying besides us on the ground. I was petrified. Immediate visions of savage wild pigs sprang to mind. The stony area above the pool was only ankle deep, presenting no barrier to charging pigs. I was in mortal danger! The foliage shook. With an urgent command to follow Dick sprang into action, tearing off to the left and bounding across the stream. As scared as I was of the pigs, I was right behind him, more afraid of being left alone. On the other side of the fringe of ferns we found ourselves in a glade of tall kanuka through which were scattering some very small pigs. Dick quickly leant against a tree trunk, took aim and fired. There was immediate heart-rending squealing as one of them fell on its side frantically kicking its feet.

Dick rushed after the others whacking one across the back with the butt of the rifle, which he then dropped before doing a flying football tackle into some fern. He emerged with a squealing pig by the hind foot and to my horror, swung its head against the nearest tree. As he returned he dispatched the other two wounded pigs in the same manner. It was all over in moments, but I was dead worried that a dangerously aggrieved and vengeful mother pig was about to rush out of the undergrowth and attack us. However, I gradually recovered my composure and by the time we had reached camp, was feeling positively victorious.

Bill and Mac returned mid-morning for their breakfast to be greeted by the sight of the three little pigs neatly cleaned and hanging in a row from the end of the tent ridge pole looking like so many overgrown rabbits. Dick and I were innocently lying on our bunks reading. Well didn’t they sound off, calling Dick a bloody baby killer! Mind you there were no complaints when suckling pig was served up as the evening meal.

One of Dick’s favourite trout fishing stories had to do with two respectable gentlemen he took across the lake fishing. One was a doctor and the other an accountant. Dick promised them he had a method that would produce all the fish they could handle. He took them to a chosen spot in a small river that ran into the lake well away from prying eyes and positioned them in the water with a length of wire netting between them as a net. He set off at a run in a wide detour upstream and then waded down towards the others, yelling and beating the surface with a length of manuka to hopefully drive the fish before him. He rounded the final bend in the river in time to see his two accomplices struggling up out of the water and the netting bobbing out into the Lake. The weight of the fish had knocked them off their feet.

Taxi driving was Dick’s other main occupation and the stories he could relate about characters he had had dealings with would fill volumes. A large number of his clients were Patea Maori and the old women were his favourites. When they had no money he was just as likely to be paid in eggs and vegetables. At another stage he had a small shop in Patea and was making and selling pies.

In 1959 his big blue Ford Fairlane taxi served as a wedding car for his niece Meg when she married Alan at Kakaramea.

He was always drawn back to the sea though and in 1963 took a position as Cook and A.B. on the Lady Jocelyn that traded between Auckland and Whitianga. During that time he studied for and received his Ten-Ton Ticket. The master and owner Mr H Carey wrote a testimonial that said in part:

“He proved himself a hard working and reliable seaman … strictly sober and honest…”

He became interested in gold seeking in the Coromandel and my father must have caught his enthusiasm. I remember talk of a “Solomon’s Mine” and in my boyish imagination was quite sure we were off to find King Solomon’s Mine in Africa, sailing there in Des Ormbsy’s yacht. Dick did go up the Coromandel but on reaching Whitianga, decided that there was more realistic prospect for gold in the motel business.

He built the Sea Horse Motel on Buffalo Beach that still exists in modified form as The Backpackers. In time he found a manager for the motel and made the move to Norfolk Island. In Norfolk he ran a small shop selling toys and souvenirs to the tourists. It was there he had the good fortune to meet and marry Glynise and they had a son they named David. Glynise took over the running of the shop to enable Dick to do building work and odd jobs for other people.

He could tell some tales about the Bounty descendent Islanders too. One of them engaged him to do some wed and scrub clearing for him while he was away on a visit to Australia. Dick was assisted by a simple boy the Islander had working for him for his keep. On the first day they took their slashers and toiled away in the heat for most of the morning. When Dick called a halt for a rest and some refreshment, he was annoyed to find that there had been nothing left at the house for them to eat or drink. The place was bare.

Not to be beaten, Dick sent the boy out to the owner’s garden for the biggest watermelon he could find and on the bench in the wash house, he cut it in half with the slasher. It was not ripe so he sent the boy for another. It wasn’t ripe either. In the finish there were six cleft watermelons lined up along the bench, all of them useless. Dick went home in disgust, never to return. On a recent holiday in Norfolk, Margaret and I happened to meet this very same man in the market where he was selling cakes and vegetables. On asking him if he knew Dick Cole he replied, “I remember that bugger all right. He cut up all my watermelons!” He proceeded to tell his side of the story. He had obviously not got the message Dick had tried to convey and of course we did not let on we even knew the story. He did go on to say that Dick was very popular on the Island which is praise indeed, as they do not always take to outsiders joining the community.

Concerned that the Sea Horse Motel would be falling into wrack and ruin they returned to Whitianga. Dick had promised to build Glynise a home and did so in Catherine Crescent. The house had a self-contained flat in the basement and there was always a standing offer for family to come and stay. When Lottie was getting to the stage in her life when it became obvious she could not manage the house in Stirling Street for much longer, Dick wanted her to move into the flat. It was a generous offer, only declined because of the distance Whitianga was from Auckland.

During one of his visits to our place Margaret took Dick to the Kaipara airfield to watch our daughter Christine do a parachute jump. He was very excited and it took her all her time to dissuade him from having a go. He was seventy-five at the time.

Just before he was eighty he built a Ganley designed yacht in his back yard and took anyone sailing who would go with him, occasionally venturing as far as Mayor Island. Out from Whitianga there is a lot of ocean. It stretches all the way to South America. He managed to put the wind-up most that sailed with him. Everyone who went out with him has an adventure story to tell which would add pages to this account.

We were having family reunions at Mahurangi West every couple of years in those days and Dick was always an enthusiastic participant. For one of the reunions he decided to sail lone-handed from Whitianga to Mahurangi in his yacht, a considerable undertaking. All went well until he reached the top of the Coromandel Peninsula where his boom snapped. He was able to run into Jackson Bay and tuck in behind a reef that afforded a bit of shelter. He spent a couple of days splinting the boom and duly arrived at Mahurangi none the worse for wear. When he had been building the yacht he had selected and cut a length of tanekaha suitable for a boom and left it hidden in the bush until required. David went with him to retrieve it. It stuck out the back of the trailer so far that it was thrashing the roadside banks as they rounded the corners. It seems that it must have become a bit rotten from its time in the bush, hence the unscheduled stop at Port Jackson.

The evening before he left Mahurangi for the return trip he came to me with a small wooden box and asked if I would mind running over it with him. It contained a compass. He had so far not bothered to use it and I doubt that it was used on the return trip either. He did remarkably well considering the fact that he could not see a navigational marker post more than about two hundred metres away, a fact we only became aware of when he took us all out on a short jaunt up the harbour.

The morning he was leaving he sailed in to the bay and called out a cheery goodbye to everybody. Our assembled families were all waving happily back when we saw he was heading for the rocks at the end of the bay. We yelled and gesticulated to warn him away from the hazard but he must have taken it as just enthusiastic fare welling and waved blissfully back.  The boat gave a great lurch as he hit the end of the reef. My brother Peter and Graeme Aylward scrambled into a dinghy and rowed swiftly to the rescue. They offered to snorkel down and inspect the hull for damage but Dick was quite unperturbed. After having Graeme take a look under the floorboards he said he would continue on and check again after half an hour and if there was any water there he would come back. So off he went. We still refer to the place where he hit as Dick’s Reef.

Jackson Bay seemed to jinx him because he had to pull in there again and shelter.  A bad sea had got up and even in his previous anchorage there was precious little shelter. He struggled ashore pretty badly shaken and quite convinced his boat was doomed to be washed up and wrecked. He stayed with some people he had met when the boom had broken and was astonished next morning to find the boat still safely at anchor. However he was storm bound there for two weeks. By the time he finally got home he barely had the strength to walk up to the house.

He did all his own home maintenance over the years and developed a productive garden. At ninety years of age he was still extraordinarily fit and had taken to working out at the gymnasium.

Some months after suffering his first stroke he tackled the painting of the sidewall of the house. He took the car down town and purchased the paint and then, whenever Glynise was at work, he would get the extension ladder out and do a bit more of the job. He even managed to paint up under the eves, a frightening height above the ground. It was a bit of a worry for the neighbours and they saw him fall twice but fortunately not from the top of the ladder.

He had become very health conscious in later years and read extensively on the subject. Dick’s schooling may have been limited but he made up for it by becoming an avid reader for knowledge. Glynise reckoned he took so many vitamin pills that he rattled when he walked. Whenever there was someone with an ailment, Dick had advice for them. At the last family reunion at Mahurangi West he shunned most of the communally prepared food in favour of an indescribable and mysterious mixture he had brewed up in a single pot. He regularly walked, jogged and swam.

There was always an evening session on Numerology with Dick working out our numbers from which he would deduce such things as our compatibility with other numbers or the vocations that would most suit us. This was always conducted to the accompaniment of great hilarity.

In his eighties he worked across the estuary mowing lawns, creating bush tracks, planting trees and so on for his friends Jocelyn and Bill. He loved the job and got on particularly well with their dog, Kiwi. Jocelyn enjoyed a special father-daughter relationship with Dick. She once asked him if he would mind collecting up a bag of pinecones for the fire and suggested that if he did she, being demonstratively French, would give him a kiss as a reward. The pinecones were duly delivered and the reward received. Next day he arrived with two bags and demanded two kisses. He was even turning up with pinecones in the summer when they no longer needed fires!

Jocelyn told me that Dick would not bother with the dinghy in the summertime, preferring to wade or swim across the five hundred-yard stretch of estuary. She always marvelled at the smooth and graceful style of his swimming. There is no doubt that water was his natural element.


On the back of this photograph of himself aged 22 he wrote:

I put that perm in my hair in Brooklyn, N.Y. with an old tongs in a stinking kero heater and it always stayed and started a second wave - until it all fell out at Te Kawa in the 32 slump.

All his life Dick had possessed a wonderful confidence in his physical ability and until the very last, never doubted he could carry out whatever task came along. It was so appropriate that his final voyage was across the harbour from Whitianga in company of family and friends, to a resting place on the hill so close to the sea.

I would be hard pressed to compose a more fitting epitaph than that contained in his own words used to close his first letter home on that great overseas adventure




I am having a royal time

Life has a charm for me if I am constantly seeing new lands

I am

A Beautiful Bird

Called Coley the Trimmer


Contact us at  Return to Home Page