Hansen, Geoffrey Ronald (Geoff) Interview
It’s 14th March 2018, and I’m interviewing Mr Geoff Hansen of Akina, Hastings, whose family’s been in Hawke’s Bay for in excess of fifty, sixty years. Good morning, Geoffrey.
If you’d like to just give us a history of when your family first came to Hawke’s Bay in the early years …
… and give me as much history as you can about them, and then about your parents and then we’ll move on to your life.
Okay; yep. So my parents came to Hawke’s Bay in the early fifties. They’d come from Raetihi. At that stage they had two children – I wasn’t one of them – and they bought a farm. They had a farm in Raetihi, but they purchased one in Otane, and it was on the main road there. And they hadn’t been here that long – I think it might’ve only been a few years – and my mum thought she was pregnant, and she went to see the doctor. And basically back those days women her age didn’t often have babies, and the doctor said, “Don’t be ridiculous!” ‘Cause she was nearly forty; but she was pregnant. And as I mentioned, I had a brother and sister, but I was only just born in time for my sister’s wedding, so they were both pretty much grown up. My sister wanted my mum to be seen everywhere when she was pregnant because back in those days, often if a child was born into a family it was a young daughter that had the baby but they pretended it was the mother that had it. And my brother was the exact opposite – he didn’t want anyone to see my mum ‘cause he was embarrassed about her being pregnant at that age.
Anyhow, I knew nothing about it obviously, and I was born in the Waipawa Maternity Home. That was in 1956, and I only lived in Otane for a couple of years because I think my dad struggled a little bit, coming from Raetihi, with the droughts they had here; and he ended up buying a farm in Woodville in about 1958 or thereabouts, I think, and they shifted down there. That was actually part of Hawke’s Bay back then; [the] boundary was in the middle of the Manawatu Gorge and obviously on the other side heading down towards Wairarapa. So I grew up pretty much in Woodville, went to school there.
And I’m not sure when my parents had got married; I think they got married back in Raetihi. I know my dad was born around in that area, but their history is from Norway. My mother was an Amundsen, which is a pretty famous name with Roald Amundsen being the discoverer of the South Pole. And there’s quite a bit of history in Norsewood with both sides of my family; my grandfather, I think, was Karl Albert Hansen, and there’s quite a few of their graves and headstones down in Norsewood cemetery. Sorry – that was my great grandfather; and I know that my grandfather, who I think was Louis Harold Amundsen – there’s a bible down in the museum down at Norsewood that his name’s in, and it’s got history of his father, etcetera, etcetera. I called in there once to ask about it, but I wasn’t helped out very well by the lady in there; she basically said they had hundreds of bibles. Yeah, so I must chase that up again at some stage, ‘cause I’d be interested in having a look at it.
There’s also a lot of headstones in the Eskdale cemetery just out of Bayview, on the Amundsen side; I’ve been over there and had a look at them. Unfortunately I’m not overly familiar with the names of them, but I know that they’re related. And I have actually got some information that I brought with me that goes back … right back to Norway to about the twelfth century actually … that was done some years ago by a cousin; or a distant cousin, I think he was, up in Auckland. And it’s sort of like – doing this interview’s brought me to the attention that I should probably be looking a bit harder at some of this stuff, because I’m getting older myself; it’d be nice to know a bit about it.
So yeah, like I say, I was sort of born into a family that both my brother and sister were already adults when I was sort of born, so it was a little bit different in a way. I’d spend Christmas holidays at my sister’s place, and my niece and nephew were more like my brothers and sisters; and she was sort of like my aunty really, but she was in fact my sister. It was never awkward, but it was just a little bit unusual and specially having the same mother and father. Dad blamed it on the Second World War, as he’d been over there for quite a few years; and basically said he came home and was firing blanks for a few years.
So anyway, yeah – that’s sort of a little bit of history, I guess, about my family. They did, after shifting to Woodville, farm there for quite a few years; probably about sixteen, seventeen years, I think it was, roughly. And then my father had quite a bad heart attack and he was basically told that he couldn’t continue farming, so that was when they decided to retire in Hastings. And that was about 1974, I think, or thereabouts, ‘75; and they built a couple of flats up here and lived in one and rented the other one out in Mahora. My dad passed away in 1981. Again, it was when the Hawke’s Bay Memorial Hospital were building a new intensive care unit and coronary care unit, so he was in the Napier Hospital. And he’d been in and out a little bit, he was having little heart attacks; and unfortunately … yeah, he had a big one and passed away. It was on Father’s Day, which always sticks in my head a little bit.
But yeah, my mother lived on for quite a few years. They’d done quite a bit of travelling; my dad and my mum had been around Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Fiji, Norfolk Island … places like that; and then after my dad passed away my mum continued with the travel. She did quite a lot of travel over in Europe, went around about nine countries over there once, and yeah, she lived her life pretty good actually. And she was pretty involved in the St James’ Anglican Church down in Duke Street. She was in the Women’s Guild there, I think she was the treasurer, and that was a big part of her life.
My dad – as I said, he was a farmer, and they converted from sheep over to dairy farming in about 1967 down in Woodville. There was a cowshed there, but it had to be updated; that was all done, and milked about thirty, thirty-five cows, which … back then a normal herd was somewhere around there, not like the five or six hundred that you have these days.
And he was always passionate about horses, and my brother and sister were very good at show jumping. My sister had so many ribbons she was able to make a blanket out of them, joining them together. There’s boxes of trophies I’ve got at home. And my brother went on to become a very good rodeo rider. He actually worked up here at Whakatu Freezing Works; he was supposed to go back to Feilding Agricultural School which was where he was going, but he carried on at the Works. My mum and dad thought he had gone back. But he actually ended up … well he actually had broken his neck in a car accident, and I think it was when my mum was actually carrying me. It was on the Takapau Plains, and I think they’d been down to the Woodville races; and they had a collision with another car, head on on the Takapau Plains, and yeah, he ended up with a broken neck. And he lost one of his vocal chords, so he spoke like he had a very forced voice. And I think that was what pushed him to shift over to Australia, because people didn’t know him any differently over there; and he recovered physically quite well. As I said, he went on to become a champion rodeo rider. He was on the cover of a magazine called ‘Horses and Hooves’ back in about 1961; and yeah, I’ve actually got some trophies hanging on the wall at home that he won in different parts of Australia.
And yeah, my sister, she got married to a chap that was over here shearing; and his parents had a farm in Pakihikura which is just out of Hunterville. And she was married not long after I was born. I think she used to work for a dentist down in Waipawa; so she shifted obviously to his parents’ farm and they took over that farm which was, at the time I think, about two hundred acres; very hilly land, sheep and cattle. Later on they bought two hundred acres next to them, and then bought some more further down the road; and the farm ended up being about a thousand acres. I actually spent a bit of time working over there when they bought one of the farms, helping them fence for about a year, and doing a bit of shearing over there. Yeah, so I guess that’s a little bit of a history of my family, apart from my own.
I’ve got three children myself. My oldest is thirty-five this year; he’s local in Hastings, he’s an engineer. He’s actually currently working out at the Te Awa Estate new winery facility that they’re building, the production area. Unfortunately my marriage fell over in 1991, and my oldest daughter Angela was living with me for a while. My youngest one was probably only about four at the time that we separated … three, I think she might’ve been … and she stayed with her mum. And then my ex-wife got married again and they decided to shift to Australia; and my two girls went over to Australia to live and my son, he stayed with me most of the time … went to Karamu [High School]; and so I still have plenty of contact with my daughters. One of them, the youngest one, came and lived with me when she was fourteen for about a year; got her a job at Macdonalds here in Hastings, and managed to get her her driver’s licence. Back then you could get them at fifteen, and you couldn’t in Australia. But it was a big shift for her leaving her friends in Australia, and she went back over there again; but she came back over in 2011 and lived here for about eighteen months then, and worked here for a while. So yeah, and I go over there usually about twice a year and catch up with them. It’s my youngest one’s thirtieth birthday in about another two weeks, and yeah, hopefully I’ll be over there for that.
Right. Oh well, that’s a good outline of the family, and … well, perhaps now we’ll go on with what you have done in your life?
Okay, so when I finished school I was [a] bit of a motorbike lover, and like riding bikes and was sort of into cars a little bit and stuff like that; and had the idea of being a [an] apprentice mechanic or a truck driver, and I got an apprenticeship at the Ford dealership in Woodville, Dixon & Horne. My parents had basically shifted up to Hawke’s Bay at that stage; were living in Hastings, and I was boarding at a friend of mine’s parents’ place. Played rugby … club rugby … I played in the First XV at Tararua College; and well, obviously started living life as you did as a teenager. Got into a little bit of a … well, quite a big argument with my mate that I was boarding [with] at his parents’ place; and we ended up having a bit of a fight and things got a bit out of control. And one thing led to another; my mum and dad decided perhaps I’d be best living up in Hastings, so I shifted up here. And that was, like I say, about 1975, and I had to transfer my apprenticeship and it was obviously easier to transfer it to another Ford dealership, so at that time it was Hastings Motors in Hastings, down on Queen Street. And there was a little bit of a delay – I think it might’ve been about six to eight weeks to get the paperwork done. And as I said I was a bit of a motorbike lover, and when I was at school my first bike was a 90cc Kawasaki; and then I think I bought a brand new Honda 350. And that’s what I had at that time, and I’d gone down to one of the bike shops locally which was Jack Burn Yamaha, to get a visor, I think, for my helmet; and got talking to the chaps down there And their apprentice was away at trade school and they had a whole lot of Yamaha AG100 bikes … ‘cause they’d just come out at that stage … they needed servicing. So they said, “Oh – Geoff, would you be interested in doing some work for us?” [I] said, ”Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.” So I ended up actually working there for about a month while this paperwork was being done to transfer me over to Hastings Motors. So that was my first job in Hawke’s Bay, and like I say, that was really just filling in ‘til all the paperwork was done.
I went to Hastings Motors but it was such a huge change from coming from a small dealership where we only had sort of … probably three mechanics and myself as the apprentice, to being in a garage that had more like about eight or ten mechanics, and about, you know, seven apprentices sort of thing. And it seemed like you didn’t get the range of jobs that you got in the smaller place – you were basically the last one on the list, and you’d be standing there in a line waiting for the job to be given to you; and it might be putting number plates on a new car, or mud flaps on a new car, and it wasn’t sort of what I was so keen on doing. So I was a little bit disappointed with things there.
I also didn’t know my way round Hastings very well, and of course coming from a small town and coming up here and discovering the ring road was a bit of an eye opener for me [chuckle] … so many one way streets in the middle of it. And I think one of the mechanics at Hastings Motors finished his apprenticeship, and we always celebrated things like that; so we’d had a few drinks after work, and I think we’d carried on down at the Mayfair [Hotel]. And next thing – it was probably closing time down there – and I was on my motorbike; and we were going into town to the Red Copper, or whatever the burger bar used to be called that was the most popular one down in Heretaunga Street, to get something to eat. And unfortunately I was picked up by a police car at the time, not a traffic officer; but they obviously at that stage didn’t have the equipment they’ve got now, but they were a bit suspicious about me and I ended up getting prosecuted for drunk driving … now this is when you had to have the blood tests done. And yeah, I was over the limit unfortunately; and being a mechanic it wasn’t the best position to be in ‘cause back then you lost your licence for twelve months for your first offence. And we already had about four mechanics, I think, at Hastings Motors who were working on work licences, that [who] had already lost their licence[s] as well. I sort of wanted to get out of there anyway, so it was a bit of a compromise between myself and the service manager; and I actually left Hastings Motors and sort of, like, didn’t complete my apprenticeship.
But I had a friend that was working out at Whakatu Freezing Works in the freezers, and he actually took me out there and got me a job out there. And back then the hourly rate was $2.19.8, but we were paid incentive based on how many carcasses we stowed into the areas down the bottom of the freezer, or into the railway wagons; and we usually averaged out about $3.20 an hour, and I know it probably sounds a ridiculously small sum of money but compared to what I was getting as an apprentice mechanic … I think I was getting about $57 a week as an apprentice mechanic, and suddenly I was getting over $100 a week working at the freezing works; and it was just … yeah, it was crazy. The union had so much power at the time too, that it was very hard to get sacked out there; and I got into a bad habit of taking Mondays and Fridays off. But I seemed to be able to get away with it. Yeah – I remember they were having a bit of a bet out there when we come [came] close to the end of the season as to who was going to be the first one laid off – would it be me, or another chap that had had a lot of time off. But anyway, I actually did get offered a job working for the engineers there when they did come to the lay-off season, but as I mentioned earlier, my sister and her husband … and her husband was actually Colin Meads’ cousin, so she was married to a Meads … and they’d just bought two hundred acres next to them and it was only fenced into three paddocks, and they wanted a bit of a hand to fence more of it. So I decided to go over there and live with them, and I was also away from Hawke’s Bay where I’d lost my licence. And they lived out in the country so I’d be able to you know, drive a little bit more ‘cause they were on a metal road; it was probably about thirty kilometres to the nearest shop. Their mail was delivered on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays by a truck that came around; yeah, it was such a different environment – people used to run to the windows when they heard a vehicle, ‘cause they were so rare going past the house.
And I spent about … yeah, probably a year over there, working there. I started doing a bit of shearing as well … started out crutching, and got on the hand piece and did a bit of shearing as well … and basically saved a bit of money because I wasn’t going to the pub as regularly as I was when I lived in the big towns like Hastings, sort of thing. We’d only go into town once a week to get groceries and stuff. I remember [my] sister and brother-in-law had pretty much a sheep and cattle farm but they also milked about six cows; and they had a separator that used to actually separate the milk from the cream. And the cream would get put into a big tin and that used to get taken up to the end of their driveway, and when the mail truck came around he would pick up the tin of the cream and take that off as well; and it was never chilled or anything like that. Things were so different back those days.
But anyway, so once I’d sort of got a bit of money together I decided perhaps it was time to move on, so I actually shifted back to Woodville where I’d grown up; went back and worked for the same garage that I’d started my apprenticeship out as [at], but wasn’t … even though I could’ve gone back to completing my apprenticeship, I decided not to do that – I just sort of worked as a mechanic, but an unqualified one. And I did that for a wee while, and as I said, I was really keen on bikes; but when I’d lost my licence I’d sold my bike then, but I had a bit of money in the bank and I was always a bit of a keen one on the Triumphs and the Nortons. So I ended up buying a ‘74 Triumph Trident; and this was in about 1976, or [it] might’ve been almost 1977, so it was quite an expensive bike – I think it was about $1,200 or $1,300; and then again, it doesn’t sound like a lot of money but back then it was a fair sum. Yeah, I got that and I was caning that around town, enjoying it. And unfortunately I rode over to Palmerston [North] one night, and I’d been having a few drinks, and I ended up going to the wrong place over there – one of the back patch wearing clubs – and my bike was stolen. So yeah, I was sort of back at square one again, and I was so devastated by that happening, I actually shifted into a hotel. I’d been boarding at a friend’s … I’d worked with this guy; he was a bit older than me, and I was boarding with him and his wife. But I shifted into a hotel … the Railway Hotel in Woodville it was … I think I was paying $25 a week, and I think I used to get breakfast, lunch and tea for that; had my own room. And yeah, living in a hotel it was pretty easy to have a drink every day sort of thing. And I remember the owner of it at the time had actually come from here; he had been the sort of office manager at Wattie’s actually – he was a hell of a nice guy – and he was hard out wanting me to get my manager’s licence and he was going to sign the forms for it. The problem for me was I wasn’t actually old enough to be in a pub, and he didn’t realise that at the time; and it worked for him that I was there, because he could keep open after hours; so long as there was no money on the bar and they were my guests, he was covered sort of thing. In actual fact [chuckle] he wasn’t, because I wasn’t old enough to be in there, but I didn’t want to let him know about that, so I was always saying, “Oh no, Barry, I don’t think I’ll … don’t think I’ll do that manager’s licence, sorry.”
But anyway, I think I lived there for nearly a year; I realised things were going downhill, and thought, ‘No – I’ve got to get this sorted out, get back on a bike again.’ So back then, the Endeavour train was travelling up from Wellington to Hawke’s Bay, so I packed up my bag and got on the train and came up to Hastings.
And my mum and dad … you know, they used to come down and see me and stuff anyway, and my brother would come over from Aussie; they’d come down and get me and take me up there for a couple of days. They got me up here and my mum said, “Look – they’re looking for workers down at the tannery” … Hastings Tannery, which was just down the road ‘cause we were on Tomoana Road; down Coventry Street, I think it is. So yeah, I went down there and had an interview; and they had just put in a new machine called a [?] machine, which basically you put the pelts through it and it squeezed the moisture out of them. It was a little bit like the wringer on the top of the old washing machines; so it made the skins lighter because they were all being exported over to London at the time. And yeah, that was the whole idea behind it. And so they’d just bought this machine and put it in place, and they needed some new staff to operate it; so that’s how I got the job. And I was working there for a while – not that long, I think about two months – and I became the team leader there because the guy that was the team leader left; and I was doing night shifts there; and yeah, it was quite a good job, not too bad money at the time.
And I got enough money together fairly quickly and managed to buy myself a 750 Norton Commando, so I was back on the road again. That made me feel pretty good, and yes, met a few guys up here that I rode around with and had some pretty good times with. And as money was sort of accumulating a little bit for me I decided to order a brand new Triumph Bonneville. And they were getting very hard to get at the time because the workers in the factory had taken over the Triumph business and it also amalgamated with Norton and VSA; and it was quite a big wait to get a new bike. So I ordered it in 1978, and it was a ‘79 model, and it arrived in about April of 1979. And it was probably one of the most photographed bikes in Hawke’s Bay at the time, and yeah, it was a real pleasure to ride it. It was awesome to own and I had a great time on it. And I think about six months after I bought it I unfortunately had an accident. I’d left the Angus Inn and was coming up Railway Road and a car came out of Southampton Street. And it was back before the traffic lights were there; it was just a stop sign. And even though I’d been drinking, the guy that was in the car was unlicensed and he was far drunker than I was, and we hit head on. It wasn’t a great result for me unfortunately. My time in hospital was quite lengthy, and I’ll talk about that after I’ve finished my work history.
But in 1983 I went back to work for Jack Burn Yamaha, but as a salesperson for them; and pretty much selling farm bikes for them. It was back in the time when three wheelers had come out, but prior to the quad bikes coming out. But they were very popular, and I travelled around Hawke’s Bay quite a lot meeting farmers, talking to them and hopefully selling them bikes, trading bikes in etcetera, and it was quite a good job. And I was looking to buy a house and that was part of the reason that I needed a job, you know, to be able to get a mortgage, obviously. And once that was put in place I bought a house in Akina; and my first child was born just at the same time that we shifted into the new home. It wasn’t a new home, but …
I stopped working, because I sort of started thinking about my career long term a little bit, and I realised that I’d always been … you know, like, passed School Certificate in four subjects at school, and I was always quite good with numbers; and I did my own tax returns and stuff like that. So I looked into doing Sixth Form Certificate accountancy out at Havelock High School; and I ended up doing that at night school and got … I think it was a Grade 1 back in the day, which was the top eleven percent in New Zealand, so I realised then that I had the ability to perhaps be able to pursue that. So I started studying by correspondence through what was called then the Technical Correspondence Institute, which is now the Open Polytech of New Zealand; and I was just doing two papers a year because I hadn’t done any of that sort of work since I was at school, and even when I was at school I wasn’t a great student as far as studying went. And my wife was working part time and we were sort of able to cope. And I think I did about three years … well, I did sort of six papers; and then I realised I had to up the ante a bit, and I actually went to Hawke’s Bay Polytech, which is now Eastern Institute of Technology, and started doing papers there. And I got to the stage where I almost completed the Diploma in Business, which was half a degree.
Unfortunately, around that time my marriage was sort of failing, and my wife and I separated. It didn’t stop me, but it put extra pressure on me. I shifted out of my house and lived over in Westshore for a wee while; stayed with a mate over there. Carried on with my study and basically completed thirteen papers, but couldn’t continue. There was no degree available for accountancy qualification at our local polytech; you know, at that time, as I say, it was Hawke’s Bay Polytech. There was [were] only two polytechs in New Zealand that offered the degrees; one was in Hamilton and one was in Nelson, and I elected to go to Nelson, I think primarily because it was similar weather to what I was going to be used to in Hawke’s Bay. And yeah, so I was looking forward to it, but I didn’t know anyone down there. I didn’t have a lot of money; I basically paid my ex-wife … at that stage I think I paid her out, or was about to … but I still owned the home, and I rented it out and shifted down there and went to Nelson Polytech full time. I spent two years down there to do the Bachelor of Commerce; and when I came back I hadn’t quite finished, but I came back because my ex-wife was talking about shifting to the Solomon Islands with my kids and I wasn’t happy about that at all, so I wanted to come back and get that sorted out. And I ended up going back doing papers by correspondence again to complete my qualification, which I finished in about 1996.
I got a job at Wattie’s – just a seasonal role there on their night shift from ten at night ‘til six in the morning – and that was through a lady that I’d studied with at the Hawke’s Bay Polytech; her husband was a manager down there, and so that was sort of quite a good little start. And then when that completed I managed to get a full time job at Hawk Packaging which had just started up in Hastings down on Tomoana Road. They were making the trays obviously, for the packhouses, and they’d started that factory up in Hamilton … three guys that had put it all together. One was a chemical engineer, one was an industrial engineer and the other one was a marketing guy; and once they’d got things worked out in the small factory they built in Hamilton, they realised it would be best coming down to Hawke’s Bay because we had the biggest apple growing region in New Zealand, so this was where the bulk of the sales would be. And they’d only just started up – they’d only been running for a few months when I went down there and applied for a position and got it. It was supposedly an accounting position, but it really was more admin [administration], and also I looked after the dispatch side of things a lot, and stocktaking of the chemicals they had to keep on plant and stuff. We used to get a huge amount of waste paper from the Government Printing Agency which was based down in Masterton at the time; there’d be trucks coming up twice a week with full loads of bales of paper, especially when they did the phone books, ‘cause if there was an error and they had to stop the printer, it was so fast that perhaps half a ton of books would come out before the printer actually stopped. I was there for three years, I think, and I realised that I needed to do some practical accounting work, because in order to go further in my career I needed that mentor and I didn’t have that at Hawk Packaging; they weren’t an approved training organisation either.
So I was applying for jobs at chartered accountants, and I was successful and got one at Price Campbell. So I went to work there and I was there for three years as an accountant, looking after businesses’ financial statements, tax returns, GST returns, the usual stuff. And then after three years there I applied for a job in Hastings at Genty Walsh, which is not there any more, but that’s a very long term CA [Chartered Accountancy] firm that was in Hastings, and I was there for about eighteen months. That was in the time that my daughter had come and lived with me … my youngest one, Celia … she’d come over from Brisbane to live with me. And she was going through some pretty serious issues with self-harming; it was quite scary. She went back to Australia, and I was quite worried about her and I ended up going over to try and assist a bit with her over there, as well, and worked for an accountant over in Brisbane for a wee while. She got herself sorted out and has done really well with her life, as all my kids have; so I came back to New Zealand and applied for a job at Wattie’s as an accountant and managed to get that job. That was in 2005, and I was there for about seven years on the Tomoana site, which of course was the old Tomoana Freezing Works; and I worked on the edible side. There’s sort of two factories there – the pet food side and the edible side – and you’d be surprised at the amount of stuff that’s made there that’s just labelled differently. You think of Wattie’s and Heinz products, but yeah, just about everything you can think of that’s either in a can or jam or whatever, seems to be made there. Even the butter portions that motels have and stuff so … quite amazing. It was a really good job; I enjoyed it. I spent about six years at Tomoana, then I was offered to go over to the King Street factory which is really the big factory. where Tomoana edible produces about twenty-five thousand ton a year. King Street do more, about a hundred and fifty thousand ton a year, obviously with all the seasonal products like tomatoes, and the fruit, and nowadays the beetroot. So yeah, I worked there for a while.
And in 2012 I decided I wanted to have a bit of a break, so I left. And I had a few projects to do at home and didn’t work for close to a year I suppose, doing those. And during that time I took on a role for a disability group, as a field officer for the Amputee Society of Hawke’s Bay and East Coast. It was just twenty hours a month, so it was very casual, or very low hours. I had also applied for a job at NZCU Baywide, the Credit Union – they were advertising for an accountant. Again it was a casual position. I had a couple of interviews for it and they were a bit cagey on how many hours it was going to be, and I didn’t really want to work too many. And I thought, ‘Oh, they’re not telling me because it’s probably going to be thirty hours a week or something like that.’ And I didn’t want to do that many, and I said to them in the end, I said, “Look, how many hours are we talking about?” They said, “Oh, we envisage twelve to fifteen.” I said, “That’s perfect – that’s me.” So I worked there but unfortunately as often happens with jobs the hours ended up being quite a bit more. People would be going on holiday. They had another accountant that [who] was from Colombia, and when he took his holidays he wanted to take the whole four weeks at a time, so I had to cover him. And I still had a few projects I was trying to get done at home, so I was there for about eighteen months, and in the end I resigned from there as well. And I’d also had an increase in my hours doing the field officer role ‘cause that had been quite successful, and I was basically doing thirty hours a month which I know is still not a lot, but it was a bit more.
And yes, so I didn’t really work for about two years. And then I had another little change where I needed to earn some money. I bought a holiday home, so I needed to furnish it, and I got a job with the Catholic Parish of Hastings. I’m not Catholic, but it was ‘cause they amalgamated the churches; so Our Lady of Lourdes and St Peter Chanel, Sacred Heart and Pakipaki all came under one roof. They wanted a finance and property manager, and that’s twenty hours a week so I took that role on and did that for a year as well. And that’s pretty much been it for me. I left there last year in October. I’m still doing my field officer role for the Amputee Society, but I’ve been doing that now for about six years I think … five years … and I’m sort of thinking it might be time for a fresh face for that position as well, so that’s something else. I’ve been the treasurer for four or five years too, and been on the National Executive as well; so yeah, that’s pretty much a bit of my career.
And I’m happy now to talk about my accident. Okay, so in 1979 when I mentioned I had my bike accident, it was pretty intense; I don’t remember too much about it. There was a girl on the back with me, and she flew through the air and landed on the roof of a car that was parked outside the Apple Inn. She broke the three bones in her legs, and her wrist. I broke three bones in my leg, but my breaks were what they call comminuted compound fractures; so basically the bones had come through the skin and they were crumpled up as well. And in actual fact four inches of my thigh bone, or my femur, was stuck in the radiator of the car that hit me. Like I say, I don’t really have any memory of it, but friends that were there told me things, and they tend to stick in your head a little bit but I [don’t] really remember much about it at all or anything; do remember briefly sort of being in the hospital and the Orthopaedic surgeon swearing at me, but that was probably because I was swearing at him. My parents were told by a friend of mine … shot round there and told them what happened … and they went up to the hospital, and they were told that the most likely outcome was that I would have my leg amputated and it would be above the knee and possibly close to the groin.
But fortunately I had a surgeon by the name of Geoff Taine, who was very well known worldwide, and he was rated very highly; and he was absolutely … you know, intent on saving my leg. And I think I had about five to six hours of surgery. They inserted a rod into my bone … in my femur … to put it back together again, even though there was that four inch gap in it; and I had plates put in down the tibia and fibia. And yeah, I was put into intensive care, and I was sort of topped up with blood for the next day to get me back to theatre again for skin grafts to be done, ‘cause so much damage’d been done, mainly down around on my lower area. The calf of my leg was really pretty much ripped away. I sort of remember coming to in intensive care; it was quite a small building, I think it only had about three beds in it, or four beds at that stage. I sort of came to down there and I didn’t know what was going on, and I sort of looked around and I could see all these tubes; there was this blood getting pumped into me and there was these drains coming out of me, but I didn’t really understand what they were. And I sort of thought, ‘Oh, wow! I’ve obviously had a fairly bad accident.’ I went to move, and I brushed my hand across my waist and I felt something, and I looked down and I went. ‘Oh my God! I’ve lost my testicles.’ I had no idea what a catheter was, and there was a tube – it was coming out of my penis. So yeah, that was how dumb I was to things.
Anyway, I had the second lot of theatre, and they put me in traction then; so basically they put a pin through my knee. It had seven pounds of lead that pulled down over the end of the bed, and then there was a counter traction that had three pounds of lead that went back up over the back of the bed; and that was holding the bone apart, because they didn’t want it joining back together again and being four inches shorter than my other leg. So they had to keep it apart until they could … you know, get something done to fix that up. But they were focusing on the bottom part of my leg. I’d had a massive amount of skin grafts done, basically all of the skin was taken off the inside of my thigh and covered up these areas down the right hand side, round my calf and the top of the leg.
People were quite unwell in ICU, and I could hear them; and it didn’t make me feel good being in there. And I got it in my head that, you know, I was going to die if I stayed in ICU, and I sort of moaned about being there and managed to get transferred up into the Orthopaedic ward. I soon found out that was probably the biggest mistake I made, because there was no more one-on-one nursing and they were far more stringent on handing out pain relief. Given my being in traction … and I also unfortunately had a needle that had been put into the tissue and not the vein down in intensive care … and that arm was all swollen. I had some bruising on the other one; I couldn’t sit up in the bed at all – all I could actually do was lie down, and the bed was raised at the feet end by about eight inches, and so it was just very difficult to move around. I couldn’t lie on my side because of being in the traction, and I just had no idea how I was going to cope. And I remember sort of saying to the nurse, you know, “How long am I going to be stuck in bed for?” And she sort of said, “Oh, six weeks at least.” And I was just shocked! I had no idea. You know, I was a young alpha male, used to looking after myself, doing my own thing; and here I was stuck in bed with nurses having to do everything for me. And the thing I was most worried about was – how was I going to go to the toilet? I had no idea. Anyway, I was in a room on my own and the time came – it was the early hours of the morning, and I thought, ‘I’m going to have to go to the toilet.’ I rung [rang] the buzzer and the staff nurse came in, and I said, “Oh, I need to go to the toilet.” And so she went and got a pan and sort of managed to squeeze it in underneath me, and sort of left me to it. Yeah, it was the most awkward position, sort of lying down … and lying down on a lean; it wasn’t pleasant at all. Anyway, I managed to get something done, and she came back in and started sorting me out; and because of my injuries on my arms and the swelling in the other one, I couldn’t actually sort of tend to myself properly and she was having to clean that up. Then she said, “Oh, I’ll have to get a flannel”, and I was apologising and feeling so embarrassed about it. And in the end she turned around and said, “Geoff, when you’ve seen one shitty arse you’ve seen them all.” And that was probably the best thing she could’ve said ‘cause it relaxed things, and it took away quite a bit of the tension.
I was having four hourly dressings done on my leg at the time, ‘cause they were so worried about the skin grafts and making sure that they took; and I had over a hundred stitches in my leg. They removed the bandages obviously, to do the dressings and started to notice that it was looking a little bit black in parts, and they were a bit worried about it. [Siren in background]
My surgeon, Mr Taine, had actually had a bit of a breakdown, and they thought it could’ve been to do with the amount of time he’d spent in surgery with me; and then obviously the girl that was on the back with me had a bit of surgery done as well with her three breaks; and it was a pretty big night for him ‘cause the accident happened about sort of ten thirty, eleven o’clock. I had another surgeon – I think his name was Gale Curtis – and he ended up having to debride the skin grafts because they were worried about them getting gangrenous; so it went back to square one; they were all removed again. The donor site area of my skin grafts, as I said, was right down the inside of my thigh. Unfortunately I didn’t get on too well with the sister in the ward, and she pulled the bandaging off without putting anything on me to make it easier to come off; and I think that’s made the scarring worse on that side of my leg. And they realised when they took the skin grafts off and saw the area itself – how big it was – that it was probably too big a job to be done in the Hawke’s Bay Hospital. So they took pictures of it which they sent down to the plastic surgery unit of the Lower Hutt Hospital, and they basically came back and said, “Yes – they’d be best to do them down there” – the skin grafts. So I was booked in to travel down there. I wasn’t flown down, possibly because I was still in traction. I was actually taken down in a Chrysler Valiant ambulance. The nurses, I … you know, built up some quite good relationships; I think I’d been in hospital for about five weeks at that stage, and they gave me a good luck card that was just the patient notes they folded over and they signed on the inside, and they hung a suppository in it for me; so they were just giving me cheek, I think.
But anyway, we left at about seven thirty in the morning. I didn’t have a nurse with me, I was just in the back of the ambulance, and I couldn’t talk to the driver ‘cause there was no sliding window between us. And I was sort of quite buzzed to be out of the hospital in a way, even though I was in a vehicle. We were driving down the Takapau Plains, and you know, I could see cars behind us and stuff like that. And we stopped at the start of the Manawatu Gorge, and he got out our packed lunch that they’d made for us at the hospital, and we had that. And then we continued on; and unfortunately the driver was a bit lost and he didn’t know where the hospital was. And we pulled over in Lower Hutt and a traffic officer on a motorbike actually pulled up and said, “Oh, are you guys all right?” He said, “Oh, we’re trying to get to the Hutt Hospital.” And he said, “Oh, follow me.” So he took us to the hospital and got us there. So they unloaded me out of the ambulance and took me down to the ward. And it was sort of quite different for them because they didn’t have patients like me being an orthopaedic patient, and being in traction. A lot of the nurses there, you know, were interested in seeing what was happening, and it took them ages to get me set up. In fact, they didn’t have the blocks to put under the leg to lift the foot end of the bed up; they ended up putting phone books under it to get it up to the height. And they were saying, “Oh – do you think that’s high enough, Geoff?” And … “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s about right.”
They had an Orthopaedic surgeon that came down and got things sorted out, and they got the traction hooked up again. But just having the frame around the bed and all that sort of stuff was all new to them down there. And there was such a diverse range of patients in there – it was like, a lot of people with serious burns obviously; there was a woman that [who] had gone through some wicked depression and tried to set fire to herself. And all of her face had been skin grafted; even her eyelids. It was just after the Mt Erebus Air New Zealand accident, and there was a geologist from Antarctica there ‘cause those guys had realised there’d been accident but didn’t know exactly where it was, but wondered whether they could go and … you know, perhaps there was some survivors … they could do something. And they’d trekked to try and find where the accident was, and he’d ended up getting frostbite and lost a couple of his toes. So yeah, there was quite a you know, wide variety of patients there, so it was a bit different from being just in an Orthopaedic ward.
I had the surgery; they took the skin off my good leg again but went around the whole of my thigh, not downwards how it had been done up in Hastings, ‘cause obviously that area was still very scarred. They don’t put the skin on in theatre; I didn’t realise this, but they put it in like a little box like a punnet almost, and it can be kept in the fridge for up to about ten days to two weeks apparently, back [in] that day. I don’t know whether they still do that these days or not. But a couple of days later the nurses came down to the room with the box of skin, and basically they would just get it out of the box and sort of look at the area they were covering, and sort of cut it to match. And then they would place it, and sort of roll it on with cotton buds; it wasn’t stitched on at all. It was quite sort of different, and I asked them, you know, “How do you know when it’s taken?” They said, “Oh, when it starts to turn pink we realise the blood vessels are attaching.” And yeah … the guy that [who] was in the bed next to me, he was a young Hawke’s Bay guy and he was still at school; and he was a burn, and he’d had his accident a few years before, but [often] younger people … the skin grafts tighten up because they’re still growing, and they have to sort of cut them to release them and re-do them. So him [he] and I both went to theatre on the same day.
And like I say, I met quite a few people down there, and … yeah, I actually kept a little bit of a diary from the time I was down there, which I’ve got with me. And I only found it recently, but yeah, it was quite interesting finding that.
By then it was December and it was getting close to Christmas, and I was really, really keen to get back home for Christmas, because obviously I wasn’t having as many visitors down here as I would get at home. I did have people coming and seeing me; you know, friends that [who] I knew that were down there, or I had some relatives down there which was great. But on about the 23rd of December they decided that I could be discharged and be ambulanced back to the Hawke’s Bay Hospital. And this time I had a nurse with me and I was in a Bedford ambulance, so it was good having someone in the back with me. It was great. And we came back over the Remutakas, and I remember we stopped at Eketahuna; and I managed to get the driver to … gave him some money and he went over to the pub and brought me back a few cans of beer, so that was even better. I was able to have a few beers on the drive back to Hastings. And yeah, I got back into the Orthopaedic ward and I was blown away there, because the nurses had done up the room with Christmas decorations. There was ribbons going across the top of it, they’d put a big sign up on the wall … ‘Welcome Geoff’; so yeah, I felt very special, actually.
And I was in a room on my own at that stage. And generally they’d get as many people out of the ward as was possible at Christmas, even if they were just allowed to go home for the day. But unfortunately, ‘cause I was still in traction I couldn’t get out of bed, and by then I’d been in hospital for you know, about two and a half months I suppose; and I was also getting a bit over the hospital food. And my mum actually started bringing me up my evening meal, which was great; you know, I got a home cooked meal, so that was really awesome.
And yeah, being as I said, sort of a young chap and a bit of an alpha male obviously, I had friends come out and visiting me and they’d be sneaking in beer. And we had a few beers; and I think in some ways the nurses didn’t mind too much when I was in a single room because they’d just close the door so that we weren’t making a lot of noise, and leave my visitors there even after visiting time; sometimes they’d be there ‘til you know, ten at night, sort of thing. And yeah – sometimes they’d sneak up there late at night, climbing up the fire escape I think. But anyway, I was shifted out of the single room and into a multi-bed room, and then a day later they found all the empties in the wardrobe of the room that I’d been in. And yeah, the sister of the ward who I didn’t get on with too well, wasn’t overly happy about that.
And patients sort of come and go actually, and given the length of time I’d been in there … by this stage it was you know, in the New Year, and … well, close to the New Year I think; and you know it was hard to latch on to people because sometimes they’d only be in there for a few days and then they’d go home; or a week would be a long stay for them, whereas I’ve been here for weeks; so I was sort of looking to hook up with someone that was going to be there for a long period of time. And there was a guy that came in just after Christmas, and I didn’t initially know what he’d come in for, but he was put into the room across from me. And it turned out he’d actually broken his neck. He was down working on a farm in the Waipawa, Waipukurau area, and they’d ambulanced him up to Hawke’s Bay Hospital when they realised it was too serious for the Waipuk [Waipukurau] Hospital to deal with. And he was put into traction as well, but the rods were into the sides of his head; and he had about two pounds of lead holding his neck back and he was on a metal rotobed, which was a very thin bed that they used to use for people that had back injuries. He was a bit of a hard case, and so I managed to get into a room with him; and yeah, we had some pretty good times. He had mirrors around his bed so that he could see things, ‘cause he couldn’t sit up at all whereas at least I could sit up by this stage. And we used to play cards, and I think he had an advantage on me with all these mirrors ‘cause he seemed to win more often than I did. I think he had the mirrors set up so he could actually see what I was holding in my hand sometimes. But his wife used to bring us up paua fritters, and he wasn’t overly keen on the hospital food – I can remember him writing on the menus, ‘No More Fido.’
Anyway, by this time they were looking at trying to get some progress made on healing the femur … or the bone in my thigh … as far as closing that four inch gap went. And they were going to do bone grafts. Back then they didn’t have a bone bank – they took bone from your own body, so it was being taken from my hip. So I went to theatre and had chips of bone taken out and put in around the area to try and speed up the healing. I would sort of come to … you know, like coming out of theatre and stuff like that … and be talking, but you’d nod off again. And I remember sort of like, waking up, being in the room, and the guy across from me sort of having a bit of a chuckle, and … “What’s so funny?” And he said, “Have a look in the mirror.” And I had a look, and I had lipstick kisses on my face and round my mouth, and I thought, ‘What the hell’s going on here?’ And then I felt something on my tummy, and I looked down and there was a big piece of tape going across my tummy, and it said, “Your mouth needs washing out with soap”, on it. And I thought, ‘What the ..!’ And it turned out two of the nurses from the ward had actually gone up to observe the operation, and then they’d come and seen me in the recovery room. And apparently I was talking to them, and they were laughing and joking with me, and did all these things to me. But I didn’t even remember them doing it. So when the surgeon came around to see me the next day I said – tongue in cheek – I said, “You don’t control the nurses too well up in the theatre do you?” He said, “What do you mean?” And I told him what had happened, and I said about the tape; and he said, “Yeah, yeah – you were a bit foul-mouthed up there.” So … guess that was the trouble when you were getting put under anaesthetic – you might start staying things; though I had no memory of it, but anyway, there was no hard feelings on it.
So I had the first bone graft done and that was sort of looking okay; and then about three or four days later they thought I was getting the flu because my temperature had raised [risen] quite a bit and I was feeling a bit unwell. And anyway, all of a sudden there was a burst in my thigh where the stitches were where they put the bone graft in, and about half a jug of dark coloured blood come pumping out of my thigh. And yeah, I’d got an infection unfortunately. So that basically put it back to square one again, so I had to go back and have the bone graft done again. And this time they did it from the other hip, and put the chips of bone in there to try and fill up the area in the hope that it’d speed up the regrowth of the bone.
And I think by this time I’d been in there for nearly three months, I think, by this stage; still hadn’t got out of bed – basically had eaten food, peed, done everything in bed. Couldn’t lie on my sides; couldn’t lie on my tummy obviously; and yeah, it was quite intense for, you know, a twenty-two year old. And I wasn’t probably the best patient in the world, but I’d try and get my own way as best I could. And [I] started inventing this invisible man that sat on my shoulder, called Willy.
And yeah, the nurses back those days did their training in the hospital; so they’d have one stripe on the side of their hat which meant they’d be first year; they’d have two stripes, they’d be second year; three they’d be third year, and then when they completed they’d get a stripe that went right round the hat that meant they were a staff nurse. And yeah, there was [were] enrolled nurses as well that had the orange stripes. And yeah the young ones, you know, they weren’t that much younger than me, and some of them were round my age or a little bit older. And they’d have a laugh with me about Willy, my invisible man, and ask me how he was, and they’d say ‘good morning’ to him when they came into the room. And I remember one of the nurses coming in – and at this stage me and my friend that’d had the broken neck and was in the skull traction – we’d been put into a twin room because we’d been apparently causing too much trouble. And he wasn’t supposed to’ve been moved but they put him by the window; and he couldn’t even sit up and look out the window. Anyway, the nurse that was looking after us on that day … the training nurse … came in and said, “Come on boys, you’ve got to be good today – I’ve got a tutor with me today. And you know, don’t do anything stupid, or silly or anything like that.” “Yeah, yeah – fine, that’s okay.” So she comes back and the tutor is with her, and she starts explaining a bit about our injuries, and what was going to be done as far as washing us and what we could do ourselves, etcetera, etcetera. And yeah, when she finished that I said, “Oh, are you going to play with my willy today?” And she just, “Oohhh!” like this; and yeah, the tutor was looking like, “Crikey!” But that was the way I did things, anyway.
So yeah, after about I think nineteen weeks they were sort of happy that the bone graft was starting to take, and that it was getting a bit more strength, and the distance between the bones were [was] closing up quite well, and they decided to take me out of traction. So Mr Taine came into the room and they basically just disconnected the weights, and he pulled the pin out of my leg that went through my knee. That was just done sort of in the room, and one of the first things I got the nurses to do was to roll me over so I could actually lie on my tummy. And I can remember my good leg looked like a half round post ‘cause it was just so flat on the bottom, ‘cause you know, nineteen weeks lying in bed and not getting out of bed all that time. Yeah, it was pretty incredible; and it was awesome to sort of finally actually lie on my tummy. And with that, within probably a week or so I was shifted down to the Rehab [rehabilitation] ward, which was Ward 1 back then, and it’s now Villa 8, where the Orthotics Department is. And that was sort of like the start of getting you going to physio more regularly, and you know, even home visits and stuff like that. Mine was a little bit off that; part of my tibia was still exposed in the front of my leg, and that needed to have a skin graft put on it to cover it up. And they didn’t do operations from the Rehab ward, but I was so over being in the Orthopaedic ward that I didn’t want to go back there. And so they made a bit of a change and allowed me to go to theatre from down there. It was quite a long walk for the poor old orderly to wheel my bed all the way from down there up to where the theatre was on the fourth floor at that stage. Had that operation done, which was just a fairly small little skin graft that was done, and that went all right.
I had visitors, you know, coming up, and I was being able to be put into a wheelchair. I was often taken out for a bit of a walk. Back those days you could smoke in the hospitals; smoke in your rooms. It was only the staff that couldn’t pretty much, and you know, there was [were] a lot more smokers around than there are these days. And yeah, one of my mates used to come and get me, especially on the weekend or on a Thursday night perhaps; and he’d wheel me up to the Stortford Lodge pub and we’d end up having a few beers. And one night in particular – it was before there was a roundabout there, there was the traffic lights there at that stage – and when the pub was probably closing and he was taking me back to the Rehab ward, he wheeled me out onto the road and raced against the cars that were parked at the lights. Ah, it was crazy actually; he ran out of steam about three quarters of the way across the traffic lights and just gave it one last push, and fortunately the cars could see me and no one hit me or anything like that, and I just trundled across the road and ended up hitting the curb on the other side. But I’d slowed down by then and [hadn’t] fallen out of the wheelchair or anything, but these were the stupid things you did at the time.
My parents got to take me home for a couple of hours, and that was sort of my first trip in a car for quite a while apart from being in the ambulance. It was a little bit freaky in a way, ‘cause everything seemed to be moving so fast, sort of looking out of the window of the car. Basically it was great just to be able to go home I suppose, but I was only there for a few hours and [would] go back. I’d sort of, I’d had about eight operations by this stage and I still hadn’t walked, but you know, it was sort of hoped that it was going to happen. And eventually I was allowed to go home permanently; and back those days they didn’t give you wheelchairs because they were happy for you to use crutches. And I had good upper body strength being a young person and I was quite good on the elbow crutches, and so yeah, so long as you could show the physio[therapist] that you could go up three steps and down three steps on crutches you were fine to be discharged from hospital.
Unfortunately I had a couple of holes in the side of my leg, just small little … not pinholes, but like the sort of size of the end of a pen. And they were leaking fluid out, and they would do tests on them; and it was an infection. And I think it was possibly the hospital bug that I got, that hadn’t been identified at that time. As soon as you had an infection you were the last one on the list for you know, an operation; so I was taking antibiotics, but I was also having to go into the hospital, I think every second day, to get these little holes sort of dressed and checked. And initially my surgeon thought that possibly it was a reaction to the metal, so he decided to remove a screw from the plate down in my lower leg; so I had to go back into the Orthopaedic ward to have that operation done. That was done, got out of hospital, went home; but no, it didn’t change things – I still had the fluid leaking out of the side of my leg. So then he decided to remove the whole plate; that would perhaps get rid of all the metal in there; [it] might be better, so back into the Orthopaedic ward again for that surgery [to] remove the plate. They were still worried about the strength of my lower leg, and they had a leg brace made by Orthotics that sort of strapped around my leg to give it a bit more support. And I was sent home again, but unfortunately still the same problem with the leakage coming out the side of my leg.
By now it had been quite a few months, and I’d actually bought a car; I was driving, and it had been sort of twelve months and I hadn’t taken any steps at all; I’d been on crutches the whole time, and the pain in my leg was pretty severe. The ankle was very swollen and it looked ugly – it looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it. And there was [were] sort of rumours going around the hospital a little bit that the surgeon had become obsessed with saving my leg, and it should have been amputated. So that started getting to my head a little bit as well. After sort of sixteen months with this infection they decided to do what they call intense antibiotic therapy, and I was basically put on a drip and they said they were putting enough antibiotics in me to cure an elephant. And that went on for about ten days – they just moved the drip from one arm to the other. My arms got so bad in the end they were actually having to put the needle into the base of my hand, but again, they just couldn’t get rid of the infection. And yeah, it was sort of looking like it was never going to be fixed, and I wasn’t going to walk again. I think my parents were sort of worried about it to the extent that they were wondering whether I’d ever walk again. So I’d have to go into the clinic at the hospital to see the Orthopaedic surgeon every week. And after eighteen months I was at his clinic, I sort of said to him, “Hey – do you think it’s time the leg was amputated?” He sort of looked at me over his glasses and said, “Mmmm … you could be right.”
So I was actually booked in the next week to have the leg amputated below the knee; and that was the advantage I guess, from when I’d had the accident – it was going to be possibly done above the knee right up by the groin – so at least I’d saved all this other part of it. And yeah, the next week I went into hospital. I ended up not being able to be admitted; you usually got admitted the day before your surgery, but the hospital was full; and because I’d had so much surgery by that stage, they said, “Go home and come back in in the morning at seven o’clock”, or whatever. So yeah, I went back in in the morning and had to, you know, have the area shaved, and yeah, get the theatre gown on and all that sort of stuff. I was still smoking cigarettes actually at that stage, but that morning I was so busy having to get things done to get things ready for the surgery, I didn’t have time to have one. And it was very scary having the leg off, ‘cause it’s a one way trip but I was sort of looking forward to it too, because I’d seen other people that [who] you know, had the accidents after me and lost their leg; and they were walking around with artificial limbs and looked like they were doing pretty well to me, so I was thinking, you know, ‘That’s where I need to be heading.’
There was a male nurse that was in charge of the Orthopaedic ward at that stage actually, and he’d become a bit of a friend of mine. And he was a smoker as well, and he used to come down to my room and pull the curtains around me and grab one of my cigarettes out of my packet and have a cigarette in there, pretending he was talking about my leg and stuff. And he got the photographer to come and take some photos of my leg, ‘cause he thought it might be good for me to be able to look back at it to confirm ‘yes, you should have got it taken off, ‘cause that’s what it looked like.’ So the operation was done … the surgery … and one of the first things I wanted to do was get weighed to see what the difference was with having a leg and not having a leg. It wasn’t much, but anyway …
Then at that stage … yeah, it’s sort of like the worst part, because I’d been on crutches for so long; but people can be on crutches for just having a very basic knee problem. Once you’ve had a leg amputated it’s fairly obvious what’s wrong with you, and it’s a bit hard to hide it; so I was a little bit worried about how I’d cope with being out and about. But as it turned out I was out partying that night and I ended up on the dance floor, and yeah, so that turned out to be a [?]; I was … yeah, fine with it, I guess.
So generally the wait for getting an artificial limb is around three months. The reason behind that is for the stump to shrink down, and obviously the skin round the stump’s not used to the pressure that’s going to be put on it with having an artificial limb on. So that’s when you’re at your worst and your most vulnerable, I suppose. And, like, in New Zealand there’s five limb centres – Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. Obviously people that [who] live in Hawke’s Bay go to Wellington, ‘cause a lot of people fly down there so there’s [there’re] direct flights to Wellington. The great thing about New Zealand is that the limbs are free whether you’re ACC [Accident Compensation Commision] or whether your Ministry of Health, and all the treatment is free; the guys are really good down there as well.
So I had my first trip down to the limb centre after about … it might’ve been close to the three months, I think … and basically if they deem you’re you know, suitable to have a limb made, they take a plaster cast of your stump. These days they still can do that, but they can also do digital readings of the stump; and then they can start making the leg. So getting the cast taken might only take you know, sort of quarter of an hour or whatever. And then perhaps in two weeks’ time you’ll go back down there and they’ll have made the leg, but the socket – the top part – will be made and the foot will be on it, but the middle part will be sort of all open, because that’s where they can do all the adjustments for how you walk; how high it is; making sure, you know, your foot’s okay; [the] angle that your foot walks on – things like that. And you get to actually put it on and sort of stand up between parallel bars in it, and that’s the first time, you know, like … you sort of get to feel what it’s like to have an artificial limb on, which … it is very different. And I was really looking forward to it; it felt a bit painful when I first stood up in it, but then they did the last little bit of tweaks and finishings on it. And I went back down for my third visit to actually collect the new limb, and I was really looking forward to it; and when I put it on I just found it was so painful I could hardly walk on it. And I was thinking I was going to run out of this place with this leg on, but I actually ended up carrying it out on my crutches. I just was so devastated by it, I thought, you know, ‘What is going on? What is happening, sort of thing?’
And unfortunately, around this time was when my father passed away, and he didn’t really get to see me walk. So I was always very … very sad, ‘cause I think he’d given up, and thought … you know, like it’d been nearly two years by now. I’d had around thirteen operations and still wasn’t walking; so yeah, where was it going to end?
Anyhow, they initially thought I was just struggling with wearing the leg and coping with it, but after a few weeks they started looking into it a bit more intently and realised that the problem was I still had this rod in my thigh holding that bone together, and when I stood up and put weight on my artificial leg the rod was poking into my knee apparently, and that was what the pain was. So I basically had to go into theatre to have that rod removed. That was done, and the problem then was that they found that the bone … my femur … was actually infected. And so same old path what [that] I seemed to be going down; so they put tubes in through the cheek in my bum where they’d removed the rod from, to pump antibiotics in there, and was going to be done for about the next ten days. And as I said earlier about the smoking and stuff, that was when I actually was a bit crook from the anaesthetic; I’d generally been good as gold after an anaesthetic, but this time I was a bit crook after it. And also, this time I couldn’t lie on my back ‘cause of these tubes coming out, and I couldn’t like on my side. So I actually stopped smoking; and my visitors would come up and light one up, and as I started to feel a bit better I started to have a puff. And I thought, ‘Nah, if you want to stop you’ve got to stop this’, and yeah basically that was when, in 1981, I stopped smoking. I think they were $1.20 a packet for a packet of twenty-five, and I’ve never smoked since, so that was one good thing that happened about it.
So with the rod being removed, the surgeon was still quite worried about the strength in my femur … my thigh bone … ‘cause that was the area that’d had the bone grafts done on it. But he realised that to strengthen it weight had to be put on it, and that would be what would strengthen it. And so when I got to put the leg on after the rod was removed and the infection was sorted out, and stood up on it, the pain wasn’t there, and it was like, ‘Wow!’ You know, like … I mean it still didn’t feel perfectly comfortable, but it wasn’t as sore as what it had been; and I mean this was two years after my accident, so it was sort of great to suddenly think, ‘Well hey – I am going to be able to do these things.’
The surgeon, as I said, was quite worried, and he wanted me to still use the crutches; but I actually just used a walking stick for about two weeks, and then I got so confident I threw that away as well, and really I’ve had pretty much no problem since. Initially, I guess, the first two years I might’ve had a few skin tears, but that was because my stump had so many skin grafts around it. And they were always worried about me getting infections, so I’d have to stop wearing my leg to let that heal, but as the skin has toughened up over time it got better and better, and that happened less and less often.
I was absolutely convinced that I was going to ride my bike again; it was only six months old when I had my accident, and I had it insured so they had actually repaired it, even though it had quite a bit of damage. It was a $5,000 bike, which was a huge sum of money back in 1979; and so I was a little bit, you know, wary about it but I wanted to do it; and I did get back on my bike. When I rode it I was often a bit freaked when I could see cars coming out of a side street that looked like they weren’t slowing down, but it was just you know, sort of getting my confidence back, I guess. It took time and it sort of happened.
And as I said, I got a job as a motor cycle salesperson; but in saying that I was on ACC. And I sort of had a little bit of trouble walking around the farm hills and stuff on my leg, ‘cause I was having those skin breaks and stuff. So I ended up doing the study and stopped working. Like I say, I’d become a dad and bought a house; but yeah, I sort of carried on in life. And yeah, you have a few odd things … I mean the very first legs that were made had velcro straps around them that held them on. I remember push biking down Riverslea Road taking my dog for a run, and I let him off the leash just to have a bit of a play around on the side of the road; and the next thing my leg had come off and it was lying in the middle of the road and I had to keep push biking with the one foot sort of thing. And lucky there was [were] no cars coming; and [I could] sort of do a u-turn and head back down to where my leg was lying in the middle of the road and stop the bike, make sure I leaned over on the left side, and got off it and grabbed the leg and put it back on again. So there’s all sorts of little things that you encounter along the way. But you know, it’s about … sort of like, how do you carry the load? And you know, achieving what you want to achieve, sort of thing. And I guess that’s one of the advantages with being a little bit younger; I mean, I would have rather kept my leg and lost it when I was an older person, but when you lose it when you’re young it’s probably a bit easier to adapt to. And often, you know, people that [who] lose it when they’re a bit older have got other health issues happen as well.
So this sort of leads to my path of being the field officer in the Amputee Society of Hawke’s Bay and East Coast. Like I say, I started doing that about five and a half years ago. I’d been a member but had never really been hugely involved with them; when I was younger I’d sort of thought, ‘I’ve got enough friends – I don’t want to knock around with armless and legless people’, you know, ‘I don’t need them to be in my life.’ And yeah, I was the first field officer that was paid. When I started, the membership was about forty-four or forty-five, and I think I got it up to about ninety in the first year. So it was obviously a good thing to do, having someone with the same issue, obviously, that [who] can talk about it; and just face to face meetings in hospital, at home, wherever sort of thing – rest homes; and yeah, it’s sort of helped out. I think we’re up to about a hundred and sixteen members last year, and about a hundred and six this year. Obviously it can go up and down with people either shifting away or passing away, but yeah, it’s been quite a [an] interesting role to do. As I mentioned I’m on the National Executive and locally we look after the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast region, so Gisborne comes under our umbrella as well. So I do four trips a year up there to the clinics that the Hamilton Limb Centre run, and they do two days there doing minor repairs for the amputees … their limbs and stuff; so yeah, I’m up there and do the meet and greet thing. And yeah, like I say, it’s sort of been quite nice to give something back I suppose, you know? Yeah, and that was probably what was behind it for me, I suppose. Yeah, that’s probably pretty much covered my roles and my life, I guess.
Well, Geoffrey – that’s one of the … perhaps I could say one of the goriest [chuckle] interviews that I’ve listened to.
Wait till you see the photos! [Chuckle]
So Geoffrey, I’ve got to thank you very much indeed for your talk …
We thank you very much.
13th May , and I’m with Geoffrey Hansen; and he’s got a little bit more to add, so good afternoon, Geoffrey.
Hi, Jim. I currently have five grandchildren – one granddaughter and four grandsons. My son Louis who lives in Hastings has two boys; Logan born in 2011, and Cory in 2012. Both have red hair like their father, and are known as the ‘Ginger Ninjas’. Logan has had a fascination with dinosaurs for some time, and with there only being eleven months’ difference in their ages, Cory follows on although he is into Bay Blades more than Logan is. I take them to school and pick them up after school most days, as Louis and his partner, Gina, both work.
My daughter, Angela, who lives in Sandstone Point in Queensland with her partner, Will, has a daughter, Indigo, who was born in 2003; and Indie has been over to New Zealand quite a few times. And I’m going to fly her over for a holiday later this year, which will be her first unaccompanied flight. Indie is intrigued by our Māori culture, so I’m hoping to organise a visit to Pakipak [Pakipaki] Marae through some local friends of mine. Indie followed in her mum’s footsteps and was a great dancer, but more recently has taken up rugby league and plays for the Beachmere Club [Queensland]. Angela also has two boys – Rueben who was born in 2014, and Spencer Geoffrey, who was born in 2016. I’m very proud to have a grandson with my name in his. They are hard out into toy vehicles, especially self-propelled ones that make lots of noise.
My youngest child, Celia, at present is just with her partner, Daniel, with no children, and lives in Narangba, Queensland. I usually go over to visit the kids and grandkids in Australia twice a year and they come back to New Zealand periodically for visits.
Good, okay. Nothing else you want to add?
No – that was the bit that was missing, and I thought, ‘I’ll be in trouble for that’, so yeah.
Original digital file
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Interviewer: Jim Newbigin