‘Postman Pat’ of rural Hawke’s Bay
“The latest it has ever been finished was 3.55am, which meant finishing the run in the early hours of the morning and in darkness,” John says.
The mailman usually knows everyone, but in this case everybody knows the mailman. John was born in Crownthorpe, went to school in the district and, like many on his run, has returned to live in the area. On his run he passes his childhood home, which is still called the Rabbiter’s Rest after his father, who, with a team of 20 dogs, was the local rabbiter.
As a boy John mowed the lawns of Okawa Stud. He knows the land intimately, its history and, it seems, every resident. But, with the increasing number of lifestyle blocks, he admits he doesn’t know everyone any more.
“Once you get into to Shanley Road, it’s like a small town. Ten years ago there wasn’t even a road there, but it just sprouted.”
John understands the needs of a rural community and will literally go the extra distance to deliver an item if he knows a farmer urgently needs it.
“I always say if I’m late for dinner, I’ll be early for breakfast.”
Just meeting some of his customers on the run, it’s obvious he’s held in high regard and with much affection.
Touchwood Books, in Taihape Road, features his picture in their catalogue in appreciation of his “friendly and efficient” service and to recognise the contribution his service makes to their business.
Another personal touch John has added since taking over the run is a special arrangement with Father Christmas.
It ensures a truly personal reply from Santa for any RD9 child who writes to him, along with a chocolate replica of the man himself, tinsel and “reindeer food” ready for the big night and delivered by his agents, the Hawthornes.
Of all the weather conditions that John drives in, it’s not the wet that worries him, despite two drivers being washed off the road last year.
“At least you can see flooding, but you never know what’s going to happen when it’s really blowing and it can blow pretty hard in some places and rock you around a bit.”
John escaped serious injury when a branch crashed through his windscreen a few years ago.
And, as far as four-legged friends go, he has them everywhere, but he has only once has had a problem with a dog … and has the scars on his elbow to prove it.
“It was a blue heeler and he was so determined to have me he came at me through the window. The next day it completely ignored me.”
Wear and tear on the vehicle is considerable. Any paintwork or edge on the bottom of the van has been well sandblasted and smoothed. A breakdown can mean a long wait for help, but John has been saved by some ingenious running repairs.
“I used to do the run in a Valiant ute, and the gearstick broke off right down at the base,” he says. “I was near a farmer with a good workshop and thought he might be able to help. Well, he got a pair of vice grips and reached down, got the broken end of the gearstick and then welded the vicegrips to it and away I went. It held for a couple of days.
“On another occasion one of my customers just lent me his ute to finish the run.”
Surprisingly electronic mail hasn’t lessened John’s load and, if anything, it has increased and he reckons it must be all the townies moving to the country.
But, there’s one quirk he can be sure of and that’s if there’s a day when the mail is light, the next day he’ll be “loaded to the gunnels”.
There’s a lot you notice when you spend this much time on the road and the people of RD9 can rest assured that once a day – regular as clockwork – the red lifeline to town will appear around the bend.
Photo captions –
Left: Lynne Wilkinson and John went to primary school together in Crownthorpe and, like many others in the area, have returned to live there. Right: For Peter Arthur, left, and Graham Harvey, at Touchwood Books, on the Taihape Road, John is a vital link for the business.