Dion’s early years

Prepared and read at the service by Noelene Ombler – there’s no-one alive today who shared his early years, but when he and Noelene were in love, they told each other everything.


Hello Everybody – Kia Ora.

It is amazing to see so many familiar faces here today, all under one roof!

I’m taking this opportunity to say thank you to all those who have sent messages to us – cards and letters, phone calls and emails, visits, flowers and gifts. I couldn’t possibly thank all of you personally. The numbers have been overwhelming, but everything has been greatly appreciated. Also, thank you to all of you, for coming to join us here today.

Dion’s childhood

Dion grew up in Oamaru the youngest of three boys, Stan, who his mother said was very good, Stewart, who was quite good, but Dion? She just threw her hands up in the air!

Stan was 13 years older, and Stewart, 7. Stan, he hardly knew; he was more like an uncle. Stewart, whom Dion tended to emulate for the rest of his life, was very much a big brother and looked out for him, but he was pretty much on his own as a small boy. His brothers doubled him on their push-bikes, though, when he was little, so he went places.

His father came out from England, well educated, with parents and brothers, hoping to make good lives for themselves, but found NZ not all they hoped for. Dion’s parents started their married life trying to make a farm down in the Catlins, working exceedingly hard and finishing up almost penniless. They went to Oamaru with Stan and Stewart, to work for their Uncle, G.T. Gillies, who had a Garage and various other enterprises. Dion’s father worked for him as a salesman and accounting clerk. They lived in a house beside the garage, so Dion spent a lot of his time as a little boy, poking around and playing in the workshop, under the watchful eye of the foreman there. The name Dion was a bit much for this gent, so he called him Hec.

For birthdays the family went for picnics in the country. Once, at a place where there was a windmill, Dion caught hold of one of its sails - tightly - and was whisked up into the air, possibly screaming.  Stewart, ran to his aid, stopped the windmill and rescued him.

At primary school he was always the youngest and shortest in his class but he was fast, and could win running races.

The Omblers’ home became a stopping off place for climbers on their way to and from the mountains. The family had done some climbing before Dion was born, and his Father was an inaugural member of the North Otago Section of the NZ Alpine Club.

About that time, Scott Gilkison, as a budding accountant, came to work in Oamaru and boarded with them. He and Bruce Gillies were to have a big influence on Dion. He went with them into the Dansey’s Pass area and they took him into the hills. Until quite recently, there has been a bottle tucked away at the top of Mt Domett, about 6,000 ft. in which there is inserted a piece of paper which reads, Scott Gilkison, Dion Ombler, and (another person) 1933. Dion would have been 8 or 9 years old.

In his last year at primary school, he shared a double desk with Bob Meldrum who was a polio cripple. Bob had leg irons on both legs and only one arm that worked. Dion had to help him in lots of ways throughout each day. Maybe that was when he learnt to care about people who were different. Janet Frame was also in his class at school.

He had many exciting and sometimes hair-raising experiences. In those days, children had much more freedom. Out of sight - out of mind, was the easiest way to give motherly love, especially to an over-active, adventurous, inquisitive boy. With his friends he scrambled all around the cliffs south of the town and rode his bike everywhere.

He survived; but not without incident. When he was about 13, riding down-hill he crashed his bike, and smashed his two front teeth. Recuperation took a long time.

He enjoyed cubs and scouts, becoming Cub master and later a Scout master before he left school.

He spent much time with the Gillies where he was absorbed into their large family, sometimes going fishing and boating at Moeraki, where they had a holiday house, at weekends and holidays  

His cousin, Bernard, became his best friend.

In their early teens, Bernard and Dion had girlfriends – Joan and Noeline. I was not his first Noeline. She was the pretty girl who came to live next door and they cycled to and from school each day. The four of them went to school dances together. After four years, the friendship was interrupted by the war. Several years later, Dion flew Bernard to Rotorua in a Tiger Moth to attend Noeline’s wedding. We’ve remained good friends ever since and you will see pictures of the other Noeline throughout the slideshow.

Dion grew up in a busy household. His father had many skills and often got Dion to help him. It

stood him in good stead to be versatile throughout his life. When they had a house built up the hill he helped to build garden walls and make gardens around it.

Later, his father also taught him to drive and he got his license to drive a truck on his 15th birthday, which came in very handy when he was at Waitaki Boys High and had to do fatigues - often! He enjoyed working in the gardens there and loved driving the truck to carry the weeds and prunings away.  Much better than playing rugby!

Going to Waitaki Boys High School was a challenge. He didn’t like the discipline or the hierarchy that prevailed there. Caning appalled him, but the ingenuity he had acquired in his young life not only got him into trouble but also made his life more to his liking.

When he became a boarder when his parents left Oamaru and moved to the Otago Peninsula, determined not to play rugby, he had lessons on Saturdays to play the school’s pipe organ. Becoming the school organist, he played on special occasions.

Air force, starting work

When he left school, Dion worked on farms on the Peninsula while he waited to get into the air force in 1943. He learnt to fly in NZ, and got his wings as a fighter pilot just before the war ended!

When they left the NZ Air Force, Dion and Oakliegh Osborne hitch-hiked up and around the east cape of the North Island. Still in uniform they had no trouble catching lifts. On return, Oakleigh was able to take up a position on his parents’ farm but Dion found it hard to find work while men were returning from the war.

He could have gone to University, but after swatting hard in the air force to attain 100&perc; in Navigation, just to prove that he could, Varsity did not appeal to him. He liked the idea of farming but couldn’t see a future in it for himself. He could have done Accountancy, but with a father and two brothers being accountants he wouldn’t consider that! After the excitement of the previous three years he explored many options until he was lead to Mr Les Longbottom, Managing Director of Glendermid Tannery, who promised him that if he were to “roll his sleeves up for a few years” he could look forward to a bright future.

1948 onwards

Dion and I met at MacAndrew Bay Boating Club dances when I was just a school girl. I lived in Colinswood, just around the corner from Glenfalloch, and Dion was exactly 1 mile the other way. Four years later we were married. At our wedding my father said, “He chased her for 4 years, but I’m glad to say that in the end she caught him!”

The next few years were exceedingly busy. Dion was already studying for his NZ Institute of Management Diploma at Night Tech and this occupied a lot of time for many years. On Brickhill, Sawyers Bay, we lived in a tiny house, The Batch, which his brother Stewart (John’s father) lent to us. It had to have another bed room built on for Carrie who was born a year later.

There were Carrie, Jennifer and Eugenie there, before we moved 6 years later, into the house that Dion built, without taking a day off work from the Tannery. There was no such thing as paternity leave in those days, so we were both very busy. I also worked on the house.

He even started a vegetable garden. I suggested that if he were to forget about the garden he could get on with the house, but he said that without the garden, he would never finish the house.