Dion’s recreational pursuits
Dad started tramping young. He climbed the 6000 foot Mt Domett with family friends when he was just 8 or 9, leaving their names in a bottle at the summit. He would go with his family into the hills to tramp, and to hunt as well. These were the depression years and you were expected to bring back at least a rabbit for every shot you fired.
When he was 20 he climbed in the Wilkin around Wonderland and Jumboland, where he made first ascents of virgin peaks: Mts Juno and Twilight. He would jump on his motorbike on a Friday afternoon after work, ride up to the mountains, climb all day, and arrive home in the early hours of Monday morning.
In the 50s, he focused on the Mt Cook region, doing his most ambitious climbs with Hap Ashurst, who took the photo of him on Mt Tasman.
When Christmases were approaching, Mum would ask whether he’d made plans for climbing. He’d say he was too busy, but mum would encourage him along anyway. Once he was gone, she would wonder if she’d done the right thing: that it would be her fault if he fell. But he would always come back safe and sound, and glad to have been sent.
Geoff Harrow sends his apologies, he writes: I linked up with Dion several times at the Mount Cook National Park in the early 1950s and he was a great companion in the mountains. When I was tied onto the same rope as Dion I always felt completely safe. He, like myself, was readily up to a challenge, and new routes always interested him.
Dad became a lifetime member of the Alpine Club, for which you need to have ascended ten 10000 footers. He was involved in several search and rescue missions, during one of which he learned by radio that he had become a father.
He did fewer and fewer high climbs, but when his daughters were old enough to go tramping, the family would often spend Christmas in the hills together, especially in Arthurs Pass, Hopkins, Hermitage and the Mātukituki. The climbing video you see here is mainly of my sister Eugenie, Tom Barcham, Fred Hollows, and nephews Richard McGregor and John Ombler. Dad doesn’t appear because he’s the one operating the 8mm movie camera.
In the 70s, my sister Heidi got into kayaking and Dad got her one. It was great fun for all of us and soon we had three kayaks strapped to the roof rack. We spent a lot of time in Central Otago especially, and our friends and wider family all got to try kayaking too. Dad always enjoyed teaching new people to paddle.
Our focus was now on water rather than tramping. It was a very good sport for us, giving us a taste of freedom and challenge that I imagine Dad had found in climbing.
In the early-80s my sister Heidi went to live in Australia. Dad went to visit and together they tried sailboarding for the first time. He liked it so much he came home and bought one. He was in his late 50s then. We both enjoyed it a lot and so we had to buy another. They were big heavy boards in those days, with aluminium tubing and a centre board. We would bash the centre boards around and Dad would make new ones of different designs – he was a pretty good carpenter too.
Again Dad enjoyed teaching other people, often starting them on his carefully manicured lawns. In light conditions he would sail with his hat and sunglasses on, much to the chagrin of his students who spent a lot of time falling in the water.
Soon lighter short boards were available and so we got one of those as well. In those days it was just about fun. I would come home on the school bus and if the conditions looked good I’d get off at the Tannery. Dad would have the car and trailer, now with 3 kayaks and 3 windsurfers set to go and we’d take off to wherever we thought the winds and tides would be best, often home a bit late for tea.
Once we were very late for tea. We were sailing in Sawyers Bay just off from the tannery. A northeaster came up very strong and if it weren’t for someone calling the coastguard we probably would have been blown over here at Glenfalloch.
I left for Wellington in the late 80s and Dad continued to sail, often from Watercooled Sports. He started racing too - now he had carbon fibre masts and a sail wardrobe to suit any occasion.
In ‘97 there were master’s games in Dunedin. Dad was in his early 70s. Miles Rapley said in an interview that Dad was a likely contender - “He is a bit of a legend in the sport in New Zealand and even Australia for the way he sails. He’s right up there with the best of them.” In an interview with Dad he recalled the times he had swung wide around a buoy watching the younger brasher competitors come off as they turned tightly at speed. “There goes that grey-haired old bugger again,” they’d reportedly say.
Another article: “He’s one of the most accomplished sportsmen competing in the master’s games. Windsurfing is a technically difficult sport which he has come to later in life and has mastered comfortably. He’s a unique person, an inspiration.”
Dad sailed till he was 86 years old. He had also taken up Tai Chi and one of his most important social occasions was coffee with his Tai Chi friends after practice each Friday.
One of Dad’s favourite windsurfing spots was at Te Ngaru, down towards Aramoana. It has an easy entrance and a gentle sandy bottom.
The only problem with the spot was a lack of parking space for others to join him. When he was 82 he spent a whole winter clearing an area of bracken and convinced the council to drop some fill on the uneven site. He levelled it, seeded it with grass and planted a kōwhai with my mother. It’s not just for windsurfing: it’s a nice safe place for family to enjoy the water too.
Last month the family got together and put a sign at his clearing – Dion’s Place.