Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Strangeness on a Train

I am thirteen, it is the dawn of a new year, and I and am about to set foot on the North Island for the first time.

1983 was the first year I'd left the Mainland, spending a week on Stewart Island for a school trip in Second Form; but this time, for the 10th New Zealand Scout Jamboree, I would be in Fielding for  ten days of outdoor activities, burgeoning testosterone, cold showers, open-air latrines, physical challenges, military catering and some of the worst sunburn of my life.

Scouting for me was a central activity from the ages of around eight through to around eighteen, and being a young simian a lot of my early life experiences involved scouting or variations of it.  There had been an Jamboree at the local racecourse 'round the corner from my house in Oamaru in 1978, so when I was old enough to make the trip myself, it was a no-brainer. I reckon that in our town that summer of 1983-84 was a halcyon period for many parents who, given the choice, could have shipped their boys entering or in that 'difficult age' off to such parts as Fielding, Palmerston North (where my brother went for a Venturers camp), or Mystery Creek in Hamilton (for Boys Brigade. I distinctly recall checking off my backpack contents with my Dad (who hadn't put his teeth in... details...) in our post-Christmas lounge the day before I was to take a chartered train up the east coast, then over to Picton, across Cook Strait to Wellington, then another three hours to Fielding.

The train journey was long. Looong: around 24 hours on the rails with l only two Making of the Return of the Jedi, the first issue of my new comic order from the local bookshop - (I'd ditched Eagle for 2000AD), some preserved ginger (I hated the stuff, but my Gran, assuming the opposite, always made sure I got some for Christmas every year) and a carriage full of adolescent males shouting, wrestling, playing cards and generally stinking the place up to pass the time. It was Lord of the Flies on rails. But, we made it through the night, saw in the new year while  in transit (one of the lads was a Bowie fan and duly played 1984 at the appointed striking of midnight.) By morning we'd reached Picton, boarded the Interisland ferry and carried on over to a quiet and grey looking Wellington - I'd never have thought it would be my future home.

The main event was a hell of a thing - a virtual tent city with seemingly hundreds of camps for individual contingents from all over the Asia Pacific region. It was all pretty chaste stuff, while there were stories that a boy had been stabbed one night on the other side of the camp, I talked and swapped badges with kids from Australia, Canada, the US and the Pacific, left my own contingent for twenty-four hours on an overnight tramp in a nearby forest; and though I dreaded what I took to be an inevitability, in the end I was sad to see the camp's abseiling tower abandoned at the end, unassailed by me. The photos I took from the jamboree are, I presume, long gone, and by memory would have been dull fare indeed - camp sites, Manfield race track (where it was held), and a few other tricked up sites of other scout contingents (Mt Roskill had a banner based on the Return of the Jedi poster which I'd thought was very cool). My memories of the trip and the event are now nudged along by some remaining artifacts - the books I took to read with me, an open air film we watched en masse (weirdly, Battlestar Galactica: Conquest of the Earth) and pop culture snippets (number one at the time: UB40's cover of Red Red Wine, local high flyer - Split Enz's Straight Old Line.) I developed a strange addition to carob bars; and with my fellow troop devised ways to avoid the Roman-styled latrines and the regular wave that would pass under the unwary sitter as it flushed the rows of seats. The showers were something else: open-air, cold water and communal.  My friend Alister managed to brave the boggy entrance to the plywood ablutions block and exited cleanly laundered only to slip arse over kite and land back in the muck again. Ee, but we were 'appy...

So much for scouting and my one and only jamboree experience, but it was an exciting, tiring time, and looking back from thirty years on, a clear disembarking point for some old my pre-high school life (I was so glad to be shot of intermediate school - and frankly, Jedi saw the end of my Star Wars interest) and the hopping-on point for a lot of new stuff and new friends.

So - New Year's Eve 1983, thirty years ago.


  1. I never knew! If we ever get stranded on Oriental Parade by a sudden Southerly storm, I'll turn to you for shelter building, fire-lighting, first aid and a rousing campfire song.
    Lovely stuff!

  2. I visited the 1978 Jamboree in Oamaru! I was a Sixer in my Cub Group (blue).

  3. Bloody hell, Mr G! We could have met twenty-five years early!

    Al - we have been caught on Ori Pde in a Southerly storm - more than once. You only had to ask!

    Thanks, chaps. And Happy New Year to you both :)

  4. Sorry G - that should be fifteen years early...