John was born on the 23 January 1937. His parents, Michael and Bridget were first-generation immigrants from Ireland, coming to Napier in 1926. His father worked at Barry Brothers, running the coal and wood merchant side. He would unload the bulk supplies and bag it into 100-weight lots, before delivering it to customers.
The family initially lived in Carlisle Street, but they moved to 94 Waghorne Street after the first house was partly destroyed in the earthquake. The family moved several times again in the same street.
John remembers the tough years of the Depression. Coal merchants used to do special ‘barrow-load’ deals for locals, and kindly train drivers would often throw a ‘spade load or two’ over the side as the train passed, for local children to collect and take home. His father created a garden on a small, empty plot of railway land and grew vegetables which helped feed the nine children. Mr Husheer, the owner of National Tobacco Factory and a regular philanthropist at the Port, would give 2/6 to the children in need during these years.
John attended St Mary’s Convent School, then Marist Brothers; walking to school each day because the family didn’t have bus fare for all the kids. Later he went to St John’s College. He remembers occasional friction with kids of the other religions, but it was mostly good natured and nothing more than name-calling.
Growing up, he and the other kids at the Port had to be resourceful with making their own fun. Their football was a sugar sack-tied up tightly. Kids played cricket in the driveway with a bat made from a piece of wood shaped by a saw. Swimming and fishing were also regular pass-times. It was a treat when their mother would find sixpence for the movies at holiday time. These years were hard financially, but are remembered as happy ones.
John has clear memories of the shops, industries and businesses; and local characters of the Port. Well-known businesses included the Pubs: Crown, Union and Railway; the fishing fleet, woolstores, timberyards; shops such as Seymour’s, Selby’s, Grainey’s, McCarthy’s, Otton’s, and McSwain’s. Characters around the Port included: Taranaki Liz, Pukie Mac (Peter McNamara), Runabout Hogan, and Peter Pork Pie (Peter Chalmers).
John entered the accounting profession, and still lives in Napier.