“Character and characters – not just the place, but the people”
Vince, born on November 5 1947 and raised in the Port, sometimes goes walking along the waterfront there with his wife, and he says he can’t help but reflect. “I don’t think we could have had a better childhood.” He has rich memories of days filled with sports, rough and tumble adventures, swimming, and many hours spent at the waterfront on or around his father’s fishing boat: “..climbing the rigging, mucking around in the wheelhouse, diving off the boat…we’d spent a lot of time down at the wharves.”
Vince came from a fishing tradition on both sides of the family: the island of Stromboli in Sicily, Italy on one side, and Shetland Islands, Scotland on the other. From the Port beachfront he would see his father’s boat coming in after the day’s work, gannets wheeling about above the vessel. He remembers that Bill Vinton would radio the fishing boats at sea in the evening, and Vince would listen-in for his father’s call-sign. Several times boats didn’t call in, and that signalled a tragedy when boats were lost. It was at these times that the tight-knit, supportive Port community would show itself, rallying around the fishing families. “The whole community felt it.” Vince feels for the difficulties of the early migrants from foreign cultures, including his grandmother from Italy who couldn’t speak English: “She would have loved Ahuriri today. She could have got a cappuccino or decent Salami. Back then, she probably had to survive on baked beans.”
Vince recalls the real characters at the Port in those time, like their ‘Dean Martin’ – the butcher who used to juggle sausages, or “Bronky Miller” who spoke with a supposed Brooklyn, New York accent; Taranaki Liz, an old Lady whose plum tree was a constant target for raids; and the local grocery man that doubled as the “bookie”.
Vince remembers the ‘division’ with Napier being much more strongly felt than today. The Port were the working class fraternity. The strong sense of belonging at the Port, made the Napier side feel impersonal and sterile in comparison. “We felt we had a share in the place (the Port).” If the boys at the Port felt the distinction, even sub-consciously, it made them more headstrong and determined to prove themselves, with many of his mates going on to be become successful in sports or other fields. Vince himself became a champion wrestler. “Everyone had to stick up for and prove themselves, in their own way.”
Today, Vince and many his age from the Port School keep in touch, and often reminisce on those days. “We still hanker for it… It was a solid block. You identity with it, and say ‘Yip, I was a Portite.'”