I nearly got Bernie Allen arrested.
During May 2017 we’d completely filled the Cargo Shed in Dive Crescent, Tauranga with thousands of dollars’ worth of furniture ready to send through to the Edgecumbe flood victims.
Bernie was there every day, Tuesday to Saturday, volunteering his time to help unload people’s cars and trailers and running things. As the Cargo Shed was going to be closed until the Monday I phoned the police to ask if they could keep an eye on it on their way past. I didn’t bother Bernie with that small, but important fact. The police phoned early Sunday morning. Someone was breaking in. It was Bernie, on his day off, going in to take away rubbish.
So typical of him really. He’s a Bethlehem Te Puna Lion. “We serve” is the Lions creed.
During the final week of the Rise Up Tauranga collection, Bernie was scheduled to go in to Grace Hospital for a shoulder operation. He rang me a couple of hours after the op, so I popped over to see him, took him some chocolate and a motorcycle magazine. I suspected he was still under the influence of anaesthesia, so this could be a rare opportunity to actually get him talking about himself for a change.
I asked him about the Lions Market at the Tauranga Historic Village in 17th Ave. It happens on the first and third Sunday of each month.
“I go down about 4.30am,” says Bernie. “There’s rubbish bins to go out. And power cables to be pulled under the road. And some of the stall holders are queued up at quarter past five.”
I guess it’s not surprising he’s an early riser.
There are about 60 stalls at the market and it’s the Bethlehem Te Puna Lions main regular fundraiser from which they distribute funds to help the community. During April they sent money to Edgecumbe.
Bernie grew up on a dairy farm.
‘When I was 13 my old man sent me to boarding school in New Plymouth,” he says. “I think I was strapped about 90 times in the first year because I played up. I wasn’t interested. Was caught smoking and sneaking out of the dormitories at night.
“The joker next to me was always telling on everybody and we thought ‘we’ll fix you mate’.
It was all quiet about one o’clock in the morning, so we went to the freezer, got a bag of ice, put it in a bucket, pulled his arm out of bed and pushed it into the bucket. He peed the bed. Tipped the rest of the ice over him, said ‘take that you plonker.’ We got thrashed for that.”
He went and worked on the family farm. Got paid three pounds five shillings a week wages, equivalent to about $7 a week. It was quiet on the farm during winter so he’d work at the saw mill.
On leaving the farm at about 18 years old he went long-haul truck driving and then joined the railway, completing a fireman’s ticket in steam.
He spent about 10 years on the railway in Tamaruanui, Taihape and Stratford.
The surgeon calls by in the middle of our interview.
“All right? Not sore?”
“Nup,” says Bernie. “A little bit of pain here but bugger all.”
“I’ve actually repaired the rotator cuff,” says the surgeon. “Repaired the tendon. A tendon had pulled off.”
Bernie’s not allowed to use the arm for about six weeks. He continues talking about his early work life.
“I chucked in the railways and bought a milk run in Taumaranui.”
He was married to Barbara by this time.
“We’d do a run out to Oio. Would go about half past four in the morning, do the milk run, get back about half past nine.”
He did that on and off for about 10 years, sold the milk run, moved to Tauranga and bought a bread run covering Tauriko, Greerton, 11th Ave and out to Omokoroa.
A nurse comes around to check on his pills.
Mostly pain relief.
“I had a bit of pain at the Cargo Shed but just managed it.”
“When you’re in here we like to know what pain relief you’re on,” says the nurse.
He did the bread run seven days a week, day and night, selling it after 10 years. He followed that up with eight marathons, covering about 100km a week.
“I was told to give that away because your hips won’t last. So then I bought a filtering business.
Filtering the fat in the fish and chips shops. Suck the fat out, filter it and put it back.”
Start early, finish by lunch time. He had signs printed for the door and back of the ute with “I’m a fat sucker.”
After that a paper run.
“We did 13 stops in two hours. Bulk drops, 4000 newspapers. Arataki, Papamoa, the Mount and Te Puke.
Followed by driving for a concrete business delivering pipes, then ‘working for a joker doing landscape design work.’
The nurse is back to check on how much water he’s drinking.
“I don’t drink too much water, fish make love in it,” he says. “That’s alright, we’re just keeping an eye on what’s going in.”
After the landscaping work, he became the caretaker for Sanctuary Point for a couple of years. Then went painting. And more driving.
I met Bernie at a Bethlehem Te Puna Lions meeting in 2011. Usually laconic, quietly serving others, mostly efficient and unseen, behind the scenes.
An early riser. A couple of weeks later I walked through the Historic Village with him, Village Radio pumping out ‘Smooth Operator’.