Spectrum 141. The town that wouldn't lie down

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Tono kōrero mai

Jack Perkins presents a colourful portrait of Blackball, past and present. With the great days of coal gone and all the mines closed, the inhabitants of this West Coast settlement were told to leave and let the town die. They refused, and today the town not only exists but thrives.

Alec Bowcott [?] who used to own the store in Blackball, describes a typical afternoon scene in the Main Street in the 1920s as the miners from the afternoon shift came through the town for a quick drink at the pub before heading home to wash. The population of Blackball used to be over 1000 but is now about 350.

Tony and Anne Reid and their two children moved to New Zealand from London a few months ago and found Blackball after not liking Christchurch. Tony, who is a plasterer travels into Greymouth to work and even though he is earning less than he would in Christchurch, the rent is cheaper at $8.00 a week for a fully furnished former miner's house.

Anne comments about the friendly rural character of the town and Tony enjoys the presence of the old mining identities who can tell him about the history of the place.

Jack Perkins describes a typical miner's house, a 'lean-to'. Les Neilson and his wife live in such a home. He has a pile of about three tons of coal in his backyard and says former miners like himself get six free tons a year from the Strongman mine, which he still shovels with a foot-wide "banjo" shovel that miners use for filling trucks in the mine.

Les grew up on a farm in the 1900s and first had a job delivering milk to mining families. He recalls the hard times many in Blackball faced then. He says the men were hard workers and hard drinkers, with bare-fist fights held in the paddock on Sunday mornings. He staked a gold claim in the 1920s.

Les talks about the many migrants from the United Kingdom who made up the town in the early days. Early trade unionism began in Blackball and other West Coast towns due to poor working conditions and insecure work. He says whenever the Grey bar silted up, coal ships could not get out, so mine work would stop. this happened right up until the Second World War whent he state took over.

Alec Bowcott sold pies from his shop until 2am some times, with coffee to sober up drinkers coming from the Blackball Hotel. He told the pub owner to donate a couple of bottles to the local policeman to keep on his good side, which he says used to always work when he worked in a hotel in Hari Hari.

Joe McIvor is recalled, a former gold prospector in the Blackball Creek. They used to sleep out in the open after the pub closed, in the frost.

At one time Blackball boasted the best rugby league team in the country and carriage trips to matches are remembered.

The Blackball and Paparoa mines closed in 1964 and Alec recalls how it affected the town. Local business people met with Tom Shand, the Minister of Mines and tried to get a slow close, but he refused and told the townspeople to go to the North Island.

About 20 families left soon after and the town seemed destined to become a ghost town. Some homes that couldnt be sold mysteriously caught fire for insurance, but then people started buying properties as holiday homes from the late 1960s.

Alan and Anne Clark from Christchurch talk about sections for being for sale for $30-$50. They were welcomed by local people and built a bach themselves after living in a tent for five weeks. They say they have never been made to feel as though they were intruders.

The Clark children say there is plenty for young people to do, bush walks. Nine year old Valerie likes white-baiting and camping.

Alec Bowcott explains why he never left and what he enjoys about Blackball. Les Neilson says he will never leave.

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Request information

Year 1975

Reference number 36316

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Credits Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Presenter

Duration 00:30:18

Date 1975