Sunday, 20 September 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Bo Boyd - coalminer, bridge builder and a jolly good storyteller

When you meet Bo Boyd for the first time, what you see is what you get. There are no pretences, no mincing of words, he tells it straight and blunt. He’s the sort of man who offers a firm handshake as a meaningful greeting rather than an unnecessary ritual. But there’s a softness beneath that tough exterior. He is a man who still carries the scars of many years of hard work and is a great storyteller.   

Bo and his wife of 50 years, Barbara, have lived permanently in Whitianga for almost their entire married life and have seen and contributed to the many changes and milestones achieved in the greater Mercury Bay area over that time. Bo has had a tough life, not that he’s complaining. “Work was all centred on hard manual labour, which I was cut out for to be honest,” he says. “But Barb and I have always enjoyed a good social time and still do. I have always found it hard to sit still, a trait engrained in me by my father. He used to say if you haven’t run out of gas by the end of the day, you haven’t done anything.”   

Born in Ngaruawahia in 1943, Bo was officially registered as Neil Lewis Boyd, but the Neil Lewis part was quickly shelved to become simply Bo when growing up in his home settlement of Glen Afton, 14km from Huntly.

The community was part of the area’s vast coalmining operations. The five boys in Bo’s coalmining family learned the meaning of hard work by shovelling coal not long after leaving school. For Bo, that was when he was just 16 years old. “I started as a trucker at the McDonald Mine in Glen Afton before moving into the mines,” he says. “It was hard work and there was no apprenticeship as such. You were given a shovel and stood on your best ‘shovelling side’ of the coal skips. As the body soreness wore off and your technique improved, the big reward was finally being handed the large number four shovel so you could move more coal and earn more money. I worked the left hand side while my mate, Shorty Dow, was on the opposite side and together we shovelled tons of coal per day.”

Rugby league was also par for the course in those days, with Bo becoming a well-respected forward in the competitive local competition. He represented the Waikato in the mid-1960s and was selected to play against the touring Great British Lions side.

Bo still loves his rugby league. “It’s a hard man’s game which has ties that go way back to the early coalmining industry in the North of England,” he says. “So there is an obvious connection for me.”

The Sydney Roosters jersey he wears has seen better days, but Bo wears it with the pride and passion of a diehard fan. He’s quick to point out his ongoing loyalty to the Warriors, a team he has supported from day one.           

The relationship with Whitianga began when Bo and Barbara, who grew up in Huntly, began visiting the Boyd family bach in Ohuka. “Dad purchased two sections in the late 1950s and built what was loosely called a bach,” Bo says. “We loved our holidays and leisure time there and I really got into water activities, especially free diving for crayfish and scallops, spearfishing and eventually mullet boat racing.”

There was a long family connection to the area with Bo’s mother’s great-grandfather working in the Whangapoua gold mine many years before. 

The decision to settle in Whitianga came about very abruptly. “We were driving back to Huntly one day and got as far as Coroglen,” Bo says. “I stopped the car and asked Barbara if she really wanted to head home. That brief conversation resulted in a quick u-turn and us heading back to Whitianga, a place we would call home on a permanent basis pretty much from that day onwards.”

Barbara found work as a schoolteacher while Bo put his hands to work doing all sorts of projects. The list of ventures he and Barbara were involved in over the years includes collecting wool from farms, working in the gold mine on Pumpkin Flats Road, Kuaotunu, deep water boat salvaging, breeding bulls and goats, commercial fishing, and forestry work felling trees. He was also heavily involved in building many of the concrete river crossings on private and forestry land as well as many of the main bridges around the Coromandel. He and Barbara designed and built their first house in Cook Drive before moving to their current home, a 14-acre block on Old Wade Road.

Like most men who have worked outdoors, Bo has many stories to tell, like how he almost cut his right arm off with a chainsaw. “I’m not sure what happened exactly, but the chainsaw ended up cutting into a fair chunk of my forearm,” he says. “In those days you often worked alone, so when accidents happened it was a matter of quick thinking. I managed to wrap my arm in a makeshift bandage and headed off on foot to get help. Long story short, I managed to get a complete stranger to rush me to hospital so they could save the arm and repair the damage. It was pretty serious and I never had time to apologise for the pools of blood I left on the interior of the vehicle.”

Although the accident limited his use of his arm and hand, Bo never saw it as an excuse to slow down. It did, however, mean he couldn’t play his much-loved Washburn guitar as well as he once did.

It has been a life of no regrets, Bo says, the horizon his only boundary. He is certainly one of life’s real characters who, once met, leaves a lasting impression.  

Pictured: Bo Boyd, Whitianga resident for almost 50 years, represented the Waikato as a rugby league forward in his younger days. He still loves his rugby league.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.