Thursday, 17 October 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Message from a tough bloke

For 40 odd years, Whitianga-based telecommunications technician, Maurice Muir, has been the main go-to person when it came to the installation and maintenance of the telecommunications network around Mercury Bay. It’s a network he repeatedly refers to as being basically made up of only two very critical pieces of wire.

Up until to his retirement and 70th birthday in May this year, Maurice had worked a grand total of 54 years, four months and a handful of days since joining the Post Office as a trainee telephone technician in 1965.

“I have prided and judged myself on the service and support I have provided over many years, particularly to the end user, which is the general public,” says Maurice.

Originally from the lower South Island town of Ross on the West Coast, Maurice could easily be described as being a tough bloke. “Living on the Coast, people learned to live off the land, whether it be vegetable gardens, orchards, fish from the sea or the river, or climbing to 7,000 feet to hunt wild goats and deer, it was all part of a great West Coast lifestyle,” says Maurice. “I recall one night lying in my sleeping bag ‘on the tops’ looking up and seeing the Milky Way with the snow-capped Mount Cook and Mount Tasman illuminated by a full moon. To the south, was the flickering of the Southern Lights. Looking north in the morning, Mount Taranaki was protruding out of the clouds. A truly amazing and unforgettable sight.”

In his long career in the telecommunications industry, Maurice has pretty much seen it all, but there are some underlying things which have always stayed the same. “While the move from the old-fashioned crank handle phone to dial phones, to push button and cordless phones and then onto the internet have been major innovations, they have all worked via the same two wires” he says. “Those wires are the lifeline into the homes and businesses around the country that rely on a phone or the internet. Two wires that need to get laid initially and then over time, need to be maintained or repaired for a thousand different reasons.” 

Initially stationed in Hokitika and servicing the often barren and rugged South Westland to Lake Moeraki region in the days before the Haast Pass was opened, Maurice was to quickly learn first-hand the importance of those two wires. One of his jobs in the late 1960s was the installation of teleprinter circuits to Lake Moeraki for the New Zealand Police who were at the time investigating the disappearance of Australian hitchhiker, Jennifer Baird. “I saw soldiers and police officers working in terrible conditions and they were all very much dependent on those two wires which provided vital lines of communication to the outside world,” he says.

On many occasions, Maurice and his best mate, Bernie Oregan, were away from home for several days repairing those same two wires which stretched for hundreds of kilometres after cyclones and heavy storms played havoc with the telecommunications network. “On one occasion, a temporary repair by locals using barbwire kept the phone line operating so an ambulance could be called after a fatal accident,” says Maurice. “Unbeknown to us at the time, Bernie and I were repairing a break in the same line some 200km away. Without our repair, the call to the ambulance could never have been made. It was another stark reminder on the importance of those two wires.”     

By 1975, Maurice was on the promotion ladder and relocated to Tokoroa with wife, Avelyn, and their two young children, Sean and Kristy.  In 1979 he was asked to run a mobile gang to Whitianga for a three-month assignment that was to last for more than four decades. 

“Arriving in Whitianga, it was like I had never left the West Coast,” says Maurice. “A small town, great people and scenery to match the Coast, although thankfully there wasn’t anywhere near the amount of heavy rain up this way.” 

Since the days of deregulation of the telecommunications industry, Maurice has worn six different pair of overalls as contractors have changed. “The majority of people think that technicians like me work for Chorus, but we don’t,” says Maurice. “Different companies contract to Chorus to build and maintain the national telecommunications infrastructure. My retirement has coincided with a new contractor, Downer, taking over the Coromandel region. At this stage there will be no local technician based in Whitianga, so that may take a bit of getting used to for the local tradies who have had me on their speed dials for many years knowing I was only ever a phone call away to help sort out any telecommunications issues.”   

Maurice has played a big part in the Mercury Bay community in other areas as well. He was made a life member of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade after 37 years of service and also the Mercury Bay Rugby and Sports Club for services to the club over many decades. “I feel very proud to have three generations of the Muir family play for the rugby club myself included, along with my son Sean and grandson Cody,” says Maurice.

Maurice has a message for all the other tough blokes out there and it’s all about how quickly life can change.

“In May, my mate, Bernie, rang to wish me all the best for my retirement and so on,” says Maurice. “Three days later he had passed away from an illness which he said had ‘snuck up on him.’ Since then I have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, a condition that has also ‘snuck up on me.’  So, I want to say to all the blokes to man up and go and get your prostate checked. Don’t leave it too late as over time it may very well sneak up on you. 

“Just don’t wait for the onset of a problem, the fix may not be as straightforward or as simple as rejoining a couple of pieces of broken wire.”

Pictured: Well-known Whitianga local, Maurice Muir has retired in May this years after a career of more than 54 years as a telecommunications technician.

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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.