Wednesday, 12 August 2020


Remembering well-known Whitianga identity, Allan Watson

Somewhat more than a year after his passing, well-known Whitianga identity, Allan Watson, is fondly remembered by good friends Walter Russell and Colin Stewart.   

Colin knew Allan from the time they were both 13 and at Otahuhu Technical Institute (now Otahuhu College) in the 1950s. The two of them were very keen bicycle riders and would ride far and wide. So keen were they, that on one trip the two of them road their bikes from Papakura all the way to Te Awamutu to visit family. From there they road to Otorohanga for an A&P Show, then back to Pakuranga. In fact, they were on their bikes so often that Allan’s first foray into engines, was to put a small motor on his push bike to make riding a lot easier.   

Allan soon developed a passion for all things mechanical and got a job with Lees Brothers in Auckland, where he learned to fix tractors, a job which took him all over New Zealand. Colin says that Allan was a brilliant mechanic, although he was never very fussy about the aesthetic condition of his own vehicles.

Colin recalls a Model T Allan bought and fixed up, which was missing half of its paint. The boys used to load that car with up to eight friends and drive to Queen Street to take in a movie among other jaunts in the 1950s in Auckland.

Walter fondly remembers meeting Allan when he and his band of “Papakura larrikins” used to pitch their old army tent in the most remote site available in the old campground on Buffalo Beach in Whitianga run by Mrs Eyre. A boisterous lot, Mrs Eyre was keen to keep this noisy mob far enough away from the other campers so as to prevent them from annoying other families. They would come into the Russell family’s Caltex service station in Albert Street, Whitianga for parts and fuel and Walter soon befriended Allan. A few of this band of young Papakura men went on to buy holiday properties in Mercury Bay.

In the early 60s, as a newly married man, Allan decided to bring his bride, Helen, to Whitianga to set up their new life together. Allan bought the Shell garage and service station (now Z) and ran that business for many years. Colin says he sadly lost track of Allan during this time.

Walter’s family had owned the Caltex service station, just up the road from Allan’s business, since 1943 and, in spite of the competitive nature of the two businesses, the pair and their wives became friends. The two businesses ran in a symbiotic fashion. In those days, they fixed all sorts things and borrowed and loaned parts, tyres and whatever from each other. If they couldn’t find the part, they made it. 

Allan and Walter shared a lot of the same passions in life and they worked together in many endeavours. As keen aviation enthusiasts, they worked with the Mercury Bay Aero Club, bringing visitors to the area. Walter would pick passengers up at the aero club with his minibus and deliver them to Allan, who had a jetboat and would take them to Cathedral Cove and other highlights around the area.    

Allan and Walter both loved to fly. Walter talks about the many Sundays they spent flying to Cambridge for afternoon tea with their wives. He recalls a funny story about a particular work-related trip to Great Mercury Island. The two engineers were called to the island to fix the power plant. They were advised to land the plane on the beach, but closer to the water where the sand was much firmer. They did just that, but the wind blew them further into the water than they wished and the plane landed just as a larger wave hit the beach. The plane was inundated. 

They managed to land but kept the engine running for a quarter of an hour so that the engine could dry out. They were meant to ferry back the local governess on their return flight, but she saw the whole landing and would not get on the plane. On their return to the aero club, the boys completely hosed down the plane and were seen to be unusually tidy by those who did not know about their aquatic landing. 

Colin reconnected with Allan when he bought a section at Simpsons Beach in 1973. Allan’s flying skills became quite handy for Colin, because Allan would often fly to Ardmore Airport (south of Auckland) and pick him up to work on building his new house over the weekends.

Colin finally moved to Mercury Bay in the 1980s, landing his first local job working for Walter at the Caltex service station. He moved on from there into his former profession of manufacturing aluminium windows for the next 23 years. 
When Allan made his frequent road trips to Auckland for parts and supplies, Colin would often accompany him. They both “liked a beer.” On their return trips they would stop at the Red Fox Tavern in Maramarua for a meal and a drink and buy a box of beers for the road. After a few beers they would “talk a lot of rubbish” and they more they drank the slower they drove. Luckily Allan was a very good driver. Of course, this would be frowned upon somewhat now.

Allan and Walter shared a passion for restoring military and other vehicles in their spare time. They would passionately parade their jeeps and other ex-army vehicles around the country in various rallies. When Allan and Helen sold up in Whitianga and retired to Tauranga, Allan continued with his passion for restoring vehicles.
After Allan and Helen moved to Tauranga, Colin would still take his vehicle to Allan to be worked on. Allan worked right up until a month or so before he passed away last year. At his funeral service in Tauranga, he had his motorcycle next to his coffin, paying homage to his passion for all things mechanical.

Pictured: Allan Watson (on the left), former New Zealand Governor-General, Sir Denis Blundell (in the centre) and Walter Russell at one of Allan and Walter’s restored ex-army vehicles.


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Mercury Bay Club

The club plays a major role in the Whitianga community by hosting community meetings and providing an available venue with catering for many functions.


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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.