Social clubs play a cohesive role in society bringing like-minded people together for fun and fellowship. And there’s something for everyone in Hawke’s Bay. BayBuzz delves deeper into an eclectic selection, including clubs for ageing bikers, role-playing shooters, Ham radio enthusiasts and elderly folk preparing for their own demise.
‘Adventure before dementia’
The throaty sound of dozens of approaching motorcyclists is guaranteed to get the attention of pub or café patrons. But when the Ulysses Club drop their leathers and helmets revealing they’re more akin to Grey Power than Black Power, the exclamation is often ‘Hey they’re a pack of old buggers’.
The Ulysses Club consciously defies stereotypes, having been founded in response to a 1983 letter to Bike Australia magazine suggesting bikers over 50 were embarrassing and should grow old gracefully.
The indignation was immediate. The editor sketched a logo and a reader suggested the name, based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem Ulysses, about the bored, middle-aged hero of Ithaca chasing new adventures with his old shipmates.
That aptly describes the lure of the road for many older bikies. “Our local motto is ‘Adventure before dementia’,” quips Hawke’s Bay president Cliff Heydon. “Nationally it’s ‘Grow old disgracefully’, but we do that socially not on our bikes.”
The Ulysses Club is part of a world-wide network with 3,000 members including 30 New Zealand branches who ride locally, join national rallies and even gather for international AGMs.
The Hawke’s Bay club with borders stretching from Raupunga in northern Hawke’s Bay to Dannevirke in the south has 120 members.
A hell of a ride
Heydon’s been riding for 40 years. His love for two-wheeled speed began with a scooter, then got serious with a challenge from his father to piece together the scattered parts of a Triumph Thruxton 900, essentially a hotted-up Triumph Bonneville.
He graduated to a Norton 750, tried Japanese bikes including a Honda Goldwing 1800 flat 6 — “they don’t get any better” — and currently rides a 1994 Honda CB 1000.
“I do it for the sheer enjoyment … riding to my skills, sightseeing, meeting people and at the end of the day being able to say ‘what a hell of a ride’ ,” says Heydon.
A Ulysses Club run might include mystery rides around the region, crossing the Napier-Taupo road ride for pub ‘n grub, an overnighter to Taranaki, or further afield on a national event.
On a typical run you’d see Harley Davidsons, Ducati’s, Suzuki GSX 1000s and Goldwings. Some members have 250cc machines; one has a 150cc Vespa and there are hobbyists with multiple bikes. Anything with two wheels that’ll travel comfortably at 100km/h is welcome.
New or returning riders are urged to sit an advanced motorcycle course to increase their comfort and capability. Some don’t realise how powerful modern bikes are, says Heydon.
Hawke’s Bay riders include retired accountants and farmers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers … former gang members wanting to hang with a different crowd … and a number of women, who started out riding pillion but now have their own bikes.
Oldest and boldest
The oldest is Alex Wallace an 80-year-old former watersider who, astride his Honda ST1100, does all the big rides – 10,000km in 10 days, Far North to Bluff, Napier to New Plymouth and twice around Australia. “He’s been riding most of his life,” says Heydon.
There are protocols: noone overtakes the leader or “you’re on your own”; a staggered formation, one on the outside, another close to the white line and 10-15 metres between riders to prevent pile-ups on sudden breaking.
Everyone watches out for the rider behind and tail-end Charlie with cellphone, first aid kit and fire extinguisher stays with anyone in trouble.
The Ulysses Club takes a stand when riders’ rights are eroded, for example the ride to Parliament protesting the ACC-led increase in registration from $250 for a 50cc scooter to $600 a year for larger bikes.
“We were never going to win. The Government made up their mind based on bullshit figures. ACC needed more profit, it had nothing to do with accident rates,” asserts Heydon.
Ulysses is now pushing for another unlikely change – registering bike owners rather than bikes. “Some guys have 6-7 bikes as a hobby and can’t afford to register them. You can only ride one bike at time but the Government say that’s too hard to police.”
They’re also big on giving back to the community. Their national charity is St John and the Brain Injury Trust. An annual ride at ANZAC weekend has purchased stretchers, splint kits and defibrillators for Hawke’s Bay St John. If there’s not enough cash it dips into club money to make it happen.
Every day above ground – top of the bucket list
A 75-year-old former nursing tutor from Havelock North, moved by the plight of those who struggle with the high cost of dying, brought light relief to a difficult subject by forming the Hawke’s Bay DIY Coffin Club.
Grace Terry, a nurse for 45 years who included ‘death, dying, loss and grief’ in her EIT courses for 20 years, says forming the club was “a big undertaking” but she’s heartened that within six months it had 73 members.
It took nine months to find suitable premises; the old Hastings Netball Centre in Sylvan Rd, rescued from the wrecking ball after local residents protested Hastings District Council demolition plans.
A request for government assistance to build lower-cost coffins for the needy was rejected, leaving lower-income bereaved battling for a Work & Income (WINZ) funeral grant of up to $1,900 after asset testing and upfront payment.
It’s almost impossible to be buried for under $5,000, even with a DIY casket starting at $375. A full service with basic casket and no flowers can stiff you for around $10,000; plots alone are around $2,000.
The DIY Coffin Club eventually found “ten good keen blokes”, retired carpenters, woodworkers and builders, to cut and assemble timber for caskets that club members can adorn as they see fit.
About 18 have been created in traditional and shoebox styles, lined with plastic as required by law, often doubling as bookshelves or storage before serving their final purpose.
One woman’s white coffin stores extra bedding; an elderly member has pink carnation decals on his and a 93 year old with fading eyesight is being assisted to paint dancing horses on hers.
People keep “asking burning questions” about death and dying and yes, there are options for the 70% of people who prefer cremation — a wood turner is designing and creating urns.
Members openly declare that making and decorating their own coffins has helped change their perceptions of death, even adding humour through open discussion.
Short lives marked
As a social club with a practical purpose in mind, the DIY Hawke’s Bay Coffin Club is a charitable entity and an advocacy group.
It’s working alongside Atarangi Maternity Hospital, midwives and the Sudden Neo-natal Death Support Group donating tiny coffins for babies who don’t make it. These complement the special Māori kete bags another group is providing. “The District Health Board doesn’t have any budget for that,” says Grace.
Purchasing a baby coffin from a funeral director costs around $200 imported from China. “I think it’s exorbitant.”
Grace has sought support from 30 clubs and groups, most recently white or cream material and lace for the baby coffins.
It’s hopeful that amendments to the 1964 Crematorium and Cemeteries Act will create stronger guidelines for the funeral industry. “Anyone can set themselves up as a funeral director. We want more transparency, particularly around the cost.”
Coffee and coffins
“Statistics tell us that there are 50,000 isolated, lonely elderly in New Zealand. We have people joining in and coming alive, because they enjoy it so much … They can’t wait to come along the next Tuesday,” says Grace.
There is however an acute awareness that they could lose their premises at a moment’s notice. “We couldn’t manage with a smaller venue. We have the workshop space where the noisy and dusty work goes on, the hall for painting, varnishing and building baby coffins, and a separate social space.”
If the wrecking ball is anywhere in sight, members declare they’ll lay down in their coffins and stage another protest.
Looking for a sign – the lure of radio signals
Amateur radio enthusiasts no longer need to spend hours twisting knobs on clunky valve-based equipment in dusty man caves, straining beyond the whoop and squeal of alien noises on the short wave band to hear another human voice.
Today’s transmitters and receivers are more akin to home electronics and no less intrusive than a Skype session.
And Ham radio hasn’t been made redundant by the internet, which helps track down equipment, strengthens inter-club contact, provides directories of operator call signs and electronic acknowledgement cards.
Hobbyists don’t like to be confused with unregulated CB radio enthusiasts and neither, I am warned, do they like corny headlines about local amateurs “hamming it up”.
Short wave frequencies, now referred to as medium wave, are allocated by the Amateur Radio Service on a worldwide basis. You need a Radio Spectrum Management agency transmitting license to establish competence before getting a call sign.
Toronto-born Lee Jennings, seasoned Hawke’s Bay operator and examiner has granted 70 licences over the past eight years; most to those aged 40 to 60 years and a few to those in their teens and 20s.
Hams range from techno-geeks who love to build equipment to doctors and lawyers. “It’s a proud tradition” dating back to the days of Marconi and “not just a hobby for old men,” insists Jennings, although local membership remains fairly static.
Cabbages and things
There’s something magic about calling “CQ…CQ”, an open call for anyone listening and then having a strange voice, a “Mahomed or Yuri or Vlad” responding with your sign and theirs, he says.
The ritual in first contact has each party reporting on signal strength, location and equipment types before exchanging names and deciding whether to take it further. “If the other guy is dull you may say ‘seven three … see you later’.”
However, if he says “I’ve been planting a row of cabbages and you say I’ve got a bunch of cabbages too and I’ve got white fly on them, what do you do about that?”, it may be the start of a frequency friendship.
There are around 4 million Ham radio enthusiasts worldwide; 5,500 in New Zealand and 150 operators in Hawke’s Bay. Most belong to the Hastings-Havelock North Club or the ZL2GT Napier Amateur Radio Club plus “a few loners”.
Jennings, who’s been on the air for 62 years, says everybody knows everybody and members are welcome at each other’s meetings.
While the local club started after the 1931 earthquake, Napier club president Laurie Winton says two local Hams maintained the first communications with outsiders for three days after the quake, becoming the de facto telegraph office.
The 75 year old says Ham operators still make themselves available for Civil Defence purposes, specifically when search and rescue teams go beyond cellphone coverage.
New calling kit
The Napier club has about 35 members and recently sold older equipment to reinvest in kit for its Latham St club rooms which doubles as a high frequency (HF or 3MHz-30MHz) and very high frequency (VH or 30MHz-300MHz) base station.
Not everyone has powerful enough equipment or the aerial configuration to talk around the world, although three or four local stations are powerful enough to reflect signals off the underside of the moon when it’s seven degrees off the horizon.
Using moon bounce or earth-moon-earth (EME) communication they can communicate with the other side of the planet, says Jennings.
Operators can also access 20 low earth-orbiting satellites built by amateur radio enthusiasts and launched through various space programmes, including NASA, to repeat their signals.
You never know who you end up chatting with. In the 1960s Jennings was on air with US senator Barry Goldwater and in later years a US air force commander and astronaut Chuck Brady. Famous operators include recent visitor to Hawke’s Bay, Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh, a lifelong Ham.
In Napier there are about 40 antennae, which can be a maximum of 12 metres and require a building permit. There have been complaints that they’re unsightly and some councils want them banned. Winton says it’s an ongoing process “opposing district plans when they’re unduly restrictive.”
The Napier club barely breaks even. It sells amateur radio kits to other clubs to cover costs and a shocking increase in the annual electricity bill to $700 will require further fundraising.
Pistol packing posse puts fun into firearms
Flying home from Christchurch last year I encountered 11 members of the Hawke’s Bay Pistol Club celebrating trophies and awards they’d won at the Cowboy Action Nationals at Ashburton.
Among the posse, who would have looked more at home in America’s Wild West, was club secretary Leonie Gale, current world Woman’s Cowboy Action title holder, who’d just scored National Lady Champion.
Club president Rick Brockman-Palmer, who runs an Onekawa auto workshop, says members “do pretty well on a national scale … the team spirit is very strong.” They regularly compete for North Island, South Island, regional and national titles, often ending in the top three.
Brockman-Palmer, the Cowboy National Champion back in 1998 and an accomplished Action shooter, has been president for 16 years and is in the team that’s held the National Rifle Association of New Zealand nationals title for the past three years. Not bad for a 65 year old with two knee replacements.
The Hawke’s Bay Pistol Club was founded 36 years ago when competitive shooting at the Commonwealth and Olympic games was attracting a new target audience. Among the founders was Julian Lawton, who won bronze and silver medals at the Commonwealth Games and represented the country at the Asiatic and Olympic games.
Until six years ago the club held steady at around 46 members, then exploded to 107 including a high court judge, self-employed and retired people, “some of the best business managers in the city…and a guy who sweeps the roads for Napier City Council”.
The oldest is in his 80s; most are in the 30-60 bracket, and a number of teenagers are part of the combined secondary school team mentored by the club. There are about 12 women who are “pretty high calibre and very competitive”.
It’s a sport that gets in your blood, says Brockman-Palmer, who’s been shooting for 25 years. As a mechanic he wanted a hobby that didn’t involve messing with cars. He was hooked after a friend introduced him to the Bayview club.
Members can train for different codes and competitions. The Asiatic Games operates on Olympic-level International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) standards for air pistols to full bore shooting.
Action or Service Pistol shooting is based on the International Pistol Shooting Confederation (IPSC) rules. It’s about accuracy and speed; you might start with your gun at a 45 degree angle or holster draw on static or moving targets.
“We all shoot service pistols used by the military or the police from an old Smith & Wesson 38, right up to a Glock.”
Dressed to thrill
In Cowboy Action, replica guns are used, mostly made in Italy, “which are in many cases better than the originals” with shooters moving around targets, often placed in Hollywood-style movie sets.
“Some people might think it’s a bit of a dag,” says Brockman-Palmer, but they’re very disciplined, accurate competition shooters, who take on rival clubs on a monthly basis.
“They take extreme pride ensuring their entire accoutrements are period, from holsters, vests, shirts, trousers, boots, hats. Everything’s got to be right.”
Another option is the Black Powder group, which uses historic-style firearms dating back to the 1870s, including flintlocks and muzzle-loaded duelling pistols for fun or competitive shoots under strict rules.
Black powder is purchased in a tin and the lead balls cast by members using linotype, wheel weights or old fishing sinkers. Powder must be applied precisely otherwise you get the fireworks but no accuracy.
“It is so much fun to squeeze the trigger, there’s a big flash and a cloud of smoke and you can attain a good accuracy. It’s not fast so you have to relax.”
High school shooters
At the club’s dedicated pistol range two senior members specialise in training high school pupils in the use of air pistols. “We took out the National Secondary School Championships three years ago and have been in the top five ever since,” says Brockman-Palmer.
While pistol shooting is demanding and requires discipline, he insists anyone can do it. And he claims it’s not expensive. “You shoot what suits you and what you can afford. It’s a lot cheaper than owning a stock car and would cost as much as being in a rugby club if you were playing every weekend.”
His biggest thrill is competing and fellowship with other enthusiasts and collectors. “It’s like owning a vintage car. Everyone has their own preferences … There’s great camaraderie. If you are a member the positive feelings will grab you.”