Ann Jones - From the mouths of babes

4 minutes read
Posted 4 September, 2023
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Ann at home in Bannockburn.

Her white starched veil, bowling shoes and stockings – seams strictly straightened down the back, and armed with ‘Ooky Spooky’ ghost puppets, was a scary enough sight for most schoolchildren. Little wonder it took much cajoling and consoling to get her child clients into her office, renowned as ‘The Murder House’, and into that formidable tilt-back chair.

Ann Jones was Queenstown’s school dental nurse for almost 20 years, based at Queenstown Primary’s dental clinic and servicing the entire Wakatipu, even Glenorchy. “I’d stay at the Glenorchy Hotel, driving up the dirt road with my wee MGB sports car packed full of dental equipment, all but the chair.” She needed a new muffler after each trip.

Born in rural South Canterbury, when she was 11 the farming family of five moved to North Canterbury, where Ann loved basketball and tennis – house captain at Rangiora High School.

A dental nurse came to speak to students and her decision was made. Training in Christchurch in the early 1960s, the dental nursing hostel – the 25-room ‘McLean’s Mansion’, was strictly ruled over by Matron - Miss Mainwaring. Weeknight 6pm curfews meant only two girls with special permission got to see The Beatles perform in the city, but Ann got a wave from the Warner’s Hotel balcony. Her roommate was met at the top of the fire escape late one night by an angry, large and imposing Miss Mainwaring after sneaking out to meet her boyfriend. Strictly no men were allowed past the front door. “The Lincoln College boys took great delight in tying up their mates and tossing them inside the foyer onto the antique couch,” she grins. “We weren’t allowed anywhere near them.”

Graduating in 1966, Ann was posted to Invercargill, then moved to Nightcaps School in 1968, beginning a 33-year dental nursing career. About then the authorities became aware that mercury, used for fillings, could be dangerous. “We had to put sulphur on the floor once a term.” Until then they’d mix the mercury fillings with a mortar and pestle, then have to ‘wring the mercury out’. “We used copper amalgam mixed with mercury for baby teeth, which we had to soften over a meth flame. It probably was dangerous for us to be mixing the mercury, but we didn’t know.” Local anesthetic was only used for extractions until the mid-70s, then fillings.

Not surprisingly, when she arrived in a classroom to get a child all schoolbooks were rapidly raised to cover faces so she wouldn’t choose them as she scanned the room.

Sometimes what she saw in them was equally alarming – preschoolers and new entrants who’d been given fruit juice from babies’ bottles with ‘absolutely rotten’ teeth. “They’d be referred out for general anesthetic, removal of all teeth, which sometimes led to orthodontic work later.”

There was much more education back then for children and parents, dental nurses also helping mothers through Plunket.

Ann became proficient at creating distraction puppets like snowmen, fairies and ‘Ooky Spookies’ from cotton wool rolls and gauze.

After she and first husband Rod married and had daughter Justine, Ann snuck the baby into the Nightcaps School Dental Clinic while she worked. “It was highly illegal, but the dental inspector stayed at the nearby Ohai Hotel and the publican would phone me to say she was coming.” Strict uniform protocol was paramount at these times.

Here she met Mel and Sylvia Gazzard, who’d both later become long-time principal, and teacher, in Queenstown. They introduced the Joneses to skiing and they were hooked, daughter Justine becoming a NZ representative ski racer after they moved here in 1980.

They quickly switched from Southland to Wakatipu Ski Club. It was expensive sending a teen to compete and train overseas so Ann worked school holidays and weekends, first at Country Lodge, then in the McLean’s fashion stores.

A keen runner, in 1983 Ann won the Queenstown Marathon veteran’s section. She also won gold, silver and bronze in the NZ Masters Skiing Championships GS during the 1990s. Whisky was served pre-race, Gluhwein at lunch. “It was very social.”

Ann was president of The Dinner Club too – a social group with guest speakers.

She turned retailer in 1999, buying Forget Me Not – a popular gift and nick-nack shop in Arrowtown which she owned for 10 years, Olive the dog an in-store attraction.

Ann then worked for other Arrowtown retailers and a café before moving to Bannockburn with late husband Peter in 2010, commuting for work until 2014. She still works part-time in Cromwell at 76.

In recent years Ann’s also been moonlighting with her screen debut, starring in a number of TV commercials and scoring a speaking part in a Kiwi short film to be shot locally in spring.

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