Bruce Walker - Impacting the generations

4 minutes read
Posted 6 March, 2024
Bruce with Suzys grandfathers Wakatipu milk truck chevy that he has faithfully restored

Bruce with Suzy’s grandfather’s chevy truck, used to deliver milk around the Wakatipu, that he faithfully restored

It was the early 70s, small town lure of quaint, untouched Arrowtown that drew a young teacher from the ‘Naki south, but a go-getter blonde farmgirl from the Young Farmers Club who kept him here.

Born in Taumarunui on the main trunkline where his dad was Oio Railway Station agent, Bruce Walker spent most of his childhood dockside, roaming New Plymouth’s wharves on his bike with his mates and fishing. “We’d get finger cheese from the lab at the cool stores before it was shipped off.” Railway wagons were shunting back and forth but OSH didn’t exist and providing the boys were home for tea nobody worried. Paritutu Rock – the edge of an extinct volcano, was out of bounds – “so we climbed it every weekend,” says Bruce. Sports were always to the fore, Bruce representing Taranaki secondary schools at rugby and athletics. He was head boy at Spotswood College, but it was his Form 2 teacher Garth Hassel who inspired him to teach in what became a successful 28-year career, Bruce also impacting many young lives.

Oil was pumping from the black sand of Ngamotu Beach and as a Palmerston North Teachers College student Bruce was working on the Sedco 135 rig when it discovered what became the Maui Oil and Gas field off the Taranaki Coast. “We didn’t know until we saw it on TV that night.”

Mixed flatting was unheard of at College, so he boarded with an older lady, then flatted, playing rugby, volleyball, and badminton, and sitting on the Student Council.

“In the last year at College our senior PE lecturer took us to the Milford Track after it opened to freedom walkers.” The magnificence of the mountains and tussock lands of the Mackenzie Basin beckoned, Bruce falling for Arrowtown during lunch at the Royal Oak Pub.
“I looked at the hills and said if there’s any place I’m coming to it’s Arrowtown.”

So south it was on his motorbike to his first teaching job in Tuatapere where he boarded with a sweet old couple – the woman so impressed that Bruce ironed his own shirts that he became renowned within the family. “You’d think I’d split the atom,” he grins.

He then landed the ultimate – a job in Arrowtown – population 400 and fun ‘country kids’. “Staffing was a challenge in the Whakatipu and the Education Board had about 25 flats and houses with beds and linen to encourage staff in.”

“Two rascals, Graeme and Craig, were struggling with maths and wanted to go fix the old Hayter mower, so I agreed.” After several hours they’d dismantled the entire mower, parts all over the floor, but miraculously, to Bruce’s astonishment, soon had it all back together, except two bolts.

Bruce then taught at Queenstown District High School from 1974 and on to Wakatipu High School in Fryer Street for a total 28 years.
A keen debater and invited to Young Farmers, Bruce met wife Suzy (Allan) there. His Young Farmers’ team won debating competitions around Otago and Southland, and Bruce also coached schoolboy rugby.

He initiated outdoor adventures, taking Form 2s to Bob’s Cove to camp and kayak when there were no houses. They’d cook over an open fire. Other groups went to Dunedin, Deep Cove, and Invercargill.

A regular at high school Branches Camps, Bruce once missed the turn-off hiking a group to Lochnagar and becoming “lost”. “We bush bashed our way to The Goatel. Those were the days before radios. Three days later you just came back.”

“The students discovered teachers were human and not people from Mars. Everybody bonded. There was a slower pace and a calmness at camp.”

He also took Form 7s to freedom walk the Milford, Greenstone and Routeburn tracks. “Wonderful memories, great students.”
Bruce was instrumental in negotiating heavily discounted weekly skiing for high school students – a programme that expanded to all schools. “I had to work hard to get a discounted price out of Mount Cook back then.”

Dad of two, he ran the local volleyball competition for over 20 years and once loaded his Mini with nine Arrowtown boys driving to a rugby game in Cromwell. He and Suzy ran the Arrow Express bus service in the 1980s and 1990s, also providing transport to early Millbrook concerts and Queenstown New Year festivities.

The school careers advisor, at 50 Bruce retired from teaching, satisfied. “It was time to leave,” he says. “Otago University loved Whakatipu kids as they were so worldly and ready to study because they’d done their partying.”

He became an owner-driver for Northern Southland Transport and now drives for Ultimate Hikes.

He’s found time to “very slowly restore” Suzy’s Grandad John Allan’s 1937 Chevy truck with help from others.

Bruce held numerous offices in the Arrowtown Lions Club for over 20 years, but most satisfying was seeing his ‘good country kids’ become successful businesspeople, parents, and contribute back to the community.

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Bruce, rear, with the 1999 Wakatipu High School Volleyball Team from left, Ashley Murphy, Daniel Loureiro, Leanne Thompson and Saymon Kim


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