Chris Blackford - My way or the highway
Chris Blackford has spent a lifetime trying to retain law and order, starting out with some high postings for the British Army.
From narrowly escaping death in a Northern Ireland bomb blast to being splattered in female excrement in the Queenstown Police cells, he wasn’t always popular. However, he’s confident he’s saved many lives and left a Queenstown community legacy he can be proud of.
Born in Auckland, the family moved to England when he was four, to pursue hospitality careers, later owning their own hotel.
Chris hated school so at 15 joined the Army’s Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion. By 18 he was patrolling the East German, West Berlin border, quickly transferred to the prestigious recce platoon. “I wasn’t even shaving properly and was with these old sweats, some who’d served in Malaya and Aden.”
His first training jump for the Rhine Army Freefall Parachute School, where he later trained as an instructor, didn’t go so well. “I got blown so far off course that I landed on a couple of guys playing golf.”
As a member of the high-ranked Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, a posting to Belfast for Christmas 1971 and 1972 produced a close brush with death. Chris was blown off his feet in the McGurk’s Bar UVF bombing in which 15 people died.
After postings to Canada and back to England and Belfast, he moved back to New Zealand bringing English girlfriend Yvonne, now wife of almost 50 years.
He applied for the police, but the Ministry of Transport had better conditions, so he opted for them, spending eight years on motorcycle patrol on the Auckland motorway system. After a brief stint working as a surveillance officer for the SIS in Wellington, he returned to the MOT.
Sole charge traffic cop in Queenstown sounded good so in 1982 they moved here, with the first of four babies.
“It was a bit lawless. Drink driving was the norm.” That had to change. “My two hard fast rules were no drink driving and seatbelts must be worn. Everything else was up for discussion.” He’d seen too many tragic fatalities on the Auckland motorway. “I put a few noses out of joint here, including those of a few prominent people. I got a lot of criticism, but I took it on the chin. Years later I’ve had people say, ‘We didn’t like it, but thank you. It saved lives.’ I got a lot of phone calls from wives dobbing in their husbands.” With the change in attitudes came more female drink drivers. “Men made their wives drive as they needed their licences for work.”
Chris worked from the Police Station alongside the infamous Sergeant Warwick Maloney.
When the Ministry of Transport traffic officers merged with police in 1992 Chris did the conversion course at Trentham, serving locally until 2016.
He dealt with some terrible tragedies and vicious crimes in that time. The worst he witnessed was a young Maori guy from South Auckland who was incredibly badly beaten at a party in Arrowtown. “That was such a vicious assault. His whole head was so swollen he couldn’t see.” Chris went in pursuit of the two perpetrators, chasing one back to Auckland. “A lot of the police work was very traumatic. We’d go back to the station for a debrief and a few beers. That’s how we had to deal with it back then.”
Some of the tragedies he had to deal with took a personal toll. “Yvonne has always been there for me, and our four amazing children and 10 grandchildren always brighten my life.”
There were light-hearted moments too like the woman speeding along Ladies Mile. “Her excuse was that she was listening to John Walker racing on her car radio and in willing him to go faster she did too,” grins Chris. “So many hilarious excuses. Too many to mention.”
In 1989 Chris began an 18-year reign as Queenstown Lakes District councillor. He had a way with coercing community hand-outs from wealthy businessmen, instigating the Queenstown Bay pontoon, Queenstown’s first BMX park and skateboard ramp, buying community swimming pool toys and a much-needed filter, and subsidising kids’ cycle helmets. He also fundraised for Plunket car seats and Baby Box smoke detectors. “The people of this district have always been great supporters of my community projects for which I’m extremely grateful.”
2018 saw Chris appointed as a Justice of the Peace.
He was very proud when more than a couple of hundred people turned out at his police retirement function, including judges, lawyers, fellow officers and friends from around NZ, even men he’d dealt with as young tearaways – a humbling moment.