Major John Richards - ‘Major’ing in life

4 minutes read
Posted 1 May, 2024
John and Kay copy

John and Kay

Retired Salvation Army Major John Richards’ heritage is one steeped in rich head of the lake history, growing up as a descendent of Kinloch’s famous farming and entrepreneurial Bryant family.

His Wakatipu ancestry also links famous family ties to the Salvation Army, his great, great auntie – a strong suffragette, sending a cheque to the Army’s English founders, William and Catherine Booth, asking for ‘Salvationists’ to be sent to Dunedin. “That started the movement throughout New Zealand,” he says.

John, a woodwork and tech drawing high school and Polytech tutor, would himself be led to join the Army generations later, but not before he’d been fully immersed in Wakatipu high country life at Kinloch where his grandparents Tom and Ivy (Valpy) Bryant farmed.

“My father, Stan, had tuberculosis as a young man and went to work with the Valpys at Rees Valley Station, scheelite mining high above Glenorchy with Percy Valpy,” John, now 82, says. “It cured his illness and he also met wife Ethel Bryant, from Kinloch.”

One of three kids, John, was born during World War II when the family lived in Invercargill. “With Dad away at war Mum would lift me up to kiss his photo every night.” The war took its toll on Stan and the family moved to Kinloch where he drove tourist buses up the Routeburn Valley for Ethel’s brother, tourism legend Harry Bryant.

“My grandparents lived in the big Kinloch (Lodge) homestead where Mum grew up.” Elder sister Doreen (McKenzie) wrote the popular book, Road to Routeburn in 1973.”

Ethel taught the kids through Correspondence School - work hard all morning, afternoons off.

It was a bush baptism by fire for a young city boy, Stan introducing John to deer hunting early on to feed the family – one happy ending when their pet fawn Bambi turned up in a sack, frolicking free with pet lamb Lavender. “Bambi would trot down to the Earnslaw to be patted by the tourists until he started rearing up his on his hind legs. He had to go off to the zoo, lifted up in the horsebox on the Earnslaw. That was dreadful for us kids,” recalls John.

“But here we were in this beautiful, peaceful bush.”

He helped Grandad Tom with the sheep, planting potatoes behind a horse-drawn plough, towed by ‘Duchess’ and ‘Gentian’, along the Dart riverbed. “Grandad used to take the Census on horseback up through the Hollyford Valley, staying with Kiwi icon Davey Gunn at Gunn’s Camp hut.”

Uncle Harry used to tell the tourists the sheep grazing the mountainside above Kinloch had two downhill legs longer than the other two and that he’d had to breed special dogs that also had two longer legs to muster them. “He was highly amused to read this as fact some time later in an American magazine,” laughs John.
The Earnslaw would sometimes bring hundreds of tourists in, each paying 10 shillings for the bus trip up the Routeburn, Auntie Connie making them all lunch. As a kid it was thrilling watching the horsemen and dogs round masses of cattle onto the Earnslaw.

“Mum gave us three pence and we’d race down to the Earnslaw and buy lollies off Mrs Lewis in the cafeteria below deck when it docked, picking up our bread and groceries too.” No safety barriers in place, they’d race around the boat decks in strong winds on Lake County Show Day – an annual treat.

After completing his carpentry apprenticeship in Invercargill, then teacher training in Christchurch, John taught at Southland College and Southland Polytech for 11 years until 1978.

Playing in the Invercargill Salvation Army Band at 15, John had casually prayed, ‘God, help me get School Cert and I will be a Salvation Army officer’. “I conveniently forgot about it for 20 years until I was asked to apply for a promotion at Polytech, aged 36. I saw all the good things I had flash past me and strongly felt God remind me of that promise.”

After wrestling with that decision, he and wife Kay went to the Army’s training college for two years then worked in ministry all over NZ for 27 years, spending a year helping with the Christchurch earthquake recovery. “We preached, did community work, ran food banks and did counselling. The thing we enjoyed most was visiting homes. Everybody has a story to tell but so seldom do people take time to listen.”

When they retired in 2008, the Richards headed back to their holiday home in Kinloch before moving to Cromwell in 2019 where they still volunteer at the local Family Store.

John’s great grandfather (Valpy) built the Mission Hall on Rees Valley Station. It was later shifted to Glenorchy, John serving on the Church Trust Board for many years, the Glenorchy Museum Committee and Glenorchy 150th anniversary celebrations committee. He still sings in the Cromwell Community Chorus and volunteers at Menz Shed.

“Amazingly, we’re still called to preach occasionally at Salvation Army services - Timaru, Oamaru, Invercargill, and take the odd funeral.”

John second from right Richie Bryant far right Johns sister Doreen second from left and Ruth Bryant far left taking a dip back in the day.

From left, John’s sister Doreen, Ruth and Richie Bryant and John all taking a dip back in the day.


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