Local Folk - Peter Bishop

Peter Bishop

For more than 35 years, former roofer Peter Bishop has been quietly making a difference in the community – volunteering, raising funds and lending a hand for a myriad of different causes, from kindy to Coastguard to the committee of his local ratepayers and residents’ group. But his main focus has always been serving with the Warkworth Lions and although he has never sought the limelight, his years of stellar service were formally recognised four years ago when he was made a Melvin Jones Fellow, Lions’ highest honour. He spoke to Sally Marden about his life and work at his home overlooking Algies Bay ...

I haven’t been high profile. I’ve always been a little bit reluctant to talk and speak in public, which has probably held me back a little bit. But Lions was a great boost to me in confidence – it got me out and speaking with the public. I’ve dealt with lots of people over the years. I enjoy people and company and what you give out you generally receive; it’s a two-way street. A smile and a wave go a long way. That’s made a difference in business for me, as well. If I went to a building site and had a chat, I might not have got that job, but I’d seen them and they’d call me for the next job. A lot of my clients are still all good friends because of those contacts. That’s the way it works.

I was brought up on a dairy farm out on the Manukau peninsula, the oldest of six boys. We just had a little one teacher school out there, but we had an amateur wrestling club, tennis, table tennis and fishing. Then I went to Waiuku High School, stayed for two years and couldn’t get away quick enough. Well, we were all going to be farmers, weren’t we? But we couldn’t all stay there, so I worked at home for a while, then went to the King Country to work on a cattle and sheep stud farm. It was my first job away from home. It was a great place, 2500 acres, when our home farm was just 100 acres. It was like Texas!

When I left there, I worked all round the South Island for a year on various farms, but when I came back to Auckland, I was at a bit of a loss. Then someone told me a roofing team were short-handed and could I give them a fortnight – and that turned into 40 years. I worked for three years with that team and got asked whether I would go out to Western Australia in 1968 with five other guys to put roofs on houses in the iron ore mining areas. I ended up over there in the outback for three-and-a-half years. It was a great time in my life, working on huge construction sites in Mount Tom Price, Newman and Paraburdoo. The others came back after a while because they were married, so I joined up with this other chap and we ended up putting NZ-made roofing tiles on 1000 houses. It was pretty remote when we were there. We had power, but there were no telephones. Accommodation was in huts with air conditioning, good food and there were 1500 people in the camp. It was like the League of Nations in there, people from all round the world. But it was good money. It was extremely hot, well over 100 degrees in the shade, but at night-time, because we were pretty elevated, we got frosts, so there was an extreme difference in temperature. But I loved the country, it was amazing. Sooner or later you’ve got to take your money and get out of there or you’ll ‘go troppo’. But after a week off in Perth, we all wanted to go back up there – it grew on you, that place. Our team of six did 500 more houses at Paraburdoo and I said, “After this, I’m going back home”.

Prior to going to Australia, I used to play tennis at Cornwall Park, which is where I met my wife, Ann. We were just friends then, but we kept in contact and when I went to Aussie we used to write back and forth. When I came back, I thought I’d better settle down, so we got married in 1975 and a good team resulted. We both thought we had saved each other!

In the meantime, Dad had sold his dairy farm at Pollok and my brothers had bought a farm out on Woodcocks Road, so Mum and Dad moved up here. When I was still in Aussie, Mum said there were sections for sale at Algies Bay, so she did a deal with the Algies for me. When we moved in here, we didn’t even have the ceiling up, there was no deck, it was pretty primitive for a while.

We built our house and I worked for local firms doing roofing until eventually the company in Auckland offered me an agency, so I grabbed it. I did 50 to 60 rooves a year, going from coast to coast and from Maungaturoto down to Orewa. We can’t drive anywhere without seeing something I’ve done and I still have people come up to me and say ‘you put our roof on 40 years ago and it still doesn’t leak!’

I was busy with work – sometimes it was six days a week – and we were involved with a lot of things with Lions. It was brilliant, everyone had kids, and we used to have great kids’ Christmas parties. We did all sorts of things at Camp Bentzon on Kawau; we did a lot of decking along the river in Warkworth; we did two telethons; we built bus shelters at Algies Bay and Snells Beach; and we painted the old house at Scotts Landing. We were all on the roof and up ladders – that would never be allowed today! Ann did a lot of fundraising for the first kindy in Warkworth – we were foundation members of the Mahurangi Kindergarten in Albert Road. And we were involved with the Girl Guides and the Boys Brigade when our children, Tania and Nicholas, were with them – they both got their Queens Awards – and with their centreboard yachting, too.

We also got involved in doing our own footpaths here in Algies Bay. Back then, Council was quite keen on supplying material if we did the work, so they dug it out and we did the boxing and put it all in. That sort of thing helps keep the community together, because we were all down there doing it together. That’s where the  ratepayers group is good – we’ll decide to have a beach clean-up on a Saturday and Sunday, get the word out, and the next thing you know, you’ll have at least 20 people turn up, you have a great morning out and you meet neighbours you haven’t met – that’s how you get cohesion. That’s what the idea of people joining ratepayers is about – it’s a numbers game. If Council can see you’ve got 60 per cent as members, you’ve got a lot more clout than if you only have 20 per cent. It all helps when dealing with the local board for things.

I’ve always been quick to give praise and you need to be very measured in your criticism, I reckon. And you should be a good listener – it pays dividends, because everybody’s got a story. You can talk to anyone and you’ll get a story. And it’s amazing what help you can get – we’ve made a lot of good friends here.

I do feel sorry for people who can’t mix easily, though. I was always quite shy, but Lions has been good for me that way. When you’re at school you can get picked on, but when you get out in the real world, so long as you wave your own flag, you’re all right. Lions is one way of meeting a greater variety of people from all walks of life. If I was only staying in my network in the roofing and building industry, I’d only be meeting that one type. But if you’re in a service club, you meet all sorts of people from trades, professions, every walk of life. It all broadens your experience.

With all its growing pains, Warkworth and district is still a great place to live. We can’t change future progress – I say just enjoy it; life’s too short.

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