It was June 1976 when Phil McIntosh got the call.
Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody had just gone gold, Mel Courtney was Nelson’s MP and 23-year-old Phil had just landed a new job as the assistant caretaker at the Stoke Memorial Hall.
Forty-two years on and Phil is still mowing lawns for Nelmac, and it’s pretty hard to fathom the amount of grass he’s collected in his catcher.
But the dedicated worker is turning 65 next month and will be handing over the keys to his trusty Walker mower on 18 May.
Once a lolly maker at Griffins and then a forestry worker, Phil says he was pleased for a career change. “Back in 1976 the work came under the Nelson council, until it changed to Nelmac in 1995,” he says.
After his stint in Stoke, Phil went on to look after the tennis courts and croquet lawns on Halifax St.
“Then I went back onto mowing again, followed by a gardening round, then back onto the mowing. Now I’ve been doing my round for around 30 years,” he says.
This includes mowing Anzac Park, Queens Gardens, Melrose House, Miyazu, Broadgreen Gardens and some private jobs.
“I also do all the pensioner cottages and some work at the marina, and over the year’s we’ve been located all over Nelson, including Vickerman St, the old fire station, Haven Rd and now Bullen St in Tahunanui.
“So I’ve been around,” he says.
His mowing career has had him working 12 hour days in the busy periods and he’s seen “quite a few” people come and go, had a few breakdowns and mown over some “interesting” objects.
“It’s changed a lot. The mowing crew was a lot smaller than what it is now. Overall it’s got bigger, the use of technology and the way we do timesheets – but that’s another story.”
Phil has just taken six weeks annual leave to “practice” getting used to retirement.
“I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a campervan and we’re planning on doing some overseas trips and a cruise and I can spend more time with my grandson.”
He says there are plenty of things he’s loved about the job.
“It’s been good outside work, there’s variation and they just let you get on with it.”
He also says it’s been rewarding.
“I always get people coming up and making nice comments. We were edging along the Maitai riverbank last week and the comments you get there – it’s fantastic and makes you feel better.”
But it’s the people that have made the job for him, and he says he’ll never forget the way the staff looked after him when his son passed away in 1996.
“They’ve been marvellous. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve worked with – they’re a good bunch. The banter has been good. You give them rubbish and they throw it straight back.
“It’s been as good as gold.”