Back row, from left, Gary ‘FG’ Howard, Jim ‘James’ Wright, John ‘Wib’ Wieblitz and front row from left, Martin ‘Cuffy’ Cuff, Ian ‘Lofty’ McLeod and John Baty. Photo: Brittany Spencer.

Coasters reunite in Nelson

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In 1956 at Hokitika District High School, a class of 17 West Coast boys learnt how to use their hands to prepare them for their lives ahead – 60 years on they met in Nelson to discuss how it turned out for them.

Of the 17 boys, nine are still alive and seven of them live in Nelson. Another former Hokitika student travelled up for the reunion from Christchurch on Saturday.

The school photo from 1956. The circled students who were reunited on Saturday are, from back left; Gary Howard, Jim Wright, John Wieblitz. Front row from left is Martin Cuff, Ian McLeod and John Baty. Photo supplied by Gary Howard.
The school photo from 1956. Photo supplied by Gary Howard.

The reunion was organised to coincide with the annual Ex-West Coasters get together, which was held at the Suburban Club on Sunday.

Gary Howard says he organised the school reunion because it was remarkable that half of the class from 60 years ago live in Nelson.

He says there were four classes at Hokitika High School then, one for academic boys, one for academic girls, one for cooking and sewing for girls and one for woodwork and metalwork for boys. His class made up the latter.

“We all went on to learn a trade, I was an electrician and had the biggest electrical firm on the West Coast until the power board bought us out. Then I moved to Nelson in 1972.”

Other members of the class went on to become mechanics, police officers and businessmen.

He says so many West Coasters move to Nelson for several main reasons: “The climate, schools, hospitals, it’s bigger but not too big and you’re still close to the coast.”

The next day, the eight men and their partners then headed to the Ex-West Coast get-together at the Nelson Suburban Club, where the talk was dominated by whitebait, rain and old friends.

Organiser Murray Wieblitz says it was another great turn out with around 150 people registering.

“It was a really good day and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.”

Like Gary, Murray believes there are so many Coasters who now live in Nelson because of the weather.

“I shifted here in 1970. I was a dairy farmer and had just had one hell of a wet spring. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

He says, although a lot of Coasters now call Nelson home, they still have a connection with the coast.

“I always say when we drive down there that we’re heading home, when we drive back we’re coming home.”