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A LIFE WELL LIVED – (Excerpts from WOGI Jack Donnelly’s Memoirs) – Part Seventeen

“Life in Civvy Street”

Will I be able to adapt, how will I handle the public, and will I be suitable for this type of work? These are questions I asked myself as I began training to be the manager of a takeaway food-bar. The Te-Atatu outlet was ideal for me as I just lived 500 metres away, it was small, in a busy little community, and the Te Atatu Tavern just across the road. Jenny and Barry were the proprietors whom I was relieving; they were excellent people who had worked hard to establish good clientele relations. I had a 2 week hand over in which I worked under the supervision of the current manager Barry. It just felt so strange to be serving people, cooking at pace and talking to your customers at the same time.

The part I had no problem with was the policy Uncles had of not writing down any orders. You had to memorize them. I found that I could take 3- 4 customers orders with no problems, and as I did more time in the job I could handle 5-6 orders at a time, just like being on parade and having to know all the commands. I was really fortunate in that I had excellent staff throughout my time with Uncles. My daughter Breena was efficient, quick and loyal. John, a young university student was reliable, and had good customer relations, while Salua was very experienced and trustworthy. The rest were part timers. This business did really well with a good steady weekly turnover.

The highlight of the day was without a doubt between 2230 – 2359 when the tavern closed and there would be a rush of drunk customers who would come across and ‘flood’ the food-bar, at times I counted up to twenty or more all hungry, big eaters and wanting a feed, pronto! I quickly got to know our regulars and a nod or “usual?” was all that was required to cook their orders. At the end of the night there would be rubbish all over the street in which I would religiously clean up, however one of the administration managers told me not to bother as it was good advertising with all the paper bags displaying the Uncles logo, typical civvies!

The Uncles system also suited me as you had a lot of weekly paperwork to complete. Being organised and running to a strict routine was essential. All documentation had to be in by pm Mondays. I closed up at 2200 on a Sunday, completed my paperwork and put it into the Head office slot that same night. After only seven months of managing my food bar I was asked to take up the role as “Relief” manager for the companies 26 outlets. Being organised, reliable and efficient were transferable skills that I inherited from my naval training which I believed assisted me in getting the promotion.

At this time in my life I was also coaching the Te Atatu Under 12 rugby team in which my son Jack was a player, and I was one of their sponsors. The ‘player of the day’ received a voucher which entitled them to $10 worth of the Uncles products. One thing about working in a take away food bar is that you get to ‘build’ a burger of your choice when you wish to have a meal. My favourite burger was a double pattie, egg, cheese, with fried onions burger, however the best takeaway product was without a doubt the famous “Seadog” which comprised of battered seafood stick in a roll and covered with the special Uncles mayonnaise, Yum! My time with Uncles taught me two things about myself as a civvy. How to get the best out of civvy staff members, and serving the general public.

My next journey in life would take me home to Gisborne, my brother Bill was a real estate agent there and phoned me to say that he had found a real “bargain buy.” One of the busiest and top dairies was up for sale at a very reasonable price as the owners were desperate to sell and had already brought a house in Hamilton. Spoke to Amy and within days we made our decision to purchase the dairy and at last I was going home. Amy has been the pillar of strength and the real decision maker of our family, I owe her so much. She has been so supportive of me and has never stood in the way of what I wanted. We packed up, left our house at Te Atatu with Amie’s mum and dad to look after and headed south to Tairawhiti, (coast of the sunrise) the Maori name for Gisborne.

Huxley road dairy, wow! at last a business of our own. It didn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was just stacked with food, vegetables, lollies and toys galore! The owners were Doug and Joy Herbertson, a pleasant couple who were so good to us in the handing over of the shop.

They showed us how this particular shop should be run. Doug was a huge, abrasive, tough man who was New Zealand’s axe throwing champion, and Joy was very much the business lady. Huxley road dairy was situated in the suburb of Kaiti, opposite the DB pub. It was quite a rough area, with my people of Ngati Porou descendancy as the main residents. The school buses would depart for the various schools on the other side of town each morning, so you would have many school kids crowded in the shop all wanting lollies, pies, salad rolls to eat or take to school. I would position myself on the floor and just supervise them as for about an hour you could hardly move inside that dairy.

Amy introduced salad rolls and toffee apples which became very popular. As my customer relations skills were not the best I was relegated to the back of the shop. My jobs were preparation of vegetables, sweeping in and outside the shop, buying stock, going to the markets, counting the daily takings, and any heavy lifting tasks. I really enjoyed going to the morning auction to purchase fresh vegetables. The most friendly and influential guys I met were Ralph Tilley, who owned the biggest dairy in Gisborne, and Ming Foon who would later in life become the mayor of Gisborne. They “showed me the ropes” what to look for, and how to identify good quality vegetables. I would go to the markets twice a week for a duration of 2 3 hours, meet up with other shop proprietors, talk rugby, racing and local politics, then have breakfast over at the local take away bar, put my hand up when I wanted certain vegetables, throw peanuts around at each other, load up our trucks and head off back to our respective shops. Quite a good mornings work.

Huxley road dairy was the focal point of the area, the residents would buy most of their food from our shop. At Christmas time the toys were in huge demand right up to Christmas morning. At one stage we held market days outside the shop, built a games shelter in front of the store, which proved

very profitable, there were no limits to what you could do with that shop. Amy developed good relation with 2 local relations of mine in which we called the “Puha and Watercress” men. They supplied us with both those delicacies, as that was the stable diet in the winter, the “boil up” I even went to Auckland to look at food caravans, but after a lot of research we scrapped the idea or Amy did. Just imagine, my name could have been “up in lights” Jack Da Wheels?

We were fortunate in that we had members of our whanau and relatives working as staff. Unfortunately we did have a staff member who was caught stealing. The biggest eaters were the Black Power gangs who would arrive in numbers looked and acted staunch! But when they found out that I was Ngati Porou and my links to Gizzy, they showed me and my whanau total respect. They would order pies, rolls, and drinks in bulk, at times we didn’t have enough ready so had to “zap” more in the micro! We remained in this business for seven years and I have to admire and thank Amy for working so hard to make it a very successful business.


Thank you Jack for allowing us to share in your memories. I have had so many positive comments that I have decided to reproduce the memoirs in full. – Ed.

(to be continued)

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