A century of skill and fun in Kelburn

Last updated 05:00 03/09/2009
Kelburn Scouts

GOOD TIMES: Kelburn Scouts camping pre-1920s, using tents from the Boer War.

Ben Zwartz, Bill Alcock and John Kingston
REBECCA THOMSON/The Wellingtonian
BE PREPARED: Ben Zwartz, Bill Alcock and John Kingston pore over the badges sewn onto an old Scout blanket.

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This weekend Kelburn Scouts celebrate a century of rough and tumble.

Eric Lawson formed the Kelburn troop in September 1909, a year after Colonel David Cosgrove introduced Scouts to New Zealand. The first Kelburn troop consisted of one patrol of six scouts, called the Weasels. Their first meeting was at the scout leader's house, next to a stable. Meetings moved around until the scouts found a permanent club house near the Carter Observatory in 1913. The Kelburn Scouts still use the hall, which originally housed volunteers working at the nearby gun emplacement.

Those to have come through the ranks of Kelburn Scouts include former governor-general Sir Dennis Blundell, former cabinet minister Trevor Young, actor Karl Urban and Flight of the Conchord's Bret McKenzie. His brother Justin was also a scout.

Locals Ben Zwartz and John Kingston were also Scouts during the 1970s and 80s, and have great memories about their time as part of the Kelburn troop.

Playing hide-and-seek, adventure and war games in the Botanic Gardens, especially in the dark, was a highlight.

"It was a lot fun in the gardens," said Mr Zwartz.

"One time we were allowed to decide how we could earn a badge, and we decided we would spend the night in the gardens and live off the land. So we went camping and took no food."

As scouts they learned everything from first aid and tying knots to skinning possums and operating ham radio.

Mr Kingston said scouting gave him practical skills he might not have otherwise learned.

"Scouts took you out of your comfort zone. There was such a range of things you could do.

"There was a guy who was really into ham radio. He's now an electronics engineer. Mr Kingston would participate in ham radio jamborees, where Scouts would gather to operate an amateur radio station.

"They were all over the place, in Makara, at some house in The Glen [Kelburn] and at the top of the cable car.

"We'd go and camp out at the house of the ham radio person who offered to host the event. I felt sorry for the parents; they would have all these boys running in and out of the house."

Bill Alcock has had an association with Kelburn Scouts since the 1950s. Although he only attended the troop as a Cub Scout, his children were Scouts and these days he can found doing maintenance at the clubhouse.

He remembers bottle drives and bob-a-jobs, where Scouts knocked on doors and offered to do odd jobs for people.

"And I remember being flown to Blenheim, for jamboree I think, in a DC3."

Mr Alcock also tells about how Scouts had to carry three 2-cent pieces at all times, so emergency calls could be made from a public phone.

"But who needed six cents for a phone call; a good Boy Scout should know how to tap it."

1st Kelburn 1909 Scout Group's Centenary Celebrations will be held from September 4 until 6. For more information visit kelburn1909scouts.wellington.net.nz.

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Kelburn Scout Hall has an interesting history.

By 1912 the Scouts had raised £40. An application was made to the Minister of Internal Affairs for permission to use a site at the top of Botanic Gardens, near the Carter Observatory.

Kelburn Scout records show a Cabinet meeting was held to decide the matter.

Minister Sir Francis Bell, Observatory director Dr Adams  and Heaton Rhodes attended the meeting, and gave the Scout troop permission to use a building that had been used by volunteers working at the nearby gun emplacement.

The Scouts took over the hall in May 1913.

These days, the building is under the care of the Department of Conservation and architect Russell Murray has been commissioned to conserve and restore the building.


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