Untimely end to life of real action man

06:38, Apr 30 2012
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Alexander Cameron McDonald

Alexander Cameron McDonald

b Whanganui, May 10, 1982;

d Aorangi Forest Park, Wairarapa, April 7, 2012, aged 29.

Cam McDonald did not die wondering in a remote south Wairarapa forest on Easter Saturday. He was an all-round action man who had already packed more into his 29 years of life than most people twice his age achieve.

The self-employed builder loved nothing better than to be away on hunting trips with his helicopter pilot younger brother Jonathan. He also loved deep-sea fishing trips with his mates in the Bay of Islands. In the past six years, he pulled in seven marlin from waters off the Northland coast. After catching them, he tagged and released several of these big fish.

He was a flagship member of a close-knit Scottish farming stock family. His parents Ranald and Cyndy are self-employed Auckland business people.


It was no surprise their oldest son was known as "RJ" (for Ranald Junior) as he too knew how to make a buck in a competitive world.

His uncle, also called Cam, farms deer at Cathedral Peak Station near Lake Manapouri. Two years ago the nephew was staying on his uncle's farm when he crossed the Waiau River from the property to bag his first big stag. When his body was returned to his Greenlane, Auckland, home on Wednesday night, his hunting mate, Mark Campbell, parents and brother placed his coffin beneath the antlers of the 11-pointer he had shot in Fiordland two years earlier.

A series of totally unforeseen events placed Cam McDonald in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was shot dead while hunting in the Aorangi Forest Park last Saturday. He had planned to go fishing in the Bay of Islands for Easter, but a bad weather forecast put paid to that idea. Plan B, to nail down the roof on a major house renovation job was also put on hold due to weather.

He then decided to accept an 11th hour invitation from his Greytown based great hunting mate and mentor Doug Williams.

On Thursday, he drove a work van down SH1 to Taupo, where he stayed the night with his parents, his Wellington-based aunt, Susan Grant, uncle Nigel Grant and cousins Ashleigh, Victoria and Matthew Grant. On Good Friday he drove to Greytown via the Pahiatua Track, and the following day entered the forest at the south- eastern tip of the North Island. His parents expected to see him again in Taupo on his homeward journey. He never returned.

Cam McDonald senior told the Dominion Post his nephew had met his hunting mate, Mr Williams, 59 when they were both visiting his farm about five years ago. Mr Williams had taught his nephew everything there was to know about deer hunting. "He could not have had a better teacher."

Ranald McDonald said his son could not have had a better person to hunt with, especially in the roar.

The Auckland-based McDonalds liked nothing better than holidays at Cathedral Peak Station when Cam and Jonathan were growing up. During the winter months, when the boys were younger, Uncle Cam would tow his nephews through the snow behind his 4x4 quadbike in roasting dishes borrowed from the farm kitchen. His wife Wendy still has those dented dishes.

"He was a good outdoor boy with a huge heart," Uncle Cam said.

The uncle and nephew were both named after their respective mother and grandmother, whose family name was Cameron. The McDonalds had a sheep farm just outside Whanganui at Okoia, and it was there young Cam spent the first two years of his life.

Palmerston North Hospital, where he underwent his autopsy this week, played a significant part in the alpha and omega of his short life. When he was born in Whanganui on May 10, 1982, his bowel was located on the outside of his body. He was raced to Palmerston North where he was immediately operated on and spent three days in intensive care.

When he was growing up, his father worked in the freezing works in Whanganui and had a farm. In 1984, the clan moved to Auckland, soon after Jonathan was born.

Cam attended St Kentigern (prep and senior) and completed his schooling as a weekday boarder at St Paul's Collegiate, Hamilton.

It was obvious to his parents from an early age that their oldest son would one day be a builder. When he was seven, he built a tree hut and as a 13-year-old, he built himself a huge two-metre high skate ramp.

Cam and his younger brother were not just brothers who hunted together throughout New Zealand - they were also "irreplaceable" mates. The wheeler-dealer older brother did most of the talking when they grew up, but in one respect, the pilot had the upper hand over his sibling. The builder had a fear of helicopter flying, particularly big turns pulled by his brother.

But even in death, the older brother pulled one over the chopper pilot. Jono McDonald cleaned out his brother's truck - the first time the family could recall it ever being cleaned.

After leaving school, Cam quickly completed a cabinet- maker's apprenticeship in Onehunga. With a trade under his belt, he left for England and his big OE in 2002, aged 20. It was while living in Brighton and commuting daily to London, where he worked on shopfitting and demolition jobs, that he realised his dream of working as a builder.

When he returned from his two-year stint in Europe, he had enough money to purchase his first two investment properties in Mangere.

He had earmarked money for his May 10, 30th birthday party at an Auckland restaurant. The 50 friends on his guest list have decided they will proceed with the party despite the host's absence, to toast and remember his short life.

In between the hunting, the fishing and the girlfriends he managed to find time for tennis, skiing and snow boarding. He came from a family with a huge support base, which was obvious to see in the build up to today's funeral service.

He was an action man who threw everything he could at his professional, social and recreational life. For Cam McDonald the clock never stopped at 5pm and a job would be finished no matter how long it took.

On his coffin this week was a sign given to him by a special friend, who travelled from London, which read "never-give- in, never-give-in" the creed by which Cam McDonald lived his life.

Sources: McDonald family, Bruce McCallum, Mark Campbell, Stephen Leech and Brian Faircloth.

The Dominion Post