Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008


Phil Pennell

Phil Pennell

Phillip John Pennell
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008
Phil Pennell

Phillip John Pennell, who passed away in October, 2007, had family roots deep into the heart of the Paeroa and District.

He was a son of William and Min Pennell (nee Fallon) whose parents arrived in the Paeroa district as the Ohinemuri goldfields gathered pace in the 1890s. William was a son of Nurse Mary Pennell, a noted nurse in the district who has been credited with bringing a large proportion of the population of the early 1890s into the world. She was a tireless worker comforting women at times of birth and also tending a wide variety of illness and injuries. She had a special ward named after her when the Paeroa Maternity Hospital was opened in 1930.

Born in Paeroa in 1929 Phillip, as a young child, moved to Whangamata where his father was the proprietor of the district's first hotel which was subsequently destroyed by fire.

The family returned to Paeroa where William (Seaver as he was known) was employed by Brenan and Company as a driver and later as manager of one of the first motor transport companies to run regularly between Paeroa and Waihi.

Phil was educated at the Paeroa District High School, passing through the primary department and then four years in secondary education.

He left school at the end of 1946 and, as a cadet, joined the newly formed New Zealand Railways Road Services Department. It had just purchased the local transport firm owned by Evan Thomas and Frank Crimmins and operated from the building in Belmont Road now known as "The Depot".

Phil spent 14 months in this position and in March, 1948, turned his attention to school teaching, being one of the original trainees at the Ardmore Teachers Training College. However this career was not to his liking and after three months he rejoined the NZR Road Services in June 8, 1948, at Waihi. In two months he was transferred back to Paeroa where he was employed continually at the branch for 41 years rising to become the branch manager for the last 20 or so years. He was in charge of both the passenger and freight services.

During his time at the depot Phil saw many changes take place, especially in the vehicles used.

Paeroa was the hub of the NZR Road Services Thames Valley operations. During the 1950s and 1960s there were some 20 men employed, including office staff, freight and passenger bus drivers and mechanics.

The early buses were Whites, taken over from the Thomas and Crimmins, Chevrolets and Leylands. Then came the Commers and Macs and later in the 1960s onwards the Bedfords and then Hinos and Volvos.

The early morning Auckland-Tauranga service departed the city at 7.30 a.m., stopping at Paeroa around 10.30 a.m. for passengers to have refreshments etc., and arrived in Tauranga at 1.30 p.m. There was also a similar afternoon service and two trips from Tauranga to Auckland each day. Towards the end of the passenger carrying days, in the early 1990s, the trip took 4.15 hours using SH2.

There were also bus services from Paeroa to Waihi and Waihi Beach and to Thames one via Hikutaia, another via Netherton and Turua,, all with timetables to suit school children and workers along the routes.

There was also four daily bus services each way between Paeroa and Hamilton, operated by various private companies which used the Paeroa NZR depot as their Thames Valley base.

There were also two "picture" buses from Paeroa to Thames on Saturday nights and from Matatoki onwards there was only standing room. There were also special buses for race meetings and other special sporting fixtures in the Thames Valley and further afield.

These local buses, up to six vehicles, also delivered all kinds of household commodities including bread, meat, newspapers and farm supplies along their various routes. However when deep freezers became the norm in homes, more and more cars were used, and the transport industry was deregulated all had a marked affect on the "localised" bus services.

And then, of course, there was the noted New Zealand Herald service car, which left Auckland around 2 a.m. each morning, dropping off newspapers along the main highway, reaching Paeroa about 4.30 a.m., and then continuing on to Waihi and the Bay of Plenty. There were a small number of seats for passengers. Phil was always on call these early mornings to provide driver-support in times of floods, breakdowns and accidents, mainly stock on the roads. It was a 24-hour, seven-day a week job.

Phil finally retired in 1993 when the doors were closed on the NZR Road Services Paeroa depot and the complete re-organisation of the bus timetables saw the abolishing of the local services.

In 1953 Phil married Rose Hopping, herself from pioneering farming family in the Netherton, Turua and Komata districts. Coincidentally Rose was the first baby born in the new Paeroa Maternity Hospital in 1931.

Phil and Rose purchased a house on Thames Road just outside the Paeroa Borough boundary and there they brought up five children, Ian (Hamilton), Christine (Cambridge), Brian (Waihi Beach), Keith (Hamilton), and Murray (Paeroa). All were educated at the St. Joseph's School, Paeroa, and the Paeroa College.

In 2000, as Phil's health started to wane, they sold their home of almost 50 years and moved into a new residence in Thames Road, opposite the Paeroa Racing Club. This was a fitting move as Phil liked the horses, having a little "flutter" at the races and always looked forward to be with the "Geriatric Group" who prepared the amenities for and cleaned-up after each race meeting.

As a young man Phil was keenly interested in all sports, being an accomplished competitor on the athletic track and swimming pool. He played rugby through primary school and reached the first fifteen level at the District High School. He then joined Paeroa West Rugby Club playing through the grades and for several season for the senior side, and also the Paeroa sub-union side.

Upon his retirement from the sports field Phil repaid those sports for the enjoyment he received by serving in an administrative capacity. There were 18 years with the Paeroa Amateur Athletic Club and several years on the committee of the Paeroa Amateur Swimming Club. He served on the committee and then as President for some years. And he gave similar service to the West club.

During these years Phil also gave nine years of his voluntary time to the Paeroa College Board of Governors. He also served on several other organisations and groups in the town.

In 1977 Phil turned his attention to lawn bowls, joining the Paeroa Bowling Club and he soon became involved both on and off the green. During his 30 years as a member he won several championships, served on the committee, including terms as president and treasurer. He was honoured with Life Membership in 1995. Phil was the club's Patron at the time of his passing. He also served on the Thames Valley Bowling Centre's Executive some three years early in the 1990s.

There was a very large gathering of mourners to support Phil's family and pay their last respects at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Paeroa.