Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Gentle Man

We left the Catlins on Monday morning, having walked, in my case, over 130 kms during our week there. Our normal pattern is to get the walk in early, straight after breakfast, which means we start at about 7.30. We made a special point of walking early on Sunday, because the weather people had been forecasting an exceptionally hot day, probably breaking all temperature records for New Zealand. There was no evidence of this during our three and a half hour walk, in fact it was rather cool. But around lunchtime the weather became very strange. It was exceptionally hot, but we could not see the sun. There was a strong wind, but with a warming rather than a cooling effect. Something like standing in front of a gigantic hair-dryer. The heat had arrived, as predicted, from Australia, but so had ash from the dreadful fires there, which have claimed so many lives. It was the ash which was blocking out the sun and also saving us from those final few degrees which would have provided new records.

Having said goodbye to our most excellent hosts, we drove 200 kms to the north, through Dunedin, to Oamaru, one of our favourite places in New Zealand. We are staying in a self-contained chalet on the Top 10 campsite there, run by the very friendly Tracy and Shane. It is very noticeable on this campsite that almost all the campervans disappear in the morning, leaving the place empty, and that the place fills up again during the afternoon with a new population of vans. This confirms the complaint in the local paper this very week, that Oamaru is regarded by most people as a “tea and pee” stop, many travellers just stopping for a short break on their way from north to south or vice versa, with some stopping overnight to see the famous penguins. Barely time to notice the many superb stone buildings here, made of the local white stone, or the renovated harbour area, also with various historic buildings, many pressed back into service in the tourist trade.

Our regular walk here is shorter than last week’s, and much shorter than next week’s in Alexandra. But it is quite strenuous, and we find that, with other bits and pieces during the day, we are clocking up daily kilometres in the mid-teens. Quite adequate between a week of 20 kms days and two weeks of 25 or more kms days to come.

Every couple of years, Oamaru hosts a stone carving “Symposium”. This is actually a sculpture competition which takes place in the local park which we walk through several times a day, between the campsite and the town centre. Each competitor is given a block of the local stone, which can be sawed or carved, like Portland stone, and proceeds, during the next three weeks, to make of it what he or she will. Some of the results are superb. The sculptors come from all over New Zealand and some from abroad, including Italy and Great Britain. The results are auctioned off and there are also prizes.

It was at one of these symposia, that we met Malcolm Murduck. Malcolm was an architect from Kent, who had taken to sculpture fairly late in life. He had been sculptor in residence at Leeds Castle. Our friendship was instantaneous - we were soon on visiting terms with Malcolm and his wife Jenny. It is a great sadness that our friendship was also brief because Malcolm collapsed and died an unexplained death at the age of 57 in the garden of his Herne Bay home before he could bring Jenny to show her the New Zealand with which he had so quickly fallen in love. Jenny and her two daughters, Sam and Lauren, have since made the pilgrimage here, been welcomed by the symposium organisers and many others, including the people who bought the sculpture Malcolm made while in Oamaru. We did not know him long but the time we had with him was a great privilege for us.

Such a genuine, gentle man. And he obviously made a great impression here, because there is now a Malcolm Murduck prize at each symposium.


Anonymous said...

hiya, you may not remember but i spoke to you in the brittish heart foundation shop in Lytham, sorry it's been so long.. but better late than never x x just to wish you all the luck in the world. Lisa xx

Vic Heaney said...

Hello Lisa

Of course we remember you very well.

Thanks for the good wishes.

We shall see you next time we are in Lytham.

Sam Murduck said...

Hi, it's Sam, Malcolms daughter. It was lovely to read your blog, particularly the part about dad, although it made me cry! I didn't realise there was a Malcolm Murduck prize - he would be so pleased. I hope you are both well. Lots of Love. Sam x