Christchurch road contractor Trevor Bond traveled to Wellington to work on a telephone exchange as a teenager, but soon found himself driving Rob Muldoon, judges, royalty tours and pin- up Hollywood girls in the capital. Chris Barclay plunges into the career range of road contractor Halswell, 71.
How a 15-year-old who left school to join Temuka’s post office as a telegram and postie ended up leading foreign politicians, judges and dignitaries around Wellington five years later ? Tell us about it.
My father and brother were contractors with machinery for road and dam construction in Temuka and Ashburton. When I grew up, mom said to me: “You are not going into the subcontracting business, you are going to work in the Post Office”. At the time, you left school at 15. I was transferred to Timaru’s central office as a switchboard operator, but the bulk of the money was in Wellington. They were shouting for people to go. I got a little fed up after a year but my manager said, “No Trevor, you’re too senior, I don’t want you to throw this away.” I’ll drop you off in the utility garage, a neighborhood you like.
Working outside the confines of an office was key, wasn’t it?
I was in the post office trucks, the old post office trucks and then I was appointed chief driver [in 1970] when I was 20. I was one of the youngest in New Zealand. We used to have a fleet of cars. There were 25 limousines. You would transport anyone from postal workers to judges to heads of government departments. There were people all the time, the place never closed.
You would then have made some interesting observations after midnight.
You have met a lot of interesting people, but you must have been very discreet. You had to be careful who you talked to, you got used to keeping everything to yourself, especially when you went to the pub at night.
And decades later, unfortunately for us, you’re still putting the brakes on the gossip, right?
I’ve always laughed at myself about some things, I can’t think of anything fucked up.
Let’s move on to cars then. What models have you made to refuel?
When I started it was Chevrolet Impala, then they went to [Canadian] Ford Galaxie and hence the Ford LTD. They were brown. Everyone else was black, a colored bugger to clean up. Everything had to be washed and buffed. The only car wash there was a large mop.
The job demanded more than your standard, crisp driver’s license, didn’t it?
There were security checks and every year we did a defensive driving course. They took us to the American Embassy, where they showed mock videos of motorcades and how the driver would be a target. . . all that sort of thing and what to do. Watching the ones you’d like to be like Scott Dixon, damn circles. Then we would go to the Porirua Police College where they would invent ambushes to see how you would react.
Have you ever been nervous driving some of the country’s most important people – and foreign dignitaries?
I wasn’t really, I felt pretty confident. You had to watch your driving and things like that.
Confession time – have you ever had an accident?
There were a few close calls. We always had demonstrators in embassies or in Parliament. We had to go through them and they were trying to remove the flags from the car. At the top of Parliament, it was sometimes pretty bad.
Did you start with more discreet passengers to prove you were a safe driver?
As you went along they would put you a little higher up the ladder and you were leading someone more important. You usually started with the judges. Their partner would give you 50 cents [per trip] then it went down to a dollar.
You would go to many embassies for their national day. There was always someone who wanted to accompany you so that you had to stay. They had put something for the drivers in the garage. You used to have a few beers, but you had to watch it.
Have you ever had to pop the bag as a designated driver after a night out?
No you were probably in Wellington’s safest car, the police knew the CR [Crown] plates.
No doubt that a decent meal made it possible to compensate for the consumption of alcohol?
It was always good to know when you are going to an embassy because you will have a feed tonight.
Some of the cooking had to be, uh, foreign to the palate. . .
We went to the Germans one day and they had raw ground pork. They marinated it, it was a little different.
Other exotic culinary delights to get away from the good old Kiwi fish and chips?
We took ministers on a Russian factory ship to Queens Wharf one night. I walked into the gallery and this Russian woman pulled out a steak on a tin plate. The fries and salad were made in olive oil. A guy was standing at the door and looking at me all the time.
The Iron Curtain was drawn and the Berlin Wall was lifted at the time, did the Russians in the capital fit the brooding and suspicious stereotype?
When you were at the embassy [in Karori] they would put you in the pool room and keep putting out bottles of beer. There was always someone behind the curtain watching you. You saw it in the movies and it actually happened.
Conversation would have been kept to a minimum there, but have you ever formed a relationship with regular passengers?
Judges and [government] the ministers would ask you how your family was, how are things at home? Rugby. Some just sat there. We would say “Hello sir”, but we weren’t allowed to talk to them unless they were talking to us. Normally, if they were seated in the front, they would like to chat a bit. I must know [National MP and minister of education] Merv Wellington, we were going to rugby at Athletic Park. He wouldn’t have any heartache when we sat in the Millard booth, but one night I dropped him off at his place in Karori and someone picked him up right outside his door.
You were getting behind the wheel when Rob Muldoon’s regular driver Tony was not available. What memories do you have of the Prime Minister irreverently nicknamed “Piggy”? Examples of road rage?
The times I drove him he was as good as gold. He always liked to laugh. I picked it up from the airport once and it had to go around Oriental Bay, you couldn’t go through the Victoria Tunnel in case it got blocked for an assassination attempt. There was a truck in front of us and we resumed the conversation on the RT frequency. The guy said to his boss: “I have the Pig behind me”. Old Rob burst out laughing. I thought of that poor bastard. Rob has probably memorized the license plate and will be off the road tomorrow.
Muldoon was visibly recognizable, ditto for his CR1 car. Do you remember problems, for example, around the Springbok Tour in 1981?
Sometimes they used a regular car. When this tour took place, you didn’t know who was for and who was against. If you said the wrong thing, you’d end up in a hell of a fight.
Some have said sports and politics then and since. Rugby was a regular topic on road trips, how about National v. Plowing. Has this ever been a debate?
They never talked about politics, at the end of the day they were like you and me. Sometimes I would sit down the hall instead of the car if they were campaigning. One night I took Ben Couch [former Minister of Police and Maori Affairs] in Martinborough. It was fun with the rowdy ones.
Geographically, how far did you venture from Wellington?
If Wellington Airport were closed, you would end up anywhere in the North Island. You might find yourself halfway to Auckland (passengers changed cars at Waiouru), sometimes you would take yourself all the way to Auckland. Sometimes we did 16 hour days. You would be tired, but you would continue.
Were you on duty when a visibly weary Muldoon called a snap election in 1984?
We were in the basement of Parliament and when they came down they all went to Government House to get permission from the Governor General. It wasn’t much of a surprise. People just wanted a little change. David Lange took over, I didn’t drive him much.
You also opted for a change of scenery, moving to Christchurch, where you unfortunately fell victim to Rogernomics. Do you remember your last mission to Wellington?
The last one I drove was [former US President] Jimmy Carter. Lions Clubs brought him out in 1984. I led his safety from Wellington to Palmerston North, Taupo and Rotorua. We drove behind. The Yanks brought their own limo for Jimmy in a Starlifter.
How about another American who made an impression. The Playboy / Hollywood actress you transported from Wellington to Lower Hutt.
I drove Bo Derek and her husband from the James Cook [Hotel] at the National Cinema Unit. Years ago they were going to make a movie about Lady Godiva and have her ride a naked horse with a snake. They wanted to bring the snake from Australia and everyone jumped on the roof. The movie was never made. After dropping them off, I took a guy from the unit back to Wellington. He said, “Trev, she’s a beautiful girl. She doesn’t like to smoke, doesn’t like to drink and likes to go to bed early ”. I told him: “I could change for that”. I saw her 3-4 years ago on TV and she still looks great.
And these tasks by royal appointment?
I drove the crown prince of Japan [Fumihito, Prince Akishino], he was only 12 years old when he was here. He stayed with Jim Bolger because he had children of the same age. I also had the queen’s maid of honor [Lady Susan Hussey] in my car on a royal visit. She never mentioned the Queen, she just wanted to know how big a family I have. What are your interests in life, that sort of thing.
Although you followed Mom’s orders by joining the Post Office, you found yourself on the roads doing some subcontracting work, right?
I came back down to Christchurch in 85-86. I went to sell firewood for a while when they turned me off. Then I worked for what is now Fulton Hogan. I spent 30 years there, including 24 on the Banks Peninsula doing these back roads. My son Mark decided to go out on his own. He’s doing great right now so I figured I’ll retire and go give him some knowledge before I lose some marbles.
So the toil continued after the work weekend?
We do a lot of work for Downer in the Lewis Pass, a lot of stabilizing cement. We’re up there until Christmas.