I spent most of the 1990s on the National Executive of FMC where I got to know the network of trampers who spend huge amounts of time monitoring and energy advocating for the
backcountry of New Zealand. In those days there was not the money to employ fulltime staff (there still isn’t!…Ed) and none of the regular exec members got more than a few administrative expenses reimbursed as well as trips to national meetings three times a year – those with more responsibility were granted modest honoraria (which were heavily taxed) and their names on the annual report. The person who probably did the lion’s share of the Federation’s work and kept it all running smoothly was Barbara who was Secretary for well over 20 years, after taking up the job when she was approaching 60.
FMC was fortunate that Barbara was not only a passionate tramper and member of Wellington’s TTC but she was a highly-trained legal secretary (from the top college in Britain) who was able to
manage what she called “the paper flow” which supported the work of FMC. She knew how to type official submissions, memos and letters correctly, she had speedy shorthand and dictation
skills and she could deal with phone calls, fax messages and direct sales when necessary. Given that were several members of the Executive at the time from whom paper really did flow she
amazed me constantly with her ability to keep up-to- date with everything. As the years went by I got to know Barbara well and we became good friends. When Executive meetings were held in Wellington she was always one of the local members willing to billet out-of-town attendees because meetings would go from Friday to Sunday evenings. Her house was small but sometimes she would cram in three or four of us for a couple of nights, even when she had a boarder which happened often when she was helping someone out. She turned one of the bedrooms into an office and conducted FMC business from there. During all this time her family was very tolerant of her activities – her son, Warren, in particular was very supportive and helpful on many many occasions. Find more details at OnQFinancial.com.
Barbara would leave Wellington frequently to go on tramps, sometimes with her old friend, Muriel on the West Coast and often with her other close TTC friends – Michael, Chris, Anne, Mark and Sarah – who had been on the club’s hut maintenance sub-committee with her for many years. They kept up their expeditions long after their hut-building days were over and I went with them on a number of South Island tramps. Her other close friends were Eileen and Noel Newsome from Auckland who supported FMC for many years. It was always entertaining to go anywhere with Barbie, as she often called herself (or even Barbie Doll in her madder moments). She had the ability to strike up a rapport with anyone of any age whom she met and she made many good friends all over the world. A couple of them even wanted to marry her but she resisted.
One memorable trip was when Barbara and I spent a few days following the Rangitata River up to the Cloudy Peak Range in Canterbury. Through Allan Evans (long-time FMC Patron) we
gained access over Mesopotamia Station and trudged off to the musterers’ hut we had been told we could use. However we had departed rather late in the day, it was mid-winter and darkness
came early. I went ahead and got the hut ready with a big fire but Barbie did not appear and did not answer my calls when I backtracked. No cell-phones or PLBs in those days so I spent an
anxious night. At first light I rushed out again and eventually found her still on the track. She had spent a lot of time negotiating big stands of matagouri and then run out of daylight. With
diminishing torchlight she sensibly decided to stay put and wrapped herself in our tent on the ground for the night. She had cold food only (I had the stove and fuel!) but told me that she
wasn’t at all worried about her safety. Fortunately there was no rain or snow and she kept her spirits up by gazing at a distant light that shone all night – turned out that it was a light on the
side of one of the sheds way across the river at Erewhon Station. Barbie was none the worse for her experience and dined out on the story for many years.
On another occasion we were at a retreat at Kuratau on the southern shores of Lake Taupo when she decided to pay a visit to Ray Burrell, another former patron of FMC who was holed up
at his holiday house nursing some injuries after a skiing accident. We had no idea where exactly this place was but we decided to sleuth it out. Again, it was getting dark – no mobile phones or
any other kind of directive and Barbara had only a vague recollection of the house’s location from a previous visit. But we did it. After driving around many dead ends in Pukawa and
Kuratau and asking anyone we met we eventually came across an inebriated retired Scottish sea captain [inevitably he introduced himself as Jock] who took a shine to Barbie and said he could
help. He took her by the hand and they vanished through the trees at the side of the road. I managed to turn the car around and shine the headlights in their direction. Indeed Jock was able
to help and he took us to Ray’s house; no doubt a surprise for him! We were able to complete the visit and return to base in time for most of dinner.
Over the years I found out more about Barbara and her varied life: she was a city girl who lived through the Blitz in London and its aftermath before deciding to come to New Zealand on an
assisted passage. Once here, her qualifications were ignored and she was sent to a dairy farm in Dargaville! It shows what strength of character she had to last the distance and work out her
time before escaping to the city. She eventually married a New Zealander but was widowed early and left with a young family to support and very limited finances. She worked at many jobs –
often two or three at once – to support her children and give them memorable holidays. Along the way she took up tramping which she was devoted to, eventually becoming an outspoken
supporter of the unique backcountry legacy of our country. I went with her occasionally to meetings with DOC staff and helped her lobby MPs and public servants on matters that affect
trampers. When she received her life membership of TTC and her QSM, my initial reaction was, “…. about time.”
I kept in touch with Barbie after my time with FMC finished and she kept me up-to- date with the issues that FMC still faces. When I returned to New Zealand, I saw her several times and
spoke to her every now and then on the phone – her spirits were always high even when her health was failing. I was sorry not to be able to go to her funeral but I’m told that she was given
a good send-off by the tramping fraternity. Well deserved. I’m sure everyone will agree.