memories  1960’s . . . . .  page  6
BY  tony fortune

At about 2 or 3 in the morning , the fire siren woke many from their sleep. From my bedroom in our house in Dick St, I would immediately crawl along the bed, lift the old Holland blind, and look out. Somewhere near the town bridge I could see a lot of white smoke. I ran down Ranft St and Kelly St and by that time I could see smoke crossing throught the roof  and windows Crowds of people were arriving at the scene in dressing- gowns, clothes thrown over pyjamas and even just pyjamas, looking quite helpless as smoke billowed out from every opening of the large wooden hotel. Very soon hoses were lined up along Broadway, a pump was drawing water from the Inangahua River and the helicopter parked up on the Strand started up and moved to a cooler spot. Unseen by many, a banker had jumped off the second storey onto a parked car, and to the safety of Broadway. A ‘’whoosh” was heard and the hotel turned into a blazing inferno. People rushed back another block as the fire engine began to 

blister, and was bravely shifted. A power pole across the street caught fire, and the Four Square shop’s curtains began to burn. It was terrible, but spectacular sight.
Morning came, and all that was left of one of the longish buildings in Reefton, was the chimney stacks.
Two men died in the flames, including one who went from room to room, making sure everyone was evacuated from the building.

All the primary schools in the district took part in this music festival. Reefton Primary, Convent, Mawheraiti, Blacks Point, Maruia, Inangahua, Ikamatua and Totara Flat. To take the Mass,singing and special items, Mr Peach from Christchurch, a noted choir-master, came over regularly to provide some extra tuition. For those at the Convent school, Humoreske and Tiritomba were our special items. Bevan Wealleans spent many hours of singing and coaching, trying to get us up to choir-singing standard. We must have done well because it was “ice-creams all round” for us Convent kids the day after the show.
There were several festivals of music in the 60’s of which Bevan Wealleans was always a part.

On a late February evening, I remember going out to see if there were any mushrooms growing on a farm near the Reefton Saddle. As evening was drawing in, I noticed the clouds gathering, and it looked like rain. Into the night, there was heavy rain and loud claps of thunder. A particularly loud bolt of thunder shook the house. The power went off to reveal a golden glow, just a street away. A tall cypress tree was burning, with half of it lying across the road. The house it was beside had smashed windows. Gordon Ladner was there, with a bleeding nose. He collided with a door when he went out to investigate the storm damage Margaret McKenzie ,while watching from her porch in bare feet, got an electric shock from the lightning flash.

Photo of hotel taken a few months before the fire

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It was a cold, foggy, frosty winter’s day when the roar of bikes-Triumphs- I think, came through and around town. People in town were a bit fearful of these “roughians” from  away, and avoided Broadway as they gathered outside the pub and milk bar. The fog didn’t lift all day and it was bitterly cold. As night time drew on, all seemed quiet and as usual, being a Saturday night, the picture theatre began to fill with patrons. Almost as the film was about to start, the roar of bikes was heard outside and then silence - as the doors opened  to the theatre and in walked a dozen leather-clad,long-haired, tattooed bikies followed by the thin lanky constable McCully. Everybody was hushed in the theatre as they came and sat down together at first ,then tried to sit near some girls they noticed in the stalls opposite. During this time the lone policeman would walk up and down the aisle, flicking a torch towards the group. Nobody was taking much notice of the film screening in front of them. One of the dudes must have wanted to go to the toilet and seconds later he came rushing into the theatre-uttered something to the others who went rushing outside. It was raining, bikes started up and they were gone, with a loud “Whew!”, from everyone who remained.