Saturday, September 27, 2008

Getting to the Train on time – the early Avondale-Blockhouse Bay buses

Today, there are three ways folk in Avondale can get to Blockhouse Bay by public transport, and vice versa – along Blockhouse Bay Road or St Georges and Taylor Street with the Urban Express buses, or via New Lynn Transport Centre (the long way around, via Green Bay). Before established and regular bus services were begun between the two suburbs around 1922, however, there were just the feeder services. These carried workers and shoppers from Blockhouse Bay, up the steep hills at Glenavon, to meet the trains at Avondale Railway Station. Professor E M Blaiklock, writing under his pen name of “Grammaticus” for the Weekly News 12 July 1971, described a dash made by two of Tommy Goulton’s horse buses up Blockhouse Bay Road in stirring fashion. I strongly suggest that the Spider’s Web readers seek out that issue of the Weekly News, you’d find a set at the Auckland Research Centre in the Central Library in town. The piece Grammaticus wrote is an utter gem.

The horse buses were replaced by motorised versions by the time of the First World War, and one operator named Frank W. White ran a service using a small motor bus. One Saturday at midday in April 1921 he waited by the train station at Avondale for his next load of passengers to arrive, when he noticed two local boys in the bus. He ordered them off, and probably thought little more about them, as the train arrived in the rain and his passengers began to board.

One of the boys however climbed back on the outside of the bus, balancing on the step as it drove off, unseen by the driver. Another man in a gig near the station saw the boy, eight-year-old Andrew Strong from Bollard Avenue, hanging on – and then, a few minutes later, noticed the boy lying motionless in the road about 100 yards from the station. Apparently, young Andrew had tumbled off, and a rear wheel of the bus went over his stomach. No one in the bus saw the accident. Andrew Strong died from his injuries at Auckland Hospital the next day.

In those days, getting an ambulance to an emergency like this was, to those of us today, a long-winded and rather odd process. Dr. Carew was summoned to examine the young boy, and wrote a note to the police station to summon the ambulance. The constable on duty in Avondale wasn’t in at the time, so his wife made the call just before 1 pm, only to be told by a hospital orderly that the doctor himself had to personally phone in the request for the ambulance. Word was then sent back to the doctor, who arrived at the police station half-an-hour later to call the hospital and confirm the order for the ambulance. One finally arrived to take Andrew to hospital at 2.15 pm. The police, according to the last report I have on the case, were investigating that life-threatening delay.

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