Real Characters


Bread in the Bulkheads, Bilges Full of Booze.

The life and times of Bruce Vallely (1929 – 1999)
Yachtie – Commodore – Columnist

By Raema Vallely

Bruce Valley’s passion for sailing was established at an early age. Growing up in Onehunga, he and friends developed an insatiable appetite for water sports, gleaned from childhood paddles across the local swamp! He knew this locale inside out and as the years passed and his sailing skills excelled, Bruce took to the feisty waters of the Manukau Harbour.

Bruce Valley

Today, in a city as transient as Auckland, we rarely meet an individual who spent his whole life watching the changing face of one locale. His environment unlocking an oyster of possibility for a small boy with limitless imagination. Te Papapa’s Karaka trees became Tarzan’s jungle.

Bruce Vallely and Ray Millet

Bruce Vallely (left) and Ray Millet

Manukau’s harbour an ocean of discovery. Beneath the weight of war, through the highs of teenage freedom and with each evolving year, Bruce Vallely’s life was inventive and alive with experience.

This was no fleeting distraction! Winters were spent head down in fervent craft rejuvenation! Although born of recycled iron from a dilapidated chicken shed, Bruce’s ‘tinny’ nevertheless ignited an enthusiasm that never paled. He resealed that canoe using ‘gasworks vanish’ (tar), pulling the gunwales together with a piece of wire (to increase the height of the topsides) and added those all-important cosmetic touches (a coat of old house paint) to ditty it up. At the age of nine, Bruce was the proud owner of his first boat!

Bruce left (school) at the end of World War 2 to become a Marine Engineering Apprentice at Leo A. Walsh Marine Engineers. He was transferred to Shipbuilders Ltd.

Bruce and Raema, Pt. Chevalier Yacht Club dance, 1953

He worked for McKenzie & Hughes in Onehunga, then as sole engineer for Ocean Fish Co., he transferred to Nelson Fisheries at Western Viaduct. A stint at Kia Ora Engineering (Sanford’s engineering shop), which involved traveling all over New Zealand fixing broken down trawlers. From 1975 he worked for the University of Auckland and became their Chief Engineer for the next 20 years.

Quote: “A young lady arrived at the boat sheds and I was totally smitten. Funny how you know immediately that this girl is for you. I found out Raema lived in Parnell and just managed to be wherever she was, until sheer persistence wore her down.” They had a May wedding at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Parnell. They flatted for a short time in Mt Eden before moving to 20 Normans Hill Road, Onehunga; their home for the next 38 years.

Royal New Zealand Prize night

18-footers prize night at the (now) Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron – 1955

Boats were Bruce’s life. His work, his play, his passion. And as his enthusiasm increased, so did the length of the shed at the rear of 20 Normans Hill Road! Taking his love for sailing one step further, Bruce put his hands to work designing and building 15 yachts; 12 of these in his back yard base. Ranging from 8 to 22-foot in size, these weren’t mere time wasters from an avid hobby, but competition winners!

Graham Moss and Bruce Vallely with Storm

Graham Moss and Bruce Vallely with Storm, 1968

Bruce Vallely holds the distinction of being New Zealand’s first radio yachting commentator. And it was Bruce who was part of the team that first flooded the football fields at the Epsom Show Grounds!
Bruce was made Secretary and Commodore of the Auckland ‘R’ Class Squadron in 1976 and later, a life member. From 1994 to 1997, he held the title of President of the Manukau Cruising Club and in 1998 became Commodore. Bruce was later made a life member.

The lads late 1940s

The lads, late 1940s

Late 1940s bach owners at Cornwallis were ordering yachties out, when they themselves had no right being there in the first place. Dances at Orua Bay, burying beer in the sand and forgetting where it was buried! These times on the harbour were wonderful; a really good base on which to build self-reliance, water safety (learnt the hard way) and boating skills. I’m talking about late 1940s up to the mid 1950s.

Glendowie Yacht Club was well known for its winter race series, perhaps because of the ‘tot and rum’ after the race! They raced large fleets of ‘Q’ Class (plus others). Prize nights years ago were the highlight of Onehunga’s social scene. Usually held in the Old Forester’s Hall just above the intersection of Grey Street and The Mall.

Unity Shield

Unity Shield

Inia Te Wiata: We all knew him as ‘Happy’. Through his association with boating on the harbour, Inia carved a magnificent wooden shield (which today is housed in a glass case in the Manukau Yacht and Manukau Boat Club). In 1943 the carving became known as the ‘Unity Shield’. This trophy was raced for the at the Manukau Cruising Club, the Manukau Yacht and Motor Boat Club, and the Blockhouse Bay Yacht Club as a ‘ladies race’ trophy between the three clubs, and was last raced for in 1956. Many blossoming romances followed by marriage then families, stemmed from yacht club dances.

Seacliffe Road area Onehunga

Seacliffe Road area, Onehunga

Onehunga’s history comes to light in some of these memories. Owen McKendrick and Peter Steadman talked about their boyhood in Onehunga. Next door to where Owen lived, was a railway right around the section with level crossings, a little station and all the trimmings. He used to give the local kids rides around the section on his train, a proper scale model steam engine hauling a load of cheering children.

‘The Farm’ was a swimming pool fed by the coldest fresh water spring one would ever feel. Locals used to sport around the pool and then, tide permitting, jump into the harbour just over the lip of the pool, to get warm. I too recall this as I was, at the time, one of those kids. Later, the spring was diverted to feed the neighboring Onehunga Woollen Mills.

The Manukau scene, much the same as the Waitemata, had its share of yachting characters. One of the most unforgettable of these was Alan Dawson. Everyone knew him as ‘Mulligan’ for some obscure reason.

Arthur and Wally Sames built a little sailboat named Huia. About four meters long it was one of the most beautifully built boats this scribe has seen. Wonder what happened to it?

Jack (Tichy) Taylor, held in awe by the rest of the Zeddie boys. He just seemed to go out and win all the time, had what we called shower curtaining sails. Jack was always one jump ahead. He progressed in due course to the (then) cream of New Zealand’s yachting classes the ‘X’ Class, probably one of the most difficult Classes of small yachts to design and build.

Bruce Vallely and family 1996

Bruce Vallely and family, 1996

Motor Neuron Disease are words everyone hopes will never come into their lives. On 1st October 1999 at 9.00am, Bruce quietly slipped away surrounded by love. Bruce Vallely was unpretentious, adventurous and a good-natured personality who lived life to the full.

Thanks to Raema Vallely for her permission to use excerpts and images from her book about her husband Bruce, one of Onehunga’s most loved local characters. All proceeds from the book were donated to the Motor Neuron Society.

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