Going on a scavenger hunt with Yvonne Judge

She was a member of New Zealand’s first all-girl rock band, and now runs an incredible junk shop in a Ruakaka car wrecker’s yard. Steve Braunias meets Yvonne Judge.

Yvonne Judge lives in a state of constant excitement and has too much energy to ever sit down, so she stood up while the writer sat down and asked her questions inside the big, dark, corrugated iron shed. It started to rain. It clattered on the tin roof like a stampede. Customers had to shout to each other. They roamed the shed for bargains, among the pots and jars, the wedding dresses and jigsaw puzzles, the blenders and teddy bears.

"I know where everything is," said Yvonne, and it was true that after the initial shock of walking inside Scavengers, her junk shop in the Northland beach town of Ruakaka, you could see an order and a pattern to the chaos of so many things crammed in such a large space. It was a wonderland, but it made sense.

Yvonne was very thin and wore a long dress and had long hair. She turns 70 this year. "See what this old bird used to look like," she said, and brought out a photo album. There was Yvonne in the 1960s and 70s, when she played electric guitar and toured New Zealand with bands who covered Deep Purple, the Rolling Stones, Grand Funk Railroad, Alice Cooper, The Sweet, David Bowie ...

Noazark was New Zealand's first glam-rock band, outrageous in lurex and eyeliner, and The Fair Sect were New Zealand's first all-girl rock band. She was as cool as Joan Jett from The Runaways, although it was the singer and the drummer in The Fair Sect who were lesbian.

She had a Hayman guitar, a design classic, gold and shapely. Onstage she wore boots and minis ("Everyone called me 'Legs'") and, sometimes, ballgowns if that was what the gig required. "When we did a guitar break," she said, "we really let our hair down." The Fair Sect formed in Auckland in 1965 and were together about five years. The writer asked, "Do you feel an affinity with Lorde, or other New Zealand women making music today?"

She said, "We were the pioneers who enabled them to get to that stage. It was such a struggle to get anything recognised in the 60s. We were just girls. We had to prove we were just as good as the boys. It wasn't from the musicians, it was the hierarchy.

File photo / Michael Craig
File photo / Michael Craig

"The musicians' union wouldn't accept us. They wouldn't recognise us as musicians. There was one night we were booked at a dance hall in Symonds St but had to belong to the union before we could play. The head of the union made us pay our fee, and after we played, we had to resign."

A little old lady walked into the shop. Yvonne said, "How are you, darling?"

"Oh you know. One leg after the other."

"I'll get your stuff for you." Yvonne had brought in produce from her garden. "Apples, cucumbers, and beans. And what do you call all that green stuff? It's like silverbeet."

"It's a kale."

"No, it's not kale, but I've got crinkly kale coming next week."

"Oh, we used to have crinkly kale when were kids! I loved it. I don't like the kale they do now."

"Well, here you are, my dear."

"Oh, thank you, Yvonne! Has the writer come to see you?"

"He's right here," she said.

"Oh! I don't see very well when I've come in from outside."

Yvonne and Trevor Judge, her extraordinarily handsome first husband ("I've always liked pretty boys"), formed Noazark in 1971. They very quickly went glam.

"We could see that that look was coming," said Yvonne. "We were the ones who dressed up first; a lot of groups copied us after that. I remember going to a fabrics warehouse in Greys Ave and picking out all this glitter material. The guys in the band loved it. We were all out-there people, especially onstage. You don't walk out there and be shy. We were in your face.

"Jon [Drinkwater, the drummer] had an alter-ego - The Luvly Beryl. I'd take over the drums and he'd do a floor show in his knickers, and sing, 'Baby face! You've got the cutest little baby face!'"

They recorded five singles at Stebbing Studios in Herne Bay, and Yvonne hid her pregnancy when they played on TV show Happen Inn. They held residencies at the Jolly Farmer Inn at Drury and the White Horse Inn in Pakuranga, and Sunday nights at the Panmure Ice Rink. They were tight, they were hot, an awesome covers band, and they also toured New Zealand as the backing group for anyone who was anyone in the golden age of middle-of-the-road Kiwi crooners - Bunny Walters, Mr Lee Grant, Alison Durbin ("We were just the band to her; she was a diva, a very strange woman"), Maria Dallas, Johnny Devlin, Rob Guest, John Hore, etc. All the while, Yvonne and Trevor brought along their two kids, Tiffany and Derek.

"I remember once we were playing in Palmerston North. There was a railway track running past the hotel where we were staying. Somebody came into the bar were we were playing and said, 'Has anybody got any small children? There are two of them playing on the railway lines.'

"We used to go and do our show, and leave the phone off the hook in the room so staff could hear what was going on. We did that when we stayed at the Grand Hotel in Rotorua. We went off to play a nightclub and when we got back we said to the girl at frontdesk, 'How were the kids?' And she said, 'What kids?' The shift had changed and they'd forgot to tell her to listen in now and then. So anything could have happened. Oh well! The irony of it is that two weeks later the Grand burned down. Imagine if the kids had been there then ..."

File photo / Michael Craig
File photo / Michael Craig

A man in a singlet approached Yvonne, and said, "I was looking for a blender but couldn't find one among the appliances. There were heaps of jugs there, but no blender."

She said, "There's nothing in that pile there? They're waiting to be tested."

He bent down, and pulled out a blender. "Exactly what I'm after!"

"I haven't tested them yet."

"Can we test it by turning it on?"

"You'll have to plug it in and go through the transformer in case it blows the fuses. I'll leave that to you. Just make sure it's all tickety-boo."

"If there's any sparks, you won't see me."

"You're lucky you found one," said Yvonne, as he bent down and looked for the socket. "It's like ironing boards. They fly out the door, except they're not ironing boards anymore. They're portable fish benches for caravans."

"I made some tomato relish on the weekend," the man said. "I followed the recipe but I didn't cut it up small enough. and so I'm gonna heat it up, and give it a zap in the blender."

"A lady came in last week, wanted to cook a pig's head. So I lent her a big preserving pan we had out the back. She came back with a jar of jam."

The man found the socket. He stood up, and turned on the blender. "Oh. It doesn't work. Probably why they got rid of it."

Yvonne said, "No, you haven't turned on the switch at the wall."

"Oh." He bent down again. The blender grinded into sudden life. "Brilliant," he said.

"Four dollars, thanks."

All proceeds go to charity and community groups. Since she opened Scavengers 18 years ago, Yvonne has raised a staggering amount - she claims it's nearly $500,000 - and given it to worthy local causes.

She said, "Who works for 18 years and gives all their money away? But it's the lifestyle. And you meet lovely people in here.

"I see where it's needed. I don't need it. I'm doing alright; I'm pretty frugal. Scottish mother and all that, and I've always saved and been good with money. I live off the smell of an oily rag. I haven't been shopping in [nearby] Whangarei for four years. I only ever go for births, deaths, and mammograms.

"Everything that comes in is a donation. We haven't paid for a thing. And a lot of people, they can't afford things, so I just give it away.

"It all started when I used to help out at Tiffany's school, One Tree Point Primary. I was in charge of the resource room. I used to save things like egg cartons and icecream containers. I still collect them; a guy came in and got 50 egg cartons off me yesterday. And people are always wanting icecream containers. I use one as the cash register.

File photo / Michael Craig
File photo / Michael Craig

"Anyway, so I started a shop next to the butcher in the shopping centre in Ruakaka. I was there for two years and then I came out here, because I'd bought this place in 1998 as a car wrecker's - we had 300 car wrecks out the back, including a pink Cadillac! Ruakaka Auto Spares. But it didn't go according to plan. I moved the shop here.

"And now the council won't give me any dispensation off the rates. They charge me industrial rates; they still charge me car wrecker prices. I'm basically working one day a week just to pay the rates, so that they can allow me to give money away. Where's the sense in that?"

By "out here" she meant an industrial estate. If walking inside Scavengers was to enter a strange, pleasant dream, then finding it in the first place was just as unreal - the estate was way out the back of Ruakaka, nowhere a casual passerby would ever know existed. A cactus grew wild by the front gate. A caretaker lived out the back in a caravan. It was a wonderland, and it hardly made a lick of sense that anyone even knew how to find Scavengers, but it was always busy, Yvonne said, always people coming through.

"It's like this all the time. Actually, today's quiet. Sometimes you can't move."

A woman and two men walked over. They'd found a cooking pot. It had stopped raining, but then began bashing on the roof again.

The woman shouted, "Hello, darling! This is Paolo from Italy." She turned to the writer, and shouted, "I'm Greek. I was married to an Italian, and he's my late husband's cousin."

They kissed, and chatted and laughed and also sang, and Yvonne sold the pot for $5.

Rock 'n' roll philanthropist, local legend, friend to all, she shouted across to the woman, "Bye-bye darling, see you again!"

- Canvas

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