Keeping a close eye on a local legend

By Roger Moroney

HAWKEYE CREW: Simon Tremain, who sparked the Hawkeye facelift, and Mela, his daughter (a Magpies fan) and Ian Mills, who designed the big bird 48 years ago. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT132758-01
HAWKEYE CREW: Simon Tremain, who sparked the Hawkeye facelift, and Mela, his daughter (a Magpies fan) and Ian Mills, who designed the big bird 48 years ago. PHOTO/PAUL TAYLOR HBT132758-01

In the wild, the magpie lives for four to six years. But in rugby legend they live a lot longer.

The giant of the species, Hawkeyeus Ontrailerus, has already been around for 48 years and is set to stay for a long time yet, its custodians insist.

Approaching the half century and looking to be in pretty good shape, Hawkeye no longer has a strong call and underwent a facelift about five years ago.

The mighty magpie, the largest team mascot in the country, was a solid part of Hawke's Bay rugby during the euphoric Ranfurly Shield seasons of 1967-1969, although the big bird had been around for a year before the Bay took the shield from Waikato at the end of 1966.

Hawke's Bay had other mascots through the years but they never stuck around.

It was in the weeks leading up to the Bay's challenge for the shield against Taranaki in New Plymouth, towards the end of 1965, that a core of local supporters began talking about getting something different as the mascot for the black and whites.

The Daily Telegraph's rugby writer of the day, the late Ken Hawker, delivered a series of articles about the idea, and the wheels began to turn.

Jock Stevenson, who also worked for the paper got involved and soon more people got aboard.

It was Mr Stevenson who began pushing for a mighty bird, bigger than anything. A giant magpie.

But it needed to be designed and built quickly - in time for the trip to New Plymouth.

The man who sketched the design for Hawkeye, Ian Mills, remembered the day Mr Stevenson walked into his Hastings St shoe shop and asked him an extraordinary question.

"How can we build a 12-foot bird?"

Mr Mills had a solid reputation as a designer and builder of large and impressive models.

But a 12-foot bird?

He was up for the challenge and reached over and took the lid off a cardboard shoebox.

"And I sketched it up on that - and that was what was used to build Hawkeye."

Mr Mills told Mr Stevenson that the size of the bird he was looking for would mean extensive steel webbing inside and they immediately knew who to approach. "Ernie Wiig was mad about rugby," Mr Mills said.

So they approached him and his brother, Ray, who formed Wiig Brothers and White and they reckoned that they could build a magpie with a six-metre wingspan and which would stand just over three metres high ... and in just under two weeks.

Mr Mills remembers a young man who worked for the company by the name of McMillan.

"He did all the welding - he did a wonderful job."

He said the lads all volunteered their time and worked furiously to get it ready for the journey across to New Plymouth.

"He's not exactly a graceful beast," Mr Mills said with a laugh.

"But then he was done in a bit of a hurry."

According to an article in one of the shield game programmes in 1967, the big bird was dubbed Hawkeye by a Mr J.S.Henney.

Meanwhile, Bernie Meredith and Rod McBean set to leading the growing Hawke's Bay supporters club and came up with the slogan "I'm a Hawkeye Guy" which was embraced by businesses and individuals across the Bay.

Hawkeye was eventually finished and lifted on to the back of a truck and secured down for the road trip across the island.

When the Hawkeye procession got under way, the public flocked to the roadsides to see "their bird".

"It had people at their gates and doorsteps in their thousands," a newspaper report stated.

But the trip was not without a touch of drama.

All was going well as the Hawkeye crew carefully drove south and then west into Manawatu. There was a bit of a wind up that day and at one stage, as they negotiated the Manawatu Gorge, the mighty bird appeared to try and lift off as the great wings did what great wings are supposed to do - make things fly.

"The wind threatened to lift it to an ignominious fate on the rocks below," was how one of the lads following the truck put it.

But they made it, after a full day's travel, and on match day paraded Hawkeye through New Plymouth to the locals' delight.

It had all gone well ... except for the result of the game in which the Bay, despite putting everything into it, were pipped 21-17.

Hawkeye was well and truly established and the following weekend back in Napier he was at the park, crowing and flapping the great wings, as the Bay took on the touring South African side.

Hawkeye embarked on several other road trips and, yes, there were a few more dramas. Once, after he was affixed to his own trailer the coupling came loose and again the bird nearly escaped.

He was part of the match-day processions through the glorious three-season shield era of the 60s and the day he (she) laid an egg at McLean Park one afternoon to produce Hawkeye Junior was a day those who were there will never forget.

But as the years passed by the black and white feathers began to fade and peel and the rust crept in, and the trailer wheels began to slow up ... and Hawkeye sort of faded away.

Until about five years ago when Simon Tremain, who like his late father Kel had played for Hawke's Bay, decided it was time to get the big bird fired up again.

He was part of an eight-strong social golf team which played teams from other regions - on the basis that whoever won the tournament would host the next one.

And that "next one" was set to be played at Turangi.

"We wanted a mascot to take with us and as we called ourselves the 'Magpies'; I figured we needed to track down Hawkeye."

Through the Hawke's Bay Supporters Club, he was put in the direction of Whakatu.

"He was parked up there at the back of a coolstore ... and in a pretty sad state."

So, the facelift began.

Mr Tremain gave Hastings man Bruce Small a call - knowing that Mr Small had experience in fibre-glassing.

"It needed a lot of work because parts of it had started to crumble away," Mr Small, who is now the official custodian, said.

He patched and painted, and also restored much of the interior steel work which had deteriorated through the years, and gave the trailer a full going-over to bring it up to warrant and registration standard.

So the refurbished Hawkeye was proudly taken by the golfing team to Turangi.

"The other golf teams from around the country turned up with their little Teddy bear mascots and things like that - and we rolled up with a great big magpie," Mr Tremain said.

From that day Hawkeye sparked up again, being brought out to once again put his great heart behind the Magpies.

"His voice has gone but his wings still go well," Mr Tremain said.

At the start of this year Mr Small gave Hawkeye another brush-up and is delighted it was back in the spotlight.

"There's Something About a Magpie" (as sung by Robert Houston)

There's something about a Magpie, there's something about a Magpie,

There's something about a Magpie that is fine, fine, fine,

And here's to the mighty Hawkeye who gives the Hawke's Bay war cry,

The greatest rugby cry of all time, time, time,

When the Hawkeye guys are roaring, the Hawke's Bay team is scoring,

And once again they've swept across the line, line, line,

Then you'll hear the Hawkeye cry,

As the Bay team scores a try,

Three cheers for black and white, they're going to win again!

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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