My Auckland: Devonport

Elisabeth Easther talks to navy veteran Fred Wilson as he prepares for Anzac Day events, and asks what he loves most about living in Devonport

Mick O'Carroll, Jonny Walker and Fred Wilson with ANZAC day Poppies at the Navy Museum in Devonport. Photo / Greg Bowker
Mick O'Carroll, Jonny Walker and Fred Wilson with ANZAC day Poppies at the Navy Museum in Devonport. Photo / Greg Bowker

I was born here. My first memories growing up in Devonport are of freedom. We went everywhere by foot, or by bike. The roads were relatively clear in those days, apart from when the vehicular ferry arrived with half a dozen cars - that was rush hour in Devonport. And now the whole of Lake Rd is a parking lot much of the time, but if you live in Devonport, you learn to avoid it if you can.

One of many great things about Devonport is there are lots of places with fascinating stories behind them. At the end of Stanley Point Rd there's a place called Cyril Bassett Lookout, named after Cyril Bassett who won the Victoria Cross for his bravery at Gallipoli. He lived a few doors away from us. When we were kids, we used to go to his place and plead to see his VC, and he'd get it out and show it to us.

Patuone Place is named after Patuone, one of the peacemakers during the Northern Wars. Some of the old boat-building places along King Edward Pde are still there. Fortunately, a lot of the history is also preserved through photographs at the Navy Museum.

Living near the naval base as we did, there were naval people everywhere. We had officers across the road, you saw them as you walked to school or went swimming off Stanley Bay Wharf. But it wasn't what I imagined I was going to do from an early age.

After I got UE, I decided it was time to take a break from schooling, and travel appealed, but as I was a veritable pauper, the navy seemed like a good option. I never expected to make such a career of it: my rank when I retired was Rear Admiral, and the position I held was Chief of Navy.

As secretary of the Devonport RSA, that occupies much of my time, and this is a busy time of year as we organise events associated with Anzac Day. We'll have the traditional service at 10am at the Devonport War Memorial at the corner of Victoria Rd and King Edward Pde. Being so close to the naval base, there's a long history of naval involvement at our service. We're privileged to have the Royal New Zealand Naval Band; a guard from the navy and a senior naval officer will give the address.

The Devonport RSA is a little bit unique in that it doesn't have a public bar or restaurant, although we do get people coming in the door at all hours wanting a drink or a meal. We've always been very focused on issues of remembrance and welfare - we play our part in the community, we donate money to schools and youth groups. There's a scholarship to Takapuna Grammar and we recently collaborated with the Devonport Rotary Club to buy a vehicle for the community co-ordinator who goes around doing activities for small children.

I also work with the Devonport Business Association to help expand tourist awareness of Devonport. The historic trail needs developing to enhance the visitor experience - you get off the ferry and think, "What now?". I think there's a lot of opportunity to improve the experience for the casual visitor.

I'm also a Justice of the Peace. It's not remunerated in any way, but I've always felt, if you've had a career where lots of people have looked after you, you have an obligation to give something back. Being a JP is a convenient, all-embracing way to do that.

Because it's located on a peninsula, some of Devonport's most popular attractions are the beaches and coastal walks. There's a lot of good, easy walking, and the council has done a lot of work to improve the coastal walks. Being a traditionalist, I like walking along King Edward Pde and looking out to the harbour, and seeing the ships and yachts coming and going. Those who want more of a challenge can walk up the cones of Mt Victoria and North Head - you get superb views from up there.

My favourite swimming place, when I was a youth, was at the end of our garden, a place called Devonport Cove in Stanley Point. There's a path that goes down some steep steps to a sheltered beach no more than 100m long, secured by cliffs at either end. It's off the end of Stanley Point Rd, and goes down the side where Second Ave meets Stanley Point Rd. There are a few little spots like that.

Devonport hasn't changed an awful lot, and most of the changes have been good ones. There's the cafe culture that's grown up in what the locals call Garlic Gulley.

There's the cinema in a very historic building. There are some great shops too. There's a chocolate maker, a jewellery craftsperson, fashion designers and a lot of artistic people, it's very vibrant like that.

I have lived elsewhere, but I always like coming back here. A lot of people are jealous of those of us who live in Devonport, and rightly so. There's a strong community spirit, the lifestyle is relaxed and, because we're not in the hustle and bustle, we're a destination, not just a place to pass through.

Fred's favourite things

Devonport RSA: 61 Victoria Rd, Devonport,

Devonport Chocolate Shop: 17 Wynyard St, Devonport,

National Museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy, Te Waka Huia O Te Taua Moana O Aotearoa: 64 King Edward Pde, Devonport,

- NZ Herald

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