Alistair Child

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YOB: 1946
Experience: Spearfisherman, Scuba Diver, Commercial Fisherman, Underwater Observatory Manager
Regions: Otago, Catlins, Fiordland
Interview Location: Milford Sound, NZ
Interview Date: 08 February 2016
Post Date: 01 December 2017; Copyright © 2017 Alistair Child and Steve Crawford

1. EXPERIENCE IN AOTEAROA/NZ COASTAL ENVIRONMENTS

CRAWFORD: Thank you, Alistair. Let's begin with where were you born, and when, please.

CHILD: Born in Dunedin, 1946. 

CRAWFORD: What is your first recollection of spending a significant amount of time around New Zealand coastal waters? How old were you? 

CHILD: I would have been 18. 

CRAWFORD: Prior to that, you hadn’t spent a great deal of time around the beaches or anything like that? 

CHILD: I knew they were there. I knew I was interested in them. But I didn’t really have a means - other than paddling out up to my knees in water. And it wasn’t till about 18 that I got my first chance to actually go and dive. 

CRAWFORD: I’m still interested in your very early days. Did you spend time as a young lad with parental supervision on the beaches? 

CHILD: Yes, yes. But probably as much as most kids that I knew did. 

CRAWFORD: What regions of the coastal waters? Was it mainly around Dunedin? 

CHILD: Yes.

CRAWFORD: in particular, what beaches or coastlines on the Otago Peninsula were you familiar with as a kid? 

CHILD: I was always really interested in the kid's rock pool. Rock pools were everywhere. And I really loved getting down in the rock pool, lifting rocks, and seeing what’s underneath them. 

CRAWFORD: Were you on the south coast of the Otago Harbour, the north side?

CHILD: I was all the above. But probably when I got a bit more serious about my fishing, even though I wasn’t a fisherman at that point, most of that was done around the Otago Peninsula area. 

CRAWFORD: So, out towards ...

CHILD: Aramoana, Taiaroa Heads. Those sorts of places. 

CRAWFORD: Did your family have a crib, or did you spend holiday time around the coast anywhere? 

CHILD: No. Holiday time with friends, and that sort of thing. 

CRAWFORD: As a youngster, what were your major activities? Did you swim along the beaches? 

CHILD: Yes. And that was in the harbour. Swam in the harbour around the kelp beds.

CRAWFORD: The inner harbour, or outer harbour? 

CHILD: The inner harbour.

CRAWFORD: So, from Sawyers Bay in. Or closer to town?

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever do any boating of any kind? Did you sail or row? 

CHILD: No, no. We didn’t have boats. 

CRAWFORD: Did you do any snorkeling, or freediving? 

CHILD: I was a Pāua diver

CRAWFORD: Later on? 

CHILD: Yes, later on. Prior to that, I was a gatherer. With my friends, we’d go out and get a share of Pāua and whatever else we could get our hands on. 

CRAWFORD: You didn’t have access to a boat, so you couldn’t really go out handlining or anything like that. At what age did you start to get some independence, and the ability to move around on your own a little bit more? Was there an age where you got the keys to the car, anything like that? 

CHILD: I became more and more interested in the animals themselves, rather than the catching of the animals, and eating them. Not that I’m against it at all, I love fish. But I became more focussed. I was always feeling interested in getting to the bottom and the nitty gritty. "How does this tick? What was the fish that lives there, whatever that might be?" That sort of came about more when I was about 25 or so. Of course, because I was more able to afford diving gear and such. 

CRAWFORD: Let's talk about the transition in your late teens. Did you or your mates have the ability to access a car, and perhaps travel around a bit more? Did the region of your coastal experience expand in your teens? 

CHILD: Yes. Well, by that stage we were all working, and we had a few dollars in our pockets. So, we were able to go and buy stuff we needed. 

CRAWFORD: When did you leave high school? Approximately what age? 

CHILD: I only went to Grade 2 in high school. I’m dyslexic, and I was a hopeless student. 

CRAWFORD: When you left school, did you go to a job? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: What was your job when you left school? 

CHILD: One of my first jobs was soil testing for roadworks. 

CRAWFORD: While you were employed doing that type of thing, did you have leisure time that you spent on or around the water? 

CHILD: Oh, yes. 

CRAWFORD: And where would you have spent that leisure time? 

CHILD: Anywhere where I could get under the water. We’d dive in a puddle, if we could,

CRAWFORD: Around the Otago Peninsula region? 

CHILD: Yes. And we'd up to little bit further north, and down as far as Tautuku.

CRAWFORD: Up north to Blueskin Bay, maybe Warrington? A little further north? 

CHILD: Yeah, all those places. 

CRAWFORD: And then south past ... did you get down to Brighton

CHILD: Oh, yes. Right down to some areas of the Catlins

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, pretty much the eastern coast of the South Island. When you were out for your leisure time, what kind of water activities were you engaged in? 

CHILD: I wasn’t a very good swimmer, never been a good swimmer - even though I dive all these years.

CRAWFORD: [laughs]

CHILD: I’m still not. I’m one of these people that swim with their head out the water. Absolutely useless. But I’m very comfortable in the water, so that’s probably why I haven’t drowned. 

CRAWFORD: As an adult, you had a job and some disposable income. Did you or your mates acquire a boat or anything?

CHILD: I owned my own boat as a fisherman.

CRAWFORD: As a commercial fisherman? 

CHILD: Yes.

CRAWFORD: That’s an important change. But just prior to becoming a commercial fisherman, you were still working in day jobs on land. In your spare time, what types of coastal activities would you have done for leisure? 

CHILD: Most of my leisure time was based around the sea, in one way or another. The odd friend had a father that had a boat, but they were pretty thin on the ground in those days. 

CRAWFORD: So, for you it was mostly shore-based?

CHILD: Yes. But we would go walk for miles to get to a particular piece of coast that we wanted to dive on. 

CRAWFORD: When was the first time that you remember scuba diving? 

CHILD: I got taken down by a friend and his father and his fathers’ friend to the Mole at Aramoana. These guys got dressed to get in the water, and they had these suits on, and their spearguns. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was just absolutely spellbound by this. And with no shadow of a doubt, I knew that this is what I’m going to do when I get a bit older, because I was quite young at this stage.

CRAWFORD: Roughly how old? 

CHILD: I was probably only about 14, 15.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Were they free diving or scuba diving? 

CHILD: Yes, Free diving. And in those days, you could choose your Crayfish at the bottom of the water at Aramoana - it was so clear. Now it's ... well, it is what it is. So, my first set of diving gear was a pair of longjohns and a speargun. And I kind of saw myself one day emerging from the water on the side of the harbour, and these people had gathered to watch me because diving was a little bit unusual in those days still. I came out of the water and my long johns were down around my knees. And I saw that I really, really did need to get a dive suit. They were imported though. 

CRAWFORD: This was early 60s, mid 60s? 

CHILD: Yeah, late 60s. When I was 19 or 20. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. And this was free diving, snorkeling first. When did you go on your first scuba dive? What age? 

CHILD: My friends got me a present, and that was a speargun for my 21st birthday.

CRAWFORD: And you went scuba diving for the first time shortly after that? 

CHILD: Yes. Quite quickly after that. 

CRAWFORD: You had been diving at Aramoana. Where else did you go spearfishing and scuba diving?

CHILD: Oh, on the exposed areas of the Otago Peninsula. 

CRAWFORD: The south side? 

CHILD: Exposed areas of that.

CRAWFORD: Like where? Tomahawk?

CHILD: Further north of Tomahawk. 

CRAWFORD: Cape Saunders

CHILD: Yeah. And the submarine rock. 

CRAWFORD: So, right off the tip of the peninsula itself?

CHILD: Yeah, all those areas. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever go spearfishing down toward Green Island

CHILD: Yeah. Around Green Island, and some of the rocks further south of that. 

CRAWFORD: Taieri Mouth

CHILD: A bit further south of that, again. 

CRAWFORD: Did you do much diving that down in the Catlins? 

CHILD: Yes, but not so much.

CRAWFORD: Ok. Is it the case that during that part of your life - if you were in the water, you were spearfishing? 

CHILD: Not necessarily. Because I became very interested in what was living there too. 

CRAWFORD: You were doing the naturalist thing as well. Was that an even split? Were you sometimes poking around, and sometimes you might be spearfishing? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Once you started scuba diving, did it have a significant effect on the amount of time that you were spearfishing versus the naturalist thing? 

CHILD: it didn’t affect me time-wise. But it did affect me, as to what I was looking at. And I always wanted to know why and how. So, I was able to answer those questions myself when I got more aware. 

CRAWFORD: When you started scuba diving in the late 1960s, did it affect the places that you went to? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Where would you have been more likely to be going when you were scuba diving? 

CHILD: Underneath the [WW2] gun emplacement on Otago Peninsula. 

CRAWFORD: Other than the head of the peninsula, where else would you have gone scuba diving? 

CHILD: Not many places, because you had to carry this tank around with you, and the weight belt. It was a long drama.

CRAWFORD: Right. At this point it was all shore-based. You had to have car access, or hump the gear. Did you ever go scuba diving further north?

CHILD: A little bit. Not much. Did a wee bit in the Karitane area, because it wasn’t so far away.  

CRAWFORD: What about further south? Did you do scuba diving down there? 

CHILD: Down as far as Brighton in those days. That was about as far as we went. 

CRAWFORD: Did you ever scuba dive around Green Island? 

CHILD: No. Just snorkelled around it. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. You had mentioned before about the beginning of your commercial fishing career. When did that start?

CHILD: It was not that long after. Because of my dyslexia, I was kind of limited to what I could do easily. Some things I excelled at, like science. Other things, like maths – absolutely hopeless. Still to this day. 

CRAWFORD: Me too. [laughs]

CRAWFORD: Did you start crewing on somebody’s boat? 

CHILD: No.

CRAWFORD: You started on your own? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: I'm guessing that this was long before you needed a Skippers’ certificate in order to operate a fishing vessel?

CHILD: I had a ticket. I went and got a ticket. 

CRAWFORD: You leased, borrowed or purchased a vessel? 

CHILD: Bought a vessel. 

CRAWFORD: Where did you dock, Port Chalmers

CHILD: Port Chalmers, yes.

CRAWFORD: What length was it? 

CHILD: 24-footer. 

CRAWFORD: What was it geared for? 

CHILD: It was geared for Crayfishing. But I had to do major changes on it to make it work properly. 

CRAWFORD: Once you started doing this, it was as a business full-time?

CHILD: Yes.

CRAWFORD: Once up and running, Crayfish was your primary target species? 

CHILD: Yes.

CRAWFORD: Were you using pots? 

CHILD: Yep. 

CRAWFORD: I'm presuming you were a day fisherman, out of Port Chalmers. What was your range? How far north or south would you go? 

CHILD: Potato Point, briefly. Just north of the peninsula, before Blueskin Bay. And as far south as Lion Rock, which is off Sandymount - where everybody goes to see the penguins. 

CRAWFORD: Based mostly around the peninsula. You said before that there were Crayfish all over the place, back in the day. 

CHILD: There was, yeah. Catching was another thing. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. So, you had to teach yourself how to Craypot. When you started Crayfishing on that vessel out of Port Chalmers, how many years did you do that for roughly? Ten years?  

CHILD: Oh, probably closer to 20 years. But I moved through various places. Ended up fishing here, out of Milford. 

CRAWFORD: How many years did you fish out of Port Chalmers to start? 

CHILD: Only a couple years. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next destination? 

CHILD: Then I ended up fishing out of [Pinaway Bar] down at Owaka.

CRAWFORD: Was that for a year, a couple of years? 

CHILD: Couple of years, that would have been. 

CRAWFORD: What was the next place that you moved to? 

CHILD: The next place was Chalky Inlet. And I didn’t fish there very long. Chalky, [Carsell], Nancy, didn’t fish there very long. 

CRAWFORD: Maybe a season or two? 

CHILD: Not even a season. But I got my foot in the door, kind of thing. Had a mishap with the boat, and we got towed up to Milford for repairs. And I never left. 

CRAWFORD: Do you remember the year that you got towed to Milford? Early 70s? 

CHILD: Yeah.

CRAWFORD: You were Crayfishing. Were you ever doing any other type of fishing?

CHILD: No, just Crayfishing. 

CRAWFORD: Was this a year-round fishery? 

CHILD: No, just seasonal. Which was about six months of the year. 

CRAWFORD: Winter or summer?

CHILD: Summer. 

CRAWFORD: In the off-season, when not fishing Crays, would you be inland doing other things? Or would you be on and around the coast still? 

CHILD: Oh, we had a go at linefishing. Not particularly successfully, but we had a go at it. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, what was the region that you would fish out of Milford Sound? 

CHILD: I fished mostly from the entrance to Milford, down to Poison Bay, or a bit further to Bligh Sound. That’s called Four Mile.

CRAWFORD: As time went on, did you expand your range of where you went? 

CHILD: Well, I got a bigger boat, which means I could sleep in it. 

CRAWFORD: What size of a boat was that? 

CHILD: That was a 28-footer. And it was sort of set up more for being able to go further.

CRAWFORD: Overnight trips. Did you have a freezer on it? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: You were going how far down south? 

CHILD: Still just down to Bligh Sound was about my limit. 

CRAWFORD: Did you go north at all from here? 

CHILD: I went up to Martins Bay. But things changed then, because I found the boat was quite good for catching Tuna. So I started Crayfish come early March, or even earlier than that, early February. Just leaving the gear in the water, and chasing the Tuna. 

CRAWFORD: By 'chasing' you mean up towards Greymouth - that kind of thing? 

CHILD: Not that far.

CRAWFORD: But past Haast

CHILD: Up to about Haast, up the coast. 

CRAWFORD: Those were overnight trips, or week-long trips, that kind of thing?

CHILD: Sometimes overnight. Sometimes just big long hours of steam out there. Catch fish, steam back. 

CRAWFORD: Was that a mix then? Cray-Tuna operation?

CHILD: No. Then it was Tuna. The Tuna only lasted about two to three months

CRAWFORD: Then you’d be back Crayfishing again?

CHILD: Yeah. And bringing the gear in, and tying it up. 

CRAWFORD: Roughly, how long did you fish that way till? 

CHILD: I could work backwards here because we opened the Underwater Observatory in December ’95. And I was feeling a pinch at that point.

CRAWFORD: Economically?

CHILD: Yeah. It was very few Crayfish around, yeah. We built the Observatory over a period of a year, a year and a half. I was gathering animals to put in the gardens, and things like that. For about ten years, either crossing over with my Crayfishing, or whatever else I was doing. 

CRAWFORD: 1995 is when the Discovery Centre and Observatory opened. When it opened, were you in charge of it? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Was that was your full-time gig then? You were no longer a commercial Crayfisherman or Tunaman by then?

CHILD: I sold my Crayfish quota and my boat. 

CRAWFORD: And in 1995, you become manager of the Observatory. How long did you hold that position for? 

CHILD: For 15 years, I think. 

CRAWFORD: So, about 1995 to 2010? 

CHILD: Yeah, about that. 

CRAWFORD: For that period, you were responsible for the facility, the operations. Were you responsible for visitors and all the rest of it? 

CHILD: Well, yeah. I had to make it all work. If it broke, I had to fix it. 

CRAWFORD: You were THE guy for all aspects of it?

CHILD: Which was too much. 

CRAWFORD: Right. Then in 2010, you left that position. What did you do then? 

CHILD: I went back to Te Anau, where I lived. That was my home base, my partner as well. But I was still the fix-it man for the Observatory. They called me in when they realized something was up.

CRAWFORD: Would you maybe be called out four or five times a year? 

CHILD: No. There were always things that needed attention - and continue to need attention. So, I started once per month, now it’s once every six weeks down there. 

CRAWFORD: Is your expertise required for the facility as a whole, or mainly for diving, or other outside stuff? 

CHILD: Through my work with Oceanographic, and my own experiences, I had to look after the marine environment as well, and create the underwater gardens. That was the whole point of the thing. 

CRAWFORD: Those are the gardens that are lowered and lifted every day at the underwater observatory?

CHILD: I was dealing with that, and there was a very steep learning curve, just the way animals lived and why they lived there, how deep did the fresh water layer get to these various places and so on.

CRAWFORD: Once you had that knowledge and that expertise, they were constantly running into changes or issues or problems or whatever? And you’ve got the institutional memory, so you would be called in to advise them? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: And that includes scuba diving throughout that entire period? Were you diving in the region of the Observatory, throughout the time that you were managing? 

CHILD: Yes, because I was doing ongoing gatherings of various animals. 

CRAWFORD: And when you left as a manager, you were brought back in - including diving jobs? 

CHILD: Yes. 

CRAWFORD: Ok. Does that bring us up to the present? 

CHILD: Yeah. 

CRAWFORD: Have I missed anything? Is there anything substantial, in terms of your experience with New Zealand coastal waters? Experience that we haven’t talked about so far? 

CHILD: No.

Copyright © 2017 Alistair Child and Steve Crawford