Old Gus - by Wendy Ballard
Mauao was his mountain
The waters of Tauranga Moana his ocean
And the Marshall clan of Links Avenue his whanau
Old Gus was a colourful character with a mischievous twinkle and a go-for-it way about him. He was well known to Mounties and notorious for his vibrant aloha shirts. The Mount was his special patch of paradise.
Gus was a young man when he moved to the Mount in 1948 to work as radioman / weatherman at Tauranga Airport. He had his new bride Vi at his side. They’d met in Samoa when Gus had finished serving in the war – Gus was love-struck and the rest is history. Gus and Vi started married life living in what had been the old army ammunition shack. They spruced up the shack, started their family of four, and settled into community life. Gus built a good-sized smokehouse and rigged up a home brew operation in the copper. Vi quickly became sought after by locals to prepare huge pots of Samoan food specialties for many a Mount hooli.
Old Gus was a good keen RSA man and a good day always included a beer or two at the club with his mates. He was pretty good at darts, an ace on the snooker table, and a champion merrymaker. He knew that too much time at the RSA would land him in the dogbox at home BUT when the camaraderie is so good you can’t just up and leave until after your shout – or so his story went.
Old Gus loved to swim, fish and dive. Being out on the water soothed that soul and nothing could beat a good feed of fresh kai moana. He gathered tuatuas on the surf side, and he pottered for hours in Pilot Bay working on his dinghy Aolele (Flying Cloud –Samoan). He fished the harbour for snapper so Vi could make oka (raw fish ), and pulled the piper net at night with his kids. Sometimes an innovative idea took his fancy. One that did work was powering the dinghy with a lawnmower motor.
For many years Old Gus dived the waters of Tauranga Moana with the Mount Underwater Club. He delighted in the undersea scenery and a crayfish catch made for a perfect day. One day old Gus and his diving buddy returned from mussel rock with uninvited company. His buddy paddled the old wooden surf ski, Gus held on behind and kicked, and a fin tailgated them in to shore. Swimming with a shark in Shark Alley! It was bedlam for those watching on the beach and a legendary tale was born that day.
Old Gus was a self-taught artist and painted mostly seascapes in oil. He could often be found in Pilot Bay, on the base track of Mauao, or strolling the surf beaches with his trusty Instamatic camera capturing images of waves, rocks and clouds. He named his home art studio Afiamalu after a favourite spot in Samoa and immersed himself in his art. He lost count of the number of paintings he sold to mates at the RSA, but each was his own personal celebration of local sea and sky.
Old Gus was way ahead of his time when it came to gardening. He’d loved the lush tropical look of banana and taro plants up in the islands. He grew them at Links Avenue for their ornamental beauty long before anyone else thought about doing so. He grew broccoli and comfrey in the 1960s for their dietary benefits when nobody else seemed to know what they were. His tomatoes were simply the best. He planted Queen of the Night because he adored its intoxicating tropical fragrance which only came out at nighttime.
Yes, Old Gus was fun-loving. He enjoyed a good night out with Vi dancing at the old Peter Pan Hall, the Aero Club and the RSA. He wasn’t bad on the dance floor, not great on the guitar (but he didn’t let that stop him) and he loved a sing-along. He fished and dived with his boys; he fished and swam with his girls. His remedy for any problem was a soak in the hot pools. His chosen tonic was a glass of stout – full of health benefits apparently.
Old Gus’s 80th birthday celebrations took him totally by surprise. When he wandered into the lounge for breakfast that morning he was greeted by a sea of colour. He did a double take and looked again. The room was full of his favourite people all wearing loud shirts and flowers in their hair. They toasted him and then the ukuleles began to play. The partygoers watched with awe that morning as Old Gus clasped his hands together, looked up to the sky with a smile, and whispered, “Thank you.”
Fishing from a Flying Cloud
Gus Marshall, 1923-2005