Sir Tim the Knight Mayor

I have long had a real soft spot for Sir Tim Shadbolt. In my brief time living in Invercargill, it reminded me of a town that had a heart and a soul… not just a collection of people living in a particularly cold huddle at the bottom of the South Island. Invercargill was and is a rather happy wee place and many of its residents spoke fondly about their Mayor Tim, almost like indulgent family chatting about their favourite quirky Uncle. After all, Sir Tim is hardly your typical politician.

His first stint as mayor was back in 1983 when he was elected Mayor for Waitemata. He celebrated his unexpected win by bringing out his now infamous concrete mixer (“Karl Marx“) and towing it behind the mayoral car at the Henderson Christmas Parade. One story I heard was that he would drive the Daimler around on Sunday mornings and ask local Maori lads if they wanted a drive in the Daimler and to come and lay some concrete? Apparently, there was no shortage of volunteers to mix the concrete because they got a drive in the flash car.

As a young bloke, Tim was a radical anti-establishment left-wing activist who seemed to spend a lot of time protesting and getting arrested. In fact, he seemed to be very good at being arrested because he did it 33 times. That will always beat the number of times he has been elected mayor, and that is saying something.

One of my favourite recollections of his younger protesting days was over the pirate radio ship the Tiri. For those youngsters reading this, Radio Hauraki was quite the thing back in the 1960’s. The NZBC had been opposed to commercial radio stations and was stonewalling all applications for privately owned broadcasters. A group of young men decided to get around the ban by getting a ship and broadcasting from International Waters – in the Hauraki Gulf outside the 3 mile territorial-water limit. They named her Tiri and as she was being towed out to sea, Tim Shadbolt was one of those who helped her escape the clutches of the “establishment” and make her way to her destination.

I vividly recall listening to Radio Hauraki all of those years ago when they did the unthinkable… they broadcast the uncensored version of The Beatles song “The Ballad of John and Yoko”. Back then, the word “Christ“ was edited out, and pirate radio broadcast it without the edit. It was the talk of my school for days afterwards as we tried to digest the impact of such a daring and wicked song! Interestingly, I heard it in my Religious Education class where we were able to listen to the song as it aired on Radio Hauraki – our discussion point was “Do you believe that the use of the word ‘Christ’ in this song should be censored?” It was a very heated discussion.

He organised Jumping Sundays, a weekly event that the council decided was getting too popular so he and his followers had to apply for a permit. Tim and a group of his mates turned up at the Council offices with bags of jellybeans for the councillors, and one chap was offended by the jellybeans, and Shadbolt was arrested under the Grocer’s Act for distributing food in a public place without a license. I think that was his second arrest.

Tim Shadbolt in Albert Park – Photo by Murray Cammick

His gift for getting up and speaking on a soapbox in the public domain is something that he puts down to his early childhood. His father was a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm and died when Tim was young. Following his father’s death, his Mum took him to Holland for a year to be closer to her side of the family. When they returned to New Zealand, Tim was put in a class for foreign students and was taught to speak English. Their teacher was an opera singer and she taught him the power of the human voice.

He was sent to prison twice and when serving time in Mt Eden, he was befriended by George Wilder, the Houdini of Kiwi criminals.

After his Knighthood he said “I must admit I have had a rather colourful past but that gives me a bit of joy in this situation as well, because it means ultimately we are all equal.”

Will he stay on as Mayor? In my opinion, he will. After all, as he cheekily said once, “I’ve heard if you die in Office, they pay for your funeral. Maybe I’m doing some long term planning.“

Good on you Tim. You are one of my favourite Kiwis because you dare to be yourself.

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