Looking forward to catching up with good friends again.
If someone relates an unlikely story about a draught
horse being let loose in the heart of the University of Otago
campus to eat the lawn and graze on the shrubs, it is all true.
John Mackie was there.
It was the early 1930s and Mr Mackie, later long-serving
professor at the university's surveying school, was a young
He had persuaded the owner of the Dunedin pie cart to bring
his horse-drawn caravan to the university and provide the
supper for a rifle club dance being held in Allen Hall.
While guests dined on sausage, mash, pea, pie and pud, Old
Dobbin was left to his own devices.
When Mr Mackie went to check on him, he found dance guests
queuing to ride him around the quadrangle and the horse
enjoying the attention.
It might have happened almost 80 years ago, but Emeritus Prof
Mackie, who turned 100 yesterday, recalls that incident and
others from his student days as though it was yesterday.
"We students had a lot of fun."
With a roll, in those days, of only about 1200 students, many
of them medical students, Prof Mackie said students got to
know each other well.
Miners - as the 25 students in the School of Mines were known
- were a close-knit group, he said.
After he graduated, Prof Mackie worked in Malaya and fought
with the Malayan Volunteer Forces during World War 2,
spending three years as a prisoner of the Japanese.
He returned to Otago in 1947 as a lecturer in surveying at
the School of Mines, marrying his late wife, Sue, the same
When the school was closed in 1963 and the National School of
Surveying was established, Prof Mackie became the foundation
head of school.
Prof Mackie, who has lived in Nelson since he retired in
1975, celebrated his birthday yesterday with his son Andrew,
daughter Marguerite, only grandchild, Michelle, and other
family and friends.
In two weeks' time, he will party all over again, in Nelson
with about 40 surveyors, geologists, miners, former students
and their partners from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia and
the United States.
They will present their colleague and mentor with a
"festschrift" (a book comprising academic papers and personal
memories), as well as a copy of an oral history interview
with him compiled for the university last year by oral
historian Helen Frizzell.
Prof Mackie said he was looking forward to catching up with
good friends again, most of whom had also attended his 90th
"I imagine we will do what all people do when they get
together - do a lot of remembering.
"We will find plenty to talk about."
Prof Mackie is in good health and his memory has not faded.
He can recall names, dates and incidents with complete
clarity, something which he said surprised others but not
"People say I have an amazing memory, but I don't know about
that. I don't cultivate it. It just comes."
His autobiography, Captain Jack Surveyor and Engineer, which
he wrote when in his mid-80s as a memoir for his family, was
published three years ago.
In it, he recalls in detail his chilling experiences as a
prisoner of war in the notorious Changi Prison and the Batu
Lintang camp in Borneo, describing the guards as "arrogant",
"sadistic" and "sub-human".
It was "an unpleasant time altogether", he said this week.
The guards were quick-tempered and punishments ranged from a
hard slap across the face and severe beatings to beheadings
with a samurai sword.
Prof Mackie said his worst beating was administered by a
guard who mistakenly thought he was talking to another
He was hit repeatedly over the head and shoulders with a
heavy piece of wood and was left "black and blue all over and
with black eyes for a while".
"I've still got a couple of dents on my head."
He said he did not let his time as a prisoner of war, during
which his weight dropped to 41kg, overwhelm him later.
"I didn't let it get to me... I'm not embittered towards the
Japanese. They were soldiers and so were we. Later on, I had
good friends who were Japanese."
But he said prisoners of war could not help but be affected
by their experiences.
"Once you have been a POW, there is not much people can throw
at you that you can't deal with."