Link with fathers found across the years

The late fathers of Dunedin residents (from left) Graeme McKenzie, George Barbara and Daphne Batchelor are among the previously unidentified men pictured in a historic photo of workers on the Haast Pass road, published in the Evening Star in 1939. Photo by Gregor Richardson.
The late fathers of Dunedin residents (from left) Graeme McKenzie, George Barbara and Daphne Batchelor are among the previously unidentified men pictured in a historic photo of workers on the Haast Pass road, published in the Evening Star in 1939. Photo by Gregor Richardson.

A 74-year-old photograph brought together a trio of Dunedin residents yesterday who - though previously unknown to each other - share the same sentimental link to a piece of Haast history.

George Barbara, Daphne Batchelor and Graeme McKenzie were introduced for the purpose of posing for an Otago Daily Times photo, just as their late fathers had posed for the camera decades earlier, as colleagues working on the Haast Pass road to Otago.

Their connection came out of an ODT story published on November 20 in which the Wanaka Upper Clutha Lions Club was seeking the public's help in identifying some of the faces featured in a fundraising calendar of historic images.

One was of a crew of nine roadworkers on the Haast Pass road which was published in the Evening Star in 1939, but had no names attached.

Mr Barbara and Mr McKenzie had already discovered the photo when it appeared several years ago in an ''Images From Our Past'' section of the ODT. They immediately bought copies after recognising their fathers and had since filled in some of the missing pieces for the Lions club after reading last month's article.

Mervyn McKenzie was unmistakable as the man on the far left of the image, his son Graeme (66) said.

''I knew it was my Dad as soon as I saw him, the way he stood with his hands on his hips. So I sent it to my mother and she said 'Yep, that's your Dad.''

His father was in his mid-20s when he went to work on the road during the Depression, after losing his job at the McLeods soap works in Dunedin.

For Mr Barbara (64), a framed copy of the photo featuring his father Nicholas Barbara had become ''one of my pride and joys''.

He had also noticed the photo on public display in an exhibition at the Otago Museum last year, where it was labelled ''Men at Work''.

''It didn't seem anyone was working,'' he joked.

His father appears particularly relaxed in the photo, reclining against a rock at the front of the group.

''My wife said it was a typical Barbara.''

Nicholas Barbara was 31 when he joined the Haast Pass road crew. He had previously operated a horse-drawn pie-cart at Cargills Corner in South Dunedin.

The 1939 photograph featured prominently among family memorabilia when Mrs Batchelor (63) and her twin sisters Kathy Duncan and Gwen Miller were growing up in Dunedin.

The had always known their father, who died in his 50s, was one of the men in the photograph, but had never paid much attention to which one he was.

''As kids we never bothered to ask Dad,'' Mrs Duncan (67) said.

''It's sad, in a way, because you don't think that much about asking ... and then it's too late.''

While there had been some suggestion their father William (Bill) Jones could be the man standing next to Mervyn McKenzie, the sisters are almost certain he is the worker in the centre of the photograph, with his left arm holding a shovel at an angle.

''We just look at him and think 'God, that's Dad','' Mrs Batchelor said.

Mr Jones was aged 27 when he left his rabbiting job on a small family farm at Cambrian to work on the road. After reading his diaries from around that time, the women had discovered he went there with his cousin Dave Jones, who they believe is the hatless man standing at the rear of the group in the photo with both hands on hips.

Wanaka Upper Clutha Lions Club secretary Pam Kane was ''really chuffed'' some of the missing names from the calendar had surfaced after so many years.

''I couldn't have asked for anything more.''

- lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz