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The former Thames Police station in Queen St. Photo: SUPPLIED

Drink driving, theft by ‘fascinating’ locals

In the 70s and 80s, I feel Thames was a town generally made up mainly of locals who were mostly known to each other, or their families generally were.
Many were quite glad that the tourists and holiday makers drove straight by to the tourist areas of the peninsula.
The town had its fair share of fascinating characters. I knew a lovely elderly lady whose husband passed, and she had to take over the family car to get to town and the supermarket as she lived up the hill in Richmond St above town.
I became aware that the doctor had declined renewal of her driver licence in her 80s or 90s. However, she just kept driving to town regularly. I didn’t like to pull her over in town, so I went to see her privately, and talked of ways for her to travel other than driving.
Her reply was: “I need the car, let them fine me. Let them put me in jail, at my age am I worried?”
Thankfully, before we could follow up with her, she had a couple of big frights and gave up driving. How could we put a 90-year-old into the cold cells?
One of the functions of the Police was going through the hotels at night and helping the publican clear the bars out by 10:30pm. We had nine pubs in and around Thames at that time, and we generally knew the people who were heavy drinkers and who drove home. One character in Pārāwai we knew drove home by the back roads after closing time. A favourite route from The Lady Bowen, was along Brown St. We managed to get behind him a couple of times there, but each time, he pulled over and ran off into the mangroves before we could initiate a drink driving process.

In those days the Police and Ministry of Transport Traffic Officers could not do random stops of vehicles as is allowed now. We had to have a reason, such as tail light out, or erratic driving etc.
Jack would wait till we knocked off at 2 or 3am to make his way home, with mud up to his knees. I am blowed if we wanted to follow him in there!
Another Pārāwai character was sometimes involved in thefts around town. I was driving into Thames past the Rugby Club during the day. A crash occurred on the old Kauaeranga bridge, a few cars in front of me. One car hit the gutter and flipped on to its roof. When I got to it, the car was still spinning, and the driver hanging upside down but was unhurt.
The window was down, and I recognized the driver. I said to him “Harry, where did you get the car?” He replied: “I stole it man”. I must say I liked Harry; in many ways he was so honest!
Although he did get a huge fright one night. The president of the Thames Rugby Club had an alarm in his bedroom wardrobe. It was attached to a silent alarm on the bar at the club. He used to bravely attend by himself each time, but always with his loaded shotgun. At 2am he arrived and rounded the corner of the building shotgun in hand to be confronted by Harry loaded up with three crates of beer.
The shotgun went off, the crates dropped to the ground and smashed. When I got there, he described the big afro on the offender, who had run across the paddocks and swum across the river, up Herewaka St, in a very wet state.
I knew straight away who it was and headed up there to find a very wet and deflated Harry. (Names have been changed to protect privacy).
– Ron Agnew is a former Thames Police officer