In Lawrence “Laurie” McCallum’s life, three things have been ever-present: travel, adventures and writing.
Over many years, he’s amassed a lot of each.
Now, he’s put them all together in a book that he hopes to launch in Palmerston North.
Back in July 2012, a Memory Lane story recounted his time as a 1960s student labourer in the manure department of the old Longburn Freezing Works.
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Looking back, he said then that three institutions had “significantly influenced my life – Russell Street Primary School, Massey University and the freezing works”.
The “works” had been a hard, hot, smelly job, he recalled, but the good money helped pay for his university tuition.
Other university students also worked there. In that earlier memoir, Laurie said: “[The men] took some convincing that it wasn’t just one big orgy across the river at Massey.
“Longburn closed in October 1987 as part of the post-1984 free market rationalisation that swept New Zealand.”
With studies completed, Laurie stepped out into the world and began his travels.
The resulting book is Growing Up in Palmerston North, Paraburdoo and Beyond: A Memoir, which he’s hoping will be launched at the city library or art gallery in early December.
When you call him an adventurer, Laurie replies that: “I make my life adventurous. Maybe I’m a risk-taker. One thing happened after another.”
Intrigued by other cultures and places, he’s always made a habit of “keeping a chocolate-box into which I threw pieces [of information]. My mother had a tradition of talking about her life – so that’s how memoir evolves.”
Laurie grew up in a wholesome family of the 1950s-60s with two younger brothers, Jim and Malcolm, and a mother and father who were part of the Christian Science fellowship.
They went on beach holidays with relatives and held birthday parties in their home at 95 Roy St.
His father was a keen photographer, who took many photos of the family, their surroundings and activities.
Luckily, for posterity, this pictorial record is now a valuable reminder of our town’s past.
After graduating from Massey, Laurie went flatting in Grey St, worked, played in a band and, as many other young people did, took off overseas on an OE, including the so-called “hippie trail”. It was a journey – or more properly, journeys back and forth – full of valuable life lessons.
His various routes over the years took him to Melbourne, Australia; Dampier and a job in a mine at Paraburdoo, Western Australia; Portuguese Timor; back to Palmerston North and then to Gisborne; Asia in 1975, and London; back to Kawakawa, Bay of Islands, in 1976; and, finally, Christchurch.
“When you’ve only ever lived at home,” he says, “though they try to let you be independent… when you’re travelling alone you have to make your own decisions… You have to learn to take care of yourself.”
Some of his experiences were hair-raising.
Leaving his passport behind in Turkey and trying to get to a campground near Teheran railway station in Iran, and getting dropped off at the Turkey-Iran border on a traffic island while “miles of trucks” roared around him in all directions. “I remember thinking, ‘Hmm, I’m going to have to watch myself here.’”
Stints in southern Thailand, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and the then-named Burma (Myanmar), among other places, provided experience after experience.
Back home in New Zealand he settled in Christchurch, gained a master’s degree in resource management, married Cherry, a teacher and violinist with whom he has a son and daughter, also musical, and racked up 27 years with Environment Canterbury as programme manager, urban development strategy.
The whole family did a big overseas trip together in 2000. Now, life is a little quieter.
Laurie McCallum calls his memoir his “Covid-19 lockdown project”.
If and when, as he hopes, he can bring his story to Palmerston North in December, it will doubtless stir memories in his book-launch audience, especially those growing-up days in the golden Palmerston North sunshine of yesteryear.
To order a copy of Growing Up in Palmerston North, Paraburdoo and Beyond, email [email protected], or phone 027 200 4807. The book is $29.99 plus postage.