NO FUEL AND WARM BEER

“A nice day for a drive,” I said to Marie, as we contemplated our journey from Timaru to Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island, during our Kiwi motoring holiday of late Spring, 1979, with our three month old daughter, Melanie enjoying the first of her many overseas trips.

Petrol was low in our hire car, so first stop had to be a service station.

Just one problem. Garages did not open on a Sunday, at least not in our area.

Locals were out of luck altogether, but tourists could get fuel, by going to the local police station and asking the constable/sergeant on duty, to access the keys to the pump, and become a service station attendant.

Now the background to this was the fact there was a world fuel crisis, largely caused by embargoes put in place by Arab oil producing countries. In New Zealand, they even had ‘no car days’, where everyone had to refrain from driving, at least one day a week, otherwise they could be fined.

The policeman who served us petrol was the uncle of Kiwi rugby league prop, Bill Noonan, who played one Test against Australia on the Kiwis’ 1967 tour, and two home Tests against the Kangaroos in 1969.

After that ’69 Test, Noonan was signed for Canterbury-Bankstown by the club’s astute chief executive, Peter ‘Bullfrog’ Moore. Noonan spent nine seasons with Canterbury, before finishing his career with Newtown in 1979-80.

He was as tough as teak, and set high standards for teammates with his dedication to physical fitness. In Christchurch, where he played club league for Linwood, he was a member of the South Brighton Surf Boat crew.

His policeman relative knew nothing about league in Australia, or New Zealand for that matter, describing Noonan as “a professional rugby player.”

Noonan moved to Australia after Canterbury paid a $6,000 transfer fee to the NZRFL. When he represented his country he received $27 a Test, appearance money. At Canterbury, he was paid $150 a win and $20 a loss.

At Timaru, we had stayed with friends of Marie’s parents, and they were lovely hosts. But the quaint habit of keeping tallies of beer in the cupboard, instead of the fridge, was a tad disappointing.

Today, the Kiwis (generally speaking) have discovered the joys of serving cold beer; rugby is professional and ‘No Car Days’ have been consigned to the history.

Photo: Bill Noonan.

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